I was born the sixth child in a family of seven. Mom and Dad had four boys and three girls in our little three-bedroom house. The boys shared one room and the girls shared the other. I find it funny now when people look for homes with enough bedrooms for each child, they don’t know what they are taking away from their kids. As I got older, I can say that some of my best conversations happened with my brothers in that little room. Sadly, I don’t remember a lot about the early years. My Dad died when I was four and maybe that’s why the memories are foggy, our mind has a way of protecting our heart. I always wish I could have skated with him or looked up in the stands to see him watching.
Saturday’s were always a big deal for me at my house. Saturday was the day I got to go to the rink and play hockey. I remember in the morning my brothers and sisters would help me get my gear on. I was just a little guy and couldn’t do it by myself. Once they had me dressed, one of them would have to walk me to the rink. They would make sure I got there safe but I had to carry my own hockey bag and stick. They must have hated when it was their turn to do that mile and a half trek to the rink with their baby brother. I don’t remember them every complaining, we were all keenly aware that without Dad we all had to do our part. I, on the other hand, never complained, those mornings at the rink were the highlight of my week. Rain, snow, sleet or shine I didn’t care, the walk was well worth it. Not only did I love Saturday mornings, I loved Saturday night’s too. If I was really lucky my Mom would be busy and I’d get first dibs on the tv to watch “Hockey Night in Canada” before I went to bed. As I snuck towards the living room on those nights, if I could hear “The Tommy Hunter Show” I knew I was out of luck.
When I couldn’t be at the rink playing, the neighbourhood kids and I took our game to the street and we played a lot of road hockey. Our neighbour hated us playing! If the tennis ball we were using landed on his lawn he’d come outside, take out his jackknife, cut the ball in half and throw it at us. He was terrifying. I really thought he was nuts – not just because he mutilated our tennis ball, but seriously, how do you trust a man that doesn’t love road hockey?
Not too long ago I was reminiscing with my siblings about the amazing job our mother did as a single mom. I made a comment that I didn’t know how she afforded to pay for me to play hockey. The room went silent and I noticed my sister had a bit of smirk on her face. I asked what she was laughing at and my brother chimed in and said, “It wasn’t Mom who paid, it was her. She knew you loved it so she used her money from her part time job to pay your registration…there was no way Mom could have afforded it.” It was one of those moments that surprises you in a way you don’t see coming. I wanted to hug my sister right then and there and tell her that she will never know how much that meant to me but I couldn’t get the words out. She gave me a gift that changed my life, she gave me hockey.
As many years have passed, I’ve become a husband and a father. Hockey has stayed in my life and although I don’t have the memories of my own Dad around the sport, the game allowed me to have them with my own kids. My son got married recently and wrote me a card saying that one of his favourite memories was of the two of us celebrating together after Canada won the gold medal at the World Juniors. Once again, hockey gave me a gift; it offered me a father/son moment that I never thought I’d have.
So, if you ask me what hockey has given me, I can say confidently that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that game.
- Written by Allyson Tufts