Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hockey Life: Making do

Growing up in Machias, N.Y., nestled in dairy farming land within the foothills of the Allegheny plateau, we didn't have as many amenities to enjoy as the kids living in any big city. We had a town park, where we could swim, play baseball, hoops and tennis, and we had ponds, swamps and Lime Lake. Really, that was about it.

The nearest rink, for street hockey only, was in Arcade, about a dozen miles away. To us, though, it was like Madison Square Garden, with benches for teams, rooms for "fans" and, for me, a comfortable penalty box. For where we lived, it was the best we had. And we loved it.

That's not to say, though, that we didn't have fun in our little hometown.

In summer, the diamond was just one place to hang out. We'd play "Baseball 500," where scoring points by catching pop flies, line drives and grounders got you to the plate. Back yards, as well as side yards, hosted two-hand-touch football games. Hours at the town pool were followed by bike rides to Lil's or Rauch's, for 16-ounce glass bottles of Pepsi (25 cents with a nickel deposit) and some junk food (Hostess apple pies were my favorite).

Heading into fall, we knew winter wasn't all that far behind. That meant hockey season was coming. Tennis courts, at the town park or at Broad Bay Circle, became our de facto training camps. I was lucky enough to have a long, straight paved driveway, too, where I could work on my slap and snap shots. Before long, even before the first flake of snow, our street hockey season was upon us.

Bodies of water, frozen over by winter's chill, were where we learned to skate and dreamed of becoming the next hockey heroes. Nothing real organized, mind you, nothing but pure pond hockey. It didn't matter, either. Ice was ice. Once, if memory serves me correct, we even played a game (and brawled) in a cornfield outside of Franklinville. Talk about a Winter Classic.

As kids, we didn't know any better as to what others had. Most, if not all, of us grew up in blue- or white-collar, two-income families. For many of us, anything beyond high school, maybe community college, was out of our reach. If we wanted something, we worked for it, teaching a lesson that serves us to this day.

Now that I'm older, taking this trip down memory lane thanks to some pictures from a childhood buddy, I can see how those days truly shaped my life, providing a course to follow and, as a father today, pass along. Not once have I looked back on those days, wishing they were different. Doing so would discredit those memories.

Making do, back then as well as today, is what I do. It's all I've ever known.