On the Bruins and Bachelor Uncles

June 18, 2011

I am hardly a die-hard hockey fan, but I am compelled to write at least a few words on the Boston Bruins winning their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1972. In 1972, I actually lived in Boston, but I was only three and my earliest memories were not of hockey but of going to sleep with the sound of horns and sirens and the strange light shows caused from headlights skittering their way across my bedroom ceiling. The only sport I knew then was candlepin bowling because I got to tag along with my mother to her league where I was rewarded with a glazed chocolate donut for sitting still through one string after another.

Hockey entered my life only after my family left Boston for New Hampshire, not because I was suddenly out of the city and enjoying the sport on a frozen, wintery pond, but because we continued to come back to Massachusetts to visit my grandmother who still had at least two or three of her six sons living at home whenever they weren’t doing stints in the Army, and all of them were Bruins fans.

My dad was the oldest of eight—six boys, two girls—and the age spread was great enough that Dad’s youngest brothers were more like big brothers to my own brother Kevin and me. The three youngest—Joe, Sean, and Michael—had set up a lair in the basement of my grandmother’s apartment, and my brother Kevin and I loved sitting down there amidst the sticky beer mugs and lacrosse sticks and record albums stacked against the wall, gorging ourselves on Wise Potato Chips and soda and all the television we were never allowed to watch at home.

Though Kevin and I often were subjected to the losing end of a tickle attack or wrestling match when we overstayed our welcome in the basement, for the most part our uncles were a fairly quiet bunch, especially when they watched television. When our uncles were accommodating, Kev and I got to watch Tom and Jerry and The Monkees and H.R. Puffinstuff, but more often our uncles were in charge and we watched endless hours of Hogan’s Heroes, Three Stooges, and the Saturday Creature Double Feature plus, of course, Bruins games whenever they were on.

I never learned much about the game or the players, I just remember my uncles with their black and gold scarves and their Bruins beer mugs and their shouts of disgust or cheers depending on how the game was going. I elicited a shout of disgust myself, when, one night, I came down the basement steps with one of those Bruins mugs full of milk.

As soon as he spotted me on the stairs, Joe cried out, “What are you doing drinking milk out of Sean’s mug! You can’t ever drink beer out of a mug once it’s had milk in it!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know.”

“He’ll never be able to drink beer out of it again,” Joe said, and as my eyes got wide, the tears probably soon to follow, Sean piped up.

“That’s okay,” Sean said. “I guess it’s your mug now.”

It seems silly now to think I’d taken Joe so seriously, just like it was silly of me to believe Joe would know it was Sean’s Bruins mug I’d supposedly ruined and not his or Michael’s when they all looked the same, but taking advantage of my naïveté was just another way they had fun with Kevin and me, especially since, as the youngest of eight, they’d probably been the butt of jokes more than once themselves. As I look back at that time I think too I was so young that the memory of what I saw on the television—the Three Stooges, John Wayne, and the Bruins players who might have been tough on the boards but who, in post-game interviews, seemed uncomfortable and awkward—somehow blended together with all my memories of hanging out in that basement with Kevin and my bachelor uncles. Joe, Sean, and Michael were the Three Stooges and John Wayne and those tough and loyal hockey players who were shy if not downright reserved off the ice, and at the end of the day they were the first stand-up guys I knew besides my dad. 

Those years with my bachelor uncles are far behind me—Michael just retired from the Army after decades of service and has two kids who, not surprisingly, aren’t too much older than my own two kids, Joe now lives up in New Hampshire while I’m in Massachusetts again, and Sean, sadly, died too young more than ten years ago. Sean didn’t get to see the Bruins bring the Cup back to Boston this year, but I hope he was rooting for them somewhere, drinking beer from a mug that’s never been tainted with milk even once.

I only watched Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Championship; I couldn’t bring myself to watch the playoffs sooner, because it had been a long time since I’d watched any professional sports game. After following the Red Sox for years, I became disenchanted with the overly polished and entitled attitudes of too many of the players—in baseball, in basketball, wherever, but finally I caved and turned on Game 7.

Immediately I was taken back in time thanks to a pre-game interview with Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins’ Alternate Captain. Bergeron was wearing an ill-fitting suit and an unfortunate tie, and his hair and beard looked as though they’d been cut with a dull pair of gardening shears. He seemed uncomfortable as he gamely answered questions in that thick Quebecois accent that most people outside of New England would think was a language other than English, but I suspected—correctly—that once he got onto the ice all awkwardness would be lost. That night he scored two of the four Bruins goals, and he was just as effective on the boards too; I was thrilled to watch him pull of his helmet and form a celebratory scrum with all the other shaggy, sweaty guys out there once the game was over and the title secured.

While I suspect if I watched an entire season of NHL hockey, I’d find enough reason to become as disillusioned as I am with pretty much every other professional sport out there today, Game 7 left me happy. That night it was as if the Bruins were a team of my bachelor uncles—stand-up guys who, this year at least, deservedly came out on top.

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2 Responses to “On the Bruins and Bachelor Uncles”

  1. jon said

    Nice piece, but sorry to hear you have abandoned the Red Sox. Sure, rooting for the Sox today is kind of like rooting for the British Army to beat the Zulus, but it is hard to throw away 100 years of New England tradition. I bet the NHL wouldn’t disappoint you too much, hockey today probably has more players who are down to earth and filled with pure love of the game as any pro sport out there (excepting probably pro lacrosse). If they would just get rid of all the teams south of Philadelphia …

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Red Sox fan–I just can’t really watch the games anymore–and I absolutely agree with you about the fact that there’s just something VERY wrong about having hockey teams where there’s no winter. It was a sad, sad day for me when the Minnesota North Stars moved down to Dallas. But I suspect those southern hockey teams are usually supported by Northerners who no longer live in the North, no?

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