The Day Gordie Dropped In

By Jim Hagarty

A friend of mine was a longtime committed member of our local Rotary Club.

Once a year, the club hosted a “sportsman’s” dinner to honour local athletes. A noted national athlete and often more than one were brought in each year to address the lavish banquet. It often fell to my friend to drive to Toronto to pick up the star athlete at the airport. He met many interesting people this way.

One year, one of the stars he picked up was Gordie Howe. Like me, my friend had always idolized the hockey star, a man who many still believe was the greatest hockey player ever. But my friend had another friend who was probably even more of a Howe fan than either one of us. She worshipped the ice he skated on.

On their way back to Stratford from the airport, my friend asked Mr. Hockey if he would mind playing a prank on his friend, the woman who idolized him. Howe immediately agreed.

My friend drove to the woman’s house and he and Gordie Howe walked up to her front door. Kevin tried the doorknob; it was unlocked. So he and Howe walked in and stood in the entranceway. (I realize, as I write this now, how badly this could have gone.)

“Hey, would you like to meet Gordie Howe?” Kevin yelled to the seemingly empty house. “I have him right here.”

From upstairs, the woman yelled down with a bunch of derisive comments directed in fun at Kevin. He called back that Howe was, in fact, standing in her house at that moment.

Finally, to end the farce and get rid of Kevin, the woman came bounding down her steps only to find her hero standing at the bottom of them.

I forget the outcome of the encounter but the woman had just been given a family story for her grandkids and beyond.

The Special Guests

By Jim Hagarty

Gordie Howe’s aging parents, farmers from Floral, Saskatchewan, were proud of their famous son’s amazing successes.

But through all the years of his ascent from farm boy, to teenage star in Cambridge, Ontario, to NHL superstar with the Detroit Red Wings, they had never seen their son play a professional game of hockey. In those days, there were no NHL hockey teams in Western Canada, Gordie was not making a lot of money, though he was a star, and in that day and age, to get on a plane and fly somewhere to a hockey game was not a simple thing.

To mark a milestone, the Detroit Red Wings decided to honour Gordie Howe before a game one night in Detroit. He skated out onto the ice to wild applause. At centre ice was a big lump of a package, all wrapped up with ribbons, bows and paper. Gordie skated towards the object, not knowing what it was.

Suddenly, the passenger doors of the brand new car the Red Wings had bought their star opened up and out stepped his Mom and Dad.

Gordie Howe was a classy human being.

He inspired others to be classy too.

The Greatest of them All

By Jim Hagarty

A boy needs an idol growing up.

Mine was Gordie Howe.

My best friend and I were dedicated Detroit Red Wings fans and could find, in Howe, no better hero. Even though we grew up on farms in Ontario, and should have cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs, my friend had a cousin who played for the Red Wings so we had no choice to cheer for the red and white and by extension, to despise the blue and white.

In the day and age of only six NHL teams, our chances of ever seeing Gordie Howe live and up close were slim to none. We never got to go to any games.

Though hockey always dominated our interests, as we grew up, other things came along. The Beatles, girls, cars, girls and girls. Also, girls.

Our hometown was a small place, five miles away, called Mitchell. Over the years, through connections, the town’s vibrant hockey system (which gave the world its first superstar, Howie Morenz), developed a relationship with the minor hockey system in Detroit. One year, Mitchell players travelled to the Motor City for a tournament. The next year, the Detroit kids came to our town.

In 1968, when my friend and I were 17, the local newspaper carried a story which said several Detroit teams would be coming to Mitchell that winter. Of special interest was the fact that Gordie Howe’s sons, Mark and Marty, would be playing on one of those teams. But the story made the point of saying that Gordie would not be able to see his sons play that day.

We debated going to the game, but ended up there anyway. The stands in the small arena were filled, so we stood by the boards near the entrance and watched with noses pressed against the glass. There were Mark and Marty, scooting around the ice. Pretty cool.

When we approached the boards, we had to split up. There was another fan standing between us. We didn’t pay much mind to that. Eventually, that person walked away, but the space between us remained and a man soon filled it.

It took a few minutes for it to dawn on us, but the crowd seemed to be looking our way and we didn’t know why. Finally, we looked up to discover that Gordie Howe was standing between us, watching his sons.

We whipped out our high school student cards. He signed them. We were too star struck to talk to him. Soon, someone escorted him to a heated viewing area above the ice. We followed him there, sat a couple of rows back.

We continued following him throughout the rest of his amazing career and for all the days after.

Yes, he was a hockey star, but more than that, he was the kind of man we wanted to be.

My friend kept up his intense passion for Howe longer than I did. He attended a game and saw him play. And over the years, both of us followed every newspaper story, every magazine photospread, every TV show that highlighted our hero.

A few years ago, Gordie Howe was in the Toronto area at a promotional event. The company had advertised, “Come out and meet Mr. Hockey.” My friend, now in his 60s, went to the event and was told where to go in the building to meet our hero. He found the room. Gordie was standing in there alone.

My friend and Gordie Howe chatted for 15 minutes. Howe was impressed at how much my friend knew about him.

He only knew the half of it.

I had practised writing his autograph for hours. I could have been passing bad cheques in his name this last 50 years. We had hockey cards and hockey coins that bore his image. We could recite all his hockey statistics by heart. We knew his biography better than our own.

And we knew the song by heart that was recorded and played on the radio: “Gordie Howe is the Greatest of them All.”

He was the greatest of them all.

A very good hockey player too.

It’s Gonna Take Time

Carolyn CD

By Jim Hagarty
Here is another song from When the Day is Over, a CD by my friend and singer-songwriter Caroline Danowski Burchill. It’s Gonna Take Time was the first song Caroline ever wrote over her career as a recording artist and frequent performer. Her CD is available for purchase in the Corner Store.

It’s Gonna Take Time by Caroline Danowski Burchill

The Blameless One

By Jim Hagarty

I know a poor woman who’s sure
Everyone in her life has hurt her.
And she knows where the blame should belong.
Some vile, wretched soul did her wrong.

It is quite a remarkable sight
To watch her engage in a fight
With anyone who wants to know
Why she let everybody down so.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she’ll exclaim.
“My husband’s the one who’s to blame.”
Her son, the neighbour, the cat.
They were the ones who did that.

Some day as she stands before God
To account for her sins, she’ll just nod.
“To be honest, please let me explain.
“I’m afraid I was tricked once again.”

“I would have been good, but you know,
“I’m afraid this might come as a blow.
“You made too many rules from the start
“And neglected to give me a heart.”

“So it’s You, God, that needs to explain
“And You, God, that shoulders the blame.
“If You thought I should behave each day
“Then You shouldn’t have made me this way.”