Friday, May 1, 2009

BIG 'M' FOR MOMENTUM...


My first shift had ended on schedule, my feet ached and my back was sore. Although I spent just four hours putting delegate kits together, and occasionally handing them out, it seemed like a lot of time in isolation.

A great group of people have come forward to help make this a wonderful experience -- all the volunteers I met Thursday were eager and interested in doing their part in making this the stepping stone to something great. I felt a camaraderie being in their company.

Still, as is my habit, I found myself in quiet thought when not gifting some anxious-looking delegates and curious-looking observers. And those Laurier Club members! Hats off to them - it seemed like every fifth person who came to claim their tote bag w/ hand wash had written an Ed McMahon-sized cheque to the Liberal party... That's very encouraging, and especially knowing that their involvement doesn't end in just a tax receipt. They're here to make a difference.

And so are we volunteers.

Well, back to to me. As I did during the last leadership contest, I assigned myself a personal task, of securing something that could be used for our riding in a future fundraiser. Nothing radical - no lock of Ruby Dhalla's hair, although if she offered...;^) - but last time it was a Team Canada hockey jersey with all 11 candidates' signatures. This time, it was a Vancouver Canucks t-shirt that I wanted to have signed by as many party elites as possible. In a previous post, you can see Marc Garneau laying down the inaugural hancock.

But being trapped behind a table, with many bags to stuff, I turned over the t-shirt project to the talented Doug McKay, youthful and sometimes too-exuberant for his own good, but a true grit. And within a few hours he had added 3 notables.

One other object I carried with me to the Vancouver Convention centre. In my satchel I had packed a carefully stored copy of Billy Harris' telling of the Toronto Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup adventures in the 1960s, thinking that one autograph would make this book -- even here in laid-back Lotusland -- a nice trophy for a future silent auction.

Now, that Team Canada jersey with the scribblings of Maurizio Bevilacqua, Carolyn Bennett, Hedy Fry, Joe Volpe, Scott Brison, Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Finlay, Bob Rae, Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden and some guy named Ignatieff produced more than $400 for our riding's coffers (the raffle winner graciously offered it back, and it was sold again at a silent auction last month), but sentimentality has no price.

So you'll understand me when I say today's scoop will always rank up there as a priceless moment.

I took off my red volunteer shirt (the one that made me look like a bloated tomato) at the end of my shift and scanned through the halls. I saw a few friendly and familiar faces, but no former PMs or party celebrities about. My stomach hinted at a delayed dinner. So as I rode the escalator to the exit, I caught a glimpse of a tall, dapper gentleman accompanying an elegant lady walking towards the doors. He carried himself a little slower than the man I saw during those Hockey Night in Canada telecasts, swooping his large stride down the Forum ice. But it was him.

You have to understand, even while I disliked the Montreal Canadiens for beating my Bruins with regularity, I came to admire the Big 'M'. Like Yvan Cournoyer, Frank Mahovlich brought his own style, a formidable grace, to the great game.

I dug inside my satchel and quickly took the moment when there was a pause in the greetings he received from friends and strangers, to awkardly approach him.

Let me tell you that it not a natural skill of mine -- I am stubbornly shy when the need to be assertive arises. But I wasn't about to let this moment be one of THOSE, those moments that are looked back with regret.

In truth, I had introduced myself to Mr. Mahovlich once before, during the last leadership race. It was one of those six-seconds conversations, welcoming him to Vancouver... one that goes by so fleetingly it seemed to barely exist.

Just as then, he still cut an impressive figure. Tall, good looking with that trademark slicked hair, Frank Mahovlich moved slower and wasn't as tall as he use to be. But he was still a gentle star, of the quality and calibre of Jean Beliveau and Stan Mikita. As expected, Frank Mahovlich was immediately obliging and took a look at the cover of the book. And his 70-year-old eyes suddenly lit up, seeing the faces of his former linemates on the cover, with his own face framed atop hockey's Holy Grail. It was like he relived that moment, was awash in memories with those best friends whom were no longer with us. And while he signed that signature, Frank Mahovlich told me a brief story. It was a quick moment but it made me feel that I was not imposing on a man who wanted to enjoy a walk with his wife in the brilliant Vancouver sunshine, but as someone who shared a familiar bond.

My convention time, the hours of volunteering, of standing and trying not to provide the wrong directions, had now become a tremendous achievement. My moment with the Big 'M' will be my convention memory - no matter if I am fortunate enough to get trapped alongside Jean Chretien and Paul Martin on the escalator (and if they are to have that misfortune, I assure them it wasn't my fault!), it will still be the convention where Frank Mahovlich looked at me, his eyes glistening as though 1967 was yesterday.

And let me warn you - don't bother trying to out-bid me at the auction. The book is spoken for.

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