"I'd gotten through to the Gilmours, though the spineless thinking that ruined their careers..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun about 6/11/97 in Walpole, MA, continued in Kingsport, TN, Ashland, OH, and Salt Lake City, UT. Margin notes include, "You know, you can always tell a college boy, you just cant tell 'em much".
...and then I fractured my right arm in three places fifteen minutes into the first practice at the University of Massachusetts. This led from one thing to another until I found myself playing hockey in the amateur leagues of Massachusetts. This was during the Slap Shot phase that hockey went through in the seventies, when the brawls spilled over into the stands, and out into the parking lots. An experience that led to an array of hockey stories and lore, much of which I would mine for my hockey novels.
In Dawson City Seven I incorporated several true stories into the text, including getting a penalty for kissing, and being thrown out of a game for lying. The lying had to do with a guy named Jim Troy, a big, tough, crazy bastard I played with for several years before he caught on with the Hartford Whalers of the World Hockey Association as a goon. (Jim still makes his living in the goon world - he became the Public Relations Director for the WWF) We were playing the Berkshire Sabres out in Pittsfield, Massachusetts one night when Troy, as usual, beat some hapless kid senseless, and was banished for the remainder of the game.
Skating by our bench toward the door, he turned and saw the referee looking at the other guy, and dove over the boards and lay down at my skates. When the ref turned and looked for him, he did a double-take, as he couldn't see Troy, but knew he hadn't had time to get out of the rink. The referee skated right over to our bench, looked at me, and asked, "Did he leave the ice?"
Barely keeping a straight face, Troy muffling his laughs at my skates, I replied that indeed he had. But the ref saw something in my eye, my response, and leaned over the boards.
"Adda here!" he boomed at Troy, yanking his thumb over his shoulder, and to me he said, "And you, you're adda here too!"
"Me? Me? What did I do?" I stammered.
"You lied to me!" And thus, the first penalty for lying in hockey history.
The kissing incident was when I played with the infamous Frogs. The Frogs hockey club ranks at the top of my love affair with hockey, a group of guys with skills ranging from zero to a hundred, but we didn't care. It was Wednesday nights at ten, drinking beer in taverns after games, enjoying the camaraderie of regular guys playing the game they loved the most. And one evening, after scoring an important goal with about a minute to go in the game, I glided back to the face-off circle, my stick on my knees waiting for the ref to drop the puck, when I noticed he stood up straight, staring past my shoulder. I saw all the players relax , looking my way. As I turned, I was grabbed by my coach Jim Traynor, a colorful character known for his eccentricity, who proceeded to plant a kiss on me. Well...
A delay of game was called, which must be served by someone on the ice at the time of the infraction, if the infraction is caused by someone not on the ice. And so I went to the sin bin, two minutes for...kissing... I should mention that when I tell the story now in Jim Traynor's presence, he always listens with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face, and always, when I have finished, adds, "It wasn't on the lips! Not on the lips!"
The Frogs were also known for having the only goalie to play without skates. As with many guys in the Boston area that were born around 1952, he had suffered from polio, and had never learned how to skate. After many childhood years on crutches, the man came to us and wanted a chance to play, and we petitioned the league to allow a goalie without skates. The league, no doubt sensing an advantage, readily agreed. And so the Frogs won championship after championship in the rag-tag amateur leagues of Eastern Massachusetts, with a goalie who wore work boots on the ice. His name is Pat Traynor, younger brother of our illustrious coach, and he is the designer of this website.
But the story I like to tell the most is about the night Jeff McReynolds of Wellesley and I decided to hitch-hike home and meet the UMass team in Cambridge the following night, for our game against Harvard.
McReynolds was a good guy from a wealthy town, a goalie. A little prim and proper, a little naïve. I think we were sophomores, playing on the Junior Varsity. We made it as far as Palmer, where the Massachusetts turnpike exit for Amherst is, when we were caught in a virtual blizzard. ("The first of December was covered with snow, so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston..." - James Taylor) Well, being college students we were flat broke, and stood forlornly in the snow, all traffic virtually ceasing. A cop came along, we told him our problem, and the guy was nice enough to drive Jeff and I to a small motel, and pay for our night with our promise to send him his money back.
The next morning Jeff jumped out of bed, and I watched with horror as he made it. Perfectly.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked him, my incredulity apparent in my tone. Jeff looked at me as he finished tucking up his bed.
"I'm making my bed - and so will you," he replied. I watched him as he went about his business, then leave the room. I laid there staring at this perfectly made bed beside me - and to my horror suddenly realized that if I didn't make my bed, whoever came into the room might think we slept together. Now, this was a long time ago, when I was nineteen years old, and somewhat testosteronially concerned with all issues masculine. So I got out of bed, stood there staring at this perfectly made bed...and proceeded to tear it apart!
To this day I don't know if McReynolds knows, just a good story that ended up in Dawson City Seven. And we made it into Cambridge the next afternoon, and with Jeff McReynolds in net, we beat Harvard University, which at that time was something of a miracle in UMass hockey. And I got one myself, a loose puck about twenty feet in front of the net, never saw it go in...
All of which is related to describe what qualifications I have to write about hockey. The ecstasy in winning a State Championship, the devastation in losing a collegiate season to injury, the camaraderie and joy in just playing for fun with and against guys who were both vastly superior and virtually pathetic, all of it combining to allow me an education in the sport. In this chapter, as well as many others, I hope I convey the locker room mentality, the constant jibes and pressures, the insecurities of those who excel, the behind-the-scenes machinations in forming a team, with the array of motivations they entail.
I don't' believe sport is a simple thing. Far beyond the obvious lessons it teaches men for the competitions they will encounter during their lives, the successes and failures endured in youth are carried, for better or worse, throughout life by many of the participants. The book has not been written that concisely defines this experience in men's lives. It is a marvelously interesting subject. I dearly hope I convey some of this in my writing.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
I think you have captured Ottawa and its environs very well and I congratulate you for that. Street names, neighborhoods, establishments, names of teams - you got it right. As for the battles and the battlefields, I must say I was greatly impressed by the meticulous detail you went into in giving the reader a vivid portrayal of the utter horror, devastation and confusion of trench warfare. People need to be reminded of, or should I say educated to, the sacrifices made by so many not that long ago. You really do put the reader in the picture...
"I think we're about to become trenchant..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun 9/10/96 at Holiday Inn, Ontario, CA, continued Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Kingsport, TN, Florence, KY, enroute Cincinnati-Boston, enroute Atlanta-Houston, Lufkin, TX, enroute Houston-Boston, Cummings, GA, Spartanburg, SC, and Walpole, MA. Margin notes include, "Oct. 4th, That's a big 10-4 Lufkin TX", "10/8 Cummins GA (wish I was going)", "Germinating. Germann." "Mustard gas you can't smell, but phosgene, which is worse, stinks. Rotten, stale smell."
It's odd where you come up with some of this stuff. In this chapter I introduce some of the soldiers, particularly Wilson, who plays a game where he tears the cover off a book, then has the others try to guess what book it is by giving them hints.
I happened to read Wilson's book at the time I was writing this McGee book. And inadvertently I discovered a way to improve a historical piece. By reading a biography about a man who lived at the time you are writing of, even if he did not participate whatsoever in your subject, lends a wealth of information and authenticity to your work.
In this book I first read about the Tichborne Claimant, and much about the general atmosphere in Britain before the horrors of the First World War, when military men were often treated as we treat our rock stars today. Wonderful background on why the McGee's might look upon military service as something relatively safe, something exciting and manly you did without suffering any consequences...
Also laying the groundwork for Kinnear's and Mallet's friendship, first begun up in the Mirimichi woods. Laurel Boone was quick to help me on this matter, sending me a wealth of information on books about the region. Goose Lane publishes a guy who specializes in the area, and I think my strategy of increasing the publisher's interest by involving a man from New Brunswick, home of Goose Lane Editions, is working...
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
...If you have access to a library with an old collection, you might look for books by Charles G.D. Roberts. He lived from ages 1-14 at Westcock, New Brunswick, just outside Sackville. You may have read his animal stories as a child, but he wrote some wonderful ones about the lumber camps of, say, the 1880s and 1890s. I'm enclosing some poems of his, a sonnet sequence called Songs of the Common Day, which he wrote in the 1890s while living in Windsor, Nova Scotia, not far from Sackville. I think he captures the feel of the marsh farms wonderfully, and he wrote them close to the birth date of Kinnear. The Sackville Tribune has been in existence for maybe 150 years; a good-sized Canadian research library would likely have it on microfilm, or you could order it through Interlibrary Loan.
I haven't been able to discover Kinnears still living in or around Sackville, but all it would take would be a generation of girls for the name - though not the family - to disappear. (I expect family roots in rural Massachusetts can go back 150-200 years, too.) In Fredericton, there's a good trade in hundred-year-old gossip, and I expect the same is true of Sackville.
Well, I'll leave it at that for now. Be sure to call if there's anything else I can do for you, and do send along some McGee stuff when you're ready.