Times were different back then.
When I was a kid, like every other kid I knew, at this time of the year I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with my skates on, tied into my chair with tow ropes, one arm free so I could eat my supper, crying, bawling, with every bite because I was dragged into the house from LeBlanc’s pond where a five-hour hockey game raged on without me.
Ma would stare at me, at her wit’s end, and talk about me like I was the cat.
“I don’t understand this! All he has to do is eat and then he can go back out! Has everybody lost their minds!?!” “Baawaahhhhhh !!!! ”
It was 30 below outside. Celsius or Fahrenheit. Take your pick. My hands didn’t work anymore. They were two claws frozen into shapes that you could just slide a hockey stick handle through. My feet were two blocks of ice. My nose, beginning to thaw, ran like Mt. Vesuvius. My lips couldn’t give shape to words. All I could say was “I issing na ame! Waaawahhhh! Ang is aww yuh fall!”
I had my hood up and my scarf tied around my neck so tight my eyeballs popped and I could see almost all the way around my head.
Liver and onions and potatoes piled two feet high in front of me. I calculated it would take two days to eat it and by the time I got back to the game there’d be nobody left. It would be over. There’d never be another hockey game for the rest of my life. The best thing that ever happened to me would have come and gone. It’s nothing but ashes! “MaaWahhhhhhh!”
Then my grandfather would start in telling me what things were like when he was my age. Bah!
He was never allowed in the house with his skates on! He didn’t even have skates! Not like I had. He had spring skates. They bolted on. You had to drill holes through your feet. They were held together with chicken wire. Heavy as a bucket of coal. He didn’t have shin pads either. They used catalogues!
I found the spring skates up in the attic once. He wasn’t exaggerating! They looked like devices designed to make you confess to crimes you never committed. They were just raw, roughhewn industrial blades, welded onto rat traps. Everything was heavy in his day.
Snow shovels. Number 9 pan shovels. Made of iron and petrified wood. I had to drag mine from the coal barn to the driveway with ropes and pulleys to shovel snow.
My job was only to pre-cut igloo-like blocks so he could shovel them up and fling them into the unknown.
It feels like I’ve lived a thousand years since then. It feels like I was born in the iron age.
Now I sit at the table and tell kids all this, knowing full well that they see me as an old fart, that they see me as a talking head on a TV with the sound turned off.
“When I was a kid ...,” I start in because, by God, it’s my turn. “We had no computers! We had no phones. We walked 40 miles a day, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. We didn’t get drives anywhere! We got kicked out of the house every morning. ‘GO PLAY!!!’ They told us and fed us to the wolves. We played with sticks and rocks! We didn’t know anything! There was no heat, no thermostats, no showers! We got a bath once a week. In dirty water! BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!” You’d think they’d be amazed. You’d think they’d drop their chicken burgers before they could take another bite. Listening in thrall to how we had to make fires every morning.
“Zat right?” they say.
And continue living their lives. Like we did.
Ah … for the good old days of frozen toes and a river to skate away on.