Monday, January 01, 2007

How I Spent My Christmas

(Note: Nathan Phillips Square is in downtown Toronto, in front of iconic City Hall.
Soon to be cross-posted at Hockey Will Tear Us Apart.)

This Christmas Eve, the family bundled up and put on the skates at Nathan Phillips Square, under the bright blue Cavalcade of Lights. It was the first skate of the winter season and already, my skates grew uncomfortably tight and my ankles started throbbing.

Still, I met someone interesting. An older gentleman, 50 maybe, with dignified white hair, laced up beside me. He started talking to me, much to my surprise. He didn't have a formal, elderly air that I expected; he was quite open and chatty. He was from Bobcaygeon (near Peterborough), wearing a Sault. Ste-Marie Greyhounds jacket and wanted to spent Christmas Eve skating because he didn't want to be with his family. ("Guilt trips, you know?" he asked. "I don't think I'm old enough to know," I replied honestly.) He actually told his mother that he had a flat tire and couldn't make the drive back home, just so he could spend the entire night skating. He'd already spent the previous day at the rink, doing laps until his hamstrings turned numb.

There was a delightful mix of skaters at Nathan Phillips Square. Couples learning to skate for the first time, holding hand and kissing once in a while; tentative beginners; flashy hockey players. A skinny boy wore a vintage Wendel Clark jersey, sparkling blue under the light. He was the flashiest, crossing the entire length of the rink in seconds and absentmindedly twirling and jumping as he turned each corner. I mentioned him to the elderly gentleman, giving my impression that he was a hockey player, maybe. "Real hockey players don't wear those jerseys," he said. He was right. As I watched the skinny boy more closely, he resembled a figure skater more than anything else. He had a graceful, fluid stride, floating effervescently down the ice and spinning about a foot in the air at each turn.

Then there was the Antoine-Vermette lookalike. When I saw his face, my blood froze. Maybe it was the lighting and the angle of his face, but his resemblance was so strong to Antoine Vermette that I purposely sat at the bench, pretending to lace up my skates, just so I could watch him spin around another lap. He certainly skated like Antoine: effortlessly, with a smoothness that startles. There was a girl with him, struggling to keep up and eventually disappearing into the shuffle as he made his laps. I knew, I knew that he couldn't possibly be Vermette. It would make no sense for any of the Senators to be in Toronto during Christmas Eve, not with a game in Ottawa and his family in Qu├ębec. But I laced up my skates and chased him anyway. He turned around to step off the ice. Far too thin, I thought. Vermette must have muscles.

Lastly, there was the sweetest little boy I would see all year. He was a scrapper, constantly falling to the ice and getting up. I saw the Ottawa Senators logo on the back of his jacket and skated over to him as he tripped and fell on his knees in front of me. I helped him up, looked in his eyes and asked, "Are you a Sens fan?"

He blinked and answered, "Yeeees."

"Good for you," I said, grinning broadly. He smiled back as children do to strangers who ask strange questions. Maybe he was visiting from Ottawa. Still, I was happy. Happy to know that in the midst of the civic heart of Toronto, a little boy still bled black, red and gold.


Jocelynn said...

I understand how that man feels. I went to Disneyland to avoid my mother's family (not my mother; she's in Hawaii) on Christmas.

Jordi said...

Awww, what a way to enjoy New Years Eve!

aquietgirl said...

I understand how that man feels. I went to Disneyland to avoid my mother's family (not my mother; she's in Hawaii) on Christmas.

I was really surprised by the man discussing his life so freely to me. I suppose he's old enough to not care how he may appear. People don't usually just ... sit down next to me and talk about their personal lives like that. It was strange, but I'm glad he did it.

Forbidden hockey games are played on the rink when the skating guards leave. It would've been a moment of pure Canadiana if I stayed up for Christmas just to play shinny in the middle of the city like that. Come to think of it, I should probably do it sometime, while I still can ...