At that my facade crumbled. If he had instructed me to stop the nonsense and get to hell in the car and come home, I'd have argued resolutely. But the awful way in which he threatened the future struck away my underpinnings, and I was reduced to a babble of apologies and pleas that I didn't want to see the game, that I was only kidding.
However, in a few silent moments I was deposited at the rink. I remember that we saw a thriller and that the Imperials won. But I also remember that I did not really enjoy it.
As I recall, though, the punishment was not overly severe, and that was probably because my parents understood how this hockey thing was with me. It would start about the middle of October, kindled by the coincidental ending of local baseball and the beginning of National Hockey League play in Toronto and Montreal, which we followed by radio.
My grade-school friends and I never missed the broadcasts, and so, soon after they began each year, we would enact the following ritual in predictable sequence: a switch from cold to hot breakfast cereal followed two boxes later by the box-top ordering of 8-by-10 glossies of Maple Leaf and Canadien players, the search for last year's hockey stick and a tennis ball to serve as a puck until the snow came. Then we would play pickup games on the frozen streets without skates, using, in the absence of a puck, a small block of wood or a shoe-polish tin. Finally, around December 1, the rink would be ready and we would begin real hockey in earnest.
My own hockey career was monumentally lackluster. However, it was not for lack of trying. I practiced with dedication and without regard for the weather, which was, in fact, so cold on some days that my skate laces would freeze. But there were always several dozen boys who were simply better than me.
Nevertheless, I continued my endeavors until one afternoon when I was about 14. My school team was playing a big game, and in the first period I had taken several ice turns and had, I thought, acquitted myself quite respectably.
But now it was a period and a half later, and the coach had apparently forgotten me. Chagrined and growing desperate, with time running out, I decided the only way to get back on the ice was to appeal to his conscience—with some subtlety, of course. So I nudged in beside him and said in a half-surly voice, "Is there any point in my staying out here in this cold any longer?"
I waited confidenty for him to say, "Yeah, just a minute and we'll get you on." He never did.
A short time later I decided I would rather be a big-league baseball player anyway and turned in my uniform.
All these circumstances considered, it may seem strange when I say that I felt a definite twinge of nostalgic sadness a while back when I read in our hometown weekly that the town was considering building an indoor arena to replace the open-air rink and that, some weeks later, I felt relief when the project was vetoed.