As Dad’s Memories Slip Away, The Happy Days Of Curling Shine Bright Among Those He Has Left - Curling Day In Canada

When Dad picks up the phone, the agitation in his voice crackles up the line between his little room in a Calgary long-term care centre and my living room in Edmonton.

“I’m not sure what your mom is getting up to,” he says by way of reply to my cheerful greeting. “I think she’s taken off again.”

She hadn’t. My 91-year-old mom died eight months ago and that’s a hard fact to hang onto for Dad, whose memories are trickling away a little more every day. I gently remind him about Mom’s passing; in the silence that tells me he’s once again absorbing this piece of news, I change the subject. “Dan and I curled this morning and we won! The other team was leading by six points in the second end but we just hung in there and stole it in the eighth.”

The agitation is gone now, replaced by the laugh of the dad I remember from 20 or 10 or even just two years ago. “Curling’s a great game! I always wanted you kids to get into it. Do you like playing?”

I sure do, Dad. In fact, most of your kids really love it.

From there, the conversation flows easily, happily. “You know, I was actually pretty good,” Dad says, the closest he ever gets to boasting. “I played my first game when I was 12, out on the farm in Saskatchewan.”

Yup, you sure did.

Dad grew up in the town of Herbert, just east of Swift Current, and my grandpa got him into the game, played then on natural ice. “We didn’t have any of those refrigeration units,” Dad reminds me, this fact clearer to him than anything that happened yesterday.

During his 30-odd year career with the Calgary Fire Department, he skipped a team that won one of the big firefighters’ bonspiel. After retirement, he kept playing on the two-sheet rink in a tiny community on the shores of B.C.’s Kootenay Lake. Another retiree in the area, 1986 Brier contender Doug Bothamley, had high praise for Dad’s game, calling him a sharp skip, a very good curler and a tough guy to play against.

Heck, even Mom took it up in retirement. “She never would sweep though,” Dad says. I picture his eyes rolling. “I think she just went in for the socializing.”

Fair enough. I reckon that in raising eight kids, she probably did enough sweeping to last a lifetime. And there’s no better socializing than what happens on and off the ice.

When Dad turned 90, the eight of us — along with mom and our spouses and our children and their children — threw him a party. It was a memorable occasion, with speeches, singing and laughs. “To happy days,” we toasted, borrowing his words.

And then we took him curling.

In a first-of-its-kind, Kehler Family Funspiel at the Calgary Curling Club, John Kehler Sr. got to call the shots, moving carefully from sheet to sheet to skip an end or two. He even threw a few rocks, one of his kids always close by. There was so much love out there, I’m surprised the ice didn’t melt.

For us, it was a once-in-our-lifetime, never-to-be-forgotten time out on the ice with our dad. For him, it has become just another day among the very many in his life.

I’d love to think that something inside him held onto the pride and happiness he felt that day. I hope that he knows that after all those years of wishing his kids would take up curling, a lot of us did. There are Kehlers curling — often and enthusiastically, if not always well — in Ottawa, Milton, Calgary and Edmonton.

But regardless of what he remembers, I’m glad that day exists for his children to cherish. Clearly, curling has already given Dad a lifetime of memories. Who knew they’d end up being among the few clear memories he has left?

“You know,” he says, his mischievous tone matching all the other times he’s said it, “I was actually pretty good.”

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