Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Carter Brothers' Miraculous Sporting Careers

My brother Eddie visited Sunday and after supper we sat in the living room and reminisced about the sports we played when we were younger.

Yup. Sports. Competition. Sweat. Teams. Uniforms. Football fields. The whole nine yards. Hahahahaha.

It’s uncharacteristic for us, actually. We Carters were raised to not brag about our athletic achievements.

Indeed you might be surprised to learn that my brothers and I are just as athletic as the next guy. (And you're like, "sure, as long as the next guy is a Carter.")

Fact is, we simply weren't raised in a sporting household. We didn't watch "Hockey Night in Canada." Our Dad didn't golf or swim; and frankly, most of the time, we just didn't get sports.

But it sure wasn't for lack of trying.

To whit: When we were little boys in early grade school, Eddie took possession of  a very real-looking plastic football helmet with an Ottawa Roughriders' logo on each side. 
ED'S HELMET: Too little too late. 

Too bad it came a tad late for his most memorable game. 

Seems one afternoon he was playing in the backyard of our neighbour across the street who I won't name but who grew up to be a very successful pastor.

He was not only devout, he was an adept kicker and at one point Eddie was standing facing him when, let's call him "Preacher," let one go and the football flew directly into Eddie's face. 

And it's unfortunate the Roughriders' helmet, a gift from our older sister Bertholde, arrived after the backyard game.  By that time, Ed's best football years were already behind him.

But never mind that: Who  knows what kind of gridiron hero Ed might have become had he not been discouraged by that kick in the face?

(Gridiron's a nice word isn't it? It's hugely popular in crosswords. Ed and I discussed that, too; about how words you would never use pop up regularly in crosswords as if they were as common as bread. Like "ALAI," which comes from the sport "JAI ALAI". Eddie and I are probably far better positioned to reminisce about crosswords than sports but I digress.) 

Me, in grade seven, I played for the St. Albert Saints basketball team and in my first game, I scored five points: Three for us and—after dribbling the ball all the way down the court the wrong direction in a fit of competitive excitement—two for the other guys.

Another summer, Eddie along with our brother Alex played hardball for a Little League team called The Indians.  

And you know what's astonishing? What's astonishing is if I merely changed two names in that previous sentence, it takes on a whole different meaning.
Little league a la Dennis and Roman
Let's say instead of "Alex" and "Eddie", I use "Dennis" and "Roman". 

Dennis and Roman were local boys who could actually run, hit, catch, throw and compete.  Dennis and Roman had gear and they knew stuff about the pro teams too.

Now replace Alex and Eddie with Dennis and Roman and the sentence that ends "played hardball for a Little League team called The Indians" becomes action central; you imagine smoking fastballs; you hear the bat cracking against the ball and the crowd cheering as a young gazelle-like base runner slides into third, raising an awful cloud of dust.
Little League, Carter style

Plunk Alex and Eddie back in there and suddenly the pace gets a bit more lethargic, the dust settles and instead of a roaring crowd, it's maybe the slapping of a mosquito or a first baseman whose voice hasn't quite broke yet yelling, "Easy out.. easy out."

Language never bores me.

Further evidence that I was pretty hot stuff? My daughter Ria says she believed me when I told her the only reason I did not pursue a professional sporting career was that I don't like to shower with other people around. 

But here's the hands-down best part.

We Carter boys inherited our sports prowess from our late Dad, Tom, and even though he didn't brag about his sporting skills either, I know he teemed with them. (Get it? Teemed? Oftentimes, I surprise even me.)

I never saw Dad catch a ball or throw an anything. Still I know Dad was a true athlete because of a miracle that happened about 17 years ago; A miracle should find its way into Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.  

I was on staff at Chatelaine Magazine.

Part of my commute home every evening involved walking across a tiny parkette behind my house and the night in question I was halfway to the other side when I noticed a man standing in the dark near the teeter totters and I knew without thinking, "There's Dad."

Tom had been dead a few years by that time; but for some weird feeling, I wasn’t surprised to see him. Thinking  back, it might have had something to do with a story I'd just written about my sisters Norma’s and Bertholde’s haunted house. But ghost or not, 
I just felt calm. And kept walking. 

Arrived home. There was mail waiting, including a handwritten letter.

The letter was from a senior citizen woman from  Almonte, ON., where Dad grew up. She had seen my mugshot in Chatelaine; thought I looked like one of her old boyfriends whose name was Tom Carter.

She asked around, and my late aunt Leona furnished her with my home address.

She mailed the letter and included this photo. Of my Dad's baseball team. That's him, the--cue the Twilight Zone music--really faded figure on the far left in the back row. How nifty is that?
TOM SPIRIT: The photo revealed a side of Dad I'd never glimpsed. 

The surprising thing about all this?
Not that my dad dated before settling with my mom, though I'm kinda happy about that; 
Not that I'd just seen a ghost. Been there, done that lots.
Or even the fact that the ghost was a premonition of the photo and letter.  

The biggest surprise? 

Dad played on a team. It was a side of my father I knew nothing about. And added a whole new layer to how I thought about him and his early life.  

And if he's anything like the rest of us Carter boys, dad can rest assured that was the first and last team he played on.

Small wonder that when it came to being star athletes ourselves, Eddie and I had but a ghost of a chance.  

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