By Peter Turner
My Uncle Lloyd, a retired senator, is a die-hard Canadian Football League (CFL) fan. He attended his first Grey Cup in November 1962, while in his last year at Bishop’s University, and has attended many since. Now, every year, cousin Billy and I, with our wives, are summoned to his cluttered study to watch the game. On arrival, we do the ritual examination of the signed celebrity photos covering the walls. They show a smiling uncle standing beside everyone from Teddy Kennedy, Pamela Anderson and Yvan Cournoyer, to Willie Lamothe and Sam Etchevery.
We watch the game on his ancient beige Emerson console, while Aunt Margie gamely struggles to get food into us between a steady offering of lethal, “game-day punch.” That could mean watching the Saskatchewan Roughriders playing the Ottawa Roughriders in rain, sleet and snow, and hearing Uncle regale us with Grey Cup tales. Like, for example, when in 1953, Montreal Mayor Camilien Houde, spoke in Toronto’s Varsity Stadium after kicking off the first ball in the Alouettes vs Eskimos match. The Mayor, who was fluently bilingual, liked to exaggerate his French accent for these occasions. “Tank you Toronto. I hope you will invite me many times to kick off your balls again.” That was just a few hours after he had stood with his wife on the steps of the old Toronto City Hall and offered, “I tank you from the bottom of my heart and my wife tanks you from her bottom too.” Everybody loved Mayor Houde.
But here is Uncle Senator’s favourite story. “In my last year at Bishop’s, my buddy Harry Mambert got a call from a Toronto friend offering two great tickets for the Saturday game between the Blue Bombers and the Tiger Cats.” Harry had one of the few cars on campus at that time—a 1955 Triumph TR3 with a radio and stereo speakers, that he had fixed up. How could we not do this road trip? Well, boys, I’ll tell you how. There was one major social event in the Fall Term—Football Formal—ball gowns, corsages, dinner jackets—the whole nine yards. Harry was going steady with Pat Smith and I, of course, was with your lovely Auntie here.
Once we’d told our friends of this offer, our pride was on the line. We had to risk all, and go, or lose face forever. Neither of the girls spoke to us for the rest of the week, but we were confident we would find a way to make it up to them before Christmas.
On Friday, we left the campus amid cheers from friends. We’d be in Toronto in time for a Grey Cup bash at the Royal York Hotel. But first we had to backtrack to North Hatley, to pick up my things. My neighbour Fred Dezan was out on his deck enjoying a cold one and reading Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” He suggested, “one for the road.” His roommate, Whiff Mathews asked if we might bring a book to his girlfriend in Toronto. It was “The Watch That Ends the Night” and was to be signed by the author, Hugh MacLennan, who was staying in North Hatley and would meet us in the bar at the Connaught Inn. That stop involved some wonderful conversation and a couple of small ones, “stubbies”, as we called them. We got away at 2:45; further from Toronto than when we’d started out.
On our way through Magog we discovered that we were out of Export A’s right in front of the disreputable old Union Hotel. We thought another cold beer might be just the ticket to get us on our way. That’s about when the wheels fell off. Mambert is drawn to pool tables like a kid to fireworks. He laid a dollar down and stepped into “one quick game.” It was clear that we’d not be leaving before early next morning. That was such a relief that we decided to enjoy our evening. The pool players, all French (there were no “phones,” Anglo or Franco, then boys) asked us to join them for dinner.
It was almost 11 when we woke up and groggily watched the Grey Cup parade on the tiny grainy black and white TV. The bathroom down the hall was out of order. Harry went down to use the Tavern one and came upon a better TV and a cluster of fans. We renewed our room reservation.
Draft beer was 10 cents a glass. The standard square table held exactly 100 glasses that were delivered by the very saucy barmaids (Oh don’t look at me like that Margie). It was a fine Grey Cup party until the heavy fog rolled in off Lake Ontario. Receivers couldn’t see the ball. A punt returner later said, “You could see the bodies coming at you only from the waist down.” The snowy TV screen in the Tavern didn’t help. Remarkably, the game was suspended with 9 and ½ minutes left. It was to be continued on Sunday afternoon—as someone said, “it’s like a national coitus interuptus.”
While discussing our next move, we had a Eureka moment. “Long distance phoning is long distance phoning,” said the ever-eloquent Harry, the coins make the same “kerplunk,” whether across the 20 miles to Lennoxville, or the 300 miles to Toronto. ….. We phoned our girls to announce that, if they could be ready for a late entrance to the dance, we’d be there by 10 PM— said we were sorry we’d ever left them. They implored us to drive carefully.
After long naps, hot showers, and a decent, if sober, dinner, we drove 20 minutes back to the university. At 9:45 PM we met the girls at the Women’s Residence. We were greeted at the dance with cheers and free drinks. Our slow dances were the slowest ever. The truth didn’t emerge until after Christmas. As you can see boys, your sweet Aunt Margie is as thoroughly pissed off today as she was 47 years ago.