Half a Century Highlights Tour

Fifty years ago, a little blond tyke was born in River City, interrupting a family’s Sunday rest. That little April fool was me. Looking back at a half century of life and experience – well now, a lot has happened! Some scenes and chapters I know close up and personal, and these memories are cloaked with emotion. I have tried to describe these here. Want to zigzag back through time with me to retrace some of these memories? I realize fully that it’s a bit self indulging on my part but what the heck – it might well be worth your time!

I remember the space shuttle Challenger, exploding into nothing more than jagged lines that punctured holes in a continent’s ho-hum attitude toward space travel. There have always been tragedies in the world but most were separated from us (from me anyway) by distance or time or foreign-ness. But the tragedy of Challenger shocked me. It was real, it was surreal as the world held its breath watching the fireball, watching pieces of the shuttle falling silently down to the Atlantic. It was my first “I remember where I was when…” moment. I was in the music archive room in the basement of CKBI and 99FM Radio, Prince Albert, a room of old smells and old hits on 45’s and LP vinyl. To this day, not only do I remember where I was when six astronauts and a high school teacher named McAuliffe died tragically, I remember that smell of music from bygone eras.

9/11. Jet aircraft – passenger jets – flown as missiles into skyscrapers packed with people. Are you kidding me? What has the world become that such evil is so inventive?

Way back in the day in school: story time with Mr. Leenheer in Grade 6 – that man could spin a yarn! He’d have the class rapt and spellbound for two solid hours of storytime. In Grade 4, becoming friends with First Nations foster kid named Gilbert. When we’d go to my place after school, Mom would give us tea and cookies. Gilbert liked that. And then there was Kenny M. Haha, Kenny and I were the same height; shortest by far in all the class.

Reading Hal Bock’s Dynamite on Ice: the Bobby Orr Story in class in Grade 4, book tucked neatly under my desktop. I must’ve read that book a dozen times. Back then, I thought Bobby Orr might just be able to walk on water. Why, to 10 year old Ronnie, Bobby Orr was probably the greatest person on the planet! Even Superman couldn’t fly as gracefully as Number 4 after he tucked that Sanderson pass behind Glenn Hall. Bobby Orr could do it all like no other and make it look so easy. Today I look back with a chuckle at the heroes we have as kids. But I also Imagine what Orr could have been had the doctors then possessed the arthroscopic tools and knowledge they have now. Just imagine!

Getting the new teacher for Home Room in Grade 9. Mr. Visscher. He was no-nonsense but pretty cool; one of those special ones that are natural teachers. I remember being dumbfounded in Bible class: we were studying one of the apostle Paul’s letters and Mr. V mentioned good-naturedly in his lesson that Paul was “a bit of an odd duck, a bit weird” and I thought in absolute shock, Whoa! Can you say that?! Out loud?! One teacher (whose name escapes me now) that could not pronounce one student’s name, which was Luke. Not for the life of him.  It always came out as “look”. So every time he called on Luke in class, most of us would cast searching, dramatic looks here, there and everywhere. And then we’d snicker. Man, that never got old!

High school, French 10 or 20: letting Mr. VG talk me into a French speaking competition in Calgary (I think it was Calgary). Entrants had to speak on their chosen topic for five minutes – an eternity – and then complete a question and answer session with the judges, all in French. It was and remains the most terrifying time of my life. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Maybe. But I think a little piece of me bit the bullet that day! 🙂 High school drama, playing a black South African in Cry, the Beloved Country. Think of the irony: a little blond Dutch-Canadian playing a black South African.

There are the fallen. Those taken from us. Us as a single family or in the broad sense of Us as community or society. Because the fallen four means different people, different life connections to me. Personally, the four taken (too soon, God, but I know you know better) were Dad, Mom, Lou and Anita. As a family, I’ve often considered that child’s play song. “Ring around the rosie, pockets full of posies. Hush-a, hush-a, we all fall down!” Play song, plague song perhaps. For me, an old song that is strangely linked to me and mine. Yeah, kinda weird, I admit.

Dad’s funeral was hard, I remember that vividly. And leaving the cemetery on that cold November afternoon back in 1988, I looked back on his casket atop that fresh, ugly hole in the ground, thinking: Oh we can’t just leave him here out in cold like this, can we? A nonsensical question if there ever was one. But a true and anguished one and oh so real. And of course, we left him there. We leave our loved ones there and then and we hope and pray we will see them again in time anew.

I know God was listening closely. He always is. And I believe that maybe God has a pretty wry sense of humour at times. On the way back to church for the usual buns and condolences and awkward moments, we were riding in that shiny black Limousine lost in our own thoughts until that November chill froze the limo’s gas line. There we sat, quiet as church mice, in the Edmonton Transit bus stop pullout on 107th Avenue, waiting for help. Something out of a sitcom, eh?

Playing crib with my brother Lou in the winter of his days. Seeing my sister Anita smile and even laugh despite her tremendous pain. Conversations with my mom.

Playing goal for so many years in so many rinks and arenas. Church leagues, Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, 10:45’s at night at Winterburn arena, the Rockies, the Hurricanes, summer leagues, touring with the CFCW Critters, tournaments in Edmonton, tournaments in Las Vegas. I saw a lot of rubber over the years and I still think playing goal’s as much fun as you can have standing up.

The Fallen Four after the blood fell in Mayerthorpe, an ugly gash in the blood red tunic of Canada’s mounted police. Do you remember all those police officers on the streets of River City, marching in solemn, funereal unity? Paying their respects as tough men and women who thought they’d seen it all? Tough men and women paying with tears. It hurt for all of us.

My daughter…how as a baby with mommy and daddy out in the park on a summer’s day never crawled on the lawn. Always bowed over, a human U on hands and feet with her little diapered bum in the air, slowly navigating over those mysterious and prickly blades of grass. I remember not so many months earlier, meeting a delivery nurse and newborn Kristen in the elevator after the Bos Lady’s C-section. “See here your daughter, Mr. Bos; isn’t she cute?” And I thought, No she ain’t – she’s got a dented head! Long labour had caused her little head to be bent a little out of shape. A sight not foreseen by a rookie papa!

1972, listening to the first ever Team Canada that mattered playing hockey against the evil commies from Russia. CCCP were the letters proudly showcased on the Soviets’ red jerseys and I remember being puzzled, thinking: Why isn’t the USSR on the jerseys; what’s this CCCP? This first Canada versus Russia was nothing less than epic. Formally, this eight-game series was called the Canada/Russia Summit Series but to all Canadians it was simply us against them. Bigger than any Stanley Cup, bigger than the Olympics, the series had everything: good days in white hats and bad guys in black hats, as polarized as opposing characters in any western or cartoon. It had the young phenom Ken Dryden, who had rocketed out of nowhere the year before in the NHL playoff…but now looking so ordinary and so lost against the Soviets. It had a young nobody with ridiculous-looking helmet-and-cage head protection stymie our superstars time and again, seemingly saying: “The name’s Tretiak. Vladislav Tretiak. You will remember.” And it had “Henderson has scored for Canada!” And so a nation cheered; a country leapt out of its seat with a roar from coast to coast. We came alive as a nation. It may be that in the great world wars earlier in the century, Canada shows its mettle and fight. In 1972, Canada showed its unity and passion.

But as the years and decades rolled along after “Canada/Russia”, the passion and patriotism seemed to fade away like the dark, electro-charged thunderstorm cell that moves off, leaving only muted and fading echoes of its former booming self. After 1972, Canada vs. Russia – and all international hockey tournaments – seemed pale in comparison. Not that there wasn’t great hockey in these tourneys. The 1987 Canada Cup finals between these two hockey superpowers – featuring Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as well as Sergei Makarov and Vyacheslav Fetisov – might be the finest three-game hockey series of all time. But for the country Canada, it was no ’72.

My son and daughter, becoming young adults, professing their faith in Christ; another son to follow soon, we hope and trust. Kristen’s love of reading. Brad’s beaming face at receiving an award at his graduation (his smile was so bright and broad, we thought his face was going to split in two), Kevin getting past the stage fright and butterflies to perform so well in that funny Sherlock Holmes play at Spruce Grove’s Horizon Theatre.

Watching the Bos Lady at work, reaching out and being whatever those around her need her to be at the moment: a bright, friendly smile; a listening ear; an empathetic hug; a shoulder to lean on. She helps so many she touches in such a easy and natural way. Remarkable.

All the great times with my high school crowd. Fun and games, pizza, loads of laughs. And yes, there may have been some beer in there, too. These were the days before beer from the US was stocked in liquor stores like they are today. But when the local Canadian brewery workers went on strike, the southern border opened to American suds. So we learned to drink this watered down swill – any beer in a drought, we reasoned, any Pabst in a storm.

And so, dear reader, we’ve come to the end of our Half a Century Highlights Tour. Cheers to another 50 years? Walk on!

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