Wednesday, April 7, 2010

THE PEANUT AND THE HAMMERHEAD


Every school needs a teacher like Allan Bienert. Mr. Bienert was not just a good teacher, he was a GREAT teacher! He taught English, Creative Writing and Creative Speech. If he had taught basket weaving I would have signed up. Al Bienert loved teaching and I knew it. We all knew it. He was funny, creative and witty. He would challenge each of us to reach beyond our comfort zones and excel. Whether we were writing short stories, debating or giving a speech, Mr. Bienert cheered us on to be our best. He was one of my teachers who encouraged me to write and speak. His "good natured bets" were legendary and if he lost one, he always seemed to get off the hook on a technicality!

Born in Leduc, AB, Allan finished High School in Edmonton. He attended Prairie with the intention of becoming a missionary with the SIM in Africa, but due to a skin condition, he was unable to go. After university, he taught school in St. Paul and Edmonton before moving with his family to Three Hills where he was a teacher at the Three Hills School from 1967 to 1975. In the fall of 1976 he began teaching at Prairie High School.

In our town, court was held in the provincial building once a month on a Thursday. If you were in one of Mr. Bienert's classes on that Thursday, off you went to court. He loved the banter between the lawyers and the crown. He reveled in watching the judge and seeing if he could predict what verdict would be reached. We loved any excuse to get out of class, but this was a real bona fide learning experience. Court was not the only thing Mr. Bienert would round us up for. There was also hockey. Whole car loads of students, both boys and girls, would trek to hockey games all over the province. With Mr. Bienert at the helm you were always guaranteed to have some type of an adventure.

Mr. Bienert was not a casual hockey fan. This man LOVED the game of hockey. If there was a puck dropping within a hundred mile radius of our small prairie town you might just find Allan Bienert in the stands. Whether at a game locally, in Red Deer, Drumheller or Calgary he enjoyed and appreciated all levels of hockey. Both Ken and Keith, Allan's sons were solid hockey players and enjoyed the game as much as their Dad. Mr. Bienert also coached the game and I had the privilege of being coached by him for at least one season.

Attending a hockey game out of town was a big deal for us kids growing up. When we were quite small we would usually get to at least one Calgary Centennial game a year. Sometimes we would go several times and watch players like Danny Gare, Mike Rogers and Ron Homenuke compete at a Major Junior League level. As a side note, these three players all went on to play in the NHL. The old theatre organ would wail, the crowds would go crazy, the players would fight and we would have us a good 'ole hockey game. More importantly we witnessed some outstanding junior hockey, played by young athletes in their prime hoping to make it to the big show. After waiting for autographs at the end of the game, we would head off to Peter's Drive-In. A double cheeseburger and large shake were the order of the day before returning back to Three Hills. Why Peter's has never become a franchise, I will never know.

Christmas of 1977 was the inaugural year for what has become the very prestigious Mac's Midget Hockey Tournament. The Mac's tournament brought together sixteen of the top midget teams from Canada and the United States for a week of intense hockey. Scouts from all levels of pro hockey were in attendance at this tournament. Mr. Bienert suggested to some of us that this would be a fantastic opportunity to watch a lot of quality, competitive hockey and invited us to travel to Calgary with him for some of the games.

Mr. Bienert was a complete sideshow all by himself at a hockey game. From assisting the referees with their calls, to giving advice to both coaches and players, he was never at a loss for words. In particular, he would enjoy it if there were fans in attendance that were cheering for the opposite side. If they were in close proximity of where he was sitting, so much the better. He not only could find their buttons, he could push them, and he did.

For the Mac's tournament, we bought tickets in the home end, about 8 rows up from the ice. Mr. Bienert, sons Keith and Ken, Dan and Phil Callaway and myself arrived bright and early in the morning for the first game at 8:00. We witnessed outstanding hockey all day. Of particular memory was a lady who had become somewhat of a legend around the Stampede Corral. She had a gigantic purse which she would use as a battering ram against the glass pane directly behind the goaltender. During one of the last games of the afternoon there was some particularly lively banter in the area where we were seated. Fairly good-natured heckling and ribbing went back and forth between various parties with Mr. Bienert being in the front and centre of much of the goings on.

Someone in our party had brought a large bag of nuts to share at the game. These were passed around and shelled as the day went on. I'm not sure exactly what was said, but at some juncture Mr. Bienert thought he should throw a whole peanut over his shoulder in the general direction of the last comment. So, up and over the peanut went and Keith, looking back, noticed that it had actually made contact with a giant of a man. This guy appeared to be related to Paul Bunyan. He didn't look like someone you would want to meet in a dark alley. Leaning over he hissed at his Dad, "You hit that guy!" "Really?", was Mr. Bienert's reply and he sort of chuckled. I don't think he realized the gravity of the current situation. We went back to watching the game and cheering for our team. Mr. Bienert decided that the other peanut was probably lonely for company and launched another one in the same general direction as the first one. Not two seconds later, a booming voice hollered, "Hey you down there, cut it out!"

"Dad, you've hit him again!" intoned Keith. Amused, we were all killing ourselves laughing and egging him on. "Impossible!", exclaimed Mr. Bienert. "What are the chances of that ever happening?" he said, as he reached into the bag of nuts and chucked another in the same direction. About five rows up from where we were sitting, the same voice thundered. "You hammerhead! . . . If you do that one more time, I'm going to come down there and shove your head through the glass!" There was a noticeable hush in our end of the rink. All eyes were now looking in our direction. This was more fun than Mr. Bienert had signed up for.

They say the third time is a charm, but at that moment sitting there in that arena, no one was feeling any charm. Evidently the peanut had managed to find it's target for the third time. We had a little group huddle and talked about what we should do next. It was decided that it would probably be best if Mr. Bienert didn't chuck any more peanuts that day. He suggested that before the game actually ended we use the age old, proven "divide and flee" strategy, in case our adversary decided to take his complaint to another level. At the end of the game we scattered like sheep, all going down different rows and aisles as we made our way to the lobby. For the next game, we found new places to sit.

For years after, as I would pass Mr. Bienert in the hall or on the street, he would cup his hands in my direction and call out "Hey Rendall . . . you Hammerhead!" and a huge grin would spread across his face.

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© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.



7 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the next stories... they are like a comical walk back thru' time. Hard to believe that the PBI life was reality! You have your ma and pa's gift of text creation!

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  2. Good story. This also brings back good memories of Joel Durance regularly loading up his car with several of us guys and taking us to hockey games in Calgary, and of course to Peter's Drive-in afterwards.

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  3. Very good Steve - I think of Mr. Bienert almost every time I read one of Phil's stories and now yours. He would so approve - I can hear his laugh.
    Mr. Bienert became just as passionate about baseball or maybe it was a latent passion that needed fanning by my Dad and the Calgary Cannons. All I know is that after I moved away they became fast friends over baseball and my Dad so appreciated his companionship for whatever games they could attend. Dad never went into detail, but he would say that "Al certainly gets quite excited at the games" and then there would be a long chuckle. Now I get a fuller picture of what excited can mean!
    Thanks Steve,
    Beth

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  4. you wondered why Peter's Drive In never became a franchise - from what I understand, he wanted to keep it unique. He gave often to charity, providing the food for special events. It seems to me that he passed away a year or two ago. --- Debbie

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  5. He was an amazing man and I think about him often. Was lucky to be on a few of those trips. A double burger, milkshake and small (if you call that small...) fries was $2.40. If you could scrape that together - life was good.
    Ron

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  6. I very much appreciated reading your story about my Uncle Allan (not "Alan," by the way), which someone posted on the Facebook page of Keith Bienert's wife. From there Keith forwarded it to the whole family. In August it will be three years since he passed on. I was overseas at the time, and had last seen him three years previously in 2004. Your memories of him fill in my own, because I never experienced him in the classroom. And I only have a vague memory of him in the stands of a hockey game in 3 Hills. Because I lived far away I didn't see Uncle that much when I was young, so most of my contact with him was after I moved to Alberta, which was not long before he retired from teaching. Through the writing of Phil C. and now you, I know that Uncle had quite an impact on many of his students. Thanks for sharing this.

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  7. .... there was a tremendous amount of pain behind all of Mr. Bienert's silliness... I suppose that's why he understood me - and likely a lot of other students too...

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