The railroad caboose was our warming house. Pete didn’t open it until ten, but that didn’t stop us. With our blades and sticks over our shoulders, ear bras on our heads, choppers on our hands, we would change in the snow banks and the Stanley Cup finals began. Before long, twenty or so future St. Paul Saints passed and shot, stick-handled and checked through a half inch of new snow until one side raised their sticks and retreated back to the red line. “Nine to four,” someone shouted as the losers started back up the rink with only the boots in the bank applauding.
Pete’s van pulled up, signaling the first period’s end. We’d grab our boots and head for the warming house. Red-faced, drooling snot, with frozen hair, we surrounded the furnace as it kicked in. The high school kids showed up and decided that we younger ones needed to shovel. Somehow, as the last scoop flew over the boards, the big guys appeared and slappers echoed off the hillside. We would down our peanut butter sandwiches smooshed in our tanker pockets and wait in the snowbank for a backhander over the boards. Retrieving the puck might give you a chance to join, except for Moon—he always got to play. He even made the Cretin kids miss. With the setting sun, the boys packed their beaters and drove off to what we thought might be as far away as California. The few girls on the general rink practiced their twirls, giggled, and fell in love.
When Pete closed the warming house, we’d gather our warm, wet boots and start again. Canadians 22—Red Wings 17. Other kids showed up and left, but the game went on without a dropped puck. We made our own rules, settled things, and played on like there was no tomorrow. If a couple of good kids arrived, they’d join the losing side without so much as a thought. With the cracks in the ice and a million different-colored jackets, you would learn to look up and not be a puck hog or a suck hole. Once in a while old guys played, and you would have to “watch your language.” When the red line disappeared and the puck faded in the dark, we’d change into our stiff boots and head home.
“Jarrin’ John is gonna kick Cy’s butt tonight. You wanna go?”
We would hurry home, burn the trash, shovel the sidewalk, get a couple bucks, and wait for the St. Clair bus to take us to the St. Paul Fighting Saints at the old St. Paul Auditorium. First stop was the White Castle, and then, if early enough, we would head for the players’ parking lot to carry in their bags for a free ticket. If we missed that, we would pool our money, buy one ticket, and wait for the side door to pop open. We would either sneak like burglars, or, if the guards were around, sprint and scatter, melting into the crowd. As I remember, that was our vacation. I got a Northern Pro “lie no. 5” for Christmas. Moon helped me tape it and showed me how to make the knob without wasting tape.
The rink, the railroad car, Pete, the Canadians, Cretin, choppers, the big kids and their cars, Jarrin’ John’s slapper, Cy, Moon, snot and “He scores! Canadians win the Stanley Cup!”
I would continue this reverie, but I have to drive the grandkids to Aldrich. They have practice from five until six, then we’ll probably rent a movie, order a pizza, and I’ll fall asleep in the chair with two hands in the air, stick raised, maybe on one skate—unassisted.