A First Time For Everything
After 770 days of breathing her own oxygen and eating from things other than an umbilical cord, Zoey Sakura skates. She is two years and eleven months old with wickedly strong ankles.
It's a sorta sweet story that starts with her Uncle B scoring her first pair of skates from the same wood stove warmed, and oh-so welcoming skate sharpening shed as her Dad and himself had. When we were children we remembered driving into town so that Dad could get his skates sharpened at Frank Dymock's. Back then we didn't know who Frank was, just that his shop was a converted garage, and that it glowed with heat and kindness.
Franks shop had walls full of pucks nailed flat to the wood, racks of hockey sticks and dozens of old skates scattered amoungst the wooden duck decoys that he carved when business was slow...but it was never slow. We got excited to watch the sparks fly when Frank turned his back and got busy sharpening Dad's skates, and we were always a little confused when he took money from the visitors before us but never from my Dad. Eventually his hands gently held all of our skates and worked them through that giant old sharpener, and of course, my brother and I never once paid for the service either. Customers would come and go, some would pay...maybe most, and some would not. We never did.
As we grew from boys into young men we learned that Dad never paid for Frank's services across the span of his life. It turns out that Frank had watched my father grow from the wily little street urchin that he was to a sturdy little hockey player and then a man with his own little urchins. It made sense then that the new little twin urchins didn't pay either, and he watched those twins grow into sturdy little hockey players too. About the only money that ever changed hands was for a last minute stick, perhaps, or some tape. To say that Frank was the kindest keeper of the game would be falling short of the role he played in our lives and a lot of other lives.
By the time Junior hockey rolled around all you needed to do was throw your skates on an old hockey stick in the dressing room and one of the trainers or managers would run the skates over to Frank's shop for their daily or weekly tune ups. I never once fed that old broken Louisville through the blades of my skates. I took them to Frank myself, if only just to walk into that warm shop, and chat with the man whom I was quickly starting to understand was a legend. I don't know how old Frank is, I only know that his shop is warm, and his kindness is even warmer. There were stories that he once played against Gordie Howe, and that he learned his lessons the hard way and found the fastest path back to his hometown that he could. Maybe they were true, and maybe they weren't? It didn't much matter. Frank was a legend to us regardless. All of my friends had similar stories...Johnny T, Kenny, dozens of us. Frank watched generation after generation of small town hockey players grow up into fathers that brought their own children back to that warm garage. During those raucous junior contests it wasn't unusual to look up into the crowd and see Frank standing there watching "his boys". It distracted you and made you wonder who was stoking the stove while he was gone?
Last year Uncle B walked into Frank's shop and told him that his brother had a daughter now...that I was finally back, close to home, and that I wanted her to start skating. He asked Brad what her name was, and then asked how I was doing, and what exactly I was doing...information for his own blossoming family tree of boys and men who he watched grow up. Brad told him all the details...some he already knew, and some he didn't. After taking it all in he smiled and asked Zoey's age and shoe size. Brad told him and then Frank rummaged through a few racks of used skates, searching for the right size and fit, and as Brad tells it, the best pair. He emerged from the dusty piles of well worn memories with Zoey's first pair of skates. A good looking pair of used Bauer Callengers, size 8. They would turn out to be skates that would never find their way back into a used pile ever again...a shelf in Dad's office perhaps, but never another pile of old skates. And so, after thirty-six years Frank put another pair of skates on yet another DeWagner, and perhaps the first Partridge...for certain the first little child with Yamaya genes... and now her Dad's heart may just be warmer than that old skate shop ever was.
Thanks Uncle B...and thanks Frank, for everything.