my mum, the hockey player

mum's team

After my mum died in 2010, I brought home boxes of papers from her apartment in Victoria. Everything was unsorted, chaotic. And most of it was unfamiliar to me. Like this photograph. I never knew my mother played hockey—she’s third from the right in the back row, the one with dark curly hair.

We lived in Spryfield, a suburb of Halifax, from 1963-65, and it was the first time my brothers and I skated. There was a pond near us—I think it was called Kidston Pond—and it froze quite early our first winter there. My mum pulled out an old pair of black skates for me to wear. I hated them. They were too big, for one thing, but black? The other girls wore white figure skates and swirled on the ice like dancers. A couple of them even had short velvet skirts and woolen tights that made them look like stars. My mum’s old skates were clunky, with dull blades, and I remember how sore my ankles were as I struggled to keep my balance.

She told us a story in those years in Spryfield: when she was a girl, her mother would put baked potatoes into her skates (those skates?) when she went off with them slung over her shoulder. When she got to wherever it was she was going—was it a pond or outdoor rink?—she put the warm skates on and tucked the potatoes into her pockets to keep her hands warm as she skated. Then, on her way home at the end of a cold day, she ate the potatoes. The story gave me another version of my mother, young and intrepid. But I never knew she played hockey.

I wish I still had the skates. In later years, I was given a pair of second-hand tube skates. Not figure skates—I was told tube skates were safer, though I have no idea why. Other girls whirled and swirled and I clumped along, my ankles touching the ice. I never loved skating though in later years I went a couple of times with boyfriends and once, memorably, on my 40th birthday here on the Sechelt Peninsula when Smail’s Pond froze during a particularly cold winter. Somehow we rounded up enough pairs of skates for our whole family, most of them for a dollar or two from the Bargain Barn Thrift Store in Madeira Park, and we spent an afternoon finding our feet on the uneven ice.

I’d love to know more about my mother’s hockey team. Who were these young women, one with a child (or younger sibling), and who were the men who coached them? Was this where she was heading with warm potatoes in her pocket and why would she talk about the potatoes and not the hockey? She looks to be about 18 or 20 so this is probably 1944 or 1945, before she met my father, before the skates got tucked away until a 9 year old girl needed a pair to glide across Kidston Pond on her ankles. I wish I’d known about my mum’s hockey career then. Maybe I’d have appreciated the skates for their own plain legacy instead of wishing them away, wishing for a grace that seemed possible then, if I only had white figure skates and a short velvet skirt.

the Old Burying Ground

I’m in Halifax, my first visit since my family moved from here in (I think) 1965. I was curious to see if there were things I recognized and on our taxi ride in from the airport last evening, we passed the ornate gates of the Public Gardens and yes, I remembered staying with my grandmother when we first arrived from the west coast in 1963 and being turned loose in the city. Those were the days of free-range children and we quickly found the Common with its swimming pool, the Public Gardens where ducks swam in the pond and lovers embraced on benches while every kind of flower bloomed in beautiful profusion The city has a smell — old stones and sea air. I remember that. And this morning we went up to the Citadel, staying long enough to hear the 12:00 gun. My mother taught us to listen for it and hearing it reminded me of her. This was her city. She was born in Sydney but came to Halifax as a tiny baby, put into foster care and left there until she married my father in 1950. They met here. He was a young sailor on board  the Restigouche (again, I am hazarding a guess, based on his history. But I saw the name today and it rang a deep bell). This morning my parents were everywhere, in the small wavings of michaelmas daisies and toadflax along the citadel ramparts . Their beginnings as a married couple, the beginnings of our family — my second brother, Steve, was born here in 1953 on one of my father’s postings. My mother longed for Halifax. Even in her last weeks of life, she talked about a trip “home”.

Tomorrow we’ll take the bus to Spryfield where my family lived 1963-65. The woman in the Information Centre suggested we take the number 15 bus right out to the end of its route where there is a fortification. (“No one ever goes there,” she said with some frustration.) I know from Google Maps that our old house on Claymore Avenue is still there but I’d rather ride the bus through Spryfield to its terminus, looking and wondering at the changes on Herring Cove Road. Some days we walked to church along that road. Once I found enough coins under melting snow to buy a Tiger Beat magazine.

My mother worked at Imperial Oil as a clerk when she met my father. Somewhere in this city she walked there, dreaming of the sailor she met on a blind date — and she was not even the girl he was supposed to take out on a double date with one of his friends. That girl caught the flu and my mum was the last-minute replacement. How close they came to never knowing the other existed, And I would not not be here now, have just passed through the chestnuts and Japanese lilacs in the Gardens. And along the paths of the Old Burying Ground where Campbells and MacKenzies rest in green shade.

I don’t know if my parents walked in the Public Gardens but they might as well have. I expected to find my own tiny hoard of Halifax memories but it seems I am haunted by theirs.