BY GLEN BENISON
Copyright is held by the author.
JOSIE AND I are on our way to Banff — just as we planned.
I study the darkened, low lying clouds in the Prairie sky and hope that Alberta will be different. We need the sky to be clear, that perfect blue that stretches all the way to heaven.
Josie was born eight years before me so, as brother and sister, we didn’t bond very closely. For the longest time it didn’t even feel like I had a sister. My friends would complain about their own sisters being bossy and stupid and always teasing them. I missed out on all that with Josie.
She entered high school as I was just making my way to Kindergarten. Her partying days in college sororities were already completed before I, with all my innocence still intact, had yet to arrive in high school. She seemed more like an aunt to me and once she moved out, I didn’t miss her.
We didn’t really click until the first time we went to Banff.
Our parents escaped the troubling, sibling rivalry battles that families with children born closer together normally have to endure. I understand now, how that would’ve been a blessing for my folks. God knows they had other struggles to deal with.
Josie and I drew closer following our parents’ death. And now, Josie and I are travelling in our parents’ wide-bodied four-door Buick, coated inside and out with a thickening layer of Prairie dust. The few tall buildings in downtown Regina can still be seen lying above the flatlands, as I peer into the distance through the rearview mirror.
The cities of Moose Jaw and Swift Current still remain ahead before we can reach the Alberta border. Swarms of long-legged summer grasshoppers and six-inch-long prairie moths are expected to confront us along the way. It’ll be midnight by the time we get to Swift Current, but the plan is to keep driving right on through from there.
I muse to Josie about my research on Moose Jaw. The city was extolled as “Chicago North” during Prohibition. There were underground tunnels dug beneath some downtown buildings and those tunnels were linked to a railway line that led into Al Capone’s Chicago. The illicit booze travelled undetected through this nondescript western town. The story provides some trivia, but really I speak just to help pass the time.
I was just a young teenager when Josie got married so she was gone from home before my adolescent years had really kicked into gear. Josie’s marriage turned real sour after several years and her bad experiences could well be the reason for the huge struggles that I’ve had to endure while attempting to solidify relationships in my own life.
You just never know what mismatch you might encounter and that fear haunts me today.
Our mother thought the world of Josie’s husband, Brad, but on the other hand I sensed that Dad never took a liking to him. Some guys just have a knack for charming young women and their mothers. That was Brad.
Adult men, likely because we’re similarly sexually wired, can detect insincerity in seconds. My father was suspicious of Josie’s husband from the start. And I’ve often wondered if Mom and Dad ever spoke of their differing assessments of him.
Perhaps they should have.
Finally, we arrive in Alberta but we still have to suffer through another 300 kilometres of grass lands. It’s dark and at least that helps to obliterate the boredom of the bland, flat landscape that has drained my focus for the past eight hours.
We arrive in Drumheller’s dinosaur valley at about four in the morning and I pull in to the darkened parking lot of the Last Chance Saloon. We wait here for a couple of hours as I recuperate and rejuvenate my energy for the remainder of the journey.
When the saloon opens at six o’clock, extra large black coffee is the order of the day. And then we’re on our way.
Calgary is only an hour and a half down the highway. I’m buzzed by the caffeine fix and my vigour has also been revived by the refreshing change in the landscape. I’m driven and I jabber on constantly.
“Josie, would you look at that big, blue Alberta sky? It goes on forever, Sis. And the fresh air! Man,” I say, taking a slow, deep breath. “It passes clear into the lungs, no pollutants to be filtered.”
I know I’m talking just for my own good. Josie always was the quiet one.
I become even more excited as the Rocky Mountains come into view. We hit a deep pothole and I quickly reach for my precious cargo. The chassis of our parent’s Buick feels like it might have fallen apart but we are able to drive on.
“This is going to be amazing,” I say.
After the first time that my sister was assaulted by her husband, swinging a pipe wrench, she took refuge in a woman’s shelter. Mom and Dad felt incapable of properly protecting her, so she spent six months in that secret hideaway while her husband’s case went to trial. He was convicted of assault with a weapon and ended up spending just nine months in jail. My sister’s victim impact statement set me to tears but I guess it didn’t score with the judge.
Brad served his time in a minimum security provincial prison and upon his release, he was slapped with a restraining order. That turned out to be a useless mandate.
As we arrive in Banff, it’s clear the area has changed since Josie and I last visited many years ago with our parents. But the view down Banff Avenue ending in that mammoth mountain remains as spectacular as ever.
We get on the Sulphur Mountain gondola and ascend to the summit, sharing the cab with a family of three. Josie and I had enjoyed a fabulous family ski vacation here when we were much younger and the fear of being suspended so high above the ground grips me as hard today as it did then.
At the summit, we get off the tram. The wind is warm but it’s strong enough to remind me that we’re above most of the natural deflectors that break the air velocity down in the valley below.
We move well away from the crowd of tourists and wander off on a trail where a couple of long-horned sheep meander just off the pathway. We come to a ridge where the panoramic view of the city of Banff is overwhelming. The sun is brilliant and its radiance can be seen reflecting off the distant waters of the Bow River.
“Well, Sis, this is what we’ve come for. Look around. I don’t think there’s a more beautiful sight in the whole world. A person could stay here forever.”
I take a deep breath, willing the fresh, pure air into every cell of my body. I want to remember this moment.
“I love you, Josie.”
With the wind at our back, I quickly thrust my right arm forward, but only after first removing the seal of Josie’s urn. Her ashes splay out in a marvelous cloud and are captured by the wind that seems to be lingering just for her.
The sun shines through her ashes and I watch with tears flowing down my cheeks as my sister, sweet Josie, soars above the Rocky Mountains.