By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. For most of the past week there was a hockey net in my living room. My son would take shots on it with his mini stick; hunkered on his knees, hunched over the thin plastic stick that is as much a part of him as his flowing hair. Every morning the scratched and pocked blade pokes forth from his backpack as he trudges to school; he’d sooner forget his lunch than that stick; he’d much rather forget his homework.
I don’t quite know how the large net made it into my living room but one doesn’t look askance at a gift horse and so he spent most of the week carefully flicking a ball into its gaping mouth with the cautious precision of a surgeon, mindful that any errant shot would quickly bring on my wrath and banish the thing to the garage where it surely belonged. And I’d mumble and mutter but not actually do anything about it, it’s winter and I know, we must take our joy as we find it.
On Sunday night this net doubled as a drying rack. Jerseys and socks and gloves draped across it’s red crossbar so I might as well have curled up to watch Downton Abbey in the Leafs dressing room. It was an odd colliding of cultures that made my head hurt, though that may have been from the fumes of all that sweaty equipment.
It all started innocently enough, earlier that afternoon when my husband raced in from his errands, a look both serious and insistent on his face. “Quick,” he called in a commanding voice, a voice that spoke of urgency and important matters afoot. “The temperature’s rising; rain is coming!”
There are few things one can say to make my children move quickly. “Who wants ice cream” comes to mind. But that sense of dread that strikes the heart of many a Canadian child as temperatures rise and glorious expanses of frozen freedom turn to slush; now that can get them moving. If they wanted to get out to skate that day, they needed to hurry.
I don’t skate myself. Though raised in Canada; strapping blades upon frozen toes is not my cup of tea. I much prefer an actual cup of tea. And a good book. My family did get me out last year, after the temperature had been up and down and the bumpy ice made it feel like I was skating on bubble wrap. I huddled at the middle of the makeshift rink and wailed for help until my then five year old glided over and guided me to safety.
I skated too when we went to Ottawa; stumbling down the Rideau Canal, hand in hand with my husband. Romantic you say? Not a chance. The fingers wrapped around his palm clutched on with a grip as cold and hard as steel; my heart not a-flutter but pressed tight with a gritty, determined fear. There was griping. It was not pretty. “I made it to 2.6 km!” I marvelled, falling gratefully onto a bench, not entirely sure I would be able to rise again. My husband pointed out that the kids had probably skated at least five kilometres; what with all the circling and lapping back they’d done while waiting for me to shuffle along. He was right. I was unimpressed.
And so on this dreary Sunday afternoon I merely watched and assisted in the flurry of activity as skates were jammed into bags and bagels quickly munched; until finally they all clambered out the door, stumbling over one another like a litter of excited puppies.
There are ample opportunities to skate in our town; but without doubt the favourite in our house is those frozen sheets that appear where once there was only grass, my brood are particularly fond of the patch outside the Aurora Community Centre, though there are others scattered throughout the town. One day when the air is frosty and the ground glittering white, we will hear through the grapevine, “the outdoor rinks are open!” and our whole winter will shift. A vast plane of ice under an equally vast grey sky; ragged edges of hardened snow; clusters of bundled up residents finding their own small patch on the scratched white surface. This is the stuff that their “good ol‘ days” will one day be made of.
“We met this kid called Josh,” one little voice chattered happily when they stumbled back through the door a few hours later. “And his dad.”
“And some other kids came over,” the other child chimed in; though in the clutter of voices I have no idea who was saying what.
And as all those articles of sweaty clothing were pulled from equally sweaty bodies and strewn across chairs and floor and hockey net, the story tumbled forth. The stories of spectacular saves and awesome shots; of creative passes and magnificent Crosby inspired goals. The story of balancing teams; trading the lone goalie half way through so both teams had a chance. The stories of a jumbled mix of abilities, ages and strengths coming together with the common goal of a game of shinny on a patch of snowy ice.
My kids slept well that night, sated by the game, by the sheer impromptu joy of a cluster of strangers coming together to make something magical. And I’m willing to bet that scattered across town, those other kids slept well too; happy in the knowledge that whomever they are; whatever their struggles; in that moment they all belonged.
The net’s gone now, from the living room. The mounds of equipment have been put away until (with a little weather dependent luck) next week, when once again the kids lace up, and head to see if anyone, stranger or friend alike, might be up for a little shinny, and a chance to be a Canadian kid in winter.