By Lethbridge Herald on July 31, 2021.
Three years ago this weekend, my dad and I were preparing for an epic adventure, which turned out to be the first and last we’d ever make together.
In early 2019, dad lost his second wife and on his own for the first time after being her caregiver, he was lost and alone. His life was completely dedicated to her and with that unfillable void as he lived alone in their northeast Calgary apartment, dad wanted and needed a spark in his life.
He called me up one day and said he wanted to go fishing in northern Ontario. He wanted to see where I’d lived and experience the lake country I’ve so often talked and written about. Dad had a subscription to the Fort Frances paper during the seven years I lived in Ontario and was well familiar with the place and my exploits there.
And at 86 years old with no obligations at home, he was ready to hit the road for the adventure of a lifetime. I wasn’t sure if he’d be up for a marathon 1,600 kilometre trek across the Prairies but dad assured me he was.
Thanks to a co-worker graciously agreeing to work a couple of shifts for me, I was able to plan out a trip that I thought dad would enjoy.
Originally, we were going to head east through Montana and North Dakota with an overnight stay in Bemidji, Minnesota before finishing the trip to Rainy Lake with a short half-day drive. But health insurance issues changed that idea and instead at the last-minute we did my usual route, heading across Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
It actually worked out well because it gave dad a chance to see Wolseley, Sask. where his dad was born and Carberry, Manitoba where his grandmother Maggie Whitelaw and her family lived before she married a young Scotsman named John McEwen. Some of our ancestors are buried in Carberry which is just off the Trans-Canada highway near Brandon but at 86, dad had no interest in visiting a cemetery. I honestly can’t blame him.
With both us of us and our gear loaded into his truck, we hit the highway early on an August morning with me acting as driver and tour guide. During the trek to Winnipeg, I didn’t get a chance to tell dad much about what he was seeing because he talked non-stop for the entire drive. He was so thrilled to have company that he talked endlessly about his life, his best friend Mel, his loneliness, his childhood, his work and his regrets.
In that 14-hour drive, I learned more about my dad than I had in my entire 59 years on this earth. I learned how much pain he experienced, felt the sadness as he apologized for the pain he caused me and my brother and I gained a real appreciation for a man who over the years had become a friend to me, as well as a father.
In our short time on Rainy Lake, dad accomplished what he had wanted to do — he caught a walleye and a massive bass, he experienced sunsets in Ontario’s aptly named Sunset Country. He also met a few of my closest friends and suffered quietly as I chatted endlessly with people I ran into at grocery stores, gas stations and even just walking down the street. And he visited Minnesota, which for reasons I don’t know, was huge on his to-do list.
And thanks to an accident in the cabin when he let a burst of bear spray loose, we both learned that stuff really works.
On the way home, with his hearing aids and Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM both cranked up high, he sat in the passenger seat of his truck quietly with a grin that never left his face.
While my plan had been to stop overnight at Regina, dad gamely decided we were going non-stop back to my home in Lethbridge where he’d overnight before driving home to Calgary. He told me to put the pedal to the metal while he watched for cops and not to worry about fuel economy – which I always do being a natural born hyper-miler. In the 33 times I’ve crossed the Prairies, I’ve always pushed myself to see how far I could go on a tank of fuel. But dad wouldn’t have any of that. So we made the entire trip in one long, arduous day; at least it was arduous for me. Dad wasn’t fazed at all and was up bright and early after a few short hours of sleep, ready to attack the day again.
As the anniversary of that trip nears, I miss dad – who died just a few months later – more than ever. But I’m glad we had the chance to create cherished memories that will never be forgotten. Memories he valued until his last days.
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