This is an early draft. This piece is under construction, if you have feedback please feel free to post it. A great memory from my childhood.
Grandparents Hockey Sticks and the Iron Claw
There is something special in a relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, even more so when those grandparents raise you as one of their own. The one constant in my life was my Grandparent’s house. A two-story corner lot, with the largest yard in the neighborhood largely due to the lack of a fence, this brick and 1950’s conformity square shaped dwelling is where I call home. My mom and I do not live there.
I spent school nights on their living room couch; waiting for my mother to come home from happy hour with the office workers or the beds of the men she met when happy became drunk sometime around closing time. More often than not, the sleep over’s occurred on the weekends starting right after school on Fridays lasting till sometime Sunday night. I did not understand then that I had interrupted my mother’s teen age life, unexpected pregnancies turn into unwanted children who loose-out to a twenty-something’s craving to be loved.
Freeda and J.W., Mawmaw and Pawpaw as I call them, never turned away their oldest grandson. At forty, my grandmother was too young to be one. She had a large beehive peroxide blonde hairdo, and the blue Tammy Wynette eye shadow to match. Pawpaw was bald and wore glasses; he looked the same from my first memory to the day he died. His calves were thick and reminded me of tree trunks. We did not play much. He parked himself in his chair and lived his life through the television screen. He was a man of routine: Wednesday night was for the Bonanza steak house, Saturday mornings for playing golf, and Sunday afternoon’s football naps on the couch. He possessed the ability to be fully asleep on the couch but at the same time, still listening to the game on the tube. This gift I learned from him is something I cherish. The omnipotent feeling that comes from stopping my children’s little hands, as they silently stalk and clutch the remote, while I doze in my reclining chair is a feeling of control that I relish on a weekly basis.
His favorite activity was the hockey games; they were season ticket holders to the Dallas Blackhawks, the central division minor league team for the NHL’s Chicago Black hawks. From the year they moved to Dallas 1967 to the year they folded 1982, my Grandparents had a four seat box; ten rows off the glass at center ice. In the fall, winters, and springs of the 1970’s they never missed a game. This was the only sporting event they could afford to attend; the bank where my Grandmother worked gave discount packages to their employees.
The team was wildly successful in their fifteen years in Big D; they won five Adams Cup Championships and were in the finals seven other times. They had a loyal following of rowdy fans. The stands always full of beer throwing lunatics, over-zealous kids mimicking their parents, and first time participants enveloped in the goon type brawls that define minor league hockey.
The 1978-79 season, was the best, I was eight years old and we were coming off a year where we finished second in the league to our hated rivals from across town. The Ft. Worth Texans wore blue trimmed with orange and fist fought their way to more penalty minutes than any other club and last year’s championship. They had beaten us in seven games and celebrated on our home ice. At one game in Ft. Worth they had .10 cent beer night fights erupted on the ice and in the stands in what the papers would dub “the dime beer brawl on ice”. The skill of the game was mediocre but the fights were legendary. In 1978-79 I went to all the games and witnessed my first championship season.
We drove down to Fair Park, home of the State Fair of Texas. I remember my grandmother said “Lock your door, Jas. This is a bad neighborhood.” As we barreled down the highway at 55 miles per hour, the bad neighborhood of East Dallas, a blur of lights locked out on either side of the unstopping car.
The Fair Park coliseum was a rundown rodeo arena that housed rock concerts and the roller derby when it came to town. Upon arriving we got hotdogs, cokes, and an enormous bag of peanuts. J.W, loved his peanuts. When the games ended his feet were covered in about twenty pounds of discarded shells. Once we all got to our seats, I inhaled three bites of the dog and scurried down to the ice and stood just outside the entrance gate on the Blackhawk dressing room side. All the kids were at ice level for the preskate warm-ups. Standing on chairs and pounding the glass, as our farm team heroes skated passed, hoping to get a puck flipped over the top edge of the see through plates.
Ken Ellacott, the goalie for the Central Division Champion Blackhawks; was my favorite player. He was unstoppable to my eight year old mind. At the glass for the pre-skate he had given me his stick not once but twice that season. After the Skate with a Hawk Fan Appreciation Night, he knew my name. One of my favorite belongings sits on my desk it is a photograph from that night. My grandmother wearing light lavender polyester suit and new natural color boy short haircut, she has to this day. Ken wearing his game sweater, sweat soaked and bloody, hand on my shoulder as I clutch his large flat goalie stick.
The smile on his twenty-one year old face is half cocked to the side and indestructible. The promise of his eyes still looking forward to the unknown of his career. Drafted in the third round by the Vancouver Canucks, the forty-seventh pick overall. He would play in Dallas from 78-82 winning two titles and being the main stay of the team. When they folded he got called up and played one full season in the NHL compiling a record of 2-3-4. It was the only year of major league hockey he played. He retired from hockey in 1986 after playing a few years for the Flamboro Mott’s Clamoto’s. His final year he dressed for twenty two games and did not record a single stat. I still remember him. The fearless sprawls on the ice, puck pounded cracks of his old time goalie mask, and the way a hero lifted me from the alone wrecked feeling of my boyhood with a simple smile and wink of his eye as he skated passed.
In the foyer of the coliseum my friends and I would play foot hockey with a crushed concessions cup and a lot of imagination. I was always Ken Ellacott; and no one ever scored on me. We were loud and aggressive shoving each other into the pay phones against the wall. I protected the goal in front of the utility closet door and even chipped a tooth once diving onto the concrete. We played during the intermissions when the zamboni was cleaning the ice. I cannot recall any of their names but every season the same group of boys gathered to claim victory on the self made rink at the end of the concession lines.
The three periods never lasted long enough for the kids of the arena. I remember one night we scored as the horn sounded signaling the end of the game. The crowd stood on their feet and screamed FIVE in unison, as it was the fifth and tying goal we were not going to be denied. Three thousand fans all pressed forward crushing the ice with the echo of their yells. After a five minute deliberation they gave us our goal to avoid the riot of half-drunk crazies. The brotherhood that flowed into the parking lot was gregarious and long winded as if the Stanley cup had just been claimed.
Once in the car Freeda made sure the lock on the door of the LTD was down. KRLD ran the after-game sports talk radio show, Pawpaw listened to either old classic country or the AM radio talk shows on KRLD. We always stopped at the Sadler’s convenient store at the corner on our way home. Mrs. Baird’s sugar doughnuts, in the large pack, was our after hockey snack. Just in time to catch the end of the ten o’clock news, we settled in to our usual places in front of the television, while Mawmaw made hot chocolate from milk and the Hershey’s sauce can she had in her refrigerator.
The World Wrestling Federation, broadcast live from the beautiful Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas, was the next show. I cheered for Fritz Von Erich and the Von Erich brothers. Jumping up and down taunting the bad guys, like Bruiser Brody, while I immolated Fritz’s patented move the Iron Claw. To this day it is the number one wrestling move I use when attacked by my kids. Laughing and talking back to the obnoxious announcer on the television as I jumped from couch to floor acting like the ropes threw me to the ground. Pawpaw enjoyed the tag team matches and we slapped hands like I was in trouble in the middle of the ring.
After wrestling it was roller derby; large women who look like they mothered the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Gang sling-shot themselves around the raised edge ovals. Co-ed teams where the men were the smaller of the sexes traded blows and screamed threats similar to the fans of the hockey arena. Somewhere in that show I often drifted into exhaustion and found sleep.
I would awaken to cartoons and breakfast. My grandmother would make me oatmeal with milk and sugar with a little square from the butter stick. They gave me a sense of normalcy that my life often lacked. At my grandparents house I always had a room, always found love, and always was included in their lives. It was the Blackhawks last season 81-82 when I discovered girls on Friday nights at the roller skating rink. Grandparents, hockey, and boyhood heroes took a back seat to the promise of French kissing. I regret letting all of them go so easily.