My daughter, Erika, and I recently spent a couple hours of Daddy/Daughter time at the Worcester Sharks hockey playoff game against the Providence Bruins. We took our seats behind the Sharks bench and waited for the singing of the National Anthem.
Before the first note of "O Say Can you see" Erika asked me if I ever played hockey. I laughed. Then I cried a bit and told her the story of my life on skates.
As a child, skating simply wasn't my thing. It wasn't truly my fault, however. We were a middle class family who weren't overloaded with extra cash and the result was that I never having a proper pair of well-fitting ice skates.
My Dad complains to this day that the reason he is not handy around the house is because he never has the right tools. Mom hands him a butter knife to turn a screw or his shoe to pound in the head of a protruding nail.
When it came time for a bunch of the High Street crowd to take over Cider Mill Pond, Mom would head down the cellar and grab a pair of Dad's old skates for me to wear.
It didn't matter to her that Dad was a size 8 and I was a size 3. Or that the blades of the skates were layered with rust. What mattered most is that I had skates and therefore I could join the guys at the homemade rink.
Had Dad's skates been unavailable I sense Mom would have hooked me up with my sister's white figure skates with the faux fur on the top. While neighborhood buddy, Gary Grenier was breaking down the ice with his Easton Synergy Skates, I would be wearing Melanie's Peggy Flemings.
And of course, had Mom dug deep enough into the wooden box that housed our mismatched skates, winter gloves and hats, I would have been presented with an antiquated pair of double runners that belonged to some Civin ancestor generations earlier.
To offset the enormous size of my skates, Mom would hand me several pair of woolen socks. I'd pull them up as high as I could and fold the length of toe into the tip of the skates. "There, that should be perfect," Mom would reassure me. And for a moment, I'd believe her and head to the pond.
Tim, Phil Lavallee, Dyno and I would head through my back yard and cut through Mr Daley's yard, hoping not to get scolded for cutting through. We'd traipse towards the pond knee deep in snow with my skates tied together and thrown over my shoulder.
We'd pass the tree where I inadvertently broke Brian Foley's nose and laugh about the story. Brian was older than me and quite a bit larger. One year he offered to bring me down the hill on his new Mountain Boy Double Runner sled. He laid on his belly and me on his back and we sped down the hill.
I threw my hands around his head and apparently covered his eyes with my snow-covered mittens. I saw the tree. Brian didn't. I rolled off the top of his back in the nick of time. Brian hit the tree with his face. Blood everywhere. Ooops. My bad.
We then laughed about the time we built a ramp out of snow and hosed it down with water over night so it would freeze. The next morning Rick Aucoin volunteered to christen our bobsled track.
Up in the air he lifted as his saucer hit the ramp. Down it crashed with his leg underneath. I can still hear the sound of Rick's scream and the scream of the approaching ambulance. We laughed now. We were scared white then.
We'd cross Pleasant Street, cut through another back yard or two and hit the Cider Mill Pond. Cider Mill Pond was simply named after a Cider Mill that sat up stream from the pond in the early part of the century.
It wasn't much of a pond and actually was smelly and littered with shopping carts during the spring and summer months. Occasionally a cart would peak through the ice and could be used as an end line on our make shift hockey rink.
The level of hockey we played wasn't great. After all we were American kids and only played the sport when the baseball field was snow covered. But with Spencer roots grown in Canada and with a roster filled with Cournoyer's, Deschamps and Delongchamps it was technically in our genes.
Before the two teams were picked, I'd sit on a log which all the boys used to change into their skates. Off would come my high top work boots and on would slide my first sock.
The itchy wool picked my feet, so I'd usually slide it on above my other sock. Seemed like I'd pull that sock on forever, before it finally made it's way slightly below my knee.
Rick Aucoin and Tim would already be dressed and would be taking their initial spins around the ice, while I was loosening my first skate. I had tied my two skates together for the trip to the pond and invariably they had formed themselves into a knot that Houdini couldn't escape.
I fumbled and wrestled with the two laces and longed for the fork that Mom would use at home to poke at the tangled cord.
Once untangled, I'd have to pull the laces through the weathered eyelets in order to get my over sized foot into the boot. Then back through the 10 sets of holes, and wrap the superfluous string around my ankles to give me extra support.
The boys would start picking teams as I tried to get myself geared up. It didn't matter if I made it out to the ice for the pre-game draft. I was always picked last anyhow.
Two socks on, skates laced up, I'd wobble my way onto the ice like a ding-toed penguin. The second my blades exited the snow, I'd hit the ice. Not running but falling.
The boys would laugh and tell me I looked like Bambi trying to make my way to his feet for the very first time.
Tim was always one captain and Gary the other. They bucked up to see who was the Bruins and who was the Blues. I knew however that the only Black and Blues I'd be a part of where the ones forming shortly on my ass and legs.
I'd line up on the defensive side of the ice and dream of being Bobby Orr or Espo. I'd even accept being Dick Buttons or Oksana Baiul. All the while, I knew, however, that I'd spend the day more like an old-time Zamboni, cleaning the surface of the ice.
By the time the opening puck was dropped I'd have finally figured out that if I turned my feet in and walked on the side of the cracked brown leather I could kind of run along the ice and participate in the game.
I'd think of myself as Bobby Orr while in reality the only move I imitated was his fly through the air after his famous goal against the Blues.
The teams would race up and down the ice with the skill and speed of the 1970-71 Bruins. I'd plant my freezing cold tush on the ice and marvel at their skills.
Occasionally, when the puck was shot wide and went up onto the bank, I'd wobble myself over and toss it back onto the ice. At least then I felt like a contributor.
As the final horn sounded, and the score ended something to something, I'd already be up on the bank disrobing. Skates off, ankles sore, bruises already forming, I'd wrestle again with my knotted up laces and finally decide to tug my foot out of the top and leave the knots for next time.
While Tim and the boys circled the ice with an imaginary Stanley Cup held high above his head. I longed for spring and the start of baseball season. At least there I felt I was playing on an even playing field.
And my cleats fit better than Dad's skates.