I’ve been reading a novel that’s set against the backdrop of a hockey-mad small town in Sweden. It’s a complicated plot but the descriptions of the hockey itself are evocative and it’s triggered a few memories that I had forgotten I had. Memories of little things that I didn’t think I had lost so much as they were stored so very far back in my mind that I didn’t have occasion to run across them. Like a photo album you know is tucked away in a specific drawer but it’s a drawer that might not get opened for years. And then the photos may as well have just disappeared.
The first thing this hockey novel brought to mind was the act of taping a stick. The precision on the blade, the grip on the upper shaft, the size of the knob that felt comfortable in you’re hand. (I’m quite aware this all sounds very phallic. And I suppose it is.) And there’s a distinctive smell to hockey tape, a rubberiness that I no longer really run across. Then there was the choice you had to make about what the perfect height of your stick was going to be. The nose, the chin, the Adam’s apple? Because once you started in with the hacksaw and the sawdust started flying, there was no turning back. I haven’t taped a hockey stick in almost forty years.
I recall the particular pleasure of newly sharpened skates. We were kids and we didn’t get them sharpened for every game. And stepping onto the ice with perfectly sharpened blades made our eleven year old bodies feel that much more invincible. Our skills unbeatable. It’s a feeling I’d forgotten.
Basketball was very important to me too. And it, like every other sport, had its own set of rituals. There was the stink of the gym that enlivened me. The feel of the highest quality basketballs for the league games. Wilson Jets, they were called at the time. The sound of the swish and sometimes knowing you’d hear that sound the split-second the ball was leaving your fingertips. Priceless.
Lacing up basketball shoes was similar to lacing up skates. I always did it slowly, it had to be done slowly, to get it just right up and down your feet and ankles. How many pairs of socks would I wear? How high would they be? Wristbands? High or low? It was all part of the decision-making process that seemed so important at the time. And then one day I just stopped and never did it again. And eventually, I never thought of it again.
When I tried to write songs when I was writing for the bands I was in, I would sit on my sofa and on the coffee table would be the same items every time. My pad of paper, my favourite pen, a burning candle, an ashtray and my smokes and my drink. And they would each be in their own location. Pen and paper on the right, ashtray above that, candle in the middle and drink on the left. When I quit smoking, I quit writing for twelve years. Because something wasn’t right anymore and I somehow thought I couldn’t do it with the world being so out of balance.
I used to enjoy watching my father sort through his three or four tackle boxes the night before a fishing expedition. It seemed that as he picked up each reel or organized his lures and threaded the different lines on each rod, memories would come back to him and each of these items would recall a different lake or a different fishing buddy. He showed a patience in this practice that I rarely saw in any other aspect of his life. Maybe that’s why he enjoyed it so much. Even though I don’t really remember seeing him ever catch a fish. I see a bit of myself in that. I’m more patient doing things that calm me. Even if they’re seemingly more frustrating. Calmed by the process, perhaps.
Depending on our ages and our interests, I would bet that each of us has had our little rituals in our endeavors that really seemed to make a difference at the time. Or we may have scent-triggered recollections that allow us to travel to a place that we may have mostly forgotten.
When I finish reading this hockey novel, I’m certain I will have enjoyed it a great deal but the fact is that it returned me, if only for a few minutes, to a time and a place that gave me pleasure, pleasures I’d forgotten about. The simple pleasure of taping a hockey stick. That alone would have made it worthwhile.