My future daughter-in-law Haley and I are sitting on bleacher-style seats inside the stuffy auditorium; my husband Bryan is wandering the halls while we wait for the commencement ceremony to begin. My son, Brandon, is graduating from Buffalo State College today.
Excited but bored and fidgety, Haley has asked me about Brandon’s early hockey life. Hockey is what got him recruited to Buff State, while Haley, his high-school sweetheart, stayed nearer to home and is about to graduate herself from Concordia University in Montreal. We’re from Gatineau, where my husband and I settled for good after his retirement from the military 2 years ago in 2008 and where our 2 boys grew up playing hockey and call hometown.
Well, Haley, I begin, you know we didn’t move to Aylmer until Brandon was 7 – already a veteran hockey star! His first 2 years were played in Cold Lake, Alberta, where Bryan was a Logistics Officer in the Air Force and I worked as a computer programmer for WSSU – Weapons Systems Software Unit – I love that name! I was only a civilian working on the HR systems there, though; all the cool stuff was done by the military software engineers, so don’t blame me for any issues on the CF-18s!
Anyway, Brandon was 5, no, probably 6 that year, because his brother was already 3, sneaking into the hockey gear bag and trying on equipment. One time we found him asleep on his little futon bed, wearing his big brother’s helmet! That was a cute picture – I’ll have to dig it up.
But here’s a story for you. It was a Saturday morning; it was early, and dark, and as usual, Brandon popped up from bed right away when I opened his door to get him up. I wonder how hard I would have begged him if he hadn’t been so darn eager – I would have killed to sleep in some Saturdays. I still sometimes wake up earlier on weekends than weekdays.
This Saturday, all was normal. Bryan’s turn to stay home, so it was just Mom and Brandon. The gear bag was packed by the door. We ate our TV dinners. Yes, I know I told you this before, and you can’t believe it – but we loved our microwaved chicken parmigiana before hockey, yes, even at that hour. You’ve known Brandon long enough to know that at 6 years old, he’d have had no trouble putting a whole entree away and not puke it up on the ice an hour later!
Bundled up, out we go into the cold – I can’t remember a morning that early in Cold Lake that wasn’t frigid– Brandon carrying his own gear bag to the back of the truck – of course we had a truck – it was Alberta! No, I know little kids today wear their gear to the rink, but we didn’t dress them at home then. They changed at the rink in the dressing room, like the little men they were. I didn’t go in the dressing room; I guess the coaches and other dads helped and tightened whatever needed doing.
So unplug the truck, rev it up, drive on tires that felt like blocks, to the rink. It wasn’t very far away as we lived on base there in Married Quarters, in PMQs. I guess the “P” stood for Private? Personal? I lived in them all my life but we always just called them PMQs.
We get to the rink, the sun is coming up now, a pink rosy sheen starting to glow on the shiny snow-packed pavement in the parking lot. Brandon hops out and around to the back to open the trunk gate and get the gear. Uh-oh. What? I run around to Brandon’s little shriek. You know he doesn’t freak out easily. And we both stand there in shock – the gear bag is underneath the truck. How is that possible? We drag it out. It is shredded and hung up on the undercarriage. I must have backed over it in the driveway without putting it in the trunk! We look at each other and can’t think of a word to say. Did I usually put it in? Brandon was so independent and strong, did he usually do it? Anyway, no one did it today. It was dragged under the truck all the way here. We haul and untangle what we can, and there is somewhat of a shell to wrap everything in, so together we cart the ragged mess into the lobby of the rink and lay out the damage.
Incredibly, all the gear is there: helmet scraped; white plastic of the elbow pads intact, even though the straps are frayed, but nothing that hockey tape can’t fix. Pants are dirty, but wearable. Skates: oh please be ok, I pray. They cost a fortune. Yes, I know, he still insists on expensive skates – he always did! And there they are, lying safely on one lace side each, precious blades in the air. I pick them up – the laces are shredded right off, the boots scuffed, but actually, they look fine. I can’t believe it. By now other kids are showing up so Brandon collects the remnants of the bag with his battered equipment and goes to the dressing room. I buy new laces at the canteen and put them in and get the skates to him just in time. He plays great. Yes, as usual!
Bryan tried to be upset with me later for driving over the bag, but really, he couldn’t stop laughing long enough. I didn’t think it was funny at the time.
Now look, Haley, they’re starting the ceremony and here comes Bryan. Yes, I do have a million of these hockey mom stories. I really could write a book!