When I was twelve, my peewee hockey team took part in our annual exchange program with a team in Warwick, Rhode Island. I was billeted with a pretty wealthy family, who lived in the biggest house I’d ever slept in. Three car garage, huge, sweeping driveway. A basketball hoop when that wasn’t commonplace. I shot hoops with my new friend and his older brother as we listened to More Than a Feeling on the boombox over and over again. This was Thursday. My friend’s name was Scott. At dinner, his mum asked me what my religion was. That wasn’t uncommon in those days. I said Catholic. But I wasn’t really. Sort of. My mum was a single parent and by the time I was eight or nine, she didn’t have the energy to drag us to church on Sunday mornings. I never did a confirmation or First Communion. But Scott’s mum didn’t know that. Why would I tell her? But she said, Great, you can go to school with Scotty tomorrow.
The next day, Friday, I went to school. I was in grade eight at the time and I was attending a sixth grade class. I was welcomed warmly, answered a few easy math questions and mostly day-dreamed the rest of the morning away.
At lunch, we played baseball. Real baseball. Bases and everything. I remember pitching a scoreless inning but that could be fanciful. Baseball in New England in the spring. It was awesome.
After lunch, around 2 pm, the teacher said it was time to go. I thought this was the best school day ever. Easy math, baseball, and getting off at two pm. I was wrong though. We were headed to the church on campus for our Easter confessions. Holy shit. I never did that before. And I was young enough that the idea of lying to a priest in a church still struck the fear of God in me.
As hundreds of us stood in line to file through the confessionals, I pleaded for the most tutorial advice I could get. My new friends were helpful and gracious, which is rare for a group of twelve year olds.
As I entered the confessional, I was freaked out. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. (I didn’t feel like a sinner. That would come the next year). It’s been three weeks since my last confession, I lied to a priest. Then I said I swore in front of my mum and was mean to my brother. I was sentenced to a number of Holy Fathers and Hail Marys. I didn’t know what that meant and never did it but I felt like I escaped the guillotine.
Scott’s mum felt bad that I’d been traumatized. It was all very sweet.
That night, we played our first game and I quickly understood that my new friend and host was their number one centre, top scorer and best player. He was a left-handed shot so he tended to veer left. I was on the right side of the number one defensive pair so we were destined to spend the night against one another. On the first shift, my new friend came into my zone, along the boards, and I knew I had to do my best to crumple him. I checked him hard.
And as we gathered ourselves, face to face, I swear this is what I thought. Even as a twelve year old. “Welcome to my Church. The Church of Larry Robinson”. Ha. Good times.