(Linda Anger, Aug. 20, 2017)
At his heyday, the entire hockey-loving world – including my mother – was hung up on Gordie Howe.
Scotty Bowman, the most successful NHL Coach in history, loved Gordie because he could play center, right wing, and defense, and could shoot right or left-handed.
Mom loved Gordie for other reasons. They were both Canadians . They were the same age, even though she was three years older. Gordie was signed by the Detroit Red Wings at age 16, making his NHL debut with the Wings at age 18, the same year my American dad married my Canadian mom and brought her to Detroit.
Mom went on to raise five Red Wing fans, and Gordie went on to lead the Wings to four Stanley Cup championships, and to first place in regular season play for seven consecutive years. At the end of his career, he was a six-decade mega-superstar, called “Mr. Hockey,” and the only player over which my mother swooned.
Gordie was 40 years old and still playing on the summer evening in 1968 when my parents drove off from our home in Orchard Lake to visit friends in Bloomfield Hills, leaving me and my sister —she aged 20, me 17—to tend to our 5 and 4 year-old siblings.
My father was a WWII Navy Pilot, downed in a crash that spared his life, but left scar tissue that continued to grow, slowly and silently on his brain, for the next two decades. On that night, 26 years after the crash, on a stretch of Long Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills with Mom in the passenger seat, he had a grand mal seizure.
Somehow Mom stopped that car, and ran to the closest house. She pounded on the door, which was quickly answered by a tall man with bright blue eyes and a familiar smile.
“Call an ambulance, my husband is… my husband is…OH MY GOD! YOU’RE GORDIE HOWE!” she cried. “I’m Canadian, too, and have loved you forever, and, and… I think my husband is dead in the car.”
Meanwhile, back at the house, my sister and I were playing records really LOUD, and teaching our little siblings to paint Day-Glo peace signs on the bedroom walls.
I was the first to the ringing phone.
Now, I’m only seventeen, but I’m no fool. I know who Gordie Howe is, and, I know the odds of him calling our house on a Friday night in 1968 are about three zillion to none.
“Yeah, and my name’s Tinkerbell,” I say, slamming the receiver down.
“Some idiot pretending to be Gordie Howe,” I tell my sister, as if we would be stupid enough to fall for something that absurd. We laughed and laughed ̶ until the phone rang again.
“Don’t hang up!” the man said. “Were your parent’s expected at the Carney’s house?”
“Yyyyyyeeeeesss,” I said. “Who is this?”
I arrived to find EMTs and police officers talking to a tall, slender man in street clothes. The police wanted the car moved.
“I don’t give a #$@% about the car,” I said. “I’m going to the hospital. Where did they take my dad?”
The officer, a burly guy, was raising a chiding finger toward my face, when Gordie Howe ̶ my mother’s hero, and at that moment, my own ̶ gently swept his hand away with the grace that can only come from a lifetime of precise hockey-sticking.
“ Officer, I’ll drive the car to your station,” he said. “They can fetch it tomorrow.”
At the hospital, I found Dad dazed, but alive, and Mom flushed by the anxiety of the situation, and the thrill of meeting her hockey hero. Dad was released a few days later, and all the bridge club ladies sympathized with her harrowing experience, and envied her soiree with the great Mr. Hockey.
Gordie called our house several times over the next weeks, to ask about Dad’s progress. At Mom’s request, he sent autographed photos to relatives in Canada and the bridge club ladies.
Mom never lost her affinity with Gordie, still giggles when his name is mentioned, and wept when she learned of his death.
And me? I’m probably the only woman in America who can say, “I hung up on Gordie Howe.”