I just submitted this little piece today at the request of my high school alma mater, requesting submissions to the Kraft Hockeyville website, in response to a competition to pick America’s favorite hockey arena…
This is a short tribute to my uncle, Brother George Ernest Bernard, who played a dominant role in my upbringing, and left me with so many sweet memories.
I was a student at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island from 1968-70, and had a special relationship with Adelard Arena over those years. Yes, I played hockey there (and broke my front tooth in a violent collision with the ice my first time out). Yes, I had my first date skating hand-in-hand with the lovely Diane Theroux there on the ice during Winter Carnival 1970. Yes, I gave my valedictory address in that old army-surplus-airplane-hanger-of-an-arena in June of that same year. All those things made Adelard arena a personal landmark for me.
But there was something much more special–the Zamboni driver, Brother George Ernest Bernard. He was my uncle…and mentor…and idol. Uncle Ernest, as we knew him, was the anchor of the family. He left home in Nashua, NH at the tender age of 14 to join the Brothers of the Sacred Heart somewhere in Quebec, and emerged a religious brother some years later. He was a gentle soul, a lover of the arts, music and languages. And he was funny as hell–he could keep the family in stitches for hours with jokes and performance. And, my grandmother, Regina Bernard, simply adored him, her firstborn son, whom she sacrificed at an early age to religious life.
Brother George was a also an icon at the Mount for many years, along with Brother Adelard, for whom the arena is named–the Father of Rhode Island Schoolboy Hockey. Brother George lived in a tiny room in the basement of the Mount, tucked away among the steam pipes, not unlike the bowels of a navy ship. That made it easy for him to slip out at odd hours and down to the arena, which he took care of for many years. Mostly a quiet, invisible role in the grand scheme of operations at the Mount, except for one thing…he drove the Zamboni!
On Friday nights, when the arena was full of avid fans (“Come on da Red, come on da Blue, come on da Mount, skate right trou!), my uncle, donning his feathered, brimmed hat, would proudly, stoically roll the Zamboni out onto the ice before, during and after the game to clean it to a mirrored polish. And of course, his students from Bonehead Math, who hated his gruff, in-their-face style, would throw change at him as he drove past. They hit him occasionally, but he got the last laugh…all those pennies, nickels and dimes ended up in the Zamboni, of course, and into his pocket once the ice melted down!
Rest in peace, Uncle Ernest…
40 years in the enterprise software industry in Silicon Valley, with a lot of non-profit arts board experience. French Canadian New England roots, distantly related (I'm guessing) to Jack Kerouac, and inspired by his free spirit.
Family, high school, uncle, mentor, idol
right on!, well written