Second prize winner of the 2015 Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.
During the last game of the 1967–1968 season, the fans gave my father a Bronx cheer every time he stopped the puck. At the final buzzer, one threw a turkey carcass into his crease. “I’m done,” he announced that evening. He returned to Victoria and gardening. Luckily, business was good. The rich were proud to say that Gates Grogan trimmed their rhododendrons.
After a few beers, he would give guests the grand tour of his face, pointing to areas and explaining the history: the cheekbones—both broken; the nose—busted four times; the right eyeball—slit open; and the skin—three hundred and seven stitches. After a few beers more, he would talk about his body: his collapsed lung, his dislocated elbow, his lordosis. A few more and he would want to fight. His face would take on the demented glow it had that night when, waving his stick like a tomahawk, he charged the Red Wings’ bench.
He tried to be our father. “You’re my home team now,” he said one dinner after prayer. But the young twins were too hyperactive, the teens—Daryl and Michelle—were too self-absorbed, and my mother and I were too distracted to notice.
I had grown out my sideburns and was dealing MDA and writing poetry. Once I found him alone watching Monday Night Football. “Football, Vietnam—same thing,” I said from the doorway.
“Take a shower,” he said without turning from the screen.
My mother spent all her free time at Sacred Heart. The priest, Jerry Rensenbrink, was a wavy-haired American celebrated for his “new ideas.” He played guitar and ran yoga classes in the church basement. Only later did I find out about their affair.
When the emergency call came from Toronto the following spring, Dad didn’t hesitate. As he boarded the plane, he turned back to the six of us on the tarmac. It was the first time I had seen him look shy. He shrugged, then saluted.
And he won the cup. Had he not been so surly with the press, he would have won the Conn Smythe too. In game seven, he saved the Leafs, dashing thirty feet out of his crease to poke-check Hector Boulez.
Three days later he was killed by one of his own teammates. They got into a drunken scrap about money in front of the Dominion Hotel. The coroner assured us that if Roddy Dupree’s fist hadn’t finished him, something else soon would have.
We loved Dad most when he was on TV. I still remember the six of us in our living room clapping and crying as he held the cup above his head. The announcer was bellowing, “At age forty-two, Gates Grogan has it at last,” and Dad was scanning the crowd, searching for a familiar face, yelling, “This is for you.”
But we were thousands of miles away, on an island on the other side of the plains and mountains, and beyond saving.