by Fielding Goodfellow
It was a winter that lasted through the spring, filled with dark and dreary days of sub zero temperatures that bit through the four layers of thermal and fleece lined layers, and I was sure could easily make me hypothermic just by looking out of the window for too long. But the old man was pretty fussy about his driveway, so we were out there every time it snowed, leaving him a perfectly manicured runway on which to land his Buick LeSabre, while my mom stood at the screen door waving at us, occasionally opening it to poke her head out and remind us to “take your brother’s head out of that snow bank”.
The old man would come home, crawling down the snow covered street, swerving left and right, until he hit the driveway and made the perfect landing he longed for as the Buick caressed the asphalt and slid ever so gracefully up the driveway and into the garage. “Nice job on the driveway, gentlemen.”, he said as he stood in the foyer trying to remove the scarf he had managed to knot around his neck. My mother was always standing there, waiting for the moment when he simply gave up trying, so she could release him from bondage. She could untie anything, scarves, fishing line, shoelaces, it didn’t matter. She had never met a knot that she couldn’t defeat. We would stand around awestruck, watching as she manipulated the tangled item in her hands, and, after successfully resolving the dilemma, always handed it back with a smile.
“How did you manage this.”, she asked as she set him free.
“Damned if I know.”, he replied, winking at us. “I have a surprise for you guys”, he said as he removed the last few items of winter. We sat around the table waiting for the old man to finish eating. Consumed by the excitement of his pronouncement, we were unable to eat a thing, and took turns guessing what he had in store for us.
We suited up and followed him out to the garage and helped carry wood from the back of the Buick to the backyard. The old man marked off an area, and instructed us where to hold each piece as he pounded it into the ground with a sledge hammer and then joined them together with clamps. “It’s a hockey rink.”, one of my brother’s shouted with delight.
“Not yet.”, the old man informed us as he picked up the garden hose. “We need ice.” He began spraying water over the backyard. Long after my mother called us in, he stayed out there, freezing his old man nuts off, and continued flooding the yard, one layer at a time, until he was satisfied with the result. He must have been out there all night, and by morning, it was five layers deep. “It’s time.”, he said as he woke us, and we bolted out of bed just to look at it through the family room window.
The old man didn’t skate., I suppose he never learned how, but man did he love hockey. He stood out there with us for hours, coaching us, shouting “Pass the puck”, or “Shoot”, until Billy and Kenny Bellwood showed up. The old man and the Bellwoods had not seen eye to eye since the dog incident of 1966. It seemed that the Bellwoods once had a dog, a mixed breed of terrier and hell hound that, much like their kids, was allowed to roam freely throughout the neighborhood. One day the dog bit one of my brothers in the ass. The old man pulled the hound off and the little shit bit his hand. The dog was carried back to the Bellwoods with a stern warning that if it returned to the old man’s property, it would meet an untimely demise. About a week later, the dog was found dead on the Bellwood’s front lawn. Mr. Bellwood was certain that my old man was responsible. There were idle threats made, and words were spoken that would never be forgotten. The old man was sure that the Bellwoods were stupid fucks, and he regularly referred to them as the Peckerwoods.. We didn’t like them much either, although I’m not sure why, and out there on the ice, we took every opportunity to knock them on their asses as we glided around the backyard rink.
“Hey”, Kenny shouted as he lay on the ice, “you tripped me.”
“It’s not my fault if you can’t skate.”, one of my brothers shouted back as Kenny swung his stick into my brother’s leg. And then all hell broke loose. A hockey brawl ensued on our little, back yard rink with sticks and gloves dropped, and punches being thrown in every direction. It didn’t last very long, but when it was over, there was blood pouring out of Kenny’s nose and mouth, pooling all over the ice. It wasn’t a big deal to us really, or to Billy or Kenny, but Mrs. Bellwood showed up at the old man’s front door about ten minutes after the fight ended, dragging Kenny and Billy behind her.
I have no idea what transpired at the meeting between Mrs. Bellwood and the old man, but my mother made us go over and apologize, trying to teach us about owning our mistakes. There were several more fights over the years in which Kenny and Billy were left with bloodied noses, and the occasional cracked rib or missing tooth, but the old man never made another hockey rink in the backyard. Our game was played forever more with a tennis ball on the snow covered street in front of the house, amid the endless chants of ‘CAR’. The old man would stand on the front porch, bundled up for the sub zero temperatures, shouting “Shoot”, or “Pass the ball”, or “Knock him on his ass”, in an attempt to lead us to victory.
It was a winter of slap shoots, wrist shots, and penalty shots. It was us against the Bellwoods, and no one was safe. Billy Bellwood was running down the road, carrying the ball on his stick, with his head down. Someone stepped into him, with elbows raised, and sent Billy flying over the street headfirst into a snow bank. Billy didn’t move. “I think you killed him.”, someone said. It certainly seemed so. Someone went to get Billy’s mother, and as she rolled him over in the snow, he groaned and started to cry.
“Someone needs to call the police on you little, bastard hooligans.”, she screeched. It was then that I figured out my mother. She was always so calm, so quiet, and so polite. But she came down from the porch, with just winter boots and a cardigan to keep her warm, and looked Mrs. Bellwoods in the eyes.
“If you ever refer to my children like that again”, she warned her, “I’ll be shoving your face in the snow for as long as it takes to shut you the up.” When we got inside, my mother refused to acknowledge what had just transpired, and we were told that we were never to speak of this incident again. I never did. Until today. But that winter helped me to understand that the love and devotion both of my parents had for us, although it was often shown in some weird fucking ways . I’m sure frustrated and disappointed them, more often that I care to remember, but I know that their love for me never waned. I am who I am because of them. My mother gave me creativity, a love for the arts, and a passion for music and literature. She also gave me hope and a willingness to help others. The old man, well, he gave me perseverance and integrity. He taught me to stand for what I believe is right, to question everything in the search for the truth, and that East Side Mario’s is not an Italian restaurant. Over the years I have discovered that I have turned into the old man, becoming more like him everyday. And while I swore that it would never happen, I am actually quite relieved, I mean it could have been a whole lot worse. I could have been a Peckerwood.