The Resurrection of a Memory

An old black and white picture of the 3 story 1958 Alberta Children's Hospital with a nurse taking a young child on crutches for an outside walk
Alberta Children’s Hospital (1958)

Growing up in the Children’s Hospital you really have little control over your day to day life. You learn quickly two things, routine is very structured and your activities are very planned. I knew everyday that a nurse would be there at 8am, noon, 4:30pm and again around 9pm to check temperatures, blood pressure, heart rate etc. Standard medical stuff. I knew after physio at 8:30am you headed straight for your classroom. I knew every Monday night was arts and crafts night, that Thursday evening was scouts or cubs. That every Friday the Kinsman would be bringing in the projector and large canister of film for movie night. That’s the way it was and it got buried in the developing memory banks. There was no time for spontaneity or schedule readjustments. You also learnt early that when the schedule became disrupted it usually meant someone had died and the nurses had kicked into crisis management mode. Again those were the memories of my youth but the exact details are tucked away in some memory vault.

Memories never leave, they may obscure with time but they are held onto in our personal storage vault known as our brain. No matter how many times you “defrag” that storage unit those memories will always be there somewhere. I think of that often when I watch the movie “Dreamcatcher” with shots of Damien Lewis moving his memories around from filing cabinet to filing cabinet. I often think of our mind like that. Sometimes an activity, the odour of a favourite food or even a song will bring something to the surface at the oddest times and you have no idea where it came from.

I do know by the time I had aged out of the Children’s I had made a conscious decision that nobody would ever have that level of control over me again, that anything affecting my life was my decision. It was kind of like so many people deciding they “would not” parent like their parents had raised them. So at fifteen I began a life that was the complete opposite of what the hospital had been, unstructured, spontaneous and without much purpose. It was also a life style that didn’t thrill my parents and having spend so much time in hospital they were really at a lost as to how to control me. I took care of that and left Calgary. It became my generation of rebellion which coalesce very nicely with the hippie, anti-Vietnam generation of self discovery and activism.

By sixteen I was living on the streets of Vancouver and Calgary had become a place of memories. That went on for twelve years and took me across Canada, often leaving wherever I was on a whim with no thought of planning or routine. It was 12 years of hedonistic spontaneity and I am amazed to this day that I ever made it as far as I have. I had jobs, I worked at a variety of of careers I wasn’t suppose to have (based on those around me).

I took some time for post secondary education but even that was more about bridge and student activism. However eventually everything catches up with you and as I approached my mid 20’s I began to realize that this idea of being dead by the time I was 30 wasn’t going to happen. It had become obvious that I had a lot of life left in me and if I was going to maximize it I would have to start making some serious change. I was pretty smart but I lacked the wisdom required to make the best of those smarts and so I entered the next phase of my life which was also spontaneous.

The other night I woke up around at 3am in the morning due, I thought, to some idiot breathing to hard and simpering in the bed next to me.  It took me a minute to fully wake up which is about the time the realization that I live alone and there was no bed next to me.  Dreams can be so realistic.  Anyway I managed to get back to sleep.  As I was drifting back to sleep I was having flashes of memories of waking up at 3am in Toronto.  That was the night I decided to head back to Calgary. That was 1976.

Not really being known at that time as a person that put a lot of thought and planning into my activities I was on the 401 by 5:30am thanks to two tabs of acid.  Those were my Toronto cab driving days, one of the best jobs I ever had. The variety of customers, the level of bizarre behaviour one saw from passengers and the ability to be spontaneous just worked for me. However I had recently slipped in my bathroom, catching my right foot under a really neat “claw-foot bathtub” resulting in a broken right foot, my driving leg.  I wound up with a cast on and, since it was my driving foot, I wasn’t able to work.

Almost four weeks of pure boredom and an evening of heavy drug use at the home of some friends helped me make the decision to head back west.  I was hanging with some pretty crazy people at the time, not uncommon in that phase of my development. Since leaving Calgary I had a habit of gravitating to certain community demographic that I have since outgrown but definitely prepared me for life later on. A fifteen year career in psychiatry once I got back to Calgary will attest to that. I headed home but it was 3 in the morning and I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep.  I happen to have two hits of acid, an 8 ball of blow so I figured pharmaceutically I was ready to hit the road and got ready to hit the road.

A picture of me wearing a white sweater and standing on my crutches
Playing in the woods

These were days long before I was using a wheelchair so with my crutches getting around was no issue.  Carrying luggage however was a different matter.  I had a suitcase and a backpack, I travelled very lightly back then, material items meant little. I just had to find a way to make the suitcase work and stuff my sleeping bag with a few other essentials into my backpack. So I popped the two tabs of acid and started to look for creativity. This involved using the wheels from a pair of roller skates and a roll of masking tape to create my first “wheeled” suitcase.  I took a macrame plant hanger off the plant, looped it threw the handle of the suitcase and then through one of my belt-loops to help pull the suitcase behind me. By 5am I was ready to hit the road.  

This was a period before much technology, there were no cell phones. I called the taxi dispatch office that I was working for to have them get a message to a buddy of mine.  This was the time he would be heading for one of the regular contract call that always came in at 6am (night drivers had some planning) so I knew he would be dead-heading it to the airport and figured he could get me to the highway on his way, which he did.  That was about the only personal goodbye I gave as he dropped me off.  I hopped a few highway dividers, dragging my suitcase on the roller skate wheels and my backpack.

I was on the 401 with my thumb up by 5:45 hoping I would be ahead of the morning rush hour of commuters heading to work.  Didn’t take long for a trucker to pick me up and we were off.  It was no problem back in those days to lift myself up into the cab of an 18 wheeler.  Using the grab bar and giving a quick swing and I was nine feet in the air getting into the passengers seat. So we’re on the road chatting away for a good ten minutes before he asks me where I’m heading.  I told him Calgary. He looked at me, said “you know you’re on the 401 and I’m heading for Detroit”.  Now this was one of those moments where attention to details would have come in handy but since the highway sign had said “401” I took the “1” to mean TransCanada. Having no desire to go through the States I opted to change vehicles. He pointed me in the direction of the 400 and with a big smile (people were very friendly back then) he stopped the truck for me to get out. Oh well…after hopping four different highway barrier fences and playing “Froggy” with traffic I managed to get to the highway I needed.

By 10am (acid wearing off) I’m on the right road heading in the right direction.  It took me the better part of that day (12 rides) to get to a town, Iron Bridge, where I figured I’d bunk down for the night.  It was 7pm but I had had a long 24 hours. Well by now, with certain scenes from “Easy Rider” thoughts going through my mind I began looking for what I thought would be a safe place to spread out my sleeping bag and not have to worry about a bunch of local rednecks coming by in the middle of the night to wail on me with baseball bats.  The attached picture will give you an idea of why I was worried about that Easy Rider moment, I was wearing that outfit. The only thing that would have been more inviting to a good beating was wearing my Martin Luther King Jr t-shirt.

Bare chested picture of me sitting on a tree stump adorned with a Janis Joplin type leather vest, lots of leather tassels with beads,
Hitchhiking back to Calgary 1976

I finally settled for a spot under the bridge heading out of town and settled in for a restless night. I was also starving but didn’t want to attract any attention from the locals (in hindsight probably all good people) dragging a make shift suitcase and backpack. I semi-slept under the bridge and was quite pleased to be back on the highway (unbruised) by 7am.  I got very lucky. The first guy that picked me up was heading for Vancouver or “as far as this car will get me, there’s cold beer in the cooler in the back seat if you’re interested”.  He had picked the car up in Hamilton for $25 so it was anybodies call as to how far we would get.  We split the driving (and the coke, the 8 ball got us all the way to Calgary without having to stop for sleep). We did stop on the fringe of Winnipeg restocked the beer cooler. The car lasted and two days from Iron Bridge I arrived at my parents place in Dalhousie around 2pm.  Little did I know they would be away on holidays so I had to find a way to break in without having to break anything.  It had been three years since I was last in Calgary and Dalhousie didn’t even exist then, none of the neighbours knew me but here’s this crazy looking guy on crutches trying to break in through a bathroom window in the middle of the day and not a word was said. So much for neighbourhood watch.

I spend the next three hours in the bathtub with wire cutters, a chisel and hammer and went to work removing that cast.  So in August of 76 I got back to Calgary. Why a dream in 2020 would wake me up and drag out that memory is beyond me but here I am. Happy Monday…

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