It was 196_ , when I was a wee lad of eight years, that I met Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.
My parents were on holiday at the time and my brother and I were staying with family friends. They noted that Gordie Howe was coming to town and would be signing autographs at Eaton’s department store. Howe did a lot of promotional work for the chain in those years. My brother and I were asked if we wanted to go, and of course we responded with a resounding, “Yes!”
I remember being so excited I could barely sleep on the nights leading up to the big day. Like most Canadian kids, I was (still am!) hockey-mad, and Howe was as big a star in the National Hockey League as they come. What would I say to the great man? Would I even be able to speak? Would he offer some tips I could use on the ice? Would he be in full uniform, and if he was, would he be wearing the road jersey or home jersey? Holy smokers double soakers, I was electric in anticipation!
The big day came and we stood in the agonizingly slowly moving line, me jiving in eight year-old fashion as I was certain I was going to piss myself right there. We finally got to the front and there I am, face to face with the great man, Mr. Hockey, number nine in my program and number one in my heart, Gordie Howe.
Naturally, I was tongue-tied.
Howe asked me what my name was, who to make out the autograph card to, and all I could do was stare at him in awe. Even though he was sitting behind a table he was huge! And his hands were massive! I remember feeling very light-headed as I took all this in. I might have stood there silent as a sentry for hours, but mercifully the family friend spoke up.
“Robbie won the scoring title in his hockey league last year,” he said to Howe.
I had a first tingle of pride start to come on me as Howe, without missing a beat, looked at me with a sly smile and asked, “What girl’s league did you play in, Robbie?”
My entire body, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, went a deep, beet red. I swallowed my tongue. I damn near cried, right there in front of one of the toughest men to ever step on the ice. I was a puddle. Decimated. Wiped out. Kaput.
Howe signed my card, gave me a big smile, and we shuffled off as the line behind us moved forward.
Now you might think that I walked away crushed and bitter after this encounter. Mad at not being able to speak, embarrassed beyond belief that Mr. Hockey had mocked me, shamed at acting like a zombie in my big moment. But you’d be wrong.
That brief moment of discombobulation was over before I’d taken three steps, and my overwhelming sensation was absolute joy, unencumbered glee, ecstatic exultation that Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey himself, had joked around with me!
Sure, I was the butt of the joke, but even at that age I knew when someone’s intent was levity rather than cruelty, and hell, even if it was cruelly intended (it was not) who else could claim that Gordie Howe had picked on them? Besides other NHLers, of course.
I remember walking on air for weeks after this moment. Hell, the little joke Gordie (I call him Gordie now because we’re well acquainted, you see) and I shared had me yukking it up so hard, I tell my school friends, that I didn’t even notice his sons Marty and Mark also signed the card. Who has time for such frivolities when you’re larking with an NHL superstar? Chortle, chortle. “So Gordie says to me…”, I tell them.
So that’s my Meeting Mr. Hockey story. I’ve been dining out on it for donkey’s years, of course, and that one brief moment of discomfiture has been the source of fun and laughs for a long, long time. And when my friends complain that I’ve told them this story already, that they’ve heard it a thousand times and give it a rest, already, I then tell them about the time I met the Prime Minister of Canada, and how he thanked me.
Perhaps I’ll share that one day here, too. Also, even.