Also Known As

For most of my growing-up years, I wanted a nickname so badly it hurt.  But it never came to pass.  Not once did I ever have a proper sobriquet bestowed on me.

As one who spent a whole lot of time playing team sports, I knew countless other boys by their nicknames—Dingo, Big-Guy, Scoop, Madge (short for Magic-Man), and, rather unkindly, Lard.  When I think of them now, I can’t even remember their real names.  Nor do I picture them as the old men they surely must be; rather, I see them as they were back then—immortals, in a way.

chevy youth baseball

But I was not fated to be one of those ‘also known as’ guys.  My coaches forever called me by my surname or my jersey number.

Twelve!  You’re on deck!  Get out there!

If you are of my era, a Canadian childhood spanning the 40’s, 50’s and into the 60’s, and if you were a sports fan, you will know that our greatest heroes all had nicknames.

In basketball—the Stilt, the Big O, the Cooz, The Mailman, Pistol Pete.  In baseball—Teddy Ballgame, Joltin’ Joe, the Barber, Stan the Man, the Mick.

In football—Crazy Legs, Broadway Joe, the Deacon, Sweetness, Mean Joe.  In golf—the Squire, Slammin’ Sam, the Hawk, the King, the Golden Bear.

In hockey, my favourite of games—Mr. Zero, the Rocket, Boom-Boom, the Big M, the Roadrunner, Cujo, the Dominator, Number 4.

Female athletes, too, had nicknames, ranging across a number of sports—the Babe, Little Mo, Mighty Mouse, Tiger, Moses, the Swiss Miss, Flo Jo, the Black Widow.

nancy_green_lange_chamonix_history

[*The real names of these athletes are shown at the end of this post.]

But I never had a nickname.

At one point—desperate for a nom de guerre I could call my own, and because I was a year younger than my compadres in school and sport—I began to call myself The Kid.  I think I became a legend in my own mind.  In conversation with friends, I would say, The Kid did this…or The Kid did that…

To my chagrin, the nickname never caught on.  Nor did the practice of referring to myself in the third person, although it did garner me a lot of strange looks.

There were times during these years that I suffered the experience of being called a variety of names by others not favourably disposed towards me—loser, dork, pencil-neck, to name a few, plus some even less polite.  But those were not nicknames; proper nicknames had to be given in recognition of one’s accomplishments, talents, or character.

Sticks and stones…I would mutter quietly.  The Kid is above all that!

The closest I ever came to acquiring a nickname was at the end of my playing days, striving mightily to keep up with skaters twenty years younger than I in old-timers’ hockey.  But it wasn’t my teammates who conferred it; it was my opponents, muscling me unceremoniously along the boards.

hockey2

Outta the way, Grampaw!

Not exactly what I’d always aspired to be known as.

So, as you might expect, it has come as something of a relief to me that now, at this ripe old age, I have finally acquired a nickname I can be proud of.  Mind you, I bestowed it myself, to designate me as a ‘teller of tales tall and true’.

I am Talebender.

*Famous Athletes’ Real Names—

  • Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich.
  • Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Sal Maglie, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle.
  • Elroy Hirsch, Joe Namath, David Jones, Walter Payton, Joe Greene.
  • Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus.
  • Frankie Brimsek, Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Curtis Joseph, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr.
  • Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, Maureen Connelly, Elaine Tanner, Nancy Greene, Althea Gibson, Martina Hingis, Florence Joyner, Jeanette Lee.

 

 

Paulie

A friend of mine from our teenage years died recently, after a long, slow decline, taken from us before his time.  For more than fifty years, Paulie and I celebrated our friendship in the company of our wives, themselves close friends since high school, and our children.

We journeyed through many stages of life together—boyhood teammates and opponents in the sports we loved to play; young men starting out, full of hope and sure of success; new fathers, surprised at how quickly we got to that point; fellow-travellers far and wide, our growing families in tow; and eventually grandfathers, proud all over again of a new generation.  Through it all, we played our games and remained steadfast friends.

Our boyhoods were spent in the suburbs, where every community had its own park, and we spent hours there after school and on weekends.  We were from different neighbourhoods, but connected on those playing fields during the endless summers and wondrous winters, eager warriors on the ball-diamonds and hockey-rinks.  Especially the hockey-rinks.

In every park there was an outdoor ice pad or two, where neighbourhood fathers (and a few intrepid mothers) would stand every night, alone in the dark, flooding water on the rinks to provide fresh ice for the following day.  I’m not sure we thanked them enough back then, but we sure benefited from their dedication.

By the time we’d arrive at the rink, skates dangling from the hockey sticks propped on our shoulders, fresh snow had often fallen.  So the first kid to get there would take one of the shovels propped in the surrounding snowbanks, and start clearing the ice.  As more of us arrived, we’d take turns until the ice was cleaned off.  And then we’d lace up and the game would begin.

Paulie and I were habitués of those parks.

As adults, our careers took us in different directions, and to different cities.  But we talked frequently by phone—mostly about business, our families, and, of course, sports.  Especially hockey.  We never talked about dying and the hereafter, and what it might hold, not even near the end.  We weren’t afraid of it, I don’t think;  it was just too abstract to be contemplated.

But now it’s happened.  My friend has gone.

But where?  Where is he now, I wonder?  Or, more precisely, where is the essence of who he was?  His soul, some might call it.  In my sorrow, I’ve concocted a scenario that consoles me, regardless that it may sound far-fetched to others.  Paulie would understand.

There’s a celestial park somewhere, complete with a neighbourhood ice pad.  It’s covered with the whitest snow any of us has ever seen, and my friend is the first one there.  He’s grabbed a shovel, and he’s busy scraping the ice.

Sooner or later, I like to imagine, I’ll be joining him.  He knows that, so he’s not troubled.  And when that day arrives, when he sees me coming, he’ll stop for a minute, lean on his shovel, and shout in my direction.

“’Bout time ya got here!  Where ya been?”

I’ll shrug and wave a greeting, my wide smile letting him know how happy I am to see him again.

“Grab a shovel,” he’ll yell, as I stuff cold feet into my skates.  “This is hard work!”

But it won’t be, not really.  It will be joyous work—legs pumping, hearts pounding, breath forming around our heads, skate-blades cutting their cold, choppy sound in the ice.  Just like always…just like always.

In no time at all, the snow will be cleared, the ice will be ready.  And when it is, I choose to believe, we’ll toss a puck out on the ice, take up our sticks yet one more time, and play our game together, the game we always loved.  The way we loved each other.

Paulie and I2

Teammates again, friends forever.

Paul Joseph Boyer

26 July 1942 – 16 March 2017