Thems the Breaks: A Don Cherry Memory

Contributed by Valerie Bean (Pickering, ON)

ONE OF THE THINGS I LIKED ABOUT WORKING at an office in First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto was the seasonal guests FCP would present free, lunch-hour concerts near thewaterfall.

I missed Michael Buble, but was treated to performances by Molly Johnson, who did not remember me, but whose praise for my bookkeeping skills had me feeling guilty for years after leaving the agency that represented her without having mentioned it to her beforehand, as I’d promised I would do, and by Jacksoul, with whom I’ve not worked.

Grapes, on the other hand, did something that I found remarkable.

Right next to the waterfall stage lives HMV. And every November, they stock a load of Don Cherry ## and bring Grapes in for an autograph session. The crowd is always awesome; those who aren’t in line stand round to gawk, while the real fans wait it out for the chance at an autographed and a photo taken with the star of Coach’s Corner.

One year, Don’s session conflicted with the personal appearance of another well-known Canadian hockey guy, Walter Gretzky, who was holding an autograph session of his own, upstairs at Coles Book Store to promote his book On Family, Hockey and Healing.

A scheduling conflict? No worries. I formulated a plan. I brought in reserves. I purchased copies of the book and the video the day before. I established a meeting place between our offices and the stores where I would hand off the video to my friend who agreed to spend her lunch hour saving a spot in line, but she got to pick which, before heading to Coles.

A meet, a greet, a signed book and I was back at the office dreaming up ways to get the VHS tape to Grapes to sign.

Work kept my sub from meeting me. I was too late. Don was gone.

My kid, unable to play hockey because of a broken nose, would not get an early Christmas gift. And I wouldn’t get the chance to play hockey hero. The kid, who years later, would chase Sidney Crosby through-out the town of London for an autograph, missed his first hockey game due to injury.

And that’s just what I told Don in my letter. The kid, I explained, had been retrieving a dodge ball in phys. ed. when he tripped and smacked his face on a bench resting against the wall of the gym. The injury and resulting black eye wasn’t even hockey related, huffed the kid, bummed about being scratched from the Tyke lineup.

“Them’s the breaks,” Cherry wrote back on a personalized, promotional card he included with the signed video tape.

Several stamps on the envelope indicated the package wasn’t mailed from the CBC, where I’d hand-delivered the tape and panicky note pleading for help.

By the time the parcel arrived, the kid was back on the ice, his fractured nose fully healed, his hockey spirit back to normal.

The card, five seasons later, still has its prominent spot among team trophies and medals.

The VCR tape has since been replaced with a DVD, but I couldn’t part with the cover. To this old-timer, Cherry’s personal touch was awesome. So is the fact that Grapes got me out of a jam.

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