Who says there aren’t winners in outdoor hockey? (Part 2)
Yesterday, we featured the runners-up to our Most Amazing Shinny Experience writing contest. Today, the Grand Prize Winner! Carolyn Inch brings us this beautiful outdoor hockey story from Chelmsford, Northern Ontario. Great job, Carolyn. We hope that you enjoy your prize pack and thanks for following us on our trip!
I remember my mother saying to her farmer son-in-law “If I get that old-timer’s disease, Rick, take me out to the back forty and shoot me.” Rick was the natural choice for the task, being an efficient dispatcher of horses with broken legs and unwanted dogs dropped off at the end of the road.
Ironically, several years later, I was reminded of mom’s half humorous instructions on the farm one Christmas day. It was a day when nature colluded with the calendar—a deep blue sky, a river frozen before the snow fell, and a family gathered whose fathers and sons loved hockey. The women folk, including mom, were always keen participants in whatever the outdoors had to offer on our Christmas visits: horse-drawn sleigh rides or ski-doo rides or mucking out the barn.
That day, after we opened the gifts, ate too much breakfast and drank too much coffee with Baileys, we wound our way through the birch and scrub spruce, breaking out of the forest into a shining expanse of blue-black ice.
Mom was already pretty advanced in her illness so had to be led along. But she was physically strong and the spirit of the event seemed to breathe some expression into her vacant face.
Ice on a river with a current has endless variations of bubbles trapped below the surface as well as cracks and colours suggesting underwater sprites and secret caverns. Everyone was enchanted by the setting and spirits were high. The boys—my two sons of nine and 12 and their nine-year-old cousin—were itching to show off their hockey prowess.
It was Rick who thought of it: “let’s put mom in net.” Maybe he was recalling his long-ago promise to her and hoping for a wild puck to do the job. Who knows? What I do know, though, was that for a few minutes on that cold, brilliant morning, mom was part of the game.
The scraping of skates with sudden stops, the snap of a hard pass, the sense of urgency and peals of hilarity as the puck shot down the river with everyone in hot pursuit… mom responded by trying to stop the puck from entering between the two boots that we had set up as the goal. Surrounded by the grandsons she was so proud of and a wilderness setting where she had always been most at home, for a few moments the disconnected neurons found their way together through that swiftly encroaching plaque and she joined us for the last time.
The sights and sounds of that bittersweet day are deeply etched in my memory but mainly it’s the feelings that flood back. It was magic—a sheet of ice on a northern river; sure, graceful movements; laughter, family, love and loss.
Thanks again to all of the participants in our Most Amazing Shinny Experience writing contest. We had a great time reading your entries and it’s nice to know that you’re out there!