True Patriot Love

True Patriot Love

My memory begins with the anticipation:

I flung the screen door open and burst in to the lounge room. Wendy stood in the centre of the space, arms folded, brow knotted, staring down the frenetic action on the TV.
“It’s on, yeah?” I blurted, tossing my knapsack on the couch and distributing swift kisses to the rollie-pollie twins in the play-pen.
Wend nodded. “Two-two. We were in front. But they killed off a five-on-three and now they just scored.”
“Bugger. Who’s in goal for us?”
“Not Cujo?”
I peeled off the sweaty, Coppertone-soaked shirt that had borne the brunt of a long day’s teaching under the Queensland sun and grabbed a Sovereign from the fridge. After a brief moment standing under the wild but futile gyrations of the ceiling fan, I settled in on the couch. The time on the nearby wall clock read ‘3.23pm’. The unnamed commentator on TV assured me that “coverage of the Canada versus USA battle for Olympic hockey gold in Salt Lake City would continue after these messages…”

I can imagine how this scene looked from afar. A shirtless Aussie, melting in the February heat, knocking the froth off a coldie, watching a game of ice hockey…it definitely dipped a toe in the Absurdity Sea. And ‘watching’ was a long way from the truth. This wasn’t detached, arms-length distraction. This was palms-perspiring, heart-thumping fare. Muscles contracting without prior thought or instruction. Words polarizing – “We…They…Us…Them”. This was meaningful. This mattered.
How did it happen? How could such an utterly foreign spectacle attain the emotional investment of an Ashes Cricket Test, or a Rugby League State of Origin? Part of the explanation sat beside me on the couch that day, riding each save, bracing each cross-check. Wendy had departed Vancouver for a six month Australian holiday in 1988. By the time that famous game rolled around, it was 2002, and the holiday snaps included a husband, two children and an Australian citizenship certificate. Fourteen years, though, hadn’t diminished her foundation. It shone through when she spoke to her family on the phone, or marked Canada Day on the calendar, or saw the Rockies on ‘Getaway’, or played Our Lady Peace on the stereo. The maple leaf remained etched on her skin. Inevitably, it rubbed off on me.

“This is so much more than a gold medal game,” I said, noting the white-knuckled clench of a painted Canuck in the stands.
It went beyond a contest for priceless international bragging rights. It was sporting transcendence. On one side – the ‘bad guys’, playing on home ice, seeking to turn back the clock on a 21 year old miracle, praying to ignite a small golden ember in the ever-lengthening darkness of 9-11’s aftermath. On the other side – ‘the good guys’, squaring-off with big brother, representing the cradle of the game itself, carrying the gorilla of a half-century without standing atop the Olympic dais. All around – the tournament’s winding paths to date; signposted with heroism, ignominy, luminati, hundreds of journos, and one small lucky loonie sunken in the surface of the rink. Once-upon-a-time meets once-in-a-lifetime.
“Where’s Homer when you need him?” I asked.
The epic continued to unfold without the great poet. Richter stoned a breakaway. Pronger poleaxed Roenick in the neutral zone. Super Mario fanned on a wide open net. Wend groaned and gulped the last of her homemade lemon iced tea.
“I don’t think I can watch this.”
She stood up and joined the twins, dividing their time between chewing on toys and studying the soles of their feet. I took a deep breath as a Brian Leetch shot deflected wide.
“Keep the faith, sweetheart.
And perhaps the hockey gods heard. Perhaps the puck deities were moved by the voice of a stranger with a peculiar accent. With eyes wide and bodies released from the hair trigger, Canada grasped the opportunity presented by a Roenick tripping penalty. Joe Sakic squeezed a shot through Richter’s pads, the red light came on, and the generous smattering of Canucks amongst the stars and stripes crowd went cuckoo.

I can’t remember if I knew they would win after ‘Burnaby’ Joe’s moment of magic. I can’t really remember much of any specifics following. Wend told me sometime later that, when Sakic scored a second time to seal the deal at 5-2, I leapt off the couch, shouting and waving my arms. She said the simultaneous TV coverage cut away to Wayne Gretzky in his private box. He was shouting and waving his arms in a freakily-similar fashion. “You can say you’ve got the moves of ‘The Great One’,” she remarked. Memory or not, I’ll claim that every day and twice on Sundays.
The only recollection, post- 3-2, that has stayed sharp six long years later is the scene an hour after the game had concluded:

I stood outside, on the deck. To the west of Brisbane, the sun had vanished behind a bank of storm clouds promising relief from the stifling heat. The ghost and spotted gums in the backyard inched side to side in the surreptitious breeze. The burbling TV passed on details of a miners’ strike in Tasmania. A kookaburra sat in the overhanging leopard tree branches, laughing like a smug conqueror. A single thought occupied the spaces between my ears:
Man, it’s good to be Canadian.

This short was written and performed for the BCLC ‘Catch the Spirit’ Olympic 2010 story competition, April 2009.

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