43: The Autograph

43: The Autograph

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

The Autograph

It was 1963 in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale. I was eight years old and hockey-crazy. My next-to-nil skills had not stunted my passion for the game. Earning himself a reservation for a warm seat in heaven, my dad would stand shivering beside the boards of the outdoor public rink, watching me ride the bench in the Catholic Minor Hockey League. The Toronto Maple Leafs were, of course, my heroes, and their Bee Hive Corn Syrup photos plastered my bedroom walls in black and white. I had no idea that one of my most revered icons lived a mere three blocks away.

Back then, walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons had not yet been invented, so we raised funds the good old-fashioned way, selling something the public could actually sink its teeth into. In my school’s case, it was the annual doughnut drive—Margaret’s Doughnuts, big and doughy, choice of honey-glazed or chocolate-glazed, cheaper if you bought two dozen or more.

Door-to-door I went, clipboard in hand. Although it was long ago, I can still smell the Gestetner fluid on the freshly minted order form. I sold dozens of dozens; hardly a soul turned me down. Was the irresistibility in my product or my sales pitch? “After all, mister, EVERYBODY loves doughnuts.” My sheet was almost full, and my stomach almost empty, when I reached Wedgewood Drive with its two modest rows of look-alike sidesplits. I went up the south side—no one home, no one home. The next house would be my last; I had already stretched my parents’ limit of a two-block radius, and dinner would be on the table in ten minutes.

I rang the doorbell and rehearsed my spiel while staring at the flamingo on the screen door. The bird swung toward me, and my next and indelible memory is looking up from a large pair of fuzzy slippers, way up, to the face peering down. Once it registered, I stood there speechless for what seemed an eternity, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water. Collecting my composure, but still unable to go into doughnut-talk overdrive, I told him something he already knew. “Yup, that’s me,” he replied with a nod and a smile.

Having successfully established a rapport, I followed with new information—that we shared our given name. I have a vague recollection of stammering through my “Please-buy-some-doughnuts-to-help-my-school” speech, and then a vivid one of him taking the clipboard from my hand. Of course, I had no way of comprehending the historical irony of the document he handed back to me. Flushed with pride from our first-name-basis farewells, I flew home clutching the clipboard to my chest. Nobody got a word in edgewise at dinner.

The next morning before the bell, I guardedly showed off the precious paper. In the classroom, my teacher grumbled good-naturedly as she copied out my orders on another sheet—no way would I let go of the form, no way was I giving up that autograph. Doughnut delivery day could not come fast enough, but my return to Wedgewood Drive was anticlimactic—his wife answered the door. There I stood, red-faced in my Maple Leafs sweater, as four school chums who had doubted my story taunted me from the street.

Fast-forward several years and several hundred franchises later: I wonder if the runt at the door was his inspiration. (“After all, EVERYBODY loves doughnuts.”) In futile search, I’ve torn my folks’ basement apart, but it seems I’ve lost that purple-lined piece of Canadiana, the testimony to a feat that is surely mine alone to claim: I sold Tim Horton a dozen doughnuts.

~Tim O’Driscoll
Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

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