Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tea with Tait: The Gretzky Tales Pt. II — The gathering after Wayne scored 50 goals in 39 games

(Part II of my personal stories with Wayne Gretzky. I met Wayne in 1979 as sport reporter with the Edmonton Journal. I have cerebral palsy and can be hard to understand, and he had difficulty understanding me)…

Wayne's 50th goal in 39 games: my own victory

But that all  changed in December, 30 1981 — the night Wayne scored 50 goals in 39 games in with a five-goal performance in Edmonton. During my visit to the Oiler dressing room after the game I overheard Wayne was celebrating the record at a downtown restaurant called Fingers.  Just as my cousin Cam Traub and I were pulling out of the parking lot I suggested we stop for a quick bite to eat at Fingers.
I didn’t tell Cam who might be dropping by. We were just finishing up when Wayne entered with about 10 friends.
Five minutes or so later two shot glasses of tequila were delivered to our table from Wayne, with two straws. (I use a straw when I drink) Cam and I drank them and thanked Wayne on our way out.
“Cammie, good to see you,” Wayne said. “Please join us. Why don’t you sit down.”
“I already am,” I said, re-adjusting my wheelchair.
Wayne howled with laughter.
"Wayne I know you have trouble understanding me," I said. "Do you know why I talk funny?"
He said no.
"I'm from Calgary."
He doubled over .. again. We joined the party, drank everything from beer to Dom Perignon.  More importantly, we were communicating — something, I think, that began with a laugh. Cam and I shared two hours with Wayne that night and got to know one another.

THE OILERS WENT on an eastern road swing after that night and returned to Edmonton 10 days later. I went to practice one morning shortly after the Oilers got back and was sitting halfway between the bench and the dressing room in the basement of Northlands Coliseum.
Wayne often left the ice a few minutes before practice ended. On this day, he came off the ice five minutes before the rest of the game and he saw me.
“Cammie, you jerk. How are you?” he asked. “I have to have a whirlpool right now and I feel like getting bored so why don’t you come talk to me?”
I was no longer the guy in the wheelchair he could not understand. I was one of the boys he could poke fun with.

The spring of 1984 in Edmonton was electric with the Oilers winning their first Stanley Cup. I was in Jasper with friends watching the Oilers win the first one — funny thing, but I enjoyed watching the games more on television than being at the games live. A few days after the big championship I was invited to a celebration dinner downtown hosted by the City of Edmonton. I briefly ran into Wayne and he invited me for brunch that Sunday with his girlfriend Vicky Moss’ at a small restaurant overlooking the North Saskatchewan River called Vi’s. 
Wayne’s timing on and off the ice is implacable. Like that Sunday at Vi’s. Just as my cab driver got me in the door at Vi’s, the telephone behind the reception desk rang. The receptionist looked up at me and asked: “Is your name Cammie?

WAYNE CALLED TO say plans had changed. Vicki’s mother, Sophie, was cooking brunch and Wayne gave me the address on the south side of town. I quickly called the cabbie back, loaded up and headed to the Moss household. We had a wonderful time with the Moss family and a beautiful brunch. Wayne had just had minor surgery on his ankle right after the Cup final and excused himself for a little nap.
“See what you do to me, Cammie?” he asked. “You put  me to sleep.”
While Wayne had a little siesta, Vicky and Mrs. Moss and I had a great visit. Wayne woke up and offered to drive me home. He just won a new car for his play in the Stanley Cup Finals — a convertible Mercedes Benz, with a very small trunk.
After Wayne got me seated in the front seat, he struggled for five minutes getting my wheelchair in the trunk. We had to drive home with the trunk open so we could get my chair in.
Whenever we stopped at a red light, people recognized Wayne and started waving. Some even got out of their cars in the middle of the intersection to get a closer look. Wayne always smiled and waved.
Wayne drove into the driveway of my parents’ home where I was living. He wheeled me into the house and met the whole family. Even my 84-year-old Grandmother Murray, who always admitted she was never a big hockey fan, came to the front door to shake Wayne’s hand.

Coming Wednesday: Golfing with Gretz