A friend of mine once told me that he’d heard somewhere that your home will always be wherever you are living when you’re 18. Regardless of the questionable reliability of the source, that’s a claim that’s pretty easy to believe, it kind of makes sense.
Home is where you are when you’re a teenager.
At the same time, many teenagers can easily relate to the last line in Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”:
“It’s a town full of losers / and I’m pulling out of here to wiiiii-iiin.”
That’s what I played over and over and over again in my little room – albeit the biggest one in the house – going through high school in Joensuu, Finland, dealing with issues that teenagers deal with. Never did I think I’d miss that little town. No, siree, I was going to take the first train out.
Maybe it would have been cooler to drive a beat-up Chevrolet down the thunder road, but I didn’t have a driver’s license. You just have to make do with what you have.
I’m actually lying now. I never had a big plan to leave home and show the world. Or, conquer the world. What I did was study for an entrance exam to the Helsinki Business School and got accepted. I was in Harbor Beach, Michigan when the results came in. Mom called me, and I suppose I was feeling a little down that day – maybe that was the day I had to shove chicken and pheasant manure all day – so she wanted to cheer me up.
“But not everything is bad, you know, put a flower in your lapel and smile,” she said, truly, “because you got a letter from the school today, and, I opened it, I hope it’s OK. You got in. Congrats.”
“Oh, nice,” I said.
“Of course, Dad and I would have been happy to keep you here for another year, but this is great news,” she went on.
“Sure is,” I said, feeling very proud. I knew I had just made it through the eye of the needle.
(Well, you know how I just said that I was lying about having a big plan to conquer the world? I was lying then. Of course I had a plan. Of course I wanted to show everybody that I’d be a star. Somewhere. In something. They’d see).
So I left home. I was 18.
Then again, I was returning to Helsinki, another hometown I had left just five years ago. But back then, I had my mother and father with me, and I was mostly a passenger on the ride. This time, I was on my own.
And while I went back to Joensuu a lot in the months that followed, basically moving back every summer, to hang out with my old buddies, to work at my Dad’s store, or a local bank, but by the time I graduated from the business school, the trips had gotten farther apart, and the buddies fewer and fewer.
I was 23 and my life and my home were already elsewhere. It’s still nice to visit there, catch some sun and coffee and cinnamon buns in a cafe at the main square, maybe see some old friends – even though they mostly seem to be old friends of my father’s – but I know I’m just cherry picking. That sunny square is in a parallel universe.
While I may not be able to go back home to Joensuu again, there is one place where I can always go and be at home. It’s silly, but it’s true: I’m at home at a hockey rink. That’s where I was when I was 18. And 14. And 12. And 30. Fortunately, there are a lot of hockey rinks in the world.
When I was a kid, in my early teens, and had nothing to do, Dad and I would drive down to the rink and see what was going on. Of course, there was always a practice to see, maybe a game. We’d watch a little, and in Helsinki, I’d walk around the rink, look for stray pucks, broken sticks to take home with me. I was a little older in Joensuu, so I’d sit in the rink cafeteria, or play Pac-Man or pinball.
If I didn’t have a practice or a game of my own.
I love a hockey rink in the morning. When it’s quiet, and there’s a new sheet of ice, and everything and everybody is just getting ready for the day. Whoever’s going to hit the ice is usually in a great mood, the morning skate is all about fun, and enjoying, even celebrating the fact that they can be out there once again. There’s none of the pressure or stress that you can feel at a later skate.
There’s no rush. People always seem to have time.
There’s a certain democracy at the rink. Whatever you may be outside it, what ever position you may have, or car you may drive, it really doesn’t have any no bearing inside the arena. Inside, you’re just an equal part of the game – or the Game, as hockey people like to call it.
I was at Uppsala Zellout arena the other day, watching a pre-season game between a Russian and a Swedish team. During the first intermission, I turned to the man standing next to me and I asked him about the lineups. There we stood then, hunched over his piece of paper, trying to figure out the correct numbers to the Swedish players, who, in the pre-season, still didn’t have their names on their backs. And the Russians had theirs in cyrillic letters.
We went through the list, made our predictions of the game, and then I went for coffee. In front of me in the line, there was the same Swedish NHL player who I had held the door for when I had got to the rink.
He got his coffee, I got mine. The I walked back up all the way to the top of the stands, where I like to watch the game from.
I nodded to the First Intermission Man. He nodded back.