Rain was falling at the train station in Banff, not so heavy we’d get soaked, but not so light it could be ignored—especially if you were in a wheelchair. The thought struck me like lightning as my husband and I stepped from the cab under blossoming umbrellas, and my parents appeared amid the bustle of porters and passengers ready to board The Rocky Mountaineer.
The wheels of the train gleamed, even in the drizzle, yet no more than Mary and Joe’s faces. But it was her wheels that worried me: my mother’s locomotion inevitably stirred the slightest damp into a slop that muddied her hands and splattered her sleeves as she turned the rubber grips. She avoided sleeves for that reason, but it was 48 degrees in the middle of July in the early mountain air, and of course she would look her best because that’s how she taught my sister and me to dress for special occasions. I didn’t want the puddles to ruin her clothes, or Dad’s, who was always painted with slosh too, from pushing her chair and folding it, and lifting it into the trunk. Anxiety dissolved in the same breath it was born: the indignities of paraplegia were a heap of inconsequence to her; she was a woman occupied by larger ideas.
I relaxed, and smiled. Of course they were here. With my own anticipation of this grand Canadian journey full to bursting, I had been thoughtless, until this moment, of how much my parents would enjoy this trip too. The sagging, pewter sky could not dim the luminous blue and gold coaches stretched before us, or my delight in welcoming them.
As a child I never recognized the roadblocks to such ideas: that my mother, who never walked, would be unable to do anything she wanted—like board a train or a plane, or relieve herself at a time when no bathrooms were handicap-friendly, go to college, or marry, or have children (amazing how many people thought my sister and I were adopted—polio did not paralyze her ovaries!). She and my dad managed it all as though it were nothing. We thought everyone carried a potty in the car, that fathers did the grocery shopping, that mothers were intellectuals who also modeled creative swearing. My father taught us to sew, my mother to cook from scratch, and no one did the housekeeping.