Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Hockey Life: Glimpse of the past

After 40 minutes of working on passing, stopping clearing passes and practicing one-timers Wednesday, Colin and I packed up the car and headed to the Countryside mall rink for an abbreviated skating session. A break from our usual routine on early release day at school, it was just one of the many things on our to-do list for the afternoon.

As I turned right from East Bay Drive onto Belcher Road, it didn't take long for nearly 30 years of memories to flood my mind. On the left, about four blocks down Belcher, sat an apartment complex that is a part of my history, from my first tour of duty, so to speak, in the Tampa Bay area.

I spent my 20s during the 1980s along Florida's gulf coast, living in Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Clearwater Beach. Many nights (too many, really) were spent wasting my paychecks at local watering holes, dives and wings joints called Fraternity House, Melons and, of course, the original Hooters.

Beyond that, and that's all I'll admit, details get a little fuzzy.

It was at that apartment complex, though, where my best friend, Brian, and his wife, Sherry, called home. Recently married, they were just starting out, but always had time to help me get in and out of trouble. Quite a few nights found me sleeping on their couch after having a bit too much fun.

For far more reasons than that, and hundreds of stories since those days, our friendship has grown over the years. We're more than friends. We're family. That's why Brian and Sherry, now living in northern Michigan, are Colin's godparents.

As we passed the complex, I quick-keyed their number on my cell phone, hit the "send" button and handed it to Colin. It had been a month or so since we'd spoke and I didn't want the moment, raised through a quick glimpse, to pass.

For the next 20 minutes, Colin spoke to Sherry, relaying recent events in his life, as I drove north to the mall. Along the way, we passed other signposts of the past -- Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, which took us to the beach; the darkened building that was Woody the Printer, my first employer in Florida; and the basketball courts, near the mall, where more than one well-placed knee to a thigh slowed down enough Brian so I could keep up.

All the way, though, I listened in to Colin's conversation. He told Sherry about school and learning that he had gained "gifted" status, meaning a more challenging curriculum and learning experiences. He shared his tale of his 160-foot shorthanded goal and how his team, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad, finished second overall this season. A glimpse into my rearview mirror showed a mile-wide smile on his face.

Each story he told was a part of his history. And this ride to the rink, one of hundreds we've made together over the years, became a memory.

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