Coming Soon…

Shadow of My Former Self

One day when I was 19, I took a ride on a motorcycle and lost what was then the greatest part of becoming a woman. In the collision that cost my friend Mark Robinson his life, I was thrown 20 feet into the air and hit a telephone pole, shattering my pelvis and breaking both my legs. Three weeks later I survived to become what is termed by the medical community, a “hemipelvectomy.”

Shadow of My Former Self is the story of the first year after the “impact,” from the morning of the accident through hospitalizations, amputations, and artificial legs, to my return to classes at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Trying to reconstruct the wild girl who grew  Catholic in a Jewish and Italian town north of Boston, the book includes flashbacks to Revere,  Massachusetts.  I focus on body image, beauty, grief, and the attempt to recreate my shattered self.

I will be putting up chapters of the book periodically, so keep checking back to see more! This book will eventually be  in print, so this version which will take us through more than a third way through the text will become a teaser for the book in print, which is too expensive right now, but  if we are making money from Have Crutch Will Travel, others may like it enough to get this writer some money to advance my publishing business.

Poems, Prayers, Prosthetics; An Adventure

“Not many people have the misfortune, or privilege, however you feel about it, to own and operate an artificial appendage. But those of us who do, through design or default, are privy to a few “different” experiences in life that can sometimes fall into the category of humorous. Or to the more pristine soul, morbidly funny to hilarious.

For us, prosthetics is not just another dirty word, nor a dirty profession, just an expensive and tongue-tripping name for that counterfeit ‘thing’ that we strap onto our otherwise healthy bodies to take the place of that one, two or more fleshly outgrowths called limbs that we have somehow managed to lose in our lifetimes. Or temporarily misplace, if you believe the Christian Scientists that it all comes back to you.

‘Is that a sprain?’ an innocent young man asked me in Aspen one crisp winter night as I hobbled gracelessly on the ice on my crutches…”

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My Viewpoint: “Real Gimps”

From Regional Mobility Magazine, December, 1985

“We all joke around about relative levels of disability. Above-the-knee amputees (ak’s) will joke around about below-the-knee amputees: “B-ks are almost human.” But let’s face it. Sometimes even a b-k feels like a real gimp.

I once met a freestyle skier who had blown her knee out the previous season and was three-tracking during her convelescence. She liked it so much, she started to call herself handicapped…”

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CALEidoscope: “Super Gimps”

From, Regional Mobility Magazine, February, 1986

“Last month I made a distinction between the person with an athletic injury and the “real gimp’ This month’s column is a commentary on the rarest breed of gimp, the supergimp.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, gimps are humans possessing an abnormal walking style, commonly described as a limp, later bastardized to “gimp” to refer to both the gait and the person whose mobility is impaired. More recently the term has been…”

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Gimps on the Go

When I was a kid I dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent, and I did become a ski writer. But when I graduated from college I could hardly know which way to turn to become a writer. Although I had a picture above my bed with a beautiful mountain vista that said Dream Big Dreams and another slogan poster declaring Follow Your Bliss, I didn’t discover ski writing until I knew I was leaving the east coast.

In 1976 I was lucky enough to take a trip across the country with friends. We were three weekend skiers who had met on the ski slopes and whooped it up on the dance floor every chance we could. While I had just graduated from college and David from high school, Jane took a semester off her senior year for our road trip to the Handicap National Ski Championships at Alpine Meadows, California.

We were the dynamic trio: I was a clever and affable fool and Jane, a passionate, political, and intellectual wit; David was a tall, GQ-handsome, 18-year-old equestrian who laughed in delight at our every utterings and egged us both on with his appreciation of our banter.

Road trips are a special kind of travel; they are a running conversation between the car, its occupants, and the scenery. Like a melody box whose wheels wind up a road show of scenery, the images create their own rhythm: straight-ahead-asphalt, syncopated white lines and yellow, and trees race along side, always rushing, deciduous and evergreen. We rode the hills and dales, hillocks and vales, passed haystacks and tumbleweeds, forging ahead, sometimes bumping over some unfortunate “road kill.” Dead ahead were the other casualties of the road, which are more like static: dead bugs against the windshield — flies, bees, mosquitoes, butterflies — these have to be tuned out or washed away.

The weather provides whimsical background arrangements: whether it be hot sun beating down, or happy little raindrops splattering, or pelting mean rain splats battering, it creates symphonies that in the colder climes might soften with snowflakes so light your they make your windshield wipers screech. Other times the wind howled with snowstorms so ferocious you have to pull over to the side of the road, put it on pause, and wait. These melodies resounded between the flat, broad runs through valleys and rolled round the steep, winding, hairpin-turning mountain passes over the peaks of the Continental Divide.

Playing amidst the wonderful tunes of the tape deck, the vibrations of car wheels on asphalt accompanied the sounds of silence: crunching granola, cracked-open soda, and rustling bags as we reached for a drink or consulted the map. Jane and David spoke little, listening to the taped music, Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadows,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel,” Frank Zappa and his Eskimo song, “Nanook, No, No. Don’t go where the huskies go, and don’t you eat the yellow snow.”

Inside the car, I recognized the road trip melody box of passing scenery even when I wasn’t watching it, and it got my mind to turning, storing up energy for that jack-in-the-box time when — Pop! — I’d sit up and interrupt the rhythm to give my front-seat companions the commentary I’d stored up during all those miles of reading, reflection, and silent conversation with myself about this idea for a story called “Gimps on the Go,” chronicling the adventures of myself and my two amputee friends.

Every pit stop, we make history as a public sensation, I mused.
In truth, before we had even made it past the hills of western Massachusetts, we were causing the public phenomenon I coined “gimp gawking.” Jane, who’s an above-knee amputee, walked pretty well. David’s stump was longer, but he had a unique gait because the new “leg” he had recently convinced a prosthetist to make was a peg leg. Like Jane he wore a socket over his stump, but instead of a hinging knee joint attached to the molded plastic socket so the lower leg could swing through, the prosthetist created a recessed internal threading that allowed a straight piece of wood with counter threads at the top to screw into it.

So while Jane slightly limped, stiff-legged David thumped like Captain Ahab. When you add me to the mix, one leg on crutches, we were a funny-looking threesome. While we were in the car, I didn’t wear my new bulky and uncomfortable artificial leg; so when we made it to a truck stop or a local diner, the public met the fake leg, the peg, and the one-legged woman on crutches. And they stared. Some even spoke up.

“Are you a family?” one waitress asked. Said another at the same truck stop, “Now, were y’all in the same accident?” While David giggled, I usually cracked some wise remarks like, “Yes. After we parked across the street, we were hit by the same truck on our way in here.” Jane was forced to play it straight and inform the person we were three amputee skiers on our way to Colorado. But Jane always had some funny retort to add.

The irony of us being grouped as an accident when our trip was very deliberate brought an eruption of laughter from everyone involved.
“What’s it like to travel with these two?” a truck driver asked David.
“They’re not just gorgeous and intelligent,” David said walking towards the car. He turned, pointed to his head, and added, “they’re both crazy, too!”

The truck driver nodded as if to say “That’s what I thought.”

After we talked about this public sensation business, I told the front seats, “I’m going to call it gimp-gawking,”

Jane and Dave traded off the driver’s seat of Jane’s Saab; I was in a comfortable combination of horizontal reading and jack-in-the-box reporting and commentary from my position in the back seat. I might have been luggage, I was so small and compact with half a side gone — a portable passenger turned messenger each time I popped up with excitement and the need to speak. When we pulled close to a AAA trip-tik point of interest, I would sit up from my collapsed position and give the front seat the scoop. Somewhat serendipitously I acquired a coverless paperback book about ski bumming across America, which was, according to the book, a dying lifestyle.
“Listen to this! ‘Not too far from Alpine Meadows is the magnificent Heavenly Valley Resort.’ Let’s go there, too!”
“Yeah, but don’t forget. The California skiers said lodging is free at the Donner Spitz Inn,” David said, “and you can stay there past the nationals.”
The Nationals were our Destination.
“I remember reading a postcard you sent to your friend Kate at the first nationals, David.” I was referring to our first Nationals, which was an annual ongoing event. “You wrote: ‘This place is swarming with amputees.’ That cracked me up!” I’d never thought how he might refer to Jane and me, but I didn’t much like the word amputees; it reminded me of doctors.
David had a laugh that delighted and contrasted with his sometimes dry delivery. “How could I forget them? I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like staying at the top of Donner Pass with all those amputees under the same roof. At least we had different hotels in Winter Park.”
“Not everyone is staying there, just the ones who want to,” Jane said. “Do you remember at the last Nationals, those guys taking off their legs in the bar and drinking beer out of them?”
“How could they even do that?!” David said.
“Practice, that’s how.” I said. It wasn’t their first Nationals.” And we all laughed.
To put it mildly, the Nationals were a place where anything goes. Dozens of artificial legs of all sizes and colors lay discarded at the bottom of the ski lift during the day, and a party could start anywhere, anytime. While discovering the character of the quieter people was a joy for a chair lift ride, the disco dancing brought out the wilder sides of those who couldn’t express their personalities so well on the slopes. The disco was a social opportunity not to be missed, even if you just watched.
“I remember thinking that these people loved life more than anything because they knew how close they had come to losing it. Especially the vets who lost friends in Vietnam. I hated the word ‘gimp’ before I went to the nationals,” I remarked.
“I remember how conscious we were of our amputations before then,” Dave said reflectively. Dave had lost his leg to cancer, and the silence around why he lost the leg and the fact that he went into the hospital one day with two legs and came out with one was confusing to a boy of 14. He found people’s inability to talk about “The Big C” insufferable, so meeting two articulate women near his age who were willing to talk freely about lots of things, including cancer and amputations, was liberating.
Jane and I were both freshmen at UMass Amherst when we lost our legs on the same road eight months apart. Jane was in a van whose driver, deliberately swerved to scare his passengers, and managed to crash on Route 116 going south. I had been traveling north. We both came from large Irish families with tragic fathers and strong mothers. We were soul sisters; Dave was like our little brother.
“We met so many new people, but we didn’t have the freedom,” Jane said, referring to our group-sponsored and -chaperoned trip. “I remember thinking how much fun we were going to have when we had our own wheels.”
“Yeah, we couldn’t have picked a better year for a road trip!” I said, leaning forward with excitement. In April, Canada was hosting the Canadian International Games for Disabled in Banff, Alberta. We would try to go there.
“I’m just hoping we have enough money to make it to Canada. That’s in two months.” Jane said.
“Don’t worry. We have connections,” I reminded her, and we flew past a few more tumbleweeds before turning the tape deck back on.
I didn’t know it at the time, but we were forging our identities and attitudes as amputees during this long trip. The insular joking of small groups is contagious, and we were becoming comfortable calling ourselves gimps. By the end of the trip I had developed — for the story I never wrote until 2000 — a whole vocabulary of gimpolalia: gimp gawking, gimp talking, and even gimp squawking. David and Jane likewise made up their own gimp lyrics to songs and created new expressions, but I coined gimp stalking. It applied both to “devotees,” men who sought out amputee women simply because of their amputation, and to ourselves, when we related to someone and pursued them for the same reason, though with different intent. We were like evangelical Christians meeting, greeting, testifying, and, within hours, inviting people to share the story of how they lost their legs.
I remember one time in Wyoming picking up a hitchhiker, pant leg flapping in the breeze; when he got in he told us his car had broken down. We offered to take him where he wanted to go, and then asked him if he wanted to get something to eat. We usually bought food at grocery stores, but we splurged, eating out at a Denny’s, learning more about him.
“You live here and you haven’t been skiing?” we asked. “What do you do for fun?”
“Oh, I guess I’m just staying alive. Back from ’Nam. I do like to go riding around in my Corvette, smoking weed, and listening to a little music,” he said with one of those ‘can you dig it?’ nods.
We couldn’t. “Man, you have to get out there, meet some people, and get high on the mountains!” We three were interrupting each others’ ideas on where he could ski, how he could get there, explaining how easy it was. “You just gotta stand up. Gravity does the work!”
By the time we gimp zealots reached Canada, the apex of our trip, we were already designing a gimp logo with other amputees at the ski meet, working on an emblem for a tee-shirt. It was a variation of the ’70s beach blanket graphic — a suggestive set of footprints, one set above the other, two lovers facing each other. Ours showed one footprint facing two feet and read “Gimps on Top.” It debuted as unofficial memorabilia of the Canadian event. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we reached Colorado, we looked up our first connections in Boulder who took us to ski Lake Eldora, which was open even at night. How exotic! At Winter Park we met someone who knew how to get a free ski pass at Vail and Loveland, so went there and met people to stay with. What a blast! In all kinds of weather we were out there wearing ourselves out and loving it. Everywhere we went, we met one or two new handicap skiers who shared information on equipment and who might help you with free ski gear. What a small world Colorado skiing was! In Aspen we looked up a friend of David’s who gave us a place to stay and week-long tickets to ski Snowmass, which was the single greatest contribution to our improving ski technique.
In the mountains of Colorado, breathing in, it’s a special kind of breath you take above 10,000 feet, filled with blue sky and clouds and snow and converging lines and planes and notches, etched with notches for the trees. It’s all so beautiful, the infinite colors and variety of cloud shapes, the pure snow and its blue shadows, the lines and planes and curves of brown earth providing clues to old railroad tracks and hiking trails in summertime. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the view. It was at once stunning yet terrifying. The idea of getting to the bottom was daunting. Then, warrior-like aggression summoned, I broke the trance of viewing the tableau and became part of it.
When you are so totally in motion and your eyes are filled with nature’s terrible grandeur, things fall away. My mind took in new thoughts. When these Colorado mountains were first created, nature had wrought violence upon the earth. Yet it’s so peaceful now, I thought. These huge upheavals of earth were created by glaciers that cut across land mass, and now I’m cutting across with my ski. I may have one foot in the grave, but my other foot is still touching earth. I was still part of it, but I wasn’t still; I was carving a path, picking a line through the best snow in the world.
It differed from skiing back east, where the trees are all bare-brown, the hills are round, and the conditions are usually slick, hard-packed to boilerplate. I remember breathing in at the top of the chair lift in New England — where the paths seemed few, knowing how many times I’d fall down, that other people would see me down and vulnerable like that, and it would be so damn hard to pick up my body and start again. I could feel my asthma wheeze kick into my breath. It was so cold, so harsh — what about this is fun? I wondered. Where can we stop and have some food? Then there would be that point when, inevitably, because of the adrenaline it was fun. But it was never fun for long because I tired easily back then.
While we were skiing down those trails in Snowmass day after day, we were building our ski lungs and legs, breathing in constantly, being called to breathe in new life with each new effort, to exchange molecules and energy with the same atmosphere in which the mountains abide. One minute we were skiing, then, like birds of play, we were flying, held aloft, floating down the scene of mountains and trees and clouds and skis, and at the bottom we were on our knees, winded, exhausted and praying for sleep. We skied every day we could, and every day, we could see that we were getting better.
It was hard to leave Aspen and Colorado, but our ticket had run out, so we called our Utah connections — Sally, an amputee in her 30s, and her self-proclaimed “pet normie” husband Ralph (call-me-Steve) Peterson. We had met them the previous year at the Nationals.
It didn’t seem there could be anything better than Colorado snow, but Snowbird ski resort was a revelation. There we took our first tram ride. Though the trails seemed more difficult, the light snow and the wide-open Wasatch mountain range scenery enchanted us. Several days at Snowbird created a high as difficult to describe as manna from heaven is hard to imagine; the snow was so good you could eat it. Like bread rising, my chest rose with every inhalation, and I was filled with energy, new oxygen for the cells. I felt great satisfaction and a kind of spirituality. Skiing Utah was like a breathe-and-feel-good body vibration that made you smile and talk to strangers.
One day, it was warm enough at the Petersons in Roy, Utah, to sunbathe and clean the car. Steve helped us with our roof rack, gave us new skis, and spiffed up our outriggers with decals and flags. We met a whole new contingent of handicap skiers in Utah for whom Jane, David, and I were a complete novelty with our Boston accents, gimpolalia, and our outrageous stories, which we were always expanding. Sally had found friends for life and didn’t want us to leave. We stayed for a week with the Petersons.
Then we headed off to California, where the color and pageantry of the nationals contrasted with the funkiness of the old barn that had once housed snow blowers and the men who operated them overnight on Donner Pass. Doug Pringle was a Vietnam veteran who had purchased the old barn and turned it into a ski lodge called the Donner Spitz Inn. We all traded stories of how hard the wind blew through the cracks in our walls and against the ceilings of our dorm the night before. Legion were tales of alleged cannibals, the eponymous Donner Party, which started out so late in the year in 1846 that they got stranded over the winter by a snowstorm and resorted to eating one another to stay alive. At our dinner table each evening, everyone delighted in controversies, like when a BK (below-the-knee amputee) fell at the last gate and his fake leg fell off: Should officials mark him DNF (did not finish), or should he be able to keep the race time his leg turned in?
Most endearing were the on-the-road characters who, like us, were taking road trips. We met Larry the Irish Eskimo, another veteran, who would remark he needed to lie down and “check my eyelids for pinholes.” And Wally from Michigan whose peg leg was painted red and white like a barbershop pole. Wild Bill was a tall BK who wore suede lederhosen over his leg, which he decorated colorfully laminating a design into the plastic shin.
The 6-foot-plus tall veteran was 19 and a helicopter pilot when he lost his leg below the knee in Vietnam. He was called Wild Bill, not just for his appearance and distinct skiing style, but for his generally unconventional personality. Lifting his arms wide then dropping them, he swooped like an eagle when he came into a turn. He told me he spoke Russian, and I believed him, as it fit with his aesthetic sensibilities. He was a lover of classical music and played his favorite music for race day on an innovative audio headset of his own design. Wired into an 8-track tape-deck pack on his back and bulky earphones, he took off out of the start gates, listening, he told me, to “The 1812 Overture.” While I watched him fly down the course, in my mind’s ear I could hear the fireworks version played by the Boston Pops Orchestra on the Fourth of July, the one with the real cannons firing. One year several of us on the chair lift watched him miss a gate in a downhill event during blinding white-out conditions; he sailed gracefully as a bird over a building-size boulder at trail’s edge and landed unhurt. However, they did cancel the downhill that year. The Children’s Hospital amputee group was made up of sound minds who I’m sure prevailed because they had been invited to stay for free at the Donner Spitz Inn, but opted for different quarters once their chaperones saw the loose arrangements.
Constant was the sound of hairdryers as different people patched with fiberglass their plastic prostheses broken by a good day of skiing. Everyone admired Al Hayes, a double AK (above-the-knee amputee) Vietnam Vet and a handsome New York rehab physiatrist. Although shorter legs yielded a lower center of gravity and control, Al chose to tower and wobble rather than give up his former six-foot height for a shorter pair of legs. He even wore Cuban heels. What a guy!
In California our trip became long and strange. We ran out of money, had nothing left from our food stores but potato chips and Ragu for dipping. We got lost looking for a legendary rehab hospital, Rancho Los Amigos. We became depressed and tired, and we each had to have money wired. Because we had met some people at the Nationals from San Francisco, we then drove to San Francisco to meet up, staying with some motorcycle enthusiasts and making tapes for our further travels. We needed to spend enough time there so that we could end up in Canada in April. But soon we were itching to ski, so we called the Petersons — again.
“You crazy gimps are invited to attend the U.S. Ski Team fundraiser,” Steve told us over the phone. “We’ll have your credentials waiting for you in Park City.” Out came the map, and we doubled back to Utah to attend the Jill St. John Paul Masson Celebrity Ski Meet. I remember feeling like we had arrived in the Emerald City, the merry old Land of Oz, and free food for the whole week. We who’d slept in cars and trailers and eaten chips for dinner were now put up in posh Park City condos with pools, Jacuzzis, saunas, and a liter of Paul Masson wine on each of our beds. The final night is still part of my dreams.
Lowell Thomas was the keynote speaker. I remember him quipping that older people weren’t forgetful, they just had more to remember; it was a twist on things that appealed to me. Kind of like Hal O’Leary’s point that all skiers are handicapped by the size of their feet, so we use skis to lengthen them, outriggers to stabilize.
We joined the Utah gimps and represented the handicap skier community at tables with the U.S. Ski Team. I watched the U.S. skier Andy Mills flirt with one of the stars of the hit movie Nashville, the newly famous country singer Ronnie Blakely, whom we had listened to in the car on tape; Jane, David and I sang along with her, “American Beauty. You’ve got me blushing like a ro-oh-ose.” After Lowell Thomas spoke, and we all ate our surf-n-turf, they cleared out the chairs, and the party rolled onto the wood floors of what must have been a big ballroom.
I remember feeling as naturally high as the chandeliers, dancing on one leg as smoothly as if I had two. I moved around in my mind in what seems now impossible ways, dreaming Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Looking back like this I wonder if I was as smooth as I imagined, but I felt so proud of my balance and strength, my skiing groove was blending with my accomplished dance style. I was tired of watching other people party and flirt. “I am not a spectator,” I remember thinking. Around the same time I had a grandiose exchange with Ronnie Blakely, who was one of the few other people left at the end of the night. David spoke to her first when the five of us were at a table watching the few other people dance. “I just wanted to tell you,” he said. “We love your album ‘American Beauty.’ We’ve been listening to it nonstop on our way cross country.”
She was a star-studded beauty, for sure, and she gushed with a southern accent. “Everybody’s been so great,” she said. “Everyone’s been complimenting me. You have no idea what it feels like to have so many admirers!”
“Oh, but we do,” I said, disabusing her of her misperception of us.
At that point in April, Utah skiing became more like water skiing at the lower-elevation ski areas. We needed to go north, so we went to Jackson Hole to visit Charlene Rawls, our Wyoming connection.
We were running on frayed nerves because Jane and David had driven all day, and I had my usual phantom pain attack from sitting too long, but we didn’t want to spend our money on lodging. We tried to contact Charlene, who had told us to go to any bar in town and ask for her.
Hundreds of antlers piled in one spot in the town square gave us a clue where to find the Cowboy Bar, where all the barstools were horse saddles. We had no money to buy a beer at the Cowboy Bar, but we did get treated to a few shots called kamikazes. Every waitress or waiter in town seemed to be a friend of Charlene’s, who’d lost her leg below the knee and was quite the downhill racer, but few knew where she lived. We stayed in a hotel the first night out of desperation. We found her the next day. The next night I slept in the car in 20 below zero cold because I was allergic to the cat in Charlene Rawls’ teeny tiny mobile home just outside the Jackson Hole resort.
At the last edge of its grid, the town of Jackson Hole even had a little ski area, the Snow King. At the Snow King Resort, we were invited to ski for free by the manager who was also a gimp, due to polio. I remember feeling so competent I chose to ski over a jumping style bump, wiped out on my outriggers; a black and blue on my left breast developed into a healthy rainbow of colors that lasted over the rest of the trip to remind me I wasn’t that good a skier yet. In Jackson we could feel the excitement of the cowboy who had ridden long and hard and found a rest stop, a watering hole. Even though we couldn’t afford a place to stay, the gorgeous Tetons, the Snake River, the galloping beat of country western rhythm and blues played on electric guitar roused our spirits.
But neither the five fabulous days in Utah nor our reprieve in Jackson Hole was anything compared to our last stop on the amputee ski bum line: Alberta, Canada (Author’s Note: Actual date for Celebrity Ski Meet in Park City, Utah was after Canadian International Ski Meet in Banff, Alberta, Canada).
The Canadian International Games were hosted by the Canadian government, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, and the Banff Springs Hotel. A room at the hotel cost a handicap skier only $10 a night, we were told, and with our replenished funds we had budgeted for it.
As we drove through the resort town with its boardwalks and shops, asking directions to the Banff Springs Hotel, none of us knew what to expect. As we approached, the hotel seemed to rise like a castle through the mists. Hewn of granite from the surrounding mountains, it was topped with turrets and cupolas above balconies of many different sizes and shapes. A river appeared to be winding through it. The snow on the trees reminded me of an embroidered tapestry. We returned to the Canadian event for several years, so my memories seem to drift into each other regarding the inside of the Banff Springs Hotel, though I remember the Japanese skiers the first year because of the second year’s surprise.
Inside were large function rooms, rooms of state, halls where each night a different event was planned to welcome all countries to share information in symposia aimed at understanding not only disability but different cultures. Skiers from France, Germany, and England joined the North Americans, and there was a Japanese delegation. The different exhibits hinted at a disability culture so varied that any able-bodied visitor would be enriched by the vision of what individuals with disabilities had always seen for themselves: life on the go, with unique problems, rife with creative solutions, visions, and technologies. To a young mind it was a vision of hope and a society of inclusion. I felt inspired to be an ambassador, learning to say hello in different languages and resorting to pantomime when the person encountered assumed I could converse beyond that.
At the formal occasions, we greeted old friends and met new ones. Many of the U.S. veterans came, although in Banff, the toll taken by the Vietnam War wasn’t as apparent; here the young men our age were amputees from disease or injury, like us.
Before one of the parties, Wild Bill sought out Jane and me to sew on a button for him. We were going to a western style Hoe-Down, and he looked like he was of another age, wearing a ruffled white Edwardian shirt with a velvet suit and knee-length britches, a velvet-flowered cover for his plastic leg.
Mornings, we drove a winding road along brooks, streams, rivers — mountain goats staring serenely from rock ledges — to the bottom of the mountain resort, Sunshine Village. There, the activity wasn’t about competition as much as recreation, exchange, and education. Thus I found myself on the hill one morning in a clinic where for more than an hour we were initiated into the mystery of the sport. How many times had I heard, “It’s all in the knee”? This teacher had another angle.
“It’s all in the ankle and the ski.” They taught us how to control our ski with our ankle and boot. I hadn’t taken a ski lesson since we left New England. “Feel your shins at the front of your boot. Feel your ankle, how if you roll the ankle into the hill you can feel the edge of your ski bite into the snow; now roll your ankle in the other direction, feel that slide.” What sacred words did he use, what incantation isolated my ankle and animated my ski into the direction of the hill? It was trance-like. I was ready, and I got it. I was learning to ski my ski because I was suddenly strong enough and confident enough in my body to pay attention. I rejoiced in this knowledge, and in Banff I made a promise to myself to always stay physically strong and healthy.
In the afternoons we socialized at a warming house after skiing. I discovered how much more easily you could stand in one place and pivot with your ski boot on, and Jane and I were dancing like that hooting and hollering. “Whoo-hoo-hoo,” I said to get David to join us. It worked, so I gave my banshee cry, a universal language to the international roomful of monoped wallflowers, daring them to join us. I felt lit up, on fire.
I remember one day taking the lift up to a half-glacier mountaintop, bald of trees. The Canadian Matterhorn was at eye level; I was feeling on top of the world. I was at tundra elevation, mountaintops like church spires surrounding me. No one I knew was anywhere around. A deep revelation came to me, a feeling of awe and gratitude I had never known or felt before. The feeling was reverent and eternal. I would never have been here, known this moment of bliss, this world of good people if I hadn’t gone through the hell of my accident and its aftermath.
Suddenly I knew I was going to be all right. I was going to have a good life. Life is good. Thank you, God. Thanks for my life. With wings on my arms, my ski under me grooving with my spirit, I steered my foot toward the glade of trees below and, whooping and hollering, I sang and praised God. For the first time, I chose to take not the fastest route but the long meandering way down, skiing between the trees toward the bottom.
There I exchanged outriggers for crutches and hurried to join everyone at the warming house. One of the Japanese skiers was walking toward me, and I racked my brain for the right greeting. Was it “Conichiwa”? Or was it “Ohio?” Not sure, but smiling at him anyway, I was surprised when he greeted me first.
“Whoo-hoo-hoo!” he hollered. As he ran past me with a huge smile, I doubled over in laughter recognizing my banshee cry.
When we returned from Banff, our melody box stopped at the Massachusetts state line, where we popped a bottle of champagne and toasted our safe return and the newly bonded gimp friendship we had formed.
The next year I returned to Banff, this time with my boyfriend Scott. The first day when we entered the elevator at the Banff Springs I was pleased to see there was again a Japanese contingent. Several Japanese people in the elevator seemed to recognize me, and I was puzzled when one turned to me and said, “Ah, Cale san. Number-one Japanese movie star.” I laughed, and when two of the people got off the elevator, another turned to me and said, “Did you know that was the Prince of Japan in the elevator with you?”
The mystery was solved two evenings later when the Japanese premiered their movie of 1976, and there was David on celluloid showing the Japanese how he took off his peg and screwed it back on again. There Jane and I were on the dance floor. And in many other places, there was I, Cale-san Number One Japanese movie star, whooping and hollering and generally hamming it up, having the time of my life.

Back to excerpts from “Have Crutch Will Travel”

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