Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hockey--For Weddings and a Funeral

I had only been in Canada about a year when I first had occasion to go to a funeral. Two of the first close friendships I made after moving here were with one of my hockey teammates and her husband. In many ways, they have been like surrogate parents to Sarah and me. They invite us to their family functions, go with us to watch football and hockey games, come over for dinner, etc. Unfortunately, my friend’s brother was very sick in the hospital and he ended up dying at a relatively young age. I found out about this untimely death a couple of days after it happened, and as I was at work when I found out, I did some online research to find out about the funeral and visitation.

Sure enough, as I looked online, I discovered that the visitation was that very morning. I was thankful that I was dressed in business attire (not casual) that day, and I got permission from my boss to leave work for an hour to go to the visitation.

I parked my car outside the funeral home and saw that there were many cars there and people going in and out. Yet, something didn’t seem right. I was too focused on my own social anxiety at going into a place full of people where I would likely only know three or four people, so I just looked at the ground as I made my way through the parking lot and in the door.

The funeral home employee in his formal business suit greeted me and directed me to the appropriate room. As I entered the room, I had the fleeting thought again that something wasn’t right, but this time, after only a split second, I figured it out. Everyone at the visitation was wearing a hockey jersey. I couldn’t have felt more out of place dressed in my suit.

Almost all of the hockey jerseys were Buffalo Sabres jerseys, so I visually sifted through the sea of people dressed in dark blue or white to try to find my friend. Finally I spotted her in a jersey that was about four sizes too big. I immediately hugged her and then also saw her husband, one of the few other people dressed in a suit. I spoke with them briefly and expressed my condolences. As I was speaking with them, I noticed that my friend’s husband had a Buffalo Sabres sticker on his lapel. Scanning the room, I saw that almost all of those not in a jersey at least had stickers on their clothes.

My friend explained to me that her brother was an avid Sabres fan, and that he would have been just thrilled to know that people came to his visitation and funeral in their Sabres jerseys.
There was no body in the room—only several photo boards. But, I am sure if the body would have been there, my friend’s brother would have been in a Buffalo hockey jersey.

Feeling out of place due to the way I was dressed and because I knew almost no one, I left and hurried back to work and reflected on what a surreal experience that had been. It seemed so bizarre to me that I wondered if there was even any point telling my friends back home about the hockey-themed funeral. I was planning to include this story on my next installment of my "favorite Canadian moments," but then I decided that it probably was an anomaly and would be unfairly stereotyping.

Then, this past weekend, I attended my first wedding in Canada. Well, I guess I can’t really say it was my "first" wedding in Canada, as Sarah and I were married in Windsor in 2006, but it was definitely my first wedding as an attendee since moving here.

Ironically, it was also the first time I had ever attended a same-sex wedding (again, other than my own two weddings with Sarah, where I was a participant). I didn’t know what to expect, and I was eager to experience a same-sex wedding as a mere observer.

Two of my friends who I know from work and from hockey were marrying each other. I was just so thrilled that they invited me, and Sarah and I were looking forward to the experience. We arrived at the wedding, which was outdoors, and immediately saw a small string quartet playing upbeat jazz. Sarah and I took our seats near the back and watched all the other guests arrive. I was bracing myself the entire time in case I overheard any negative comments about same-sex marriage, and I looked carefully for any body language that implied a participant was not quite comfortable with what was about to take place. I didn’t hear or see either.

Soon, there was a slight stir in the crowd and someone announced the pending entrance of the two participants. I was caught off guard when, expecting to hear a traditional wedding march or other wedding song, I instead heard another slightly jazzy and upbeat tune coming from the string quarted behind me. Everyone in the crowd began laughing, including Sarah. I saw my two friends enter the area together, smiling broadly. The tune was vaguely familiar, and I eventually determined it was from television, but I couldn’t quite place it. Everyone around me was still laughing, so I was embarrassed to ask because I didn’t know exactly why it was funny. Finally I whispered to Sarah, "What song IS this? It sounds familiar."

She looked at me a bit surprised and then responded, "It’s the theme song from Hockey Night in Canada."

Oh, yes, why hadn’t I realized that? After all, nothing says love and commitment like Hockey Night in Canada!

After this song finished, the ceremony turned much more formal and was, in fact, quite touching and beautiful. After all the vows were said, rings exchanged, kisses kissed, and papers signed (for my US readers--in Canadian weddings, all the paperwork is signed during the actual ceremony), the best man was called up to the front. As the wedding reception did not involve a formal dinner, the best man was called up front to make a speech. Sure enough, he was dressed in a new Dion Phaneuf Toronto Maple Leafs jersey over his suit and tie. (Both brides are passionate Maple Leafs fans.) He was an odd contrast to all of the other wedding party members who were in nice dresses or pantsuits.

Later in the evening during the reception, I was still pondering the significance of attending my first Canadian and same-sex wedding when both of the brides came over to chat. They wanted to show us something really neat, they said. One of the brides rolled up the leg of her pantsuit to reveal a garter. But this wasn’t just any garter. This was a Toronto Maple Leafs garter!
The brides wandered off and I looked at Sarah and said, "You know, there is NO OTHER PLACE IN THE WORLD where we would have experienced what we did today--a legal same-sex wedding with a hockey theme and attendees who are all truly happy for the brides and at the wedding because they genuinely care about the couple, not because it’s like a sideshow of deviant behavior."

It took me about two days to get the theme tune to Hockey Night in Canada out of my head! I also began to wonder what song was played at my friend’s brother’s actual funeral service, and I guessed that chances were good that it might have been from HNIC.


HEY said...

The more I read about your life an times in Canada, I am convinced that you were a Canadian from a previous life. It seems like a place made just for you. People doing what they like and how they like without being stuck in conventional mores. What a novel idea....

MSEH said...

As always, thanks for a great post!

MJB said...

Strangely enough, this morning I was on the phone with a co-worker, and I was telling her about my experiences attending last weekend's wedding. I said, "So, have you ever been to a wedding where the participants walked into the ceremony to the theme of Hockey Night in Canada?"

Much to my surprise, she said, "Yeah, I did at my wedding." I thought she was kidding. She wasn't.

MJB said...

Another update--a few weeks ago, a friend's daughter was showing me her wedding photo album. There amongst the photos of the wedding party were several of the wedding party posing with a Stanley Cup replica! I wasn't sure what that had to do with the wedding or anything else, but considering my experiences in Canada so far, I wasn't too surprised.