Bernie’s Legacy

Editor’s Note: Instead of simply offering an article on how to make your facility accessible to all populations, we decided to provide this first-person narrative on how important these features are to the people who use them. If you’ve ever struggled with meeting the sometimes confusing ADA requirements and pulled your hair out trying to figure out how to be accessible and in budget, this story might help to keep you charging forward, secure in the knowledge that the service you’re trying to provide is, to the right person, more valuable than gold. Enjoy!

“Are you insane?” was our friend’s standard response when we would load up for yet another camping adventure.

“Quite possibly” was my standard reply.

“Do you know what could happen to you? There are people out there who might steal from you, take advantage of your (husband’s) disability, or worse. Bernie can’t protect you or himself.”

Aha–a whole scenario of “what ifs.”

But there is another side to that coin. What if I hadn’t taken the chance while Bernard was still able to get around with a cane, then walker, then wheelchair, and finally an electric wheelchair and lift to get us out to experience what he really loved? Our life together would have been shallow and cardboard-tasting if we stayed home watching television.

One of our great loves was the outdoors. We were determined to live as fully as possible for as long as Bernie was alive. Sure, his steady decline as a result of multiple sclerosis at66 was in the back of our minds, but the “what ifs” of the disease made other worldly concerns inconsequential.

So there you have it. Bernard Mulville, my late husband, was an architect who had the same reverence for Nature as his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. He fondly reminisced about his time as an apprentice at Taliesin West, where he lived in a shepherd tent while completing his studies.

To not experience life was not an option.

Howling At Squirrels

One of the things I did early on was to purchase a Honda CRV, a small four-wheel-drive vehicle. It held all the equipment we needed for our excursions, and later, as Bernard’s condition worsened, it gave us access to more remote, private campgrounds.

The first time we heeded the call of Nature, our dear friend John Nelson accompanied us–driving and assisting with “men’s room issues.” John helped lift Bernard out of the car, position his walker, help set up the tent, and was on call for general campsite duties (fire-building and compassionate listening).

For our trial run, we stayed at Hannagan’s Meadow Campground in Alpine, Ariz., located in the east central portion of the state. It is an amazing area in the heart of the White Mountains. The beauty is startling in its evergreens and quaking aspens. I’d never seen the latter. The air was so fresh (at 9,100-feet elevation), I gulped it in–a much needed respite from the air pollution of our hometown of El Paso/Juarez, Texas.

The wonder of it was that we had come from the desert, just a few miles away, where it was 102 degrees (mid-July), and at the campground we could see our breath at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Daisies covered the meadow, thousands of them, and we heard wolves howling at night. (We missed the sign telling us we were a quarter of a mile from a wolf recovery area.) The first morning, Bernard peered out of the tent and was promptly bonked on the head with a fresh, green pine cone, compliments of the resident squirrel.

We were happy to be there, even though accessibility wasn’t the greatest–no sidewalks to the facility or from parking to picnic tables to tent site, but we did not expect there to be. We did the best we could with what we had, and paving would have upset the aesthetics of the area. Luckily, the restroom was accessible.

Bernard was still able to walk 40 to 50 feet with use of a cane, which was sufficient. John’s arm or my shoulder was ever at the ready for extra balance.

Zonin’ In Zona

Our next adventure was to take off and tour some of the Arizona sites that had meant so much to Bernard during his growing-up years. Our first stop was Canyon de Chelly National Monument near Chinle, Ariz. (northeastern edge of the state). This is an area where the Navajos are still living.

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