Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Journey Up the Mackenzie Highway

Mom, my brother, Andrew, and I on vacation in Nova Scotia, 1994.

Early on, it wasn’t clear whose child I was—I wasn’t my father’s and I certainly wasn’t my mother’s.

Well into my early teens, I was insolent and prone to quick fits of tears. The smallest challenge would make my nerves quake and knots form thick in my throat. I was teased merciless for being a scaredy-cat. I was the last kid in the neighbourhood to learn to ride a two-wheel bike and I preferred reading to sports. Even something as simple and intrinsic to childhood as sitting around a campfire and roasting marshmallows scared me because (and it pains me to admit this) a spark might fly up and hit me. Any molehills in my vicinity were unconquerable mountains, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to try and climb them. 

This comes as a surprise to most people who know me now. As an adult, I’m the type of woman who shoots guns. I travel alone, I’ve lived happily without electricity and running water, I’m not afraid of spiders or snakes and I’m reasonably (although not entirely) comfortable shitting in the woods. I am, by my own standards (because no one else’s matter), fearless and self-reliant.

I credit most of this to my mom.

Despite my crybaby tendencies, she didn’t baby me. Instead, after teasing me some more (my family made a sport of it), she fostered my independence and instilled in me a great understanding that I can get through anything. (“This, too, will pass in time.”)

I’ve inherited my mother’s high arches, her stubbornness, her propensity for making inappropriate and peculiar jokes at exactly the wrong time, her terrible singing voice (we’ve both self-tested for tone-deafness—we’re not), and her ability to approach any situation with a sense of humour. My mom is, without a doubt, one of the strongest ladies I know.

When she was 47, my mom volunteered to supervise my grade nine class on a trip to the Centre for Outdoor Education in Nordegg, Alberta. Although some of the kids initially didn’t know what to make of her, after three days of climbing up mountains, down glaciers and through caves, everyone adored her. They loved her ability to make silly jokes, to treat them like adults, and they loved her for encouraging them to explore their limits while she tested her own. My mother was, in short, the hero of that trip.

That, really, was the last and only time we took a “mother-daughter” trip together.

Nearly 15 years later, we’re coasting up the Mackenzie Highway, northward bound. Momma Doris is at the helm of the aptly named Pleasureway, a recreational vehicle the size of a large cargo van. We’ve got a fridge full of home baked goods (another thing I got from my momma; a love of baking), a “best of” Patsy Cline CD, three books apiece, a GPS that we haven’t bothered to turn on (there’s only one road), and each other. These are the good times.

As the landscape on our drive through northern Albertan and into the Northwest Territories changed from Prairie to Parkland to the footsteps of Boreal Forest, I couldn’t help but think that this is the kind of experience that so few people will have in their lifetime—not just travelling north of the 60th Parallel, but spending one-on-one time with their parents as adults.

My mom may be obsessed with country cemeteries, rural libraries and roadside information signs (all places where, by my estimation, things go to die), which can be wearing at times, but they are also reasons that I love her. And more so, she—both my parents, actually—are the reason that I love to travel. And this isn’t something that I inherited—it was something that I was taught.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being the daughter you are and for allowing us to take this trip. I hope it won't be the last.


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