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Slap Shot Original
The Man, the Foil, and the Legend
By Dave Hanson, Ross Berstein
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Dave Hanson and Ross Bernstein
All rights reserved.
Growing Up Tough
On May 7, 1953, Marilyn "Peaches" Patraw married John "Bud" Hanson in Beach Haven, New Jersey. On April 12, 1954, Seaman First Class Hanson was stationed with a US Naval Reserve Fleet in Portsmouth, Virginia, while his pregnant wife was staying with her mother, Diamond Lil, and her stepfather, Dewey Ogren, at their single-story home, the Staples Lake Tavern in Barron County, Wisconsin. Very early on a Monday morning, Marilyn woke her mom and Dewey to announce that it was time to go to the hospital. Everyone, including the family dog, Penny, piled into the old blue Studebaker that Dewey had from his days on the Ogren family farm. Together they all made the 11-mile dirt-road trip to Island City, also known as Cumberland. The town's hospital was a simple two-story clapboard house with a front screen porch that sat on the shore of the backwaters of Beaver Dam Lake.
Marilyn gave birth at 7:47 am that day, and around 12:00 pm Bud received a call while aboard the USS Xanthus, an auxiliary repair ship, and was told that he was a proud papa of a seven-pound baby boy. Never in their wildest dreams did these new parents think that this little bundle of joy would grow up to earn the nickname "Killer" or voluntarily wear black-rimmed coke-bottle glasses, long hair, and tinfoil on his knuckles; or be accused by his player-coach of being too dumb to play with himself; or be referred to by a play-byplay radio announcer as the "Terror of the Federal League." It never crossed their minds that "Little Davy Crockett" would play a small role in a worldwide movie and be a big reason why a movie — labeled as the "Best Guy Movie of All Time" (Maxim magazine) and one of the "Top 10 Best Sports Movies of All Time" (Sports Illustrated) — would become a classic, or that he would constantly be written about, promoted in local, regional, national, and worldwide publications, featured in all different fashions in the electronic media, and requested by hundreds of thousands of people to appear with his "brothers." From starring in national and international television and radio commercials to the front page of the Wall Street Journal and featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, this little curly "towheaded boy," who came from humble beginnings, has etched out a small piece of immortality.
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Shortly after I was born, my dad returned from his second tour of duty as a naval officer. He had grown up in Cumberland and left as a teenager to enlist in the US Navy in 1949, serving on the USS Pawcatuck in Norfolk, Virginia, and was released in 1950. He got recalled in 1952 during the Korean War, and while he was in the service, he married the former Rutabaga Queen of Cumberland's annual Rutabaga Fest.
When my dad was honorably discharged for a second time, he took Mom and me from Wisconsin to Troutdale, Oregon, where we lived in an old rented house just down the hill from his mom and stepdad, Ruth and Carl Hayes. He took a job working for a freightliner trucking company, while mom stayed home to take care of our pet dog, Lassie, and me. While living there, my brother Durk was born in a Portland hospital (he would be called Baby Durk by almost everyone until he reached the age of 14). Shortly after Durk was born, we packed up the 1955 Pontiac and moved to Redondo Beach, California, where Dad worked as a bartender in a tavern called Swede's Bar, which my mom's biological father and his wife, Harold and Eileen Patraw, owned. We stayed long enough for Durk to be baptized and then we headed back to the Midwest again. There, we stayed at the Staples Lake Tavern with Grandma Lil and Grandpa Dewey for a few months until Dad got a job at GTC (General Trading Company) on Prior Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. He worked as a foreman at this auto-parts company from 1957 to around 1981, when he left to work a small bar that he and Mom bought in Comstock, Wisconsin.
When we moved to St. Paul from Wisconsin, we rented a duplex on St. Anthony Street, which was near Merriam Park. There, I would have my first introduction to ice skating. We stayed on St. Anthony Street for about two years, just long enough for my two sisters, Joni and Joyce, to be born in the new Cumberland hospital. When Mom was pregnant with each girl, she'd take Durk and me to stay in a little house overlooking Staples Lake. It was a very simple house with no indoor plumbing and one bedroom. The bathroom was an outhouse (crapper) up in the woods behind the house, and a dirt road was our front yard, separating the house from the lake. This house was a short walk from the bar and next to family friends. Mom would move back to Staples Lake in order to get some extra help in taking care of her boys and herself during the pregnancies.
Our house on St. Anthony Street was adjacent to the railroad tracks and near an area called Midway, which was considered a tough inner-city section of St. Paul. The Chapmans, a family of six, lived upstairs and we lived downstairs. I remember drinking powdered milk that Mom mixed up and eating raw green beans I plucked from the vine that grew naturally along the fence between our dirt backyard and the alley. I remember sleeping in bunk beds with my little brother Durk on the bottom bunk and me on the top. One time, during the middle of the night while we were sleeping, the top bunk bed broke and I fell straight down — mattress, pillow, and all — landing directly on top of Durk. He never moved; I thought I killed him. He just slept right through it, and although I was screaming, he never opened an eye or twitched a limb. That was Durk, tough and quiet. The next morning, he woke up without a bruise on his body and like nothing had happened.
My brother and I spent a lot of time together as young kids. He seemed to always be on the receiving end of many unfortunate things that his big brother would do to him. Baby Durk was the cutest little boy on earth. He had dark hair and dark eyes, with the smile of the Cheshire Cat, the plump cheeks of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, and dimples that would rival little Shirley Temple's. He also had this hole in his chest. Well, it really wasn't a hole, but more like an indentation. We all acted like it was a hole because that sounded cooler than just calling it a dent. Whenever I wanted to show anyone, I'd say, "Hey, you want to see the hole in Durk's chest?" I made money by charging people to watch Durk pop his belly out and stack quarters on top of it and in the hole. I really thought it was quite an amazing act at the time. I was so impressed by Durk's ability that one time, as we were walking past the freak shows at the Minnesota State Fair, I suggested to my mom and dad that they put Durk in the show so we could make some extra money. They told me to be quiet and eat my corn dog.
His chest and stomach were the target for some childish abuse I would give him. We spent many a summer at Staples Lake and freely ran around like little barefooted orphans, mostly getting into harmless mischief. Well, at least harmless for me. We would go out on the lake in the rowboat, hunt down mud turtles sitting on the reeds, catch them, and bring them back to shore to play with. One time, I was holding a turtle in front of Durk's chest, showing him and everyone how friendly he was, when suddenly it stuck its head out, clamped onto the skin of Durk's chest, and wouldn't let go. Durk was screaming and running around with this turtle's mouth locked onto him while I was running next to him, holding the turtle and trying not to pull it away from Durk's chest in fear of ripping his skin off. We eventually yanked it off, but Durk's bloody turtle wound did not go over well with Grandma and Grandpa. I caught hell for that one.
Once Baby Durk and I were riding in the front seat of a car with our Uncle David driving. My Uncle Dave pretended to push the cigarette lighter in and then stick it on my stomach, acting like he was going to burn me. The lighter was never hot, so I never got burned, but we sure thought it was funny. When Uncle Dave stopped at the gas station, I thought I would pull the same funny stunt on Durk. I pushed the lighter in, pulled it out, and stuck it right onto Durk's little potbelly. The bright red-hot lighter burned him. It made a cigarette-lighter-coil scar on his tummy that he had for the rest of his life.
This was not the last that his little body would take from me, though. Another time we were playing Cowboys and Indians in the basement of our house on Sydney Street in St. Paul. He was the Cowboy and I was the Indian. He had his cowboy hat on with two shiny six-shooters strapped on his hips. I had my little feathered Indian headdress and moccasins on, and I had a bow and arrow. As I ran around the big furnace screaming my war cry, he started yelling, "Bangbang!" I pulled my bow and let my arrow fly. It nailed him right in the chest. The arrow caused a little bloody mark that turned into another scar to add to the turtle and lighter scars. I guess I shouldn't have removed the sissy rubber suction cup from the end of my arrow.
We were best friends as little kids, playing together all summer long at Staples Lake. We loved the "run-up tree" in the woods of the old Butrick's farm; rolling down the hill by Chain Lake; discus throwing of dried cow pies in the pasture; following the cows up to the barn as they walked in single file to get fed and milked; and looking for agate rocks on the dirt roads. We also got into some mischief, like the time we lit the pack of Black Cat firecrackers in old Andy Anderson's back pocket while he was sleeping in the front lawn chair.
We loved to ride along with Grandpa Dewey in his old Studebaker on the country dirt roads. Whenever Grandpa saw a snapping turtle slowly crossing the road, he'd stop the car, open the trunk, get an old ax handle out, and stick it in front of the turtle's mouth. The turtle would snap onto the handle, and Grandpa would pick the turtle up by the tail, throw it into the trunk, and drive home. Once we got back, he'd take the turtle out back and put him on a tree stump. He would tell me to grab the turtle's tail with both hands while he and Durk grabbed each end of the ax handle. They would both then pull on the ax handle while I was holding on to the tail. The turtle would not let go of the ax handle so his neck would get stretched out over the tree stump. At that point Grandpa would chop the turtle's head off with the ax. Later, Grandpa would cut off the shell and carve up the turtle meat for Grandma to fry. We'd then eat fried snapping turtle for dinner and from what I can remember, it tasted like chicken.
Durk and I always laughed about an incident that happened one summer up at the lake. When it was time to move an outhouse to a freshly dug hole, it became a bit of a community event. It took a group of people to lift the wood outhouse off the old hole and carry it to the new hole. Then everyone would go back to the old hole to fill it up and cover it with the dirt from the new hole. Well, one summer day we started the project of moving our neighbor Bill Schlitsky's outhouse. As the group was lifting the shed and starting to move it away from the old hole, Bill slipped, lost his footing, and fell head over heels into the old, stinky, full-of-crap hole. We all dropped the outhouse, threw him a rope, and pulled him out. I don't think anyone wanted to reach in to help him out for fear of being pulled in or just touching his yucky hands. He was gurgling and gagging while we laughed hysterically. Once he got out of the hole, he sprinted down the hill and jumped into the lake. It was one of the funniest and grossest things we ever saw. Bill, who did not know how to swim, didn't care. He dove into the lake and started scrubbing.
Baby Durk and I had some great times growing up together at Staples Lake — stuff that would give Norman Rockwell endless ideas of things to paint and Samuel Clemens endless stories of stuff to write.
* * *
My first recollection of putting on ice skates was when my dad took me to Merriam Park, a local neighborhood playground close to our house on St. Anthony Street. One winter day, my dad took me over to the park and into the little trailer that was set on the side of the pond as a warming hut for the skaters. Inside it were benches to sit on and if you needed skates there was a box full of used mismatched skates of all sizes, brands, and conditions to select from. Dad found two skates that looked like they would fit, put them on me, helped me through the snowbank that surrounded the ice rink, and said, "Have fun, son, I'll be back in a couple of hours." For the next couple of hours I looked like Bambi on ice, but I had fun. From that point on, I was hooked on skating and kept having dad bring me back all winter long.
We eventually moved to a bigger house in St. Paul on the corner of LaFond and Fairview Avenues that was in a nicer neighborhood, but still not too far from the Midway or from Merriam Park. It was another duplex that was closer to my dad's work and within walking distance of the elementary school, where I went to kindergarten and first grade with Mrs. Magilicuddy as my teacher. This is also where I experienced my first fight — well, sort of.
There was a bully in our kindergarten class that picked on everyone. One day as we got out of school, the bully started picking on me. Out of fear for my life, I punched her in the stomach, ran home as fast as I could, and hid under my bed. I was sure that she would chase me down or the police would come to take me to jail. To my surprise, there never was a rock crashing through my bedroom window or sirens howling down the street. I learned a very valuable lesson later that day when my dad got home from work. He coaxed me out from my room and I spilled my guts to him about what I did. My dad calmly told me the rules about protecting myself and, more important, he drove home to me the message that only cowards hit girls. The next day when I went to school, I apologized to the girl and from that day forward I vowed to never hit a girl again and proudly never have.
While we lived on LaFond Avenue, I went to Merriam Park to ice skate almost every day. I still had to use the skates from the used skate box in the warming hut and often they were not the same skates or matching sizes. It wasn't until around second grade that I would finally pick up a hockey stick and start to try to play hockey. That was when we moved across town to the West Side of St. Paul.
I remember the day we moved into our little house on 789 Ohio Street, a small two-story house that we got to live in by ourselves. Here I made friends who introduced me to Baker Playground, where I would spend hours playing hockey, football, and baseball.
Baker Playground had an old two-story brownstone building, where the top level was a small hardwood floor gymnasium that was used for teeny-bop dances and a variety of other neighborhood activities. Around the seventh grade I played in a neighborhood band called "Little Caesar and the Romans" and we played at a couple of the small dances at Baker. Our band consisted of Tom Kirk on lead guitar, Rich Munoz on organ, Lindsay Baptist on drums, Peter Estrada as our lead singer, and me playing bass on a six-string guitar. I think we knew five songs. In the summertime the bottom floor had ping-pong tables and in the winter it was a warming room for ice skating and sledding. The building was built into the side of a hill. When you came out of the bottom floor you were in the middle of the hill. In order to get to the hockey rink, you had to either walk down a ramp or skate down an ice bank. You had to skate up the ice bank to get back into the building. Skating up and down that hill really helped to develop my skating stride and balance at an early age.
The playground was operated by the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department. The main caretaker at Baker was old Bill Cutty. Bill seemed like he was always on the fields lining, raking, cutting, or standing all by himself on cold winter nights holding a fire hose and flooding the fields to make ice. We seemed to always have lots of snow. Old Bill would have the city plow trucks drive up and down the fields, clearing them off and pushing the snow out to build up snowbanks around the skating rink. Once that was done, he'd spend days flooding the fields to make a huge iced covered area for everyone to skate on.
I can still clearly picture old Bill standing in the middle of the big field in below-zero temperatures wearing this big hooded canvas parka with insulated baggy snow pants, rubber fireman's boots, huge chopper mittens, and frosty steam floating out of his mouth. He always seemed to have icicles hanging from his bushy eyebrows and snot running from his nose. He'd stand there for hours and days, holding onto this long fire hose that was spraying gallons of water over the grounds so the neighborhood kids had a place to skate. I truly believe that if Old Bill hadn't done this year after year, I would not have skated as much as I did and I possibly may not even have played hockey. This enormous skating pond that Bill created winter after winter was always packed with the neighborhood kids. We would play tag, whip, and all kinds of other games that kept us zigzagging around the big rink. Then, when he got the hockey rink built, we played pick-up shinny hockey for hour after hour, nearly every day.
Excerpted from Slap Shot Original by Dave Hanson, Ross Berstein. Copyright © 2013 Dave Hanson and Ross Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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