Walter and Phyllis Gretzky arrived in Edmonton Sunday morning in plenty of time to see their oldest son break Gordie Howe's National Hockey League scoring record.
With Walter busy escorting Wayne's horse, Golden Pheasant, to the prestigious Arc de Triomphe race in Paris last weekend. And with a longstanding commitment to be at a wedding Saturday, they took a chance that Wayne would not get five points against the Vancouver Canucks Friday night. They were right. He made three points to close to within two, saving the record for the city in which he scored most of his points.
"It had to happen in Edmonton," Walter said with a knowing nod. "For one thing, that's the way Wayne had it figured. Besides, it's more fitting, and that's just the way things happen for Wayne.
"It's as if his life has been prewritten. If you go over all the things that have happened in his life, one thing after another, it's as if it was destiny.
"Actually, it's a bit eerie. It's unbelievable."
His own father finds his golden touch unbelieveble? "I'm amazed at him," Walter said.
And proud of him. Not only for the goals and the assists, but for the way he has handled himself through all the success.
Walter likes to tell of the night that Wayne scored his 50th goal in the 39th game of the 1982 season.
The family had planned to be at the game Wayne scored his 50th goal, knowing that it would be well under the milestone of 50 goals in 50 games. But Wayne was five goals away going into the 39th game, and Walter figured he wouldn't get it at the game at Edmonton.
After the game, Wayne phoned home to Brantford, Ontario, with the news. He told Walter, who said something like, "You did it, heh?" And then Wayne said he had better get going because "all those people" were waiting.
Gretzky had let reporters, TV crews, the owner and all wait while he called home.
"I was so happy, but when I thought about it, I was more happy about the call than the record," Walter said. "Think about it. He was a young man who had just done something incredible, and everyone around him was all excited. But he took time, first, to call his mum and dad.
"I've wondered from time to time if I would have done the same thing. I would have remembered them, but I don't know whether I would have thought of them at that particular moment."
The Gretzky family is close, and has always been closely involved with the boys' hockey.
Walter played junior hockey, but was too small to make it as a pro. Which is what everyone used to tell Wayne. But Walter, who is a telephone company technician, taught his son all the tricks a little player needs. He taught him to play smart.
Beyond that, he tried to instill in Wayne a work ethic. He stressed the value of perseverance and dedication.
In a TV special after Gretzky's first season as a King, Walter said: "I've seen him spend hours and hours and hours that no other boy would do, just practicing one little move. Sometimes he spends a year or two before he'll even try something in a game."
Wayne was practicing shooting even before he could skate.
"Wayne used to slide around on a slick pine wood floor in his socks, pretending that he was skating, and he'd use a little souvenir stick to shoot a ball into a goal in the house.
"My mum, (Wayne's grandmother Mary, who died last December) would sit in a chair with a goalie stick playing goalie for him. She was a hockey fanatic long before Wayne came along."
Walter built a rink in the back yard and taught Wayne to skate. The Gretzkys have film of Wayne skating at 2, not at all unusual for kids in Canada. And he was playing hockey when he was 4.
Once he scored his first goal, at 6 in a league for 10-year-olds, it started to happen. Everything started to fall into place.
There was a manifest destiny to Gretzky's hockey career.
Walter swears he wasn't a pushy father. He didn't make Wayne log all that time in the back yard.
"He wasn't the kind of kid you would have to send out to practice," Walter said. "With Wayne, you'd have to make him come in. I'd be out there yelling, 'Don't be shooting at the side of the house. Look what you've done to the foundation!' "
It wasn't long before his brothers were out there with him.
Only one brother, Glenn, who works in real estate in the Edmonton area, was at the game Sunday night to see Wayne set the record. Glenn's hockey days are over now. Keith (The Great One's brother who has been dubbed The Good One) is with the Buffalo organization and playing with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League. Brent, who is another good one, is still playing Junior A hockey in Belleville.
Wayne's sister Kim was not in Edmonton Sunday, although Walter's sister, Ellen, was. Ellen, who has Down Syndrome, lives with Walter and Phyllis since the death of her mother. Gretzky's wife Janet Jones also was in attendance.
The home of Walter and Phyllis Gretzky is unpretentious, but has turned into something of an unofficial Gretzky museum.
Lined up among the wall-to-wall trophies, plaques and framed photographs are more than 200 of what Walter calls "special" sticks commemorating records or titles or hat tricks . . .
Walter will be toting home more memorabilia after the ceremonies here Sunday and the ceremonies scheduled at the Forum Tuesday.
King owner Bruce McNall found Walter Sunday morning in the lobby of the hotel where the team was staying, before Walter had had the opportunity to make contact with his son. McNall started to fill him in on the plan for the ceremony, saying, "Wayne wants me to take you down so that you can go out on the ice . . . "
Walter collapsed into the chair behind him. "No!," he said. "Wayne wants me to go out on the ice? Me? It was Wayne's idea? Oh, my goodness."