We all have heroes. People we look up to, respect, admire, people who have accomplished something that we may never be able to duplicate. Many times our only contact with our heroes is in a crowd in a public place. Part of what makes them heroes is that we only see what we want to see, or we believe what we are told. We do not know them well enough to discover their human frailties that may diminish them in our eyes. In some cases, we may hear about their shortcomings and refuse to acknowledge them. We compare our insides to their outsides. When that comparison is made, we always come up short.
During those infrequent moments of solitude, when we can pause, reflect, reevaluate and plan, our unsung heroes come into play. Unsung heroes are people who go by other names - teacher, minister, relative. Unwittingly, or unknowingly, they have profoundly influenced our lives and made us better people. But their other persona or their shortcomings (in our eyes) do not allow us to appreciate who, or what they are.
My family came to this country more than 50 years ago. We arrived, scared, full of apprehension, strangers with a strange language in a strange land.
I can remember my mother finding a hard disk of rubber on the sidewalk. She mused that it must be a part off a truck. She gave me the disk. Little did I know, as a naive eight year old, that round disk of rubber would have a profound influence on both my mother and myself.
Our first home in Canada was the basement of a friend's place. It was home for three years. To me it didn't seem like much, but for some reason I always knew that things would get better. Through it all, my mother was always there, strong. Life for me was getting better. I didn't mind sleeping in a room next to the furnace. It would have probably driven someone else stark mad. It became my companion. Just before we moved, I was discussing the meaning of life and other deep philosophical questions with it. I must admit, I never lost any arguments that I had with it, although sometimes it would cause me to reconsider my position leading me to change my mind.
Three years into our life in our adopted homeland, we suffered another upheaval. My mother was suddenly faced with the prospect of single parenthood. She became matriarch and patriarch of three, rather rambunctious, albeit well behaved (in my opinion) sons.
Still struggling with a new language, my mother simply took charge, a characteristic that is still displayed today. She went out and got a job and became the sole breadwinner in the family.
That strange round disk of rubber reappeared in our life. She got a job at Winnwell Sporting Goods as a maker of hockey equipment. She had discovered a different approach to Canada's first love. Fans watching a game would cheer a great play. My mother's pride was the quality of the equipment that bore the Winnwell name.
Realizing that higher education may not be my calling, I joined the workforce, learning, in the beginning, the fine art of dishwashing. Deep down, it made me feel good, because I was contributing. Although from time to time I would resent my brothers, who were attending university, while I slaved in a steamy kitchen. I learned to appreciate the value of hard work that had been instilled in me, not so much in words, but by my mother's actions.
I was still searching for my niche in life when fate stepped in again. Again, it was influenced by that strange round disk of rubber. Winnwell closed. My mother was out of work. Being practical and frugal, my mother realized that people could not afford to buy new equipment every time something broke. So, my mother bought a couple of sewing machines from Winnwell and set up shop in the basement of our home. A small handmade sign went up in the window of the house. Business came from the neighbourhood. But her reputation spread. There is this Italian lady down on Perth Avenue who performs miracles repairing hockey equipment. Business started to grow.
Meanwhile, I was becoming the Michelangelo of dishwashers. I was also expanding my horizons. I was learning to read and write. As my knowledge expanded, I soon realized that dishwashing was not the most lucrative of career paths. I was searching again.
With the business in the home, I found myself spending a great deal of time with my mother, watching her work and learning her trade. She could be impatient at times, but on reflection, I know that she was only impatient when I wasn't making the necessary effort. She could accept mistakes, if they were honest. She couldn't accept a lack of caring or effort. I am still reminded of that attitude, on occasion, today.
As I was becoming more skilled under my mother's tutelage, the business continued to expand. Things were changing. We were becoming more settled. Our roots were growing deeper. We no longer rented our house. My mother had saved enough to put a payment down and buy it.
I decided to inflict a major loss on the dishwashing profession. I retired. They would have to find a new Michelangelo.
The round disk of rubber again stepped in. This time, it wasn't someone who shot it, but someone who stopped it. A goalie came in, and asked if we had ever made, or considered making goalie equipment. My mother and I decided to give it a try.
We took apart an old pair of pads, made some patterns and went to work. Those pads are still in use today. We had another niche. Business was improving and it was becoming too much to handle in the house. We rented a storefront on Bloor Street near Lansdowne and the next chapter in our lives
People were coming into our "hole in the wall" as one friend so indelicately described it, asking if we had any used equipment, as well as doing repairs. My mother saw another opportunity and took it.
We were now stocking used equipment and were showcasing some of our own goalie equipment. We were suffering growing pains. The business was now beyond the capabilities of just a mother and son. Staff needed to be hired and space was at a premium.
At times we became so caught up in being business people, the mother/son relationship was strained. I had to be reminded that above all, despite everything else that was going on in the business and our lives, I was her son first.
We moved again. One of my brothers has joined us in the business. My brother Jim’s wife suddenly and unexpectedly passed away a few years ago. It took a heavy toll on our family as she worked at THR. It devastated my mother because she believed she was older and that it should’ve been her. For my brother, I can only say that the loss was deep.
A friend dropped into the store the other day. He wanted to tell me that we had made it in the hockey equipment world. A pair of THR gloves were part of a display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I told my mother. In her understated way, she said that maybe, she should go down someday and see them. Maybe I will take her on Mother's Day. In some small way, it may prove to her how much of a hero she really is to a lot of people, especially her sons. You know, maybe for Mother's Day, I'll buy her one of those round disks of hard rubber. It means a lot to both of us.
Perhaps in the 20 years that I’ve been married I have never given my wife the credit she deserves for being with me. Perhaps I felt that I did not deserve her. To this day she is indeed a very beautiful and lovely woman. I’m not the type of man who can tell his wife that he loves her everyday for the sake of saying something. Even when I was sick in the hospital for over a week, she visited all the time and was literally kicked out because of the time visitation hours. My wife deserves a lot of credit in terms of who I am and building my character. When I look at her holding a drink on the beach and toasting to the reasons of why she loves me, then I can truly say I am the luckiest man in the world. For that, she is my true hero. Any husband who refuses to make his wife the hero of his life is not worthy of his existence.