THAT SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT WITH MRS. HOCKEY was clear as early as five years ago. "She used to be so sharp, with such a memory," Gordie says, "and suddenly those names and numbers weren't coming back."
About four years ago Mrs. Hockey was getting the nine grandchildren's birthdays mixed up and sending graduation cards a year early. At Murray's insistence, she went in for testing, including a six-hour interview in the spring of 2000 with one of Ohio's leading experts on dementia. The news could not have been worse. "I sat down with Mom and Dad," says Murray, a radiologist. "I told them, 'This is a progressive disease—we don't know the exact time frame, but it will be a long, hard road.'"
Two years later Mr. Hockey is introduced as the keynote speaker at the 19th annual dinner of the Transportation Club of Detroit. He talks about how Colleen—"a lady who has been my leader"—pulled off the brilliant triple play that brought Gordie and teenagers Marty and Mark to the Aeros in 1973. Gordie, who had retired from the Red Wings two years earlier, didn't see it coming. "She did a lot of things without my knowledge," he says about Colleen. "I guess she knew I'd say yes anyway."
Houston went on to win two league titles and then bit the dust in 1978, one year after the Howes signed with the Whalers. When the NHL absorbed the team, Gordie wound up on a line with Bobby Hull and Dave Keon—three old goats with nearly 2,000 pro goals and more than 130 years among them. But that was long ago, and now he begins to tell the audience about Colleen's illness, and the loneliness, and the pain. "I had a lot of knocks, and this is the biggest one I ever had," he says.
His voice wavers, but he goes on to describe for the gathering how shy he was the night he went to the Lucky Strike Lanes on Grand River Avenue in Detroit in the spring of 1951. "The greatest thing that ever happened to me," says Gordie, "is that I went to watch a young lady bowl."
It's no surprise that in Colleen's self-published autobiography, and ... HOWE!, she included some of Gordie's love letters.
JUNE 14, 1952
Once again I have heard three sweet words from you which I should use more often and that is, "I miss you." They sound awful good coming to me from such a sweet young lady as you and again I say I should use them much more often. But the truth is I don't know much of sweet words so just give me time as I am a comer.