With work travel absenting my wife to Toronto for meetings, and children now working in other countries, I phoned up my 93-year-old mom and appealed to her life-long impulsiveness: “I am calling to invite you to Skelhp for a week. I’ll give you an hour to decide. Call me back!”
I know her well enough to predict the outcome. Ten minutes later she called back, announced that she had cancelled two doctor’s appointments and a bridge game with her apartment mates. “I’m coming. When will you pick me up?”
I was surprised to see that she was travelling comparatively light: three small cloth bags and her “wheelie” – a wheeled walker. Still living resolutely on her own, she has had eight falls over the last three years, causing four concussions, and necessitating a more careful approach to her customary long neighbourhood walks. One bag contained her art materials, another contained her “medical things” – she now takes eight drugs per day – and a third her clothing for the trip.
I put the wheelie in the pickup and opened her door to let her get in – no simple exercise. It’s an effort to reach up and grasp the door grip, put her right foot on the rail-step, and hoist her body into the seat. A large part of this effort occurs because she tore two ligaments in her right arm (and four in her left) way back in her 80s when she had to exit a bobbing Zodiac shore-craft and climb a suspended stairway on a Russian ice-breaker in the Canadian Arctic. But that’s another story.
Next we zipped through traffic to Horseshoe Bay, where we both scored Wednesday senior’s fares ($8.20) on the Queen of Surrey. This was a cause for much hilarity.
We also were offered a special parking spot next to the on-board elevator. No stairs for Mom. We had breakfast aboard and walked about arm-in-arm, without the wheelie, as we approached Langdale ferry terminal. On the drive up the Sunshine Coast to Earls Cove, we stopped at Clayton’s in Sechelt for food shopping. Mom sat in the truck while I sped-shopped. She was amazed that shopping could be done in six minutes. “In Vancouver that chore takes me one hour!”
The last hour of the road trip is on a very winding highway. Curve follows curve. “For God’s sake, go slower – I’m going to throw up!’ I slowed down.
My cell phone rang several times and Mom bobbled each call response in a different way. “How annoying. You see – I don’t have a cell phone! It’s hard enough keeping up with all the e-mails I get on my computer! All this technology can be so needlessly complicating.” I agreed.
Finally the last ferry terminal loomed – Earls Cove. “That sign is grammatically incorrect. There should be an apostrophe in ‘Earl’s,’ called out mom, once a professor of fine arts.
We pulled into the terminal. “Now can you get me James on the phone? I have to wish him a happy birthday.” This kind of request would pop up all week. Always with an air of immediacy. As in, “I must call right now!” I obliged.
The last leg of the trip is the most beautiful. The MV Island Sky traverses the front third of Jervis Inlet and Hotham Sound, with snow-capped peaks and the 200 metres of Freil Falls adding to the splendour. Mom drank it all in with evident appreciation.
“I think I may move here,” she announced. “I am going to inquire at the realtors in Powell River. I would like a ‘bolt-hole.’”
Whatever that is, I thought. “But Mom, your care team of docs and dentist and podiatrist and all your pals are in Vancouver,” I countered. “That doesn’t mean I can’t have a bolt-hole here,” she replied.
“I’m not too old to have more adventures, you know.”
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.