Friday, August 12, 2016

A Dream Come True

My mother married my dad in 1943. She was true to him to her death in 2009. He was the love of her life. But in all honesty, she had another love, that she met in 1962 and then, in 1986 travelled back to see again: The Grand Canyon.

I was 5 when my family bundled into our sky blue Country Squire station wagon, and drove across the country stopping at as many national parks as we could between our home in Silver Spring, Maryland and our destination in California. My mother's excitement as we approached Grand Canyon National Park was palpable. The set up for visitors in 1962 was a little a bit different than it is now, I'm told. We bundled out of the car, tired from our journey. My mother, an amateur geologist and enthusiastic rock hound, looked off in the distance, and sighed with joy, until my brother tapped her on the shoulder and suggested she turn around. What she turned to see was the full beauty of that aptly named canyon, truly grand. It took her breath, her speech away, and she wept fro the sheer glory of it.

She spoke of its beauty the rest of her life. She and my father planned to travel back for their 40th anniversary. When he died in 1981, 2 years shy of that anticipated time, she thought this meant she'd never get back.  But returning to the Grand Canyon was a dream, one she fulfilled five years later with the help of my brother, Erico, and his wonderful wife, Heather.
Erico and Ruthe on the Rim of the Canyon

It was not the trip you might expect. My mother had Multiple Sclerosis, and at that time, was in a wheelchair, only able to walk short distances. True, she did exercises every day to help maintain strength and muscle tone, but she also needed at least one nap a day to restore her energy. What they'd planned, with the help of the park service, was quite amazing. They spent a couple of days on the surface, resting and preparing, then, with the assistance of the rangers and staff, Heather, Erico, and Ruthe joined a mule team, and rode down the canyon. Ruthe, who really had never ridden a horse, who had multiple sclerosis, and lacked leg strength and balance, who wore corrective glasses to hep combat her diplopia, got on a white mule named Miss Piggy and rode to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Ruthe and Heather Prepare for the Descent

The trip was both beautiful and breathtaking. Ruthe was placed in line immediately behind the lead guide, with Heather following her. Heather told me, when we got together after the journey, that Ruthe got so tired at times that Heather would look at her, slumped on the mule, then look to the side and see the drop off to the Canyon floor below, and wonder how long it would take her to jump off her mule and catch Ruthe as she slid off her own mount. When not calculating that, she would wonder how to tell those of us not on the trip that Ruthe had slipped off the mule and fallen to the river below. But just when Heather thought her tiny mother-in-law was about to put the calculations to the test, Ruthe would straighten, and then turn around a flash a beaming smile at Heather. 

That's my mom, beaming!
They made it to the bottom safely. I'm not entirely sure, but I do think Ruthe was airlifted out rather than riding back up. (I'm scanning family pictures now, and in the album, all the pictures on mule are in a descent, then the bottom, then taken from a helicopter.) I do seem to recall that once back up, there was another rest period, then travel to California for a mini family reunion, which javaczuk and I were able to fly out and join for a few days. 

She made it! At the Colorado river
The US National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial anniversary. All summer long, I've been enjoying social media images of the glories that one can discover in the parks part of the diverse system. But none of those images, as spectacular as they are, have made me as happy as discovering the pictures taken on that 1986 trip.

As a side note: In going through the boxes of memorabilia this summer, I found this letter to my mom from Grand Canyon National Park Lodges.

It's ok. Not her address any more...

To Ruthe, one of the highlights of her life was riding a mule down that "gorgeous hunk of rock." To me, the Grand Canyon wasn't the only thing that was grand or inspiring on that journey. 


  1. Oh wow. Just, wow! What an amazing woman your mother was! The trip of a lifetime, and I'm so glad that the people at the Grand Canyon made it possible for her. And what a wonderful personalized note!
    My cousin took Tommy and me to the Grand Canyon, and it was breath-taking! It was a cloudy, misty day, but I was still absolutely blown away (figuratively, but it was windy)!

  2. I want to get back there, too. The last time I went was in 1962. I'm due!