And for a Few Moments, Time Stood Still

Last Saturday morning The Curmudgeon attended the annual book festival staged outdoors on the main street in nearby Collingswood, New Jersey.  Now involuntarily an early riser, he arrived unpleasantly early:  about 10:30.  The crowd was still sparse – it gets quite busy later in the day, as The Curmudgeon learned back when he wasn’t an involuntary early riser – and people strolled leisurely past tables behind which writers sat, hoping against hope that someone might just buy their book.

Most of the books on display were written by people who fancy themselves writers but would be wise never to give up their day job.  For the third or fourth year, many appeared to hope they might be the next J.K. Rowling, peddling fantasies about sorcerers and goblins and whatever all that nonsense was that people ate up so eagerly in the Harry Potter series.  Interspersed between the fantasy writers were the vampire writers, all hoping they’ve created the next Barnabas Collins, along with people who dug into their own pockets to publish books about some uninteresting aspect of their own lives.  The books on display are discouraging in their apparent ordinariness, but what’s most encouraging about the festival is how many people will come just to see the books – even when they know there’s virtually no chance they will depart with their wallet any lighter than it was when they left home.

Because it was still early the masses had not yet arrived, so there were just sporadic pockets of people browsing the displays and talking to the writers and sellers and listening to live music from a series of stages temporarily set up at roughly two-block intervals.  As he walked west, though, The Curmudgeon noticed a fairly substantial crowd standing outside a tent.  Drawing closer, he saw a very familiar face, a handsome man with a full head of brilliant white hair (The Curmudgeon, a baldie, notices and appreciates a good head of hair on an older guy and is always a bit envious).  The man stood comfortably, microphone in hand, addressing a crowd of mostly middle-aged people in his familiar French-accented English.  The Curmudgeon stood and listened for a few minutes, unable to lose the grin he had sprouted, before resuming his stroll.

About a half-hour later The Curmudgeon was on his return trip, walking east, when, amid tables almost bereft of browsers, he spotted ahead a long line of people, apparently awaiting an opportunity to get their book signed by a writer.  Again he drew closer and again he saw that same white-haired man, smiling happily at the middle-aged adults who looked at him with absolute adoration in their eyes.

The man’s name is Bernie Parent, and from 1973 to 1979 he was a true sports hero in Philadelphia, a hockey player in a town that had strangely taken to a sport that few of the residents had played, or even heard much about, growing up.  For most of the past thirty-two years since his injury-shortened career ended, Parent has remained in the Philadelphia area but kept a relatively low profile ­– that is, until last winter, when he returned to the ice at the age of sixty-six to play one last old-timers’ game improbably staged outdoors, on a makeshift sheet of ice put down in a football stadium.  Of the dozens of legends who eagerly seized this one last moment of glory, the fans clearly embraced Parent the most – most likely because of a combination of his excellence as a player, his warmth and ever-present smile, his charming accent, and the enthusiasm he displayed over his questionable judgment about attempting to play semi-competitive hockey again at such an advanced age.

There in Collingswood last Saturday morning, the people who grew up watching Bernie Parent play stood in a crowd to hear him speak and then stood in a long line for the opportunity to say hello and have him sign their book.  These were middle-aged people, like The Curmudgeon, all long past the age when people are supposed to have heroes, but one of those heroes had returned, and for a few magical moments, time stood still for them:  it was 1974 and the sunburn from the parade down Broad Street still smarted, and the man so many of them – of us – worshipped at that time was standing in front of them – in front of us – strangely like a peer yet clearly still peerless, and we were going to hold onto it for every moment we possibly could.

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  • Scott  On October 8, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I think that parade in May 1974 was the first high school “cut” of my academic career. Well worth it. BUR-NEE! BUR-NEE! BUR-NEE!

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On October 8, 2012 at 9:06 am

      I missed that one – parental veto – so my first was the ’75 parade. I still remember walking from JFK Stadium to City Hall because we couldn’t get down the staircase to the subway because there were so many people. And – as I mentioned in the piece – I still remember the sunburn.

  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On October 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    No, there was no ring kissing. As for hanging around like a leech, do you mean a Reggie Leach? Also, you’re the second person to note that something looked funny about the text. I dont’ know what it is and all I can tell you is that when I look at it, it seems okay.

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