December 6, 2007

Puck of Gold

As I get older, seemingly innocuous activities have a way of dredging up memories from deep in the past.

I have been helping my friend pack up his house to move after twenty-five years. Much of my energy has been in the basement and you all know what treasures are kept in the basement. Unearthed were the drum his dad made him, a large family reunion portrait showing his dad at a young age, his bow and arrow set, a small chair handed down by an aunt, his dad’s tools and so much more. My friend is a sentimental guy and each piece had a story attached to it. It felt like an archaeological dig with audio identifiers. It was rich.

As we unearthed more and more over the days, I thought back to my own storehouse of childhood riches. Mine is not really a storehouse because I am not much of a collector. I have the “kitty stool” from my home, so named because of the embroidered kitty that once covered it. In a basement box is a coal grate that my mother and I once gleaned from the dump. The well worn shoe shine brush of my school days sits unused on a basement shelf. Do they even sell shoe polish anymore? I have three pictures of me from my childhood and the one with my dad and brother sits on my bureau. A varsity letter is tucked in one of my bureau drawers. But that’s about it.

I used to have more, but during one cross country move I became vicious about throwing out old stuff. Out went the ten inch silver bowl that I won as second medalist in my local Jaycee golf tournament as a teenager. It was a pretty fancy trophy for a dinky little tournament. Out went a collection of little trophies from baseball and hockey. I thought that I was just too old to be holding onto this stuff. And out went my gold puck.

Several years later the gold puck reappeared in my life. The phone rang and an unfamiliar voice said,

“Is this Jimmy Hession?”

“Yes,” I answered with a questioning tone since only a few family members and some childhood friends call me “Jimmy.”

“Is this the Jimmy Hession that scored the winning goal in the CYO championship hockey game for St. Mary’s in 1967?”

“Yes it is.”

I can remember that goal in complete slow motion detail even though it was forty years ago. Some would say it was because I did not score many goals. I was fore checking the puck at the blue line. On the left board the defenseman tried to flick a pass by me but I kicked it forward and broke in alone on the goalie. I was coming in at an angle and as the goalie came out to meet me I slid the puck to my backhand and scored into the open net. I had been practicing that move in my basement for years.

On the phone was the team captain who had read an obituary for my mother in my old hometown’s newspaper. He liked to keep track of the players on the team, so he called me and we caught up. He filled me in on the whereabouts of many of our teammates and he sent me the original team picture. And then I thought of the gold puck.

After our victory we had a team dinner at the church hall. In front of each place setting was a favor: a hockey puck spray painted gold with the player’s number stenciled in black. Mine was “13.”

I remember the last time I handled that puck. It was in 1996 during that cross country move. I hesitated just before I threw it in the trash - maybe I should keep it? No. I was too old to be keeping these things.

There is an old Irish saying, “At the end of every rainbow is a puck of gold.” Or something like that. I miss my puck of gold. I miss my old number 13. I miss my childhood.

It is easy to rationalize my actions. I was saving my children the trouble of throwing out all of this junk when I am gone. But a hockey puck is not too large. They could have held it and wondered what it was all about. Or maybe they would have remembered the story about the day their dad was a champion.

It was only a small spray painted hunk of rubber, but I wish that I still had it in a box somewhere. It was the last tangible connection to an important day in an important time in my life. It was my puck of gold.

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