Bobby himself now has a seven-room summer place of his own on Big Island, just across the water from the Hull family home. There one day last summer, as Bobby tells the tale, "I had taken my boat out on the bay for a little water skiing with my wife, Joanne. We came back toward the end of the afternoon to have some barbecue with Mum and Dad and my grandfather—he's over 80—and my cousin, Carol Cook.
"Then we all decided to go for a ride in the boat. It's a 22-foot inboard runabout. I hit the starter. There must have been a gas leak. I guess the arc from the starter brushes ignited the fumes. Anyway, there was an explosion that knocked everybody down and blew the floor boards right out. The engine box tipped up, letting a blast of flame as hot as a welder's torch catch Mum on the legs. Joanne was blown onto the dock. Dad bailed out and swam. I knew my cousin could swim, so I shoved her into the water. Then I got Mum out of the flames. I saw that grandfather wasn't in danger, so I jumped overboard and sort of swam the boat back to the dock from where it had drifted. I wasn't hurt at all, but Mum was hurt pretty bad."
Mrs. Hull, alive and improving, but with her legs swathed in bandages, was still in the hospital at nearby Belleville two months later when I found my way to the neat stucco house in Point Anne. Mr. Hull was on hand, however, so with him and seven other members of the Hull family, I sat down to the most abundant dinner I had faced since a certain harvest meal before the war.
It was Sunday, and we ate chicken, dressing, potatoes, cauliflower with a cheese sauce, green beans, a green salad, a gelatin salad, a local Cheddar cheese and lemon meringue pie. The date cake looked good, too, but it arrived too late.
A glance at that loaded table provided one sure clue to Bobby Hull's heft; a glance at his father, Robert Edward Hull, another. The elder Hull is a thick-chested 225-pounder with a booming voice and faded blond hair. When he had more of it, some years ago, he too was a well-known local hockey player called The Blond Flash. That was when he courted Bobby's mother.
A duck to water
It was on the ice of the Bay of Quinte just outside the door of the Hulls' house that Bobby himself learned to skate, to whack a puck straight and hard toward a makeshift goal and to use the strength he found in his stocky legs.
"We gave Robert a pair of skates for Christmas when he wasn't quite 3," said Hull Sr., helping himself to white meat and dressing. "I took him over to a frozen pond near home, and I'll be darned if he wasn't taking a few strides within a half hour.
"He learned to swim just as fast. One day he just waded out into the water and started paddling away. Begad, I had to wade in after him, clothes and all."
"Hey, Maxine," said Jackie Hull to another older sister of Bobby's, "remember the time Bobby threw a tomato at you and hit you in the eye? There never was a time when we could handle him."