Beneficent ice hockey, played in skirts

Our rescue squad from the fire department yanked the young lady from the pond just in time, and when she was able to speak they asked her the cause of this circumstance. She said, "Well, I told my boyfriend about Head & Shoulders, and he told me to go jump in the lake."

Speaking of television, a young but sprightly lady said to me lately that she never watches ice hockey "because it's so brutal." I made a substantial effort to explain that hockey need not be a gruesome sport, but that the players often go to extremes to amuse the public, and what she thought was mayhem was good-natured fun. She was unimpressed, and unwilling to accept the old adage that it is impossible to fight on skates.

This colloquy did set me back, though, and I recalled a certain memorable hockey game I watched in Quebec City around 1935 or so, at least back when a haircut was 25 cents.

The Canadian National Railway ran excursions now and then, and from Portland, here in Maine, to Kaybeck City the fare and three days at the Chteau Frontenac came to about $30. Another young man and I made this great adventure one winter and found ourselves one morning on the platform at Palais Station with the thermometer at minus 45 degrees F.

So Pat and I took a stroll about the upper city. As heavy snow had been cleared away, we walked up and down inside Grand Canyons of snowbanks that obscured our view in all directions. Snow also hinders sound, and Quebec was silent. (Silence is much more pronounced at minus 45.)

And as Pat and I, well bundled, moved along in our deep trenches, we began to hear, over the rampart, the click of skates on ice. While that sound was muted, too, it was unmistakable. We could see nothing, and there was no other sound: just the clicking. We climbed the snowbank on the other side of the street, and now we could look over the snow and see a piece of shoveled-off ice on which two hockey teams were having at each other in the usual aggressive and frenzied manner. The players were all in the clerical garb of seminary students - skirts! We were looking into the exercise area of a Roman Catholic school for priests. A gallery of bishops and such, monsignors, abbots, and pertinent faculty, sat in rapt enjoyment. In silence. It was definitely a boisterous hush brought on by the meditative nature of the place and the permanently devout serenity of the company. No cheering; only click, click, click.

As Pat and I stood there, delighted, a gentleman appeared, climbed up our snowbank, and stood beside us. In French he said he'd been watching the game from his verandah (gesturing behind us) and wondered if we'd like to join him and have the comfort of chairs. We accepted, thanked him, and introduced ourselves.

We descended from our point of vantage, walked along the street a few yards, entered between equally high snowbanks to gain his front door, climbed stairs to the first floor, and came by his living room onto his cast-iron Quebec porch, where we met his belle espouse Lisette and children Marie, Benoit, and Gils. All well bundled, we sat down to enjoy the game.

There was no referee. The students played by the rules and made no infractions. On a face-off, one of the other players dropped the puck. The gallery was silently attentive, and like us was well wrapped against Quebec temperatures.

The game ended and the players and gallery left the ice and went indoors. We thanked our host and hostess, and their children, and prepared to leave.

Not at all! We would stay for supper! Three times in the past year alone, our host explained, the Chteau Frontenac had offered his wife fabulous sums if she would come and cook for them. One would be foolish to go there to eat when one was invited to do much better with the family Beauparlant!

WE STAYED, and while we knew the Chteau Frontenac had never heard of Mother Beauparlant, we realized it was a great shame. Her bouillabaisse with a suspicion of basil was convincing, but there was still the terrine forestire and a few other enticements we did not neglect in any way. Plus the good-natured company of a well functioning French-Canadian family that liked hockey.

Pat and I remarked, somewhere in this amiable experience, that we didn't know the score of the game. We were told it made no difference. Nobody kept score. And as the players kept changing sides as the game went along, nobody ever knew which team was ahead. "We watch all the games," said Monsieur Beauparlant.

So I do happen to know there can be hockey without bloodshed and even without a referee to pull players apart when they beat each other with their mittens. There can be fine skating when you don't know what team you're on. There can even be fine skating when you're clad in clerical skirts that keep wrapping about your ankles, and instead of a crash helmet you have a beaver busby built for minus 45.

I assured the young lady who spoke so poorly of hockey that there are places you can witness a less belligerent game, but that the Canadian Pacific no longer makes up affordable excursions to Kaybeck from Portland. As I say, this was back in 1935 or so. The good old days. I reported that the natives were friendly.

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