If you grew up in Canada in the ’60’s or ’70’s, it’s likely you spent a lot of time outside. Those were the days when the big rules at home had to do with being within ‘ear-shot’, meaning your mother could yell your name from the front door and you could hear her…naturally, if you were playing hide and seek, you couldn’t give up your location, so you had to weigh the odds between being caught or being in trouble with Mom.
The other rule that got better as the summer months progressed, was the ‘street-light’ rule, which meant you could stay out until the street lights came on, then you’d better be heading home or else! That one was a total rip off in the winter. In Canada, the sun goes down around 4:30 in the cold months, so outdoor playtime was precious indeed. Most of the time, though, it wasn’t all that bad on account that it was Canada and it was winter.
When we could, we would stay outside all day if possible. Going in the house usually meant being ‘caught’ by Mom, and having to clean your room, or God forbid, vacuum the living room. Nothing was worse than that.
Because of this, we got pretty good at surviving outdoors for long periods of time. Fluids came from a garden hose behind someones house – no bottled water for us, and nourishment was found in fruit trees growing around the neighbourhood – the trick was not getting caught. Outdoor plumbing was never an issue…I’ll leave it at that. Even injuries were managed outside, as long as they weren’t too serious. There was one time playing street hockey, a kid got the butt of a stick in his mouth, which knocked out most of his teeth. Because he was wearing a brand new set of braces though, they just kind of hung there on the metal tracks. Needless to say, his father, who just finished paying for them, was not at all happy with us.
We loved playing street hockey. It was a great way to live out the skills of your favourite NHL player. Mine was Bobby Orr – the great number 4 from the Boston Bruins. Most of the kids didn’t choose Lanny McDonald, not because he wasn’t a great hockey hero, but because none of us could grow thick mustaches.
Mom liked us being outside because we burned off a ton of energy and we couldn’t break anything.
There were a lot of kids on our street, so getting a game going was pretty easy. We didn’t have much in the way of fancy equipment like nets, or pads or anything. We often used rocks as goal posts, and marked center ice with our hats or something else that we probably should have been wearing. The puck was a tennis ball. Tennis balls were as precious as gold back then. Having one was like holding the conch in Lord Of The Flies…but of course, no one got killed.
We didn’t have blue lines on the road, so kids could stand pretty much anywhere on the ‘rink’. There wasn’t an off-side rule but we did have the ‘Cherry Picker’ rule, which wasn’t so much of a rule as it was an insult. A Cherry Picker was someone who would wait near the opposing goal area, hoping that the ball would make it down to them, and they’d have a clear chance to score. If you were brave enough or thick-skinned enough, you could be a Cherry Picker, but the other kids would yell out ‘Cherry Picker‘, like it was a terrible insult.
The most important rule in the game was the ‘car’ rule. Because we were playing in the middle of the street, we had to always watch for cars. If one came by, someone would yell, ‘CAR!‘. Whatever play was going on, it would have to stop immediately, and get off the street – this was a great rule if the other team had possession of the ‘puck’.
Games kind of just happened if enough kids were around, and pretty much everyone could play as long as they had a stick. Teams were organized in one of two ways, mostly. The way I liked was that all the sticks would get piled up in the middle, and one of the kids, usually the oldest or most respected, would randomly throw sticks, alternating towards each net until they were evenly separated. The other way was to have 2 captains choose their teams in alternating turns. This wasn’t much fun if you weren’t very good, because you really didn’t want to be the last kid to get picked…’I guess I’ll have to take Troy…‘. Either way, it was about the most fair, democratic process I’ve seen, even as an adult.
The interesting thing about street hockey was that although we were kids, and clearly unorganized, the rules of the game were strictly adhered to. Any kid who refused to follow the rules, either spoken or assumed, was pretty much banished from all social games for a long time – kids could really hold a grudge.
We didn’t know it at the time, but street hockey was teaching us a lot of important lessons about life. Besides being great exercise, we learned about the order of things. We learned about leadership and hierarchy. We knew that rules were important and needed to be followed. We learned about teamwork and about knowing that we had to respect that we were on the street and it belonged to the cars. It created the framework of morals and ethics for adulthood, and about hard work.
We had hero’s back then. People we looked up to, and they rarely disappointed us. Bobby Orr and Lanny McDonald are still stand up guys. I don’t know if the same could be said about most sports stars today.
I’m seeing more kids in my neighbourhood playing street hockey again. I’m glad for this, since they will learn the same important life lessons for future generations. This gives me hope for the future. They’ll learn about the importance of order, leadership and teamwork. They’ll learn about not only how to follow rules, but to respect others.
They’ll probably never learn how to vacuum, though.