Friday, December 4, 2015

Recollections of my history with Sunday School and other matters circa late 1970s

    I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on January 2,1936. The warnings of my arrival had interrupted the New Year's gathering at my grandmother Lamb's. My mother had to leave her turkey dinner to go to the Vancouver General Hospital. By the time I was born my father was back at work on the graveyard shift at Eburne Sawmills, at the foot of Boundary Road on the North Arm of the Fraser and he paid his first visit to me at the end of the shift, riding into the city centre on a fixed wheel racing bike. He pedalled something like ten miles in twenty minutes.
    My parents had been married in the Joyce Road Baptist church, in the Kingsway district, where both my father's parents and my mother's widowed mother were regular members of the congregation, so I was not baptized, but offered to God in a ceremony of dedication. This took place, I have been told, when I was about two. (ed. note: on the certificate the date was April 8, 1936, a piece of paper not in the authors possession at that time)
    By the time I was old enough to go to Sunday school my father joined the army. My mother and I lived with my Nana, as I called her, and it was she who took me to Sunday school and taught me my bedtime prayers.
    In the Baptist Sunday school, when I was five or six, I had a vision of Christ, Who told me that He was not only the strongest being in existence, bu also the most gentle. Our primary class was singing "Jesus Loves Me" at the time, and the Lord appeared in the white robe and character of the traditional teaching Messiah. His words were spoken to my understanding rather than my ears. If I remember correctly my father had gone to England by this time and I understood that Christ was telling me that He was filling his place. I took the vision for granted and told no one about it, and in fact I think I forgot about it until just a few years ago, although, as John of the Cross teaches, the experience left a permanent effect.
    I had been sent to a private kindergarten before I was three, for a few months, and in 1941 I was enrolled at Carleton School, at Kingsway and Joyce Road, just across the road from the movie theatre. From the beginning I seem to have found learning interesting and usually not too difficult. I liked school, although I often lived in fear of bullying in the younger years, realizing that I could read, part way through grade one, was perhaps my earliest intellectual thrill. That I could read the funny papers on my own was no less exciting than any natural event that had ever happened to me.
    In 1942, because of the Japanese scare, my mother and I started to move around the country. By April we were living on a small farm in the North Okanagan, just out of Falkland. That was not very satisfactory and by May we had moved into Falkland itself. When school was over my mother sent me back to my Nana for the summer. I was glad to see her and old friends of course, but I had also my life-long affection for the country-side and small towns and felt as if I had lived half a life-time of adventure.
    In the fall my father came back from overseas, an officer and instructor in anti-aircraft gunnery. We remained in Vancouver until February, at which time we moved to Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, for there was an anti-aircraft site at the mouth of the entrance to Halifax.
    I was already a constant reader, and about to discover fairy tales, but I had ceased to become a constant Sunday school student. I distinctly remember, the winter I became eight, failing utterly to comprehend an afternoon lecture on the Trinity. We were three boys, sent off to a little Anglican gentleman. The afternoon was snowy, the bus-ride was a nuisance, the room was dark and cheerless, and I was no longer a stranger to sin.
    In the spring of 1944 my father was transferred to Point Petrie, on Lake Ontario. I lived the summer and fall in the farming town of Cherry Valley, a kind of Garden of Eden for small boys, and in November as my parents had moved again, I was enrolled in Albert College in Belleville, Ontario. The elementary schoolroom at the college was a wonderful supply of children's books. There was also a swimming pool that we used every night for an hour and a chapel we used every morning for twenty minutes or so. At Albert College I became an actor, taking the small boy lead in a Christmas play, and I was also punished along with a number of others, for shoplifting. The headmaster, over the shoplifting incident, I have always recalled as a type of Christian wisdom.
    But the college was too expensive, as it turned out, and in January, 1945, I caught the train once again, this time for Springfield, to live on a mixed farm with Uncle Frank who was actually a third cousin as old as my grandfather, just as kindly, and, with his wife, just as fond of church-going. I was once again taken to God's house, and one Sunday evening, as a result of knowing lots of answers to the questions the minister was throwing out for general response, was predicted to have a great ecclesiastical future.
    In May, as the war in Europe was dying, my father was transferred back to the West. My mother picked me up and we caught the train for Vernon, arriving at the height of the V-E celebration. I changed schools again and my mother got tougher about Sunday school, although the boy I lived beside was a willing and experienced partner in shoplifting and other minor banditries. I spent the summer on my native coast, with both sets of grandparents. And again there was Sunday school, and now church, but there was also an old sea-dog, schooner captain, and Arctic trader that my Nana had married. I went back to Vernon in the fall, and my father, now living with us regularly, put an end to the shoplifting.
    In October, just after the Okanagan pheasant season was over, and the salmon were spawning and dying in the coastal rivers, we moved back to the coast. My father had a few more months of duty to finish, as a defense counsel for soldiers charged with various military crimes. We moved into the huge upstairs of the house where my father had grown up and lived there until March. Again, there was Sunday school, and I discovered Zane Grey.

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