On the Record
I tried to bear witness to my father’s time playing professional hockey in the British National League and his travels of Sweden, Norway, and Germany through newspaper articles, postcards, and his personal travel journal.
Front page headlines announced the arrival of my father and his team-mates in England from Canada, clippings detailed game results, teams played, and towns visited in a five-part account of the 1500-mile tour of Sweden. The articles were short on personal details, so I turned to Dad’s pocket-sized travel journal for reasons he was cut from the team. There were no clues in his neat, uppercase, handwritten notations of goals scored, of game results, only observations about ice conditions at outdoor rinks and towns visited. In tiny blocks of print, there were references to Germany’s nightlife, one-night stands, unnamed women.
There were postcards, too, but they held only standard greetings and light-hearted notes about being treated well with fancy meals and plush hotels, and one uneasy note that payment ($171 in 2016 dollars) to play an extra, unscheduled Sunday game would not be made.
Was his mistrust a hint of the trade that lay ahead? Was he suspicious of the cut that would send him home weeks later to make room for a returning hometown hero?
When I travelled to Europe on a three-country tour with my son’s minor hockey team, I logged our travels in a travel blog. Using the tour agency’s itinerary, I posted dispatches using wireless technology and a mobile device, purchased for the trip. It was digital, documentarian work: posting locations, game photos and tourist shots, recording game scores and towns visited.
In a hotel gift shop in Prague, I bought the first of travel mementos: a set of postcards — pocket-sized and folded accordion-style into a booklet — because it reminded me of one I’d seen among father’s belongings.
I learned of the custom of presenting gifts to visiting teams while travelling on a three-country, European hockey tour with my son and his hockey team of 15-year-olds. My son, one of four grandchildren and the only one my father never met, was presented with home team scarves in pre-game ceremonies in Rosenheim, Germany and Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic.
As a kid, I was fascinated by the treasure trove of souvenirs, keepsakes, and travel ephemera, and in the middle drawer of my parents’ dresser, tucked beneath their wedding album lay a blue and yellow, knitted scarf. Like other keepsakes belonging to my parents, the scarf was off-limits to the sticky hands of curious children and irresponsible adolescents. Details were sketchy, the scarf was said to be a hockey memento, and therefore irreplaceable, and like everything connected to my father’s hockey past, the scarf had an air of mystery. Why was it hidden at the bottom of the drawer? I wondered. More than a few times, I snuck into my parents’ bedroom, pull open the drawer, and lift up the scarf to stroke its acrylic fibres, waiting for it reveal its secrets.
If I had looked closely at photographs from that time, I would have spotted them laying on the dinner table at a post-game banquet, in than hands of players at the Malmen Hotel in Stockholm, and around the necks of hockey players as they posed on the airstairs of a Scandinavian aircraft.
The Colour of Money
My parents kept Dad’s foreign coins, keepsakes form his past, along with their children’s silver dollars, shiny new dimes, half-dollars, and commemorative quarters in an old flour tin stashed in a kitchen cupboard above the refrigerator, believing they would be out of reach from their children’s chubby paws. Their two youngest children, however, were prone to staging make-believe, cat burglar, robberies when they were out. With little effort, we dragged a kitchen across the linoleum, scrambled up, yanked open the cupboard doors, and snatched the tin. With the loot in our possession, we dug in, letting a pile of coins spill through our little fingers, as if we were pirates unearthing a treasure chest of riches.
The coins, flour tin and all, disappeared in the summer of 1977. Abandoned while our father got sober. “Drying out,” they said back then. “Recovery” they say now. Treatment. The family assumed the cache stolen, or sold, somewhere close to rock bottom. My father never drank again, but the missing silver never resurfaced.
As an adult, I collected replacements for what was lost. I pulled newly-forged bronze, gold, and silver coins of all denominations and crispy, close-to-newly-minted, domestic bank notes out of circulation and tucked them away. I collected foreign coins from friends who travelled out the country, and returned home from my first trip abroad with Euros and Koruna — paper money and loose change — and delighted in adding them to my stash imitated from childhood collection. Kept them in a storage bin.
Sometimes, I pull the plastic storage bin from beneath by bed, peel off the top, dig in, and let the metallic pieces spill through my fingers, as if I am an old-world pirate delighting in treasure found.
Single items do not divided evenly to an estate of four daughters, so I returned from our European tour with stand-ins of my father’s treasures. Tankards. Ceramic beer steins with hinged lids and a coat of arms from Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic.
Back-up pieces travelled with me across the Atlantic. Pieces with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s likeness; a trinket-sized ringing bell, an ornamental plate, shot glasses. The best of the bunch was an authentic pub draught glass from a New Year’s Eve celebration in České Budějovice’s town square purchased in a Czech pub and taken outdoors — an action rumoured to be punishable by jail time — by a fellow traveller, a police staff sargeant back home, that became a souvenir gift for my husband. A cop recognizes the type of travel memento a firefighter will appreciate.
I bought a small, fridge magnet the colour of pewter incomparable to the cuckoo clock, a relic from Germany, ignored for many years, its face disfigured face by a wickedly inept repairman.
Eventually, I write about my father’s journey. I dissect it through travel ephemera and document it. I learn that our intersecting stories — my son’s, my father’s, mine — connect us, but that our stories are our own. And from this distance, I treasure what cannot be carried in a suitcase.
One in a series. See Family Connections: Death, Family Connections: Photographs, Family Connections: Precis, and Family Connections: Disappointment.