Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fort Fun and Massachusetts Memories

Dunkin’ Donuts. Gone. My hometown, Fort Collins, CO, was not the same as I had remembered it. This past weekend, my wife and I (along with our friend Brian, from Milton, MA) returned to the Choice City, an hour north of Denver. I didn’t belly up to the donut bar, sitting on the round swiveled stools where we used to order Munchkins and donuts. I didn’t sit in the booth where we had almost applauded when my baby brother Dennis first learned to sip from a straw. I couldn’t look through the windowed shop front that my brother Chris had treated as a drive-thru, nearly bringing down the house that Fred “Time to Make the Donuts” had built, because the donut establishment had folded up—several years ago.

The hockey team of my youth, the Colorado Rockies, split town more than twenty years ago, turning into Devils almost overnight. But the memories of driving to Denver with my dad and brothers, cheering for Barry Beck and Randy Pierce at McNichols Arena, will last a lifetime.

Despite the inevitable changes, Fort Collins will always be my hometown because that’s where my family is, and I can always go home.

Home, to watch Colorado Eagles hockey games. The Central Hockey League is two rungs below the NHL, but the Eagles games also offer another opportunity to spend time with my family. This weekend, we enjoyed the game on ice and the peripheral sights and sounds: the fan wearing his blue, red, and yellow Eagle jersey, dancing to John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and reconnecting with a former teammate whom I hadn’t seen in at least ten years. John Scott didn’t look a day older than when he was my teammate on EPIC ice.

Thank God for the Edora Pool and Ice Center, for which my dad had tirelessly lobbied and which is still standing. In 1985, building an ice rink to serve 20,000 Colorado State University students and some 80,000 regular residents was considered absurd by some, a dream by others—like my brothers and my mom and dad.

My dad and I walked into EPIC this weekend, saying hi to familiar faces like Paul Thibert, who has helped make EPIC into what it is today: a first class recreation facility that now sports not one but two rinks. The original rink is still there, the one where my dad and brothers played for the love of hockey, sponsored by my father’s business: Fort Collins Muffler.

EPIC now has a bubble hockey game. My dad watched me play my buddy Brian, who now lives in Marsh Vegas, (Marshfield) MA. I beat the South Shore visitor like a dusty rug. A new tradition started and savored.

The new traditions blended with the old at Bisetti’s Italian Restaurant in Old Town, Fort Collins, where my family has celebrated special occasions for years. Brothers and their wives and kids, a mother-in-law, a niece, Dad—adopted Brian last weekend as we feasted on chicken parm that would rival any North End establishment.

You can go home again. It may me different, but old memories don’t die easily, and new traditions are right around the corner.

At the same time, I’m also glad to be back—at home—here in Massachusetts. A decade or two ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d say that, but here I am. I’m loving the AMHL, our Saturday trips to Dunkin’ Donuts, and the NHL Bruins—no matter how many leads they blow or shootouts they lose.

Family in Fort Fun and Massachusetts memories in the making: I wouldn’t have it any other way.