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Mum meets Confederation Bridge on first trip to P.E.I. in 50 years


When moving a VIP around there is a lot to consider. How will rendezvous arrangements work out? What route, long or short, will be taken and what about alternatives? Will there be stops for food, fellowship and fun along the way?

Is there a concern for security, the list goes on and on. What vehicle will be used. Will it be Air Force One? An aircraft carrier or an armoured car? No matter what, the transport vehicle will require a degree of comfort because most VIPs don’t want to spend their transit time in a cramped, noisy uncomfortable ride.

Earlier this summer I drove a VIP from Halifax to Crapaud, P.E.I. She hadn’t been to the Island in almost 50 years so this was the first time she had seen or driven across Confederation Bridge, the long-awaited fixed link from the tranquil island to the rest of the world, that opened on May 31, 1997.

When making arrangements to pick her up, I recalled her comment about how little she had seen on the way over because the car we were in was too low to see over the sides of the 12.9-kilometre, multi-span, box-girder concrete bridge.

I figured the solution for the return trip was to elevate her seat. The seating fix came with my test vehicle that week, a 2019 Ford Expedition that sits high on an F-150 chassis. By raising the power front passenger’s seat, my lifelong VIP, 92-year-old mother Edith, would have a commanding view of the Northumberland Strait as we ‘drove’ across the water between the land of Anne of Green Gables and mainland Canada.

Edith and Lee Sowerby, Garry’s parent’s, ready for a road trip in Lee’s 1947 Chevrolet.
Edith and Lee Sowerby, Garry’s parent’s, ready for a road trip in Lee’s 1947 Chevrolet.

I picked Edith up in Crapaud right on time and she strapped into the passenger seat and elevated it as high as it would go. I had brought a few movies she might want to watch in the back seat. She had two screens to choose from but wanted nothing of movies when she could sit tall in the front seat for the drive back to Halifax.

Confederation Bridge makes getting to P.E.I. and back a no-brainier. At $47.75 for a return trip, it’s a deal compared to the $79.00 return ticket on the ferry from Wood Islands to Caribou, N.S., and so much more convenient. No line ups, just drive on and keep on driving until you reach the red beaches of Borden, P.E.I.

Once in a long while, high winds restrict traffic or even close the bridge, but in general, travellers cross between Canada’s smallest province and the mainland whenever they want, day or night.

After the ride across the Bridge, my VIP and I talked cars and driving. I told her the road we were on, between Cape Tormentine and Moncton, N.B., was the first on which I had ever driven a car. I was only 15 but Dad let me pilot our 1964 Mercury Montclair all the way, about 100 kilometres. I was exhausted when we got there.

“There are lots of potholes on these roads and you need to see them, but don’t forget to look beyond them,” he advised. “Life is like that, too.”

During those years, the driving in our house was done by Dad in most cases. Mum rarely took the wheel and when she did it was a quiet affair because our talking distracted her. But she talked her way around town, lips pursed, and wore a facial expression that seemed on the verge of breaking into fits of laughter any second.

There was an onboard feeling that good ol’ mum was not really in her element wheeling those big Buicks around Moncton.

Edith Sowerby got her driver’s licence in 1947 when she was 20. There was no driving test, she just asked a Moncton policeman what was required to get a driver’s licence. He had seen her driving around town so that was good enough. Two days later she got her licence without a written or driving test.

In the 1940s, learning how to change a tire was high on the list of chores for a newly licensed driver.
In the 1940s, learning how to change a tire was high on the list of chores for a newly licensed driver.

 

It was a driver’s licence she held on to for more than 70 years without one infraction. The only accident was minor when she backed into a car at the grocery store. She drove home and somehow blamed my father and sent him back to sort it out.

When Mum drove, she never really knew where to go. In those days, there were no navigation systems or convenience features in most cars. Beyond an engine and four wheels with drum brakes, it was windshield wipers, lights, a heater and perhaps an AM radio. That’s it.

The drive back to Halifax with my favourite passenger was a chatty affair.

There were no naps or reading for Mum and we never turned the entertainment system on. She took in the landscape from the cranked-up passenger seat of the big Expedition and we talked about everything.

My mother admitted the reason she always wanted the windows up during our summer road trips may have had something to do with keeping her 1950’s beehive hair-do intact.

She confessed she didn’t like driving and was a horrible at it: “I would have to remind myself I was driving. If I drove downtown to work or shop I would spend my whole time worrying about driving home.”

But, like that day in the big Expedition, mother Edith always was and still is a lively, entertaining and loving passenger.

Follow Garry on Instagram: @garrysowerby

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