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Everybody used to call it Nine Ninety-Nine, because it was located at 999 Queen Street West in Toronto. And then in the 1970s, it got to be known by locals by its new address — 1001 Queen Street West. Its proper name was the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. It was a mental institution. A big one.
During the 1970s, inmates whose conditions reached a stage where they could be managed by medication were moved on to halfway houses. One of these was a place called Martin Acres, located on a piece of farmland at the northeast corner of Leslie Street and Green Lane in Sharon, Ontario — now part of the town of East Gwillimbury, about forty-five minutes north of Toronto, right next to Newmarket. Martin Acres housed about seventeen men at a time. And it was my home. The place where I grew up.
The house was a big, red-brick "rehabilitation centre," but the men who went there never left. Outside, it was L-shaped with a couple of wings. One wing ran north-south, and the other from east to west. The shorter, newer wing was built over a triple-car garage. It was a maze. One wrong turn and you'd come to a wall.
You walked through the front door into the vestibule, and the first thing that hit your nose was the smell. Soup and cigarettes mixed with sweater dandruff from all the men who just sat around all day. All the men's bedrooms were upstairs. Downstairs, there was a kitchen, or as we called it, the "cafeteria." There was a bathroom between it and the room where they watched TV, played cards or just stared out the window.
Our family basically lived in a two-room apartment in the centre of the house. Come in and turn right, and you were in my mom's kitchen. The flooring everywhere was this cheap lino, and on top of that were these industrial-sized plastic runners. You'd hear a slapping sound under your socks when you ran or played ball hockey. One step up from our kitchen was the dining room, which led to our living room and Mom's bedroom. It was all red carpet under the runners, but it was so old and worn, flat and hard, there was no give.
I remember the frogs. Mom collected them. Crystal frogs on the organ, huge cast-iron frogs on the floor, pewter frogs, ceramic frogs, piggy-bank frogs. Frogs covering the windowsills. Frogs everywhere you looked.
You could've used a spoon to scrape the nicotine off the walls in that house. Seventeen men and my mom, chain-smoking, day and night. Mom's husband, Harold, spent all of his spare time pounding out church songs on his big Wurlitzer organ in our little living room. The music would make Mom's dog, Bear, bark. Sometimes that woke up the men in the bedrooms that surrounded mine. They'd grunt and groan and talk out loud in their sleep. They didn't get up and come into my room at night, though. They were too heavily medicated. There was a smorgasbord of medications in the house — barbiturates, tranquilizers, antipsychotics, sedatives, you name it. That's why Mom stayed in her room all the time. She was in charge of giving the medications out to the patients, and she helped herself to a lot of it too.CHAPTER 2
"I'll Take the Hit"
I had a weird life. Two moms, three dads and I grew up in a home full of mentally ill patients run by a crazy person. The last thing anybody expected was that I would someday make a living playing hockey — any kind of living, in any kind of minor league, let alone playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues in the NHL, even making Team Canada. Coming from where I did, starting as late as I did, it seemed impossible to even dream about it.
Mom's name was Jeanne — pronounced Jan. She had this gravelly voice from years of smoking that would break into a loose cough when she laughed, and she'd tell people, "I'm from Paris, France." Ha, ha, wheeze, cough.
In truth, she was French Canadian. Her skin was white, but darker. Maybe she was Métis. I don't know, she made up a lot of stories. I do know she was from a small farm east of Sudbury. In rural areas like that, if the family was poor, they'd often send one or two of the girls to a nearby Roman Catholic convent. When Mom was four years old, her family handed her over to the convent in North Bay and she was raised to become a nursing nun. She was a novitiate and took her first set of vows but ran away before her final vows or "taking the veil," as they call it. She was working as a waitress at the Shamrock restaurant in Toronto when she met my first dad, Howard Eakins.
When I came along, Mom and Howard Eakins already had two grown kids, both of whom were out and on their own — Karen and Ron. We lived in Keswick in a house on Riveredge Drive. I was Howard's little buddy. He called me Tiger and carried me everywhere and would sit me on his knee to watch Hockey Night in Canada. In fact, one of the first words I ever spoke was "score!" Maybe that's why I always wanted to be a goal scorer in the NHL when I grew up.
Mom was short — five foot two — and portly. Her hair was long, straight and black, with hard grey streaks. She wore black glasses, thick and square, and dressed the same way every day, in pants and a tank top. Nothing special. Dark colours. She always wore bright red lipstick. Two bloody-coloured slashes across her mouth.
Three things stick out, like the way Mom sat in a chair. Legs apart, body bent forward, chin in her hand. Not feminine at all. I remember her hands. Old and veiny and covered in rings — several stacked on each finger. And she was strong. She had a black belt in karate, or so she said. One time, one of the new patients had a meltdown, and while the police were being called, she took the guy down. Pinned him to the floor until the police arrived.
I was scared of her. There were always threats, and she'd always overreact. If you made noise or did something she didn't like, she might take a swing at you with a brush or spoon or whatever she had in her hand. She spanked and grabbed too. When my older brother Grant and I were little, our arms and shoulders were often covered in purple fingerprint bruises.
Howard didn't have it easy with Mom. For her, the grass was always greener. She left him a couple of times before leaving him for good and marrying Harold Joseph, my second dad.
Harold Austin Joseph wasn't my natural father, but he raised me from the age of two. Mom wasn't my natural mother either. It's complicated, and I'll get to that in a bit. Harold was a Black man, but his eyes were light. He was tall, over six feet, and fit, with a round face and hair like boxing promoter Don King — a wild Afro, dyed black with silver roots. The ends of his hair stood up and were see-through, like a plum tree in the winter with all the leaves blown away. He was well groomed, a Brylcreem/Aqua Velva kind of guy. He wore a close shave and tidy pants with an ironed collared shirt and a sweater. Always a sweater. Harold was a real solid individual. Salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He would tell silly jokes. They seemed to tickle his funny bone.
"Did you hear about the accident at the pharmacy?"
"No, Harold, what happened?"
"Well, there was a hearse and it smashed into another car. The back door popped open and the coffin came flying out. It flew right through the drugstore and landed right at the pharmacist's counter. The corpse sat up and said, 'Have you got anything to stop this coffin?'"
That's a Harold joke. He was very soft-spoken. Mild. He would do anything that anybody would tell him to do, which worked well for my mom.
In 1968, when I was almost a year old, Mom was working as a hospice nurse, taking care of Harold's wife, Ruth, who had cancer. Ruth had been a go-getter, the head of the family. She was a music teacher, a very successful one. She worked hard, and Harold did too. They weren't wealthy, but Ruth was innovative. Together they managed to buy an acreage out by Preston Lake, near Newmarket. On it was a nice bungalow made out of two wartime houses. She and Harold paid twenty-five dollars each for them and made the whole thing beautiful. Eleven rooms, including three bedrooms. Mom would sometimes take me with her to work. I remember playing with cars on Ruth's bedsheets and lying on the floor at their home, watching wrestling on an old black-and-white TV.
When Ruth died, Mom left my first dad, Howard, the guy who called me Tiger, and took up with Harold. Harold wouldn't have had an affair with a married woman, so he waited until she and Howard were divorced. Harold was a man of principle, a godly man. Mom told Howard to stay away from us. She was like that. Wilful. Domineering. If she wanted something, she took it.
You have to have some compassion for Mom. She did not have a good life, and I think she married Howard for security because he was a very solid guy. He went to work, he was very predictable, he came home at the same time every day, he handed her the paycheque, he got his allowance and he was happy. He had his dinner, he read the newspaper, he played a game or two with his kids, watched a bit of TV and went to bed at the same time every night. Mom, meanwhile, wanted a bigger chunk out of life because she'd been shut away her entire childhood. She was a welder during the war and then she had gone on to work as a nurse. She learned to play the organ and the guitar. She was very outgoing, while Howard was very steady, loving and quiet. I think her issue was that she couldn't get enough of life. She'd always been unwanted, so she didn't understand how to love. How do you learn to love someone? You learn to love somebody else by loving yourself. If you don't love yourself first, you can't love anybody else. It's not possible. I don't think she had any love for herself, so how in the world was she ever going to become a loving person?
Long before we lived at Martin Acres, we moved into Harold's house in Gormley, Ontario, and Harold became my new dad. I never saw Howard again. My stepsister, Karen, who was Howard's daughter, told me later that Howard was devastated. Not because Mom left, but because she took me. But Howard wasn't one to fight over things. He didn't see the point in setting up a tug-of-war over a child because he knew Mom would make his life and mine hell. Howard told Karen, "I'm the adult. I'll take the hit." And that's exactly what he did.
I was two years old. It had been two years since Mom brought me home from the hospital. Took me right out of the arms of my birth mother.CHAPTER 3
Like I said, by the time I came along and Mom took me in, she already had two adult children, Karen and Ron, and she'd adopted Grant, who was six years older than me. He was her sister's grandson. Grant's parents lived above a barbershop on Gerrard Street in Toronto — not the best area at the time.
The way Karen remembers it is that she and Mom first met Grant when they went down to visit. He was eighteen months old and was being fed a steady diet of chocolate bars.
There was a strange dichotomy about Mom. On one side, she was mean and angry and petty, and on the other, she was compassionate. When she saw Grant in that state, she rescued him. She told her niece, "I'm takin' him home and if you try to stop me, I'm gonna phone the Children's Aid." They begged her not to turn them in, and so Mom said, "Well, then, pack him up."
Mom, Grant and I moved in with Harold and his daughters, Frederica (Freddy) and Jeanette, and Harold's seven-year-old son, Victor. Jeanette was only seventeen when Mom told her to leave. She said she was trying to build a family for the boys and needed the bedroom. Jeanette was an excellent student and had just finished high school. She had already been accepted at York University and was determined to go. That summer, she moved down to Toronto, got on student welfare and started working twelve-hour night shifts at a factory from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., seven days a week, to save enough for tuition and food and rent.
Freddy left us about six months earlier. At eighteen, she was a smart, quiet, athletic girl who was still reeling from her mother's death. But she had a great smile and a huge heart and spent a lot of time with me.
Living with Mom was a culture shock for Freddy, Jeanette and Victor because they grew up in the Baptist religion. No smoking or alcohol in the house, and Mom smoked and drank big time. She didn't hold her liquor very well either. When I was older, Karen, who was twenty-three years older than me, told me about the times she would come home from school and before they went inside, her older brother, Ron, would say, "Okay, you wait out here on the sidewalk. I'm gonna go in first and count the empty beer bottles on the kitchen counter." If there were more than four, they'd go to the neighbours' and wait for Howard to come home to clear the way.
Freddy had just graduated high school a year earlier and was working downtown in Toronto at an insurance company. She'd walk in the front door after work and Mom would tell her to fix dinner for the family. It was Freddy's job to clean the house and do the laundry. She was like Cinderella.
It was the last straw for Freddy when Mom raised her rent. She was almost twenty by this time, making $72 a week, and Mom wanted it all. Every penny. So, Freddy decided to move out. I was just a little guy crawling around when they had a fight about it after supper one night. Mom flew into one of her terrifying rages and started screaming and throwing things. Freddy ran out of the kitchen, scooping me up from the dining room floor so I wouldn't get hurt. She almost made it to the front door, when, crack! — a dinner plate bounced off the back of my head. Freddy tore down the street with me flopping in her arms like a rag doll. She didn't dare return until it got dark and she knew Mom had headed into her room for the night.
Freddy moved out almost immediately after that. A little while later, she met and married Rasheed. Whenever they showed up, it was a lot of fun. She'd take Grant and Victor and me out to play ball in the field or climb the monkey bars at the school. Grant and I knew the rules — no speaking to an adult unless you were spoken to — but Freddy was different. She asked us questions and paid attention to what we had to say. Rasheed was awesome too. He'd hold his arm out and bend his elbow and I'd do chin-ups on his biceps.
Freddy converted to Islam. She was already very interested in leaders like Malcolm X, and it was only six years since Cassius Clay had changed his name to Muhammad Ali. She was also very active in the Black community. She volunteered with underprivileged kids, taking them on field trips and to sporting events. She said she liked the value system Islam offered. To her, it provided security and consistency. She became a Muslim and started calling herself Na'ema, although she was fine with us still calling her Freddy. Harold wasn't thrilled about it. He shook his head and told her, "What's the next step, the Black Panthers?" But Mom was actually pretty open to it.
On Christmas and different occasions, we'd all sit around the large, oval wooden dining table, having dinner and playing cards. It felt wrong because it made it seem like we were a family.
Freddy noticed that Mom was getting even more unpredictable. We had a good-sized lawn and one day Freddy was playing football with some of the neighbours, as well as Victor, Grant and me. I was little, four or five, and Freddy noticed all the older kids were calling Victor "she." She found this very upsetting. She asked Grant about it. He told her, "Mom always calls him 'her' and 'she.'"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "CUJO"
Copyright © 2018 Curtis Joseph and Kirstie McLellan Day.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 999 5
2 "I'll Take the Hit" 7
3 Bad People 11
4 Pretending to Be Curtis Joseph 16
5 Topsies and Knockdowns 18
6 My Very Own Cuckoo's Nest 25
7 Processed Cheese 34
8 Keep Your Eye on the Ball 38
9 "Take a Knee" 42
10 A Girl on the Team 45
11 Barenaked Lady 50
12 "How's This Going to Work?" 56
13 Wild Nights 59
14 A Tough Way to Go 64
15 Drilled 67
16 "What Do You Have to Lose?" 70
17 The Hounds 75
18 The Bear 81
19 A Season Nobody Expected 90
20 Donnie 98
21 Once-in-a-Lifetime Deal 103
22 "Coojoe, Stend Up!" 106
23 Sudsy 110
24 A Bucket of Sand 113
25 No Backing Down 117
26 Butchy 121
27 A Red Necktie 125
28 Hully 128
29 No Hiding in the Game 133
30 Cursing a Lot 138
31 Wendy 142
32 Victor 150
33 Positive, Negative and Realistic 153
34 The Hot Spot 156
35 I Still Get Mad 161
36 Not a Team Guy 164
37 Chris McSorley and the Illegal Stick 170
38 The Classy Guys 174
39 David and Goliath 182
40 Over and Out 187
41 He Looked Like Bobby Clarke 190
42 Gothic Meets Country 197
43 "Never Mind Him!" 202
44 "I'll Kill Alfredsson Next Shift" 207
45 "No Stopping Behind the Net" 210
46 "That Kah-vellov" 214
47 "I'm Gonna Punch Ya in the Tomato" 217
48 Moment of Majesty 221
49 Conveying a Message 224
50 Powerful Stuff 228
51 Guns a-Blazing 231
52 "His Eyeball Is Split in Half" 236
53 Goalie Gone Wild 239
54 Reach 244
55 "Oh My God, My Career Is Over" 247
56 Hellhound Train 251
57 Under His Shirt 254
58 "Fill Me Up" 258
59 And Then It All Went Sideways 260
60 Salt Lake City 264
61 Fist Bump 267
62 Webb Was Dangerous 272
63 "Bless You, Boys" 277
64 A Tough Call 282
65 "Is This How It's Going to Be?" 285
66 High Risk, High Reward 287
67 Battle Mode 290
68 The Smell of Burning Rubber 295
69 Square to the Puck 299
70 "Let's Go Have Some Fun" 307
71 Trust 310
72 "I'm Going to Play for the Leafs!" 316
73 Riding into the Sunset 324
74 What Wayne Said 327
Career Milestones 331
Career Statistics 332
Curtis Joseph's Career Ranking Among NHL Goaltenders 334