The basement was cold, musty and, when I was alone, a little scary. A space heater hissed and crackled — hot to the touch, ugly, yet strangely comforting. Asbestos tile covered the floor. Doors on one side of the room opened to a narrow passageway where the furnace, the heart of the home, sat, called upon to provide warmth when needed, forgotten when not. The “Christmas stuff” waited in the little closet under the stairs. Now and then a little smell of Christmas would escape between the louvers of the door, spreading warmth of a different kind into “The Garden.”
A couch sat in front of an old RCA television console, reserved for game night. Wires snaked from the back of the cabinet, stapled against the paneled walls, into the passageway and out the cellar window, up the side of the house next to the chimney and onto the roof. The latest in television technology was planted there, much as the American flag was planted on the surface of the moon earlier that summer, only this was no flag — it was a rotary antenna.
Some nights, when the antenna pointed north toward Boston, the picture was almost clear. Sometimes turning it northeast worked better, and for some mysterious reason pointing it south provided the best picture on the weekends. Even the best picture, though, was always obscured by “snow.” It never occurred to us that some day we might actually see the puck.
But if there is heaven on Earth, it was in the basement of 19 Haley Road on Game Night.
My father, Robert Morse, watched nearly every game on that old TV, inviting his fan club to his lair, where we kids would make it through the first period, slumber during the second and be out cold by the third. Occasionally a thrown empty would crash against the TV screen, the anger directed at some hooligan from the other team, usually a Montreal Canadien, but the bums on the New York Rangers weren’t much better. If the noise woke us, we might see the end of the game before sneaking up the stairs to bed.
In 1989, my wife and I took my father to Boston Garden for a Bruins game. The old place was expected to be torn down at some point. (It was demolished in 1998.) We were afraid we were running out of time. Turns out we were, but not for the reason we expected. My father died a year later, at 61.
He had followed the team since the 1930s and had never set foot on the hallowed ground. It was a magical moment when he entered the arena and stopped in his tracks as he looked toward the ghost-filled rafters and saw firsthand the championship banners that had collected over the decades.
It was if the Earth stood still. He stood, hypnotized, tears filling his eyes but not escaping; never escaping, and took it all in. For a man who started following his team by listening to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six” franchises — the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs — on the radio it was a near perfect moment.
It certainly was, too, for his son who spent the best years of his childhood in a magical basement.
Bruins hockey. There’s nothing better. Especially when the Stanley Cup is in sight!