Watching Bobby Orr doing rare interviews this past week, the Q and As taking place, not coincidentally, around the same time his new biography was being distributed to bookstores, prompted a recollection of a family episode in which the fabulous No. 4 was a factor, an incident in which my dear mother — oh the shame of it all — actually broke the law.
Now we’re not talking some serious felony here and the statute of limitations means there will be no repercussions from this revelation about my mom’s actions of 40 years ago, but Mr. Orr was nevertheless largely responsible for what amounted to my mother’s theft of an expensive hockey ticket from the Philadelphia Flyers (the massively rich Philadelphia Flyers, it should be noted).
It was in the early ’70s. Orr was in his heyday, receiving unending accolades (justifiably so, in my estimation back then and even more so now, in retrospect) as the greatest player “to ever lace them up,” as users of hockey clichés like to say, and he and his big bad Bruins were playing the Flyers at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
Tickets were as scarce as hen’s teeth, but my father had somehow managed to wrangle a couple of free seats from his employer, Trans World Airlines.
The scenario that evening was for Mom and Dad to drive their eldest, yours truly, to Philadelphia Airport, get me on an airplane back to college after a holiday at home and for the folks to then head directly to the Spectrum to watch a game that was a sell-out and the talk of the hockey world (I think even football and baseball fans in Philadelphia were acutely aware that Bobby Orr was in town).
A simple enough plan, you'd think.
But, as bad luck or good luck would have it, I missed my flight and there was the resulting predicament: three avid hockey fans, all dying to see Orr, standing outside one of the Spectrum entrances, with two tickets.
Dad had tried desperately to scalp a third, but even the scalpers, those crooks who peddle seats at exorbitant prices, had run out of tickets.
Each of us in turn volunteered to miss an evening with Mr. Orr; I said it was Mom’s and Dad’s tickets to begin with and that I would go to a nearby bar and watch the game on television and pick them up later. Mom suggested Dad and I should go; Dad said Mom and I should use the tickets.
And as we debated who might miss the game, Mom, in a flash, left us without saying a word and joined a group of people entering the turnstiles.
When it struck me that Mom, who'd probably never broken even the most minor of laws in her life, was trying to sneak into the Spectrum with cops and Flyers’ employees all over the place, I hopelessly warned my father: “Dad, stop her. She can’t do that. She’ll get in big shit.”
But Dad, forever the pragmatist, just shrugged, and then smiled: he saw a solution to our two tickets/ three fans dilemma.
And I guess the gatekeeper just presumed that someone had supplied him with a handful of tickets, including one for this innocent-looking, middle-aged woman; as a result, Mom passed calmly and coolly through the Spectrum entrance as if she was a season ticket-holder.
At least that's the way she appeared on the outside. Her guts, though, had to have been churning.
“Well, we may as well go in, too, I guess,” Dad said, stating the obvious.
Once inside the arena, we could just barely make out Mom practically running down the corridor, passing one gate after another, obviously frightened to death that her sinful, illegal deed would be discovered and that she would be put in cuffs and removed from the rink unceremoniously by a couple
of burly Philadelphia cops. Even back home, there would have been headlines: “Newfoundland woman arrested in Phillly.”
When we caught up to Mom,
she was almost hyperventilating, a combination, I’m sure, of fear and downright excitement.
“Mom,” I exclaimed, ever so proudly, “you just sneaked into an NHL hockey game.”
“Well,” she replied, breathlessly, “I was just determined that all three of us were going to see Bobby Orr in person.”
Mom and I then proceeded to find the two “legitimate” seats. Dad stood for a while at one of the gates, and around the middle of the first period, found a single, vacant seat a couple of aisles in back of us
(even though NHL games are often defined as a sell-out, there are invariably a few no-shows, although there weren’t that many available that particular evening).
The story has acquired legendary status within the Wakeham family over the years.
In fact, when Mom went back to school in her 40s to become a registered nurse, she wrote a paper for one of her English classes on being probably the first Newfoundlander to ever sneak into a game at the Spectrum. Her prof and fellow students loved it.
And it’s one of innumerable, grand memories I have of Mom and Dad and me, memories we seem to be recalling quite a bit since Dad passed away last month, a month shy of his 89th birthday (quietly and peaceably, I should say).
I’m sure the Dad of a few years ago would have gobbled up Orr’s biography.
As I certainly will.
And undoubtedly Mom will have a gander, as well.
I think I’ll buy her a copy for her birthday.
Just in case she thinks she can get it free of charge at Chapters.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.