(first appeared in Canadian newspapers in 2011)
I was having a pee.
Thinking about my grandmother.
Thinking about my country.
We’d driven almost 300 kilometres through the wilderness of Northern British Columbia. That is to say, it was a long pee.
My grandmother was born in Canada in the late 1800s. In all ways she was a remarkable woman. She made the hard life of poverty and subsistence farming into a warm life of laughter, card games and home-fried doughnuts. She was a woman that I was always close to. I think I trusted her love of me more than others around me.
One summer I was staying with her in the old homestead. A barnboard shack on a gravel road. The family dreams lay like rusted dinosaurs round the property. Threshing machines that never threshed and tractors that never left a track. Big, hulks, that frightened and fascinated all the grandchildren. But inside those oddly clean sparkling windows, the light was warm. Inside the doors, the spirit was welcoming. That summer, I asked her a question. We had been studying in school the history of Canada. I had learned, with a shock, that at one time in Canada, in CANADA, women were not legally persons, that women could not vote. I had been stunned by this information.
I asked her to tell me about those days. She did. In stark detail. She said, “If you are old enough to ask the question, you are old enough to hear the answer.”
She had married lucky, she said. A comment that might have seemed at odds with the surroundings of a life without riches. Water was pumped into the sink with an old hand pump, towels were stuffed around doors for insulation. But her husband, she told me, was never a violent man. He had loved her gently and respected her unceasingly. Other woman, many women, were not lucky. Their men, abetted by the society in which they lived, treated their women with less care than the cattle in their barns.
Women of her class, she said, never thought about the vote. They thought about survival. I asked her, hushed by her tone and battered by her honesty, how she coped.
She gave an odd answer: “Canada.”
I asked her what she meant. She said that she always trusted that her country would get it right. That a young country would grow up. That one day a woman would be protected by law, not luck.
“Trust this country,” she said, “it wills to grow and change.”
It will not surprise you to know that my grandmother was the first to know of my sexuality. A woman of deep faith, she felt that the call to love me was stronger than the call to damn me. So she did. I was her gay grandson, that was that.
Once when telling her that I feared for my job, for my safety if others found out about who, and what, I was. After listening to me and consoling me, she said, “Trust Canada. Give your country time to grow. It will. It will because it wants to.”
And it did.
Years later, I am driving long distances along a highway I had travelled in my youth. In those days the rest stops were barely more than “intensely rustic.” I suddenly had to pee. We watched for a rest stop. Being a wheelchair-user now, rushing into the bushes is out of the question. I was terrified of what I’d find. Those rest stops in my memory were forbidding for those who walked. But we pulled into the stop and saw, proudly displayed, the blue wheelchair guy. I rolled easily to the door, and had the dignity of travelling in dry pants.
I trust this country.
Even when you aren’t looking.