Henry Plays Hockey: an Epiphany
by Kate Lamont
When I was a kid, my father flooded our backyard every winter so the neighborhood kids could skate. The surface was pocked and chipped and we were swaddled like mummies in our winter clothes, but we were undaunted whether trying to spin like our skeptical figure skating teacher or shoot pucks in the style of the mighty Rocket Richard.
The rough ice also meant traction for the dog, and she was always there. Barely noticed, she paddled along at our heels, hurrying only enough to stay out of the way. She was an obese humane society spaniel type named Fuzzy, and while she watched over us like the able babysitter she was, she was decidedly my mother’s dog. My mother cherished her, begrudging neither her fatness nor her unruly black coat that always seemed to be matted and smelly. When Fuzzy died many years later, long after we had outgrown the skating rink, my mother wept inconsolably for days. I was an angry adolescent by then, and I kept my distance.
This past winter my brother Jake made a little ice rink on his acreage and invited everyone over to try it out. As always, I took my American Staffordshire Terrier, Henry, with me. The rink was really a patch, probably even smaller than the one we had when we were kids, but it had all the necessary chips and crevices, so Henry was right there, just like Fuzzy, but with considerably more energy. After a few precarious spins on our unseasoned legs, we picked through Jake’s collection of old hockey sticks, dumped eight or so pucks on the ice, and started or game. Not real hockey, but kids’ hockey, two-on-one. I was goalie and Jake and our friend Ron were forwards. The game was simple: Jake and Ron would sweep down the ice, passing the puck furiously back and forth and making loud, facetious threats at me before flipping the puck easily into the under-protected net. When my minor-league reflexes had succumbed to the last of the pucks, we untangled them from the net and started over. The air was full of ice fog and clattering sticks and laughter that echoed off the house.
Two on one quickly became two-on-two when Henry saw how the pucks flew around, not quite like tennis balls but close enough, and decided to be my defenseman. He was a resoundingly dirty player, risking his little hide for the pleasure of bashing into his opponents and stealing their pucks. Undeterred by skate blades or expletives, he intercepted passes and made big saves by biting the end of a stick and hanging on, growling all the while. Occasionally his heroics would send him crashing into the net, puck and all, bringing the whole thing down on top of him in a tangle of nylon and aluminum. He could stuff three pucks in his mouth at a time before scrambling from the ice to stash them in the snow and skidding back to the fray for more. Every now and again all four legs would desert him at once, and he would go splat on the ice, tail whirling. But he never dropped a puck once he had it between his teeth and his game ended only when ours did. We had a few beers by the fire afterwards, laughing about that crazy dog.
I’m about the age my mother was when she lost Fuzzy. My mother still has pictures of her. They are pictures of a dog in the midst of children and the endless trappings of children, the dog and the children and their toys and games on the grass or the backyard ice rink, the dog tightly woven into the fabric of the family, the dog at the center of our brief childish moments of unclouded happiness. I see Henry with those pucks poking out from each side of his mouth, looking our way, asking do we really want to quit now, and I can feel my mother’s grief.
Kate Lamont is Julie Tudor’s Aunt Gina's best friend. She lives in North Fort Myers, Florida now but grew up in Canada. She also trained dogs for a living at one point.