Walking the Augusta National Golf Club from start to finish wasn’t our only ritual at the Masters. We had dinner with Herbert Warren Wind, the giant of golf writers who worked for The New Yorker. We usually met at a local hotel and, during dinner, talked, and talked, and talked. I was in the presence of two giants, two giants who were consummate writers.
As I continued to write, Trent invited me to a weekly breakfast at now-defunct Bregman’s, on Yonge St. north of St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. Trent was there, telling stories. Mordecai Richler showed up sometimes. Martin O’Malley. Senator Keith Davey. Joey Slinger. Allen Abel. Some company.
At some point I met Trent’s wife June Callwood: here was a pair of lovebirds. June was so friendly to me. Trent and June liked to go to the Ft. Lauderdale area during the winter. Trent flew, and June drove down in her Mazda Miata convertible sports car. She loved that car.
June died in 2007, and Trent was bereft, but he kept on keeping on. I visited him at the peaceful family home in Etobicoke, on a quiet street in the west Toronto suburb. I’d been there before, but now it was only Trent and me, sitting in his home filled with books. June’s workspace was intact. Light poured into the room. Trent invited me to take some of his books.
I told him I couldn’t do that. The books were part of him. Never mind, he said. “Take them. Take whatever you want.” he insisted. I took a few sports books, feeling I was taking a part of his life every time I removed one from his shelves. But he was offering me a gift. He was passing something on. He was passing on great sports writing.
One book was Sports of the Times: The Arthur Daley Years. Daley was a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for The New York Times. He wrote boxing and he wrote baseball and he wrote golf, and more. Trent admired his work. He saw himself in a line of writers. But, like all writers who become legends without any intention of doing so, he was himself. Utterly himself.
A few years ago, on a cold day, I picked Trent up to go for a drive. I wanted to visit a new course that was being built in Uxbridge, Ont. We drove the hour or so east of his home, and we got in a cart and drove around what would become the Coppinwood Golf Club, with its rolling hills in a tranquil country setting. The battery in the cart died when we were out on a far corner of the course. I was worried for Trent, but he didn’t seem concerned. He was in the open air, and the air was fresh. We made it back to the car without freezing.
The house into which Trent and June had moved in 1953 was eventually sold. Trent transferred to Christie Gardens, a retirement community not far from his home. I visited him in his small, neat apartment. There were a few books, and a computer – he was using e-mail now. It was okay, he told me. Things change. You take what’s given; not that he liked what had become of sports writing. It was all money, and “pull” quotes. Where was the storytelling? He told me that you had to be on the scene to write a story worth reading; it wasn’t a matter of grabbing, or “pulling,” a quote from an interview transcript.
We went to Caplansky’s delicatessen for lunch. The new deli was on the second floor of a downtown building then, and it was a long climb up. No elevator. Trent trudged up, slowly. We ordered soup and pastrami sandwiches, and fries with gravy, and we again talked and talked and talked. I took notes that afternoon, about his early days in Brandon, Man., where he was born, and in Winnipeg, where he worked for the Tribune. I’m in Florida as I write, and I wish I had those notes in front of me, and my Trent Frayne file.
But then again, I don’t need those notes, or the file. I have the memories of being with a pal who could write, really write, and who grew up in the golden age of sports, and who stayed the course. When Sports Media Canada presented me with an award in 2009, I wanted to make sure one person above all would attend, if he could. That was Trent. He was weak, but he was game. I picked him up at Christie Gardens, and we went to the luncheon at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Trent was introduced, and given a standing ovation. It meant a lot to me that he came along.
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