Friday, May 11, 2012

Wanderlust runs through my family genes: a mom's day blog

I'm not the only one in my family to be bitten by the travel bug, apparently.

Mother's Day is upon us, and it's always a bit of a sad day for me, since my mom has been gone since 2007. In fact, the entire second quarter of the year is always a bit rough, since my mom's birthday is in April, her funeral services took place a few days after what would have been her 80th birthday, and that's followed by Mother's Day in May. It repeats in June, since my dad's birthday, Father's Day and his passing (on Father's Day Eve, 1992) all fall in that month.

Suffice to say, I'm really glad when the calendar hits July.

Last year, I chronicled some of my travels with my dad. I really didn't travel much with my mom, unless it was the three of us, together, as a family. Most early travel involved either going to a cottage we rented, or later on, camping in places like Sibald Point Provincial Park on Lake Simcoe or Outlet Beach Provincial Park on Lake Ontario.

However, we did make a big journey in July 1967, driving from Newmarket, Ontario (near Toronto) to Montreal to attend Expo '67 and visit some good friends who lived there.
For me, as a 10-year-old, Expo was of secondary interest; I was really keen on seeing Fort Henry in Kingston, followed by a trip to Upper Canada Village, located near the community of Morrisburg.

Dad and Mom - set to board our car
and head off to Montreal in 1967.
After that, my family's next big trip did not involve me; my mom and dad drove across Canada from Toronto to Victoria and back home again through the U.S. while I was working as a
junior forest ranger in the town of Gogama in northern Ontario. I didn't regret missing the trip, as 1973 proved to be one of the best summers of my life - still is, years later.

A few years later, I was off to UNB and higher education and the only traveling I did involved flying back and forth from Ontario to Fredericton, N.B. for school.

During that time frame, my parents divorced, my dad eventually remarried. Without me around, they both began to travel internationally much more as I finished university and became more of an independent adult, with my own life and my own travels to plan.

However, my mom travelled much more extensively to many more places than did my dad. Dad and his wife Carole often holidayed in Florida each spring. Their one big trip was to the Mediterranean, including stops in Greece and Turkey the year before his passing. He wasn't really fond of air travel, especially long distances which made him feel a bit claustrophobic.

Meanwhile, my mom - who never re-married - began taking regular trips to to Florida, and Hawaii. But in addition to those destinations, she also cruised the Caribbean and vacationed in Mexico as well as three South American countries (none of which I've visited!): Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. She often travelled with a girlfriend, or in a group of friends and family.

And she always brought me back something really neat, a special gift she thought I'd like from her trips. I still have Hawaiian bookends made from lava, a little wall plaque from Mexico, ball caps from Columbia and Venezuela. And while I treasured those mementos while she was alive, I treasure them even more now that she's gone.
Cool Aztec art - a present from my mom's
Mexican journey
Her last journey of any distance was to Newfoundland, and I remember her remarking about the moose she saw in Gros Morne National Park.

So you see, my true wanderlust really comes more from my mom than my dad.

The years I have spent without her have given me a new perspective about her - her experiences, her approach to life, and her sense of adventure.

Yes, "sense of adventure." That's not a phrase I often think of when I remember my mom. Memories are often painted on emotional pallets, colouring the facts with other perceptions. But when you actually look at the facts, she must have had quite the sense of adventure to go on all those journeys without a husband or boyfriend for companionship and protection. While you wouldn't find her paddling an outrigger canoe in Hawaii, or chasing after parrots in the jungles of South America, she certainly didn't shy away from travelling internationally to those places - and on more than one occasion.

But, of course, she was still my mother, I was still her only son - and when she was still alive and I began to travel internationally, her concern for me would manifest itself, sometimes in funny ways.

My first international trip took me to Belize and she sent me a funny going away card; however, when she found out I was going to Africa for more than a month, she became extremely worried something bad would happen to me. Her fears were based more on what she remembers from old Tarzan movies of the 1930's than modern-day concerns of terrorism and disease. I remember just about falling off my chair laughing when she said she was afraid that "guys with tomahawks" would "get me."

After I returned safely, she seemed less concerned about any future trips I took (to Ecuador in 2002, for example). And as her health declined after that year, her concerns were less about where I was going and more about just trying to cope with the daily struggles of what eventually was diagnosed as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia).

Mom and I shared more than a few hot dogs -
like this time in Fish Creek Park, Calgary -
but never shared a trip together as adults.
Looking back, I really regret not having ever travelled with her anywhere. We always did interesting and fun things when she visited me, wherever I lived out west, but during the last few years, she was not even well enough to do anything but come out to visit - the plane ride between Alberta/BC and Toronto was tough enough for her.

So we never really travelled anywhere together, as adults.

And of course, we never will.

So if your mother is still alive, treasure the time you have with her - and if her health allows it, plan an adventure, go travel with her. Even if it's just for a few days, take a trip. It doesn't have to be anything exotic or far away - just travel and spend some quality time with the person who brought you into this world.

That way, you'll build even more memories to sustain you on tough days like Mother's Day or her birthday, after she is gone and you can no longer spend time with her.

And whether she's still here, or gone, don't forget - never forget - to say those five words that mean so much to any mother.

I love you. Thanks, Mom.

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