Influences

ST. JOSEPH, GORDIE HOWE AND METAPHYSICS ON ICE

I had true modest heroes, well suited for a good life.  Catholicism provided the tailoring.  I was surrounded by local variants, cut from the same rough cloth, of  St. Joseph. A family man and carpenter. A Workaday Joe.  And, most of all, a servant to a higher-authority that he didn’t question.

Such background saints mind their rank. They’re God’s jobbers from start to finish. In the family fold were such St. Joe figures as Stan Jaroski: a former US Army scout who landed on Omaha Beach and fought ahead of the front-lines until V-E Day. A strapping 6 footer, graceful as a cat, with the tragic gentleness of a man who’d seen too much. His entire life was a silent mission. Then, for every quiet light there was a matching rump of shadows. Like my Uncle Arty who was a closet homosexual, a self-taught painter of lurid scenes, and a butcher in my dad’s shop who only arrived drunk when sobriety was needed most during the Holiday rushes.

There you go: hero and anti-hero, counterbalanced to turn the wheel of parish life. But it’s too quaint. What about about iconic figures, taller than church steeples, visible from afar? Gordie Howe was such a soulful giant. He was a monumental model of Christian piety who, when the puck dropped, was a hunter-killer with a touch of spirited grace.

In sportswriter’s terms, Howe had a dominant presence on the ice. In my own fabulist’s terms, Howe had a mystical arc in the flatlands of SE Michigan where the sewage from steel-mils seeped into the swamps of Lake Erie. Howe’s fame was the same on the Canadian side of the shipping channel where my uncle-in-law owned a tug company. Maybe tug-boats are the St. Joseph’s, the dutiful seconds, of the Great Lakes fleet. Here’s what I surely know: It would take a borderline Wagner to note the rolling mists, crackling ice-flows and the razor-backed currents of the Detroit River in January. The site-specific haunt! The metallic Rhine Redux! The steel-grey soulscape for Gordie’s iron jaw, Red Wing jersey and flashing skates. A timely hero! In Wagnerian terms, a cyclically appearing hockey god who was dormant in summer when there was a surplus of natural bloom and florid colors anyway.

Such was life along the shore where the smokestacks padded the clouds. If you don’t get the primal drift? If you think that I’m fabulizing too much about grey-grey horizons downwind from Detroit? Then talk to a starving deer, a young buck, at the edge of an ice-pond at sunset. He knows the merciless nature of winter in the sticks.  He knows the legendary hurt.

So does the village barber behind dear ol’ St. Joseph’s Church. But he makes his living yapping like a mocking bird. So you won’t get the cold-cold truth, unless you already know it.

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