Then, as each child reached age seven, the weekly travel-team fire drill grew fiercer, Mr. and Mrs. Lamoureux jamming coolers and sleeping bags into the van and driving for hours to get Phil to Minot, Jacques to Jamestown, Pierre-Paul to Moorhead, Mario to Fargo and the Missies to Bismarck—no, Grafton! How did Linda remain so impeccably dressed, made up and coiffed, so implausibly cheerful ... so sane? While the Lucky Lamoureuxes were practicing for their Mites, Squirts and Pee Wees teams at North Dakota's old Ralph Engelstad Arena, she'd affix a Walkman to her ears, crank up Abba or the Bee Gees and run the stairs or laps around the concourse, mile after mile. A minister, you see, had made the mistake of asking her, "When are your twins due?" three weeks after they were born, a remark that hotfooted her through 25 marathons, including five Bostons—her annual spring break, Mom Gone Wild.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Lamoureux utterly and unblinkingly bought into the American premise: Sports cultivate children, infuse them with the values they need to Make a Success of Themselves. Mom made the refrigerator, cupboards and kids' bedroom walls disappear beneath inspirational sporting poems, articles, exhortations and seven-point creeds. So odd were her children: They actually read those things. Actually took them to heart.
Linda was the one flickering spirit fingers at the children and picking them up off the floor. Pierre? He was the one who floored 'em, with the explosion of his finger snap if they misbehaved, the heat of his glare if they coasted for a single shift. He wasn't the tyrant people presumed from a distance; he was a likable jokester once you crossed the moat of the fierce silence with which he studied his kids at play and flashed them signals. Rolling his arms meant Move your feet! Pressing one open palm against the other meant Keep your stick on the ice! Pointing his index finger like a pistol meant Shoot the damn puck! Yet he never interfered with their coaches. He worked monstrous hours to buy their equipment and pay their team fees, ran shuttle relays to Play It Again Sports and Hockey World, made sparks fly from his skate sharpener and from his blowtorch as he attached new blades to the broken hockey sticks his sons scavenged from the trash cans at local rinks.
But to go six for six you'll need more than a blowtorch national champ pa and a marathon-running and chauffeuring state champ ma. You'll need your eldest child to not only sign on completely, the way Phil did, but also offer his siblings a slightly altered model for success, so he's not just Dad doubled, or the rest of the flock might've said Screw it. A kid can grow his hair long and sleep in till 10 and still outwork everyone else: That's the message Phil sent rippling down the ranks, allowing Dad to take a half step back and watch the Lamoureux intensity spark from child to child.
It was, their coaches marveled, as if they'd come off a conveyor belt, rink rats who never bitched or big-timed anyone, throwbacks who unloaded on everything that moved, who took a stick in the stomach or a puck in the teeth to win, kids to whom the coach could hand his house key if he left his wallet on the kitchen table. There was only one way that many Lamoureuxes could play the game at that level of aggression and skill, some Grand Forkers grumbled: Those children had no choice, they were overscheduled robots. Why, their father was planning to ship the boys to Russia and the girls to Winnipeg to master the game. He beat them if they didn't play and work out hard went the wild rumors heard by the kids. He made them do drills and box each other in their basement.
The Lamoureuxes shook their heads and tittered. How could a kid explain that the fire inside him burned on love, not on fear? How could he explain a ditch?
Here's what you can't arrange when you're designing your dynasty: an ice age. The one that began 30,000 years ago, creating a massive glacial lake containing more water than all the lakes on Earth today, covering much of the land that would one day be Canada and creeping all the way down to North Dakota until it began receding 10,000 years ago and the glacier's melting waters began carving gullies in the land. Coulees, the French fur trappers who fanned out across the Dakotas in the 1800s called these drainage ditches where slow-moving streams sometimes formed, and when a family of English-speaking settlers was slaughtered by a band of renegade Sioux on the banks of one such ditch in 1824, it became known as English Coulee.
Such a weedy, scummy excuse for a stream it was ... except for one serendipitous patch, on Grand Forks' southwest flank, where a contractor named Craig Tweten—standing on the property he'd purchased in a new subdivision—had an epiphany one day in 1987. He rolled his backhoe into English Coulee, knocked out a bank of dirt 12 feet long and six feet wide, watched water pour through and fan out into a marshy depression 70 feet wide and 200 feet long, and then waited.
In late autumn came the freeze, and then the children with scarves and skates and sticks, and the floodlights and the light snowfall that turned the scene into something you might see on an old holiday greeting card. Pierre Lamoureux didn't notice this gem tucked behind the houses across the cul-de-sac when he moved in a year later. He got lucky again. Four-year-old Phil hit the frozen lagoon that winter in full stride, and everywhere that Philippe went, the Little Lams were sure to go.
One freak year the shallow coulee froze in late September, and a few other times at Halloween. But it almost always congealed by mid-November, a month or more before the local rinks opened, allowing the Lamoureuxes—who spent 20 hours a weekend at the coulee and another dozen during the week—to amass thousands more skating hours than their peers.