On Pierrefond Avenue, Eddy Shackelford had what we called a hockey player’s name.
I told him that if he ever got to the National Hockey League I’d pick him right out on the ice because there’d be no room for a number on his sweater, just the letters of his last name.
But we all agreed, it was a hockey player’s name if there ever was one.
And we all agreed Eddy was bound for great things. Of the dozen kids my age who met daily to play ice or street hockey, Eddy was without doubt the best player. He was taller and stronger than the rest of us, but it was more than that—he was a leader. And he was my best friend.
During one game Eddy told me he would not go if another team, other than the “Habs,” drafted him out of junior hockey. (The “Habs” was a nickname for the Montreal Canadiens, a French abbreviation for “Inhabitants.”) If we had grown up in Philadelphia, or in New York, or anyplace else in the world, it would have been different, but when you’re 12 and living in Montreal, your dream is to play for the “Habs.”
“I wouldn’t go to Buffalo,” I replied one day. “Or Chicago. I might go to Toronto or Detroit though. They need help and I’d get to play a lot.”
I knew Eddy thought I was a traitor to even suggest such a thing, but he muttered only, “Not me.”
Each day, before sides were picked, we knew Eddy’s team would be the “Habs.”
“You can be Boston,” Eddy might say if the Bruins were having a good season. And he got away with it. On a street in the heart of Montreal, with an inbred passion burning in each of us for the “home” team, there was never an argument.
In winter Eddy’s dad would flood a vacant lot and let us play until it was too dark to see the black puck against the ice. The games would last through bitter cold and through heavy snow that teemed by the streetlights and built up in piles outside our playing area. In summer we moved our games to the middle of the street, batting a tennis ball into flimsy nylon netting. Windows would break and ankles would twist, but otherwise little changed the flow of events on Pierrefond Avenue.
What did eventually happen left most of us wondering for some time. Only lately have I come to fully understand what Eddy went through the summer he turned 13.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I’m not going to be no Mormon,” Eddy said to me one Saturday as we sat on the bank of the St. Lawrence River.
“Why would you have to be a Mormon?” I was stunned. We all knew about the Mormons—I had seen them knocking on doors in our neighborhood. My vicar told us they were an abomination and to not answer the door. My dad said they had many wives and were simply misled. On Pierrefond Avenue, we all knew about the Mormons.
“I thought everyone had heard. My Mum let them in the other day,” said Eddy. “Now she wants me and my dad to go to their church. I told her no way. My dad said no and he said if he sees those Mormon guys he’ll run them off. My mum still says she’s going tomorrow though.”
“You think she’ll go?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just know I’m not going.”
Eddy’s dad was as strong willed as his son. Mr. Shackelford served in the military for many years before going to work for the Canadian Pacific Railroad as a brakeman. Most adults on our avenue looked up to the senior Shackelford, a tall, dark man with high, heavy shoulders and not a trace of a belly. I didn’t know him very well, but I feared him.
I didn’t know a lot about Eddy’s mum either. She was just a regular mum. She was born into a French family and married Eddy’s dad when she was still quite young. His mum liked to sing a lot and was nice to me when I went around.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” she would sing to me as I came in the door of their house.
“Bonjour Madam,” I would say back, grinning from ear to ear with embarrassment.
“Just tell her to stop it,” Eddy would say. “She’s teasing us because she thinks we act too old for our ages.”
After Eddy’s news I left him on the banks of the river. Later, my dad told me he saw two guys in suits going up the Shackelford’s walk that day. “Those Mormons are in for a rude surprise,” he said, adding that Mr. Shackelford was home.
I didn’t see Eddy on Sunday. But, being summer break, he was out again for street hockey on Monday morning. Within minutes our sticks were clicking on the concrete road as we battled out the previous years’ Stanley Cup matchup. But something was wrong. No one would pass to Eddy.
“Can Mormons still play hockey?” one of the boys playing goal finally called out. Eddy took it, even though the others laughed and added comments of their own. “Sure they can,” the boy called again. “They just have to pray before every period.” Eddy threw down his stick and charged the goalie.
We let them fight it out, but it was no contest. Eddy was the toughest kid on the street.
After a few moments I pulled Eddy off the sprawling goalie. I don’t know if the others had been jealous of Eddy all along, or if Eddy had hurt them by doing something that was against the grain of our quiet street. All that was clear to me at the time was Eddy would never again hold as high a place on Pierrefond.
“You went to their church, didn’t you?” I asked Eddy.
He didn’t answer. For a long time he looked around the group, then without speaking walked off toward his house.
I visited Eddy that night and Mr. Shackelford answered the door. He looked down at me and smiled. “I’m glad you came,” he said letting me in.
“Glad to be here,” I said. A dumb thing to say. My nerves got the best of me. He just laughed.
“Ed, one of those kids is here,” he called upstairs. “Want me to beat him up for you?” He looked at me menacingly for what seemed like an hour. My eyes widened and I began to sweat. Then he laughed again, winked at me, and went into the other room.
“I thought your dad was mad at me,” I said to Eddy as he came down the stairs. “He was just kidding though. He’s all right.”
“Yeah, he’s okay sometimes.” There was an awkward silence, and I watched as Eddy rocked from leg to leg. “You come to give me a hard time?”
“No.” Then I started rocking with Eddy. “So you a Mormon now?”
“No,” said Eddy. “We just went to church, that’s all.”
“We still gonna be friends?”
“Sure. I’d be your friend even if I was a Mormon. That’s for good.”
“We were sure your dad would scare those guys off yesterday,” I said.
“He was going to, but since my mum let them in my dad gave them five minutes to talk. It was a lot longer than five minutes, but Dad just sat there not saying a word until they were done. Then this one missionary, that’s what they’re called, asked if there were any questions and my dad started to get up but he couldn’t or something.” Eddy fell quiet for a time, looking down at his feet.
“Well, what happened?” I asked.
“My dad cried.”
“Yep. You won’t tell anyone will you?”
“No way. Who’d believe me?” I said.
“Then my dad asked if he could go to church too, just to see what it was like. So I asked if I could go as well.
“And the missionaries started to cry, but it’s not like they’re wimps though. Then one of them said a prayer and it was real … you know, peaceful. And they said that was the Spirit.”
Eddy and I talked for some a time about the missionaries and his time at church. I could feel the excitement in his voice, an excitement that in the following years led me and many others to investigate the LDS faith. Like Eddy, I felt the Spirit testify of its truth and was baptized.
But outside, on the street, Eddy had become “The Mormon kid,” a title he could not seem to shake. The boys on the avenue no longer looked up to Eddy as their hero. Even though he was still a leader and a great hockey player, he had taken a path they did not understand.
It’s been six years since Eddy’s mum first invited the missionaries into their home. A few nights ago Eddy and I sat together as a bus carried us from a game in Sherbrooke. It was the last game of our junior hockey season. For Eddy it was the last game for two years. This morning he left on a mission.
As I sat on the bus I thought about the choice Eddy had made when he was 13 and the choice he just made. In the weeks following his baptism he endured the scorn and ridicule of the Pierrefond gang, but he never faltered in his conviction to the truth. One day this spring our coach said Eddy had a chance to be invited to the “Habs” camp, but Eddy just smiled and said a polite, “Not me.”
As we traveled in the darkness I looked over at Eddy. He was lost in thought. Though I did not know what to say to him, I knew we were friends. Outside the world was waiting for Eddy, but at that moment I was happy he was next to me—I was sitting beside Eddy Shackelford, and he was still my hero.