(This autobiography is in the process of being rewritten and updated. The original was written about 25 years ago and since then there have been significant changes in my perspective and new insights into such things as unconditional relating that need to be included)
Chapter One: Growing Up Religious
Dad walked over and stood beside the white enamel stove capped with a black iron top. He then called for our attention. My three sisters and me stopped our playing and stood quietly in the center of the kitchen looking toward Dad. The split wood burning in the stove cracked and popped, releasing sweet pine smoke which drafted into the black uptake pipe that exited the back of the stove and ran up through the ceiling.
“You see this”, Dad said firmly, bringing his finger to within an inch of the hot black stovetop. “The same way your finger burns when you touch this, so your whole body will burn in hell”. He spoke with the threatening rise and fall intonation of “I’m warning you” statements.
It was 1953 and I was only three years old, but the lesson burned vividly into my imagination and memory. It was my earliest remembered introduction to the beliefs and culture of Fundamentalist religion. In fact, it was the earliest conscious memory I had as a little human being.
I have heard people say that they cannot remember anything before about 6 years of age. That is probably true for many people and for most of our early experiences. But some experiences are so graphic and traumatizing that they become life-defining or even personality-forming experiences. They are hardwired into our brains and profoundly shape the way we view life.
My fiery introduction to hell would define my understanding of God and the spiritual for the first 25 years of my life. That great balls of fire experience was the beginning of a fear-ridden relationship with the harsh, punishing God of Christianity.
Dad said God was constantly watching you, he knew everything about you, forgot nothing, forgave nothing, and would get you for everything. In the end, if you did not repent and get to church, you would be tossed into the big roast pit. Owweeee.
Out of a sense of fairness, I acknowledge that there were also genuine expressions of love and mercy in the Christian communities that I was part of. But too often the kinder and gentler qualities were disfigured or rendered something less than human by the harsher elements of anger, threat, domination, and punishment.
In my early twenties, I would go to the very heart of Evangelical Christianity while training to become a missionary and find the same distortion of humanity that Christianity condemns in other Fundamentalist religions such as Islam. Religion distorts humanity because it distorts people’s expression of their authentic human impulses. It pushes them to focus on something outside of the human, something above humanity- God. In religion people are taught to serve God, to be loyal to God, to worship God, and to put God first. This is one of the central defects of religion because putting something else before people too often results in the neglect or abuse of real people. Look across the world and you will see endless examples of this, of people being neglected or mistreated because of someone trying to put God first, whether some command of God, or trying to obey the will of God, before being merciful and loving to a fellow human being. Consequently, out of their devotion and loyalty to God people are hurting, mistreating, and in the most extreme cases even killing one another. Remember, Mohammed Atta flew a plane into the World Trade Center out of his loyalty and devotion to his God.
From the beginning I never felt comfortable or at home in Christianity. In fact, I more often felt like a fraud or an outsider to the religion and this was reinforced by Christianity claiming that it represented “truth” while anyone who disagreed with its conditions represented “falsehood”. So Christianity never quite worked for me. It never felt natural. I felt more comfortable in normal human existence outside of religion.
Later in life I would make the liberating discovery that the reality we call God has nothing to do with religion of any kind. I would discover that God was a truly human reality, nonreligious and non-institutional, an everyday reality present in every human person. There was no God up above or out there separate from humanity. And this very ordinary and mundane reality was endlessly forgiving, scandalously accepting, and tolerant. It was the polar opposite of the Christian God, almost an anti-God to Christianity’s God. But it would be a long and difficult journey to that discovery. I would also discover that the ultimate reality that humanity has long referred to as God has only one “law” to obey and that is to love the other person. If this requires the neglect of divinity up above, then so be it. If God is authentic love, something I believe to be true, then that love will forget itself self anyway, in order to focus on and love the other.
There was another later-in-life discovery to make about this spiritual reality. This would be the most important discovery of all and it involved a further honing of earlier discoveries and it is this- the Ultimate Reality behind all of the cosmos and life was unconditional love. This takes love to new and liberating directions and it is entirely counter to all religion because religion is essentially about conditions. Religion as condition denies utterly the unconditional love at the core of all reality. Religion, as conditional reality, tells us what to believe to be a saved insider, what to do in onerous detail in order to live a life that pleases some God. It tells us how to appease the anger of God, what sacrifice is required to atone for our sin, and how to pay our debts. Conditions, conditions, conditions. The very opposite to the unconditional love that is God (for more detail on unconditional response, see my essay From Retaliation to Unconditional Love).
So I would point to this as the central defect of religion- that it distorts, nullifies, and denies the true meaning of unconditional love by adding all sorts of prerequisite conditions, schemes for atonement or payback, or salvation requirements and then adds endless conditions on how to live in order to please God. Religion as condition is an essential denial of the unconditional reality that is God.
But during my childhood years, these issues did not impinge on my under-developed consciousness. I did not yet have any clear perception of God or any definable grasp of Christian beliefs in my mind. I was aware only of the many Christian people who made up our extended circle of friends and acquaintances. At the center of all those people was the ‘Church’. It was the common bond that connected our entire group, making it a kind of large extended clan defined and separated from others in our community by our Evangelical church.
On weekdays we occupied ourselves with play or school and forgot about religion. Dad was at work. But in the evenings after supper, Dad, as spiritual head of the home, had to lead the family in Bible reading and prayer with some little application to life, usually a warning.
To warm us up for devotions (the Christian term for Bible reading and prayer), Dad would turn up the Back To The Bible broadcast and try to drill Christianity into us by sheer force of radio decibels. We could hear the program from anywhere in the house and even from outside in the yard during the summer time. The familiar voices of the preacher, announcer, and singers were like extended family in our home.
Our parents would also play the scratchy records of the White Sisters who sang emotion wrenching missionary songs like ‘Lord Send Me’:
“Lord send me, oh send me forth I pray,
The need is great, Thy will I must obey,
My soul is longing, I must go,
O Lord send me, send me forth I pray”.
Years later in our teens we laughed hilariously as we winged the White Sisters records across the street like Frisbees into the high grass of a vacant lot. Mom and Dad were not home.
The weekdays always led us inevitably to Sunday and church- the social event of our week. We were not given the choice to sleep in, which is known as attending ‘Bedside Baptist’. We were small and therefore we went to church.
Sunday mornings stirred feelings that were more noticeably intense than normal day morning feelings- the getting-ready-for-church feelings, which included a lot of arguing, shouting and rushing to get dressed. “Quit dilly-dallying, quit lollygagging”, Mom would bark, “We’ll be late”. But we were often at the church before anyone else.
A friend of the family used to wisecrack, “We’ve got season’s tickets so we won’t be killed in the rush”.
Mom and Dad were in a hurry. Dad would never sleep in on weekends but would noisily try to wake the rest of us. He would talk extra loud, turn up the radio or even rudely call us out of our dreams. It was the same on vacations. We would arrive at our destination, sleep one night and the next morning Dad would urge us to rush on to the next stop. Once we traveled two days to reach the Grand Canyon. We arrived at the edge, peered over at one of the world’s great wonders and after about 5 seconds Mom said impatiently, “Well, lets go now”. Maybe our parents were running from something.
Our church was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. It was a white building on the corner of College and Henderson streets in Chilliwack, British Columbia. The front had a stereotypical pointy spire and along the sidewalls were rows of tall rectangular windows with multi-colored glass. They were not the elaborate scenes depicted on real cathedral windows; they were cheap imitations that approximated such artwork.
The wide cement front steps of the church led up to large double front doors of dark wood. Inside more steps led up from the foyer to the main auditorium with its double rows of plain wood pews. At the front were the stage and the pulpit. In the wall behind the stage was the baptistery.
Our church believed in dunking people, not just pouring or sprinkling water over them. Dunking was the only true way. It was God’s way of baptizing people. Long ago Christians actually killed each other over disagreements about dunking or pouring.
I had little clue as to what the particular beliefs of our church were. But I instinctively picked up from the older people that ours was the only true church. In fact for much of my early life I was not really aware that there were any other churches in our town.
I had no idea at the time that all religious groups, especially of the Fundamentalist variety, gave the same impression to their members. Such groups promote the idea that they alone on earth and in the whole universe are the one and only true church, the only true people of God, and the only way of salvation. All other religious groups were referred to as ‘cults’.
I eventually became aware that there was another church in town- the Catholic church. I picked up from Mom that they were disgusting, bad people. Mom called them “Doagies”. She used to sing mockingly, “Come along little Doagies”. I had no idea what Doagies meant. I just knew it was bad.
Downstairs in our church basement, Sunday school rooms lined both sides of the central meeting hall. Early on Sunday mornings, smiling lady teachers taught us kiddy songs like, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world”.
But my sister Gail remembers one Sunday school teacher, Mrs. W, telling us kids that we should thank God that we were born white. She was German and her Jesus only liked white people.
I once won a nickel for quoting a memorized Bible verse during a joint Sunday school class meeting. That was memorable because a nickel could buy a bottle of pop at the Bunny Store. And I remember Mr. R telling our Grade Two boys class about the evil of smoking. “I used to shake off the ashes and they would fall all over the front of my shirt and burn little holes here”, he said, pointing to the front of his shirt. We looked closely at his shirt for the tiny holes. After telling us that story, he would pause with his jowly chin resting on his upper chest and look knowingly, almost scoldingly at us young boys. I don’t remember much else.
After Sunday school we would noisily climb the stairs to the main auditorium for the morning service. The teenagers and adults were already hanging around the front entranceway talking and laughing. We especially noticed Mr. D, the leading adult Sunday school teacher.
More than any other person, Mr. D embodied the uglier side of church for us young people. He represented the sleazier element of humanity which so often hides under cover of God and religion.
Years later, as we grew into young men, he was even more consciously there at the top of the stairs- smiling, friendly, and wanting to touch. He would hold our hands too long after finishing a handshake. We would try to pull away but he had a strong grip.
He would also follow us young boys into the side cloakroom, smiling cheerfully, talking nonstop, and wanting to touch us. It made us feel very uncomfortable, but he was a respected church leader.
The young guys began circulating stories that he was ‘queer’, a ‘faggot’. That made us all the more uncomfortable with his attention. As young men we were growing very conscious of becoming macho males and we did not want to associate with anyone considered queer.
Once, while I was walking along a side street on the way to school with my best friend A, Mr. D drove up in his old work pickup and offered us a ride. I nudged A to get in first and sit beside him. As soon as we pulled away from the curb, Mr. D’s hand went to A’s knee and started to move up his thigh. A was so embarrassingly blunt and even while the cheery Mr. D chatted, A turned to grin at me, roll his eyes toward Mr. D, and snicker. A rested his own hand strategically on his upper thigh to prevent Mr. D’s hand from moving too close to his crotch. I tried to stay politely silent and look straight ahead, pretending not to notice A’s disrespectful snicker.
There was the proof. As soon as we got out at our destination, even before Mr. D pulled away, A laughed wildly; “I told you he was a queer”. I turned quickly and started to walk away, embarrassed. Mr. D could hear him.
Even as a little boy, I remember the intense discomfort of his attention at the church, of wanting to get away from his attention and touching, but feeling obligated to be nice and polite to a respected adult.
Years later, many of us felt that Mr. D’s perverted behavior probably explained why his son T ended up in prison, a very messed up young man. As a child T had often acted strangely. He would fall out of trees, bang his head or get cut, and he did not seem to be all there. Who knew what was happening behind the closed doors of their home?
Years later T went on a national Christian broadcast (100 Huntley Street) to reveal that his Dad had sexually abused him and his sister. That explained a lot in their lives. And then Mr. D did one of the most cowardly things that I have ever heard any person do. He had moved to Alberta to pastor a church there and no doubt find new victims. Then at the end of his life as he was dying he slipped into unconscious for a while. When he subsequently regained consciousness, the first thing he asked his wife was, “Did I say anything? Did I reveal anything?” His only concern was not to expose anything of his horrible abuse of others, including his own children. Such cowardice. On your very death bed, facing what you believe is your Judge, and you still try to hide from others your shameful deeds. Why not just a smidgen of human courage to express some regret and try to alleviate the horrible trauma that you caused to others? Why sneak out of life like a pitiful coward, leaving a mess behind you for others to try to fix?
The church members were mainly Germans of one kind or another. There were the Friesens, Wiens, Dycks, Enns, Wiebes, Redekops, Neufelds, Gunthers, Harms, Heppners, Biesels, Luecks, Goshulaks, and Klassens. Generally, they were friendly people and very nice to us kids. They would smile when they met us and tell us, “My, my, how you’ve grown”. They said that same thing almost every time they saw us. They just wanted to make pleasant conversation.
As we got older, Dad told us that when Mr. W collected all the money baskets from the ushers and rushed out the side door to count the money in the office, that he was actually pocketing money. He eventually pocketed enough money to buy himself a new car. Our parents told us that he was a drunkard too.
Well, at least he did not have to stay and listen to the sermons. As I remember church, it was mainly endless lessons and sermons. But I remember almost nothing of what the pastor or others said.
Our pastor, Mr. JT, was a short, round man who was smiled and chuckled endlessly. But his smile was a bigger and wider smile than the average church member. I think he was full of what religious people called “the joy of the Lord”. With his joy, he liked to make religiously harmless jokes, never anything off color. His constant smiling and chuckling made everything he said seem like a joke.
Whenever he started his monologue sermon, I would reflexively start daydreaming. That is why I have absolutely no memory of anything that he said in his sermons. During the summer, I would look out the open windows at the blue sky and inhale the summer smells deep into my lungs. I could smell especially the sap and flowers of the Cottonwood trees lining the edge of the church parking lot. I could also hear the robins chattering and kids using their louder outside summer voices.
As it got closer to 12 o’clock and the expected freedom to go outside, I would squirm impatiently. The soreness in my bum would become unbearably painful in the closing minutes, requiring more frequent shifting from cheek to cheek. The last few minutes on the big clock above the stage seemed to slow into a torturing time warp. Couldn’t Pastor McNair see that it was time to stop and let us go?
Sometimes preachers would follow numbered points in their sermon and you could guess when they were getting close to the finish. One preacher we had to endure always used 7 points in his sermons. Reaching point 7 meant relief was near. Some pastors would even say, “Finally, …” when they got close to the end. But it only made things worse when they said that and then kept going on for agonizing minutes more. A religious monologue is the worst human invention ever made to torture children.
Other times we would have visiting missionaries come and speak at our church. One man from Borneo used to tell us stories of snakes and crocodiles and bugs. He got our attention because he sparked our imaginations. And bugs and snakes aren’t religious. But he only came every few years.
After Mr. JT’s morning sermon, we had to stand for one more hymn, a prayer, and some announcements. The more merciful song leaders would have us sing only one or two verses of a song. The nasty ones would make us sing all four or five verses. It felt so good to stretch our legs and twist our bodies and yawn. The excitement of soon leaving the church enlivened my whole body. I would anticipate leaving the pew, walking semi-restrained down the aisle, then pushing open the front doors and… freedom. With that anticipation, one verse of a hymn was then more sufferable, but why two or three or all four? Why the needless torture of dragging it out yet more?
Every kid wanted to be outside in the small town atmosphere of Chilliwack during the summer time. It was the most beautiful place on earth when the sun shone. Geographers talk of a man/land bond. Every person has a special emotional attachment to the area and type of landscape that they are born into and grow up in.
We lived in the upper Fraser Valley of Southwestern British Columbia, one of the most mountainous regions on earth. East of Chilliwack, at Hope (where they filmed the first Rambo movie), the coastal mountains disgorged the mighty Fraser River into the beginning of the valley which was only a mile or so wide. The valley widened to about 10 miles across at Chilliwack and even more toward Vancouver where the Fraser split into a number of arms running through the Fraser Delta into the Georgia Strait. From there you could see Vancouver Island and the Pacific Ocean.
I always believed the Pacific Ocean was a bigger and better ocean than the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe that too was due to some kind of man/land bond.
Back at Chilliwack the coastal mountains on both sides of the valley held back lakes with water so pure that you could drink right from the shores. We spent our afternoons and weekends at one of those lakes- Cultus- learning to swim, goof around and climb in and out of old tree stumps.
I held special affection for the trees in the forests of local mountains- huge Douglas Fir with their deep cracks and ridges in six inch thick reddish brown bark. There were also Western Red Cedar with their flat needles, and Hemlock, which I had a hard time differentiating from Douglas Fir. I loved the smell of sweet sap from those trees. It was especially strong in the springtime as new sap started running after a more dormant winter. And I loved camping outdoors in tents and falling asleep at night listening to the hushed whoosh of the wind through the needles in the upper branches of the trees.
The Fraser Valley itself is a flat river plain patched with dairy and corn farms as well as many other vegetable and fruit growing enterprises. Driving East from Vancouver along Highway One, we knew we were close to home when we could smell the manure spread on Chilliwack fields in the spring. Rotting, fermenting silage in the huge silos beside barns was another clue that home was near.
But it was the Cottonwood trees that evoked the strongest emotional response to Chilliwack. The smell of sap from the buds of those trees inevitably sparked memories of playing along the treed banks of the Fraser River and swimming in its backwater sloughs. It was a smell that evoked the best memories of childhood.
But none of that beauty could be enjoyed while sitting on the hard wood pews of our church. Why couldn’t we all just go for a walk in the forests and worship there?
Back at church other things called for our attention.
One Sunday morning, the man in the pew right in front of us started to snort loudly. His head jerked backwards onto the back of the pew and he lay there snorting. Us kids laughed excitedly and ran to the far end of our pew to get away. His wife started to whimper and desperately looked around at the ushers for help. They rushed over and carried him outside where he died of a heart attack on the church lawn.
Another man, Mr. W, used to fall asleep in church during Mr. JT’s monologues. He was overtired from working hard on his farm all week. Mr. JT reprimanded him publicly in church one Sunday and consequently Mr. W never came back to church, ever again.
One vivid church memory was that of the young man who showed up at Sunday morning service with a completely bald head. As he walked up the aisle Mom whispered to us, “He had a real terrible scare about his mom dying of cancer and after that, all of his hair fell out”. I remember him walking all the way up to almost the front row before he sat down.
The Shame Of Religion
As I grew older I became aware of a growing sense of conflict and embarrassment around church attendance and being a Christian. I really don’t know what the embarrassment was based on initially. It’s just that we were different in many ways from other normal people.
I felt the embarrassment most intensely when we went into our church. Around 9 or 10 years of age it became more of an issue. We would arrive at the front of the church early on Sunday evenings, before anyone else showed up. Our early solo arrival made us stand out all the more. I would try to slouch down in the back seat of our car so I could not be seen.
Our school was right across the street from the church. In the summer time it was still light when we arrived at church for the 7 PM evening service and kids from the neighborhood were still playing scrub baseball. I would fret over how I could get into the church without being seen by them. There were no protective bushes or trees in front of our church and it was about a thirty-foot walk from our car to the front door. What if a kid from school would walk by on the sidewalk just as we were going inside? That was the worst case scenario.
It was not that anyone at school ever said anything like, “Nyaa, nyaa, you’re a Christian, you’re religious. Nyaa, nyaa”. But it was just so intensely embarrassing.
I never understood the roots or reasons for it. I just felt it inside. Shame.
I think Dad suspected something was up and he would try to slow me down if I tried to rush toward the front door. A slow entrance would give any passing people a chance to see us and we could then be a good testimony to them. We were going to church and they were just doing worldly things.
I also felt the shame of our religion intensely at restaurants. After Sunday morning church we sometimes went downtown to the Royal Hotel for Chinese food. While we were waiting for the main meal, the waiters brought little bowls of Soya sauce and we wetted our forks in the sauce and then dipped them in the sesame seed bowls. It was a lot of effort for little reward but to us it was a dietary delicacy. It was just part of the fun of eating out.
The sense of fun and excitement continued up until the time that the main food dishes were brought out from the kitchen. Then we were reminded that we were religious. Other people sitting in booths across from us just started digging in and enjoying their food. We had to quietly pause and Dad would say, “Let’s bow our heads and say grace”.
None of us ever had the cheekiness or sassiness to shout “Grace” and then just start eating. Bart Simpson would have done that.
I dreaded closing my eyes. I thought that if I kept them open and looked around, just a little bit, not too irreverently, then maybe I could fool the other people into thinking we were not really praying. Maybe they would think we were just sitting around and talking, even though everyone else in our booth was sitting quietly with heads bowed and their eyes closed. I hoped others wouldn’t notice us praying.
I hated praying in public. It showed that we were religious and not normal human beings.
But to Dad, praying in public was of the utmost importance. He said, “You have to be faithful and give a good testimony to others, be a good witness”. You might be cheating with other’s wives like the Ws, or you might be grubbing in the business world and pulling fast deals on others like Pastor JT’s son, but it was important to do certain religious things that would show you were a Christian.
Dad also warned us that being a Christian would get us into real trouble when the Commies came. Dad said they would line us up against a wall (I imagined it would be at the side of our house) and they would tell us to deny Jesus. The Commies would then shoot us for not denying him. Dad said that we could not deny Jesus. Oh? Why not? I didn’t even know the guy.
Interestingly, through all those years of church I never remember hearing much about the radical Palestinian Jew, Jesus. He was despised and ridiculed as illegitimate- born of a possible military rape (“Who is your father?”), and he turned conventional thinking upside down in teaching unconditional love for all people, endlessly forgiving all people including enemies, unconditionally accepting all as family, not dominating or abusing anyone, and sharing generously with all, including the undeserving. We were never confronted with that radical humanity. There was certainly no hint of such radical unselfishness among any of us, even though we were a Christian church which claimed to represent him.
Dad And Swearing
Once in those years of early summer evening arrivals and waiting out front in the car, we had a shocking introduction to good and bad words. My youngest sister, Donna, a barely talking toddler, was sitting between Mom and Dad in the front seat. She started to string out a series of nonsense sounds. “Luck, duck, muck, ruck, tuck, luck, fuck….” Ooops.
Well, Dad bellowed and screamed and raged. “Don’t you ever say that again or I’ll whip you like you’ll never forget”. On the other side Mom clucked in disgust like a worried hen, “For goodness sakes”. My sister had no idea what her mortal sin was and sat stunned and shell-shocked by all the rage around her.
So that was the ‘f’ word.
Dad would catch his words mid breath when he got angry. He wanted to just let loose and cuss like normal guys do but he would catch himself and cut the swear words off, then finish with the Christian version- holy cursing.
“What the hhhh….heck”.
“Ddd….dang it anyway”.
“Dad blast it anyway” was another favorite of Dad’s.
He wanted to be a good Christian and set a good example for us kids. He felt that if he were to let loose some cuss words then we would go out and become wild reprobates, cursing as we strolled along the town sidewalks.
I have never been able to figure out what all the fuss is about over certain words. They’re all just syllables and sounds expressing emotions. But religious people have a knack for focusing on silly peripheral issues while ignoring the matters essential to human existence.
For instance, some religious people use only what they call ‘good words’, but they hold very nasty feelings toward others- intolerance, rejection, and an insane drive to see others punished. Other nonreligious people swear like drunken sailors, but are generous, accepting, and tolerant people. Go figure.
A lot of hanky panky was going on in the church that we younger kids were unaware of. Older people were apparently meeting at motels to swap wives and fool around. Years later my Dad told us, “ I once saw JW grab MW (another man’s wife) right in the crotch”. Yikes.
As we reflected on those things when we were older, we thought it kind of sounded like Peyton Place. People were religious on the outside, but wicked pagans on the inside, just like most normal people.
I sometimes wondered why Dad saw those things at the motels. Was he there as part of the fooling around or just an innocent bystander? I never had the nerve to ask him something so embarrassing.
As we emerged into our teen years, the church’s young people’s group became more of the center of our attention. The group would go on evening outings to places like Cultus Lake where everyone would pair off and go into the ‘toolies’ (a Mennonite term for bushes) and try to fool around. For the guys, petting was the main objective- feeling up a girl. Then the guys would hang out a few days later and talk about who got how far and snicker and make jokes. Treating girls just like a slab of meat.
Then, to the older folk’s shame and disgust, and to our perverted delight, the young people’s president, LB, got his girlfriend pregnant. Well, it was bound to happen. That was the time when young girls were so fertile that they could get pregnant just by standing downwind from teenage boys. Boys were surrounded by swirling air that was dense with impregnating hormones. Teenage boys were the most potent and dangerous animals on earth.
The girlfriend apparently had a spontaneous abortion. But another girl had to leave town. They told us that she went to Manitoba (some 2,000 kilometers away) to take typing lessons. Everyone knew when a girl got pregnant, but adults would try to cover it up, saying the girls were just going away to take typing lessons in Manitoba. That seemed like a long way to go just for typing lessons. What was wrong with the local typing teachers?
My only sex education was one time when Dad came into the bathroom and hurriedly and embarrassedly said, “If you play with that, some yellow stuff will come out”. Then he mumbled something about horrible things happening. Kids going crazy. He was scowling with disgust at having to talk about something so filthy. It was obviously terrible. It scared me.
Dad referred to sex as filth and to sexually active unmarried people as, “acting like dogs or pigs”. Mom also shared the same view of sex, very negative. She would not talk about it but would just frown at the very mention of sex. Whenever something even remotely sexual was portrayed on TV, Mom would say, “Oh, what filth”, and then get up and walk away in disgust. Dad would not get up and walk away. He had to see what filth people were up to in order to learn something. In fact, he even looked around for those kinds of things. But he would quickly change channels when us kids came around and mutter something about “Dirty pigs”.
Mom got her views on sex from her mother who appeared to be somewhat asexual. She was a withered little lady who sat on a chair and clucked, “Land sakes alive”. I don’t remember her ever saying much else. Her distinctive feature was her bottom jaw, which dropped, then clamped up closed again as she talked, just like the bottom jaw on the hand held ventriloquist puppets.
That harsh view of sex did not change much as I went further into Fundamentalism. None of the Fundamentalist people I knew ever talked or joked about sex as if it were something good or normal.
Fundamentalists were afraid that if they said anything positive about sex then they would be opening up the floodgates and immorality would break out all over the place. People might start fornicating outside on the ground just like dogs.
Many religious people view life in terms of a slippery sliding slope. If you express permissiveness toward something that religious people don’t like, well, then inevitably everyone will instinctually start doing it and the whole world will soon slide downslope directly into hell. The only way to prevent such depravity is to condemn it in harsh terms, ban it and make tough laws and penalties to keep everyone in check. Prohibit everything, make it all illegal and maybe the world can be saved. Use law to control everyone tightly.
As I grew further into my early teens, I began to experience a notable increase of conflict with my father that became the dominant reality in my life. It was the early 1960s and baby boomer freedom was blossoming everywhere. It was especially evident in music and dress- areas that Dad maintained tight control over.
I felt insulted, angry, and humiliated by Dad’s strict control and domination. Dad was not tall, only about five feet eight, but he was heavily muscled and he got his way. There were no more spankings, but always in the background there was the threat of, “You will do it or else”.
In the late 1950s my sisters and I had sometimes turned on the radio when our parents were gone and thrilled to the wild rock of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and others. We would quietly lay on the kitchen counter tops and get all bug-eyed at the craziness of rock. It stirred such strange exciting feelings.
“You ain’t nothin but a hound dog, just a cryin all the time.
You ain’t nothin but a hound dog, just a cryin all the time.
You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine”.
We knew there was an exciting world out there that made the pit of our stomachs tense with excitement. But as we grew into our teens that music was forbidden to us.
Another area of conflict with my Dad was over personal appearance- haircuts and hairstyle. It was an ongoing battle with Dad always winning and marching me, a very sullen and angry boy, down to the barbershop to get my head shaved.
I envied the guys who got to keep their hair a couple of inches long. Us younger guys had to accept crew cuts. Everything was shaved off except the last half inch. The cool older kids had crew cuts on top but longer hair on the sides, which was slicked back with Brill Creme. And when the Beatles introduced the moptop look, we all wanted that.
My Dad was like many others in a religious tradition, trying to control his kids and bring them up to be good people, in our case good Christians. That meant basically resisting the evil temptations of the world. The main defined sins of the early 60s could be summed up pretty much as rock music, long hair, and tight blue jeans. Yes, there were also the old standard sins of smoking, drinking, movies, dancing, and of course, the unmentionable ‘s’ word- sex. That filthy stuff.
I was growing to resent deeply Dad’s domination and his relentless effort to make me religious and different. I hated it. Why couldn’t we just be normal human beings, like other kid’s families?
The conflict peaked time and time again. One notable event brought Dad’s resented control into sharp focus. It was the Sunday evening in 1964 that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Kids at school had talked about the Beatles and no matter how hard parents tried, we had all been captivated by their music. We heard it downtown on the radios in the lunch shops.
“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, and with a love like that you know you should be glaaaad…. I wanna hold your haaaand, I wanna hold your haaand…”
It was music that was more exhilarating than anything we had ever heard before. Their appearance on Ed Sullivan was to become a defining event in Baby Boomer’s lives. But we did not even dare argue with Dad. Sunday evening was time to go to church and Ed Sullivan would be on during the time we would be at church singing hymns and listening to that deadening monologue of Mr. JT’s. So we missed the Beatles. Damn it.
Years later in an interview Paul McCartney said, “You know, our music was all about love and peace. I’m very proud of it”. But the way our parents reacted to it, we thought it must be from the deepest, darkest part of hell where the ugliest demons cooked up the evil beat of rock music to trick young kids into going to hell.
My sister Gail said that Mr. JT once preached a sermon about the Beatles. He said their name came from some Egyptian god and that proved they were demonic.
When I was older, I heard another fundamentalist preacher, LE Maxwell, declare that rock music got its beat from the Africans, who got it directly from hell.
Running Away From Religion
As I approached 14 Dad was still exerting tight control over pants, hair, music and church attendance. At six feet I was already taller than Dad was and I felt I was now an adult and should make my own decisions. But if I were going to find freedom, I would have to get away from Dad.
My independence from Dad was not a gradual transition to responsible freedom as a young adult. It was a sharp anger-filled rupture from smothering control to reckless freedom. It began when I ran away from home with my best friend, A. Several times.
I had met A at church, in the young people’s group, I think. He was shorter than I was at about five feet eight inches and heavier than I was. He was also German, but with reddish hair.
A liked to say tough things like, “I’ll beat the crap out him” or “I’d like to screw her ass”, but he always said such things with a goofy grin that exposed it as just playing tough. He was too nice to ever really be mean to anyone. A was good-natured with a ready smile, where I was more sullen and shy.
We became best of friends who shared everything, even secrets about girlfriends and the things we did to or with them. It was very important for young teen guys to express sexuality and to talk lots about ‘getting laid’. It showed that you were a normal and healthy male. “I need an oil change,” A would say, or “God, I’d like to screw her” or “I’m so horny I’d screw anything”. It did not matter that the talk was far ahead of the actual experience. As young men, we had to express such things.
The first time I ran away was just an overnight flight. Art and I had planned to go to Vancouver and work but A’s parents caught him packing a duffel bag and quickly phoned my parents. From my basement bedroom I heard Dad shouting loudly upstairs to my Mom. “The crazy kids are going to run away. What’s the matter with that kid?” He was really pissed off. I sensed real trouble.
In an adrenaline rush of terror, I clambered out a basement window and started running in my sock feet. It was a drizzling fall night and I had no coat. I ran for miles through muddy cornfields along Prest Road getting soaked and filthy. I eventually hid the rest of the night in an old pickup on a friend’s farm.
The next morning that friend, N, brought me home to get a change of clothes. I was hiding on the floor in the back of his car but my parents saw me anyway and Dad told me to come inside. I was scared silly.
I went in and sat on the couch in our living room. Dad glared at me with the scowling anger and rage that he had always used to cow us kids into submission. I didn’t say a thing. For years now I had been responding to Dad’s anger by just withdrawing and sitting quietly until he calmed down or left. I never dared argue with him or resist him.
That time staying quiet didn’t work. Dad lost it. I stood up to back away and he came over and punched me in the head knocking me to the floor. “You bugger”. I crawled back onto the couch and remained silent. But at that moment I felt an intense resentment, and maybe even hatred toward him. It was not the resentment of revenge or wanting to hurt back. Just the resentment of wanting to leave and have nothing to do with a person, ever again.
It was a rift that a lifetime of forgiving never seemed to fully heal. Dad would often blow up and then later feel bad about his “darn” temper. But he was too proud to just come out and apologize. He would be more round about. He would talk about it as a disgusting thing and appear depressed over it. But he never liked to apologize directly. Mom said it was the stubborn German in him.
In later years Dad would say, “Boy, I did some dumb things when you guys were kids”. I never knew exactly what he was referring to, but I suspect it was an indirect apology for things like hitting me.
There were other times when Dad would become abjectly depressed about his temper and his angry outbursts. After one blowup at my sister Barb, Dad later stepped into my room and almost in tears he asked pleadingly, “What’s wrong with me? What can I do about this? I’m hurting her”. He then shook his head in disgust at himself and walked out. I think he just wanted me to say that it was all right and that we forgave him.
Because of his temper and inability to express personal affection I never felt close to Dad while growing up. He was not a touching, hugging type of man and he could not bring himself to show emotion toward us. He would not praise us or say positive things to us. Maybe he was concerned that anything positive would go to our heads.
But he was quick to point out our failings. When Dad got upset with us for dragging our feet on some chore he would snarl, “Ya big useless tit”. That was his favorite nickname, something his parents had called him when he was small. It was an Alberta farm name. Some sows had extra teats that did not produce milk. They were ‘useless tits’. It was not the stuff that healthy self images are developed from.
An Alberta Boy
Dad was raised near Edmonton, in Leduc, a little farming community of Central Alberta. For some reason he never talked very much about his upbringing. We heard only scraps of information later in life, about his being wild and whipped and working hard on the farm.
Though he did not tell us much about them, Dad’s parents must have also been strictly religious, scaring God and Christianity into him just as he tried to scare them into us. Dad treated us the same way his parents treated him because he did not know of any other way to raise children. Many things that people do are inherited from their parents. They imbibe the patterns of response and behavior that they observe in their parents and pass that on to their own children. I have often heard women in particular admit, “I never wanted to be like my mom, but now I’m just like her”. It is hard to break family behavioral patterns.
We had some older faded black and white pictures of Dad as a young man. When looking at the photos it was hard to visualize the cool young stud in a white T-shirt and baggy pants leaning against a 1940 Ford as my Dad. He was well-built and very handsome with his close-shaved head. His distinguishing feature was his prominent nose, which Mom attributed to his being German. We used to tease him about his schnozz (the German Canadian word for nose). Fortunately, my sisters and I inherited our Mom’s shorter Scottish nose. We were children of a mixed marriage- mestizos. Half breeds.
Dad never told us that his older brother had gone off to war and done some horrible, unmentionable things- killing for a special unit or something. Our cousins eventually told us about that. Dad just said that the brother was a drunkard and useless, always bumming money from others. He said that he did not want us to turn out like that.
Dad didn’t have to go to war because the government let one son stay home to help parents on the farm. When his parents got older Dad took over their farm but his no-good brother would not help. It was tough, he said.
British Columbia Migrants
In his twenties Dad came out to Chilliwack, BC to find a job. He met Mom there and they got married and started a family. He then worked for years in a hospital laundry and did plumbing. “You have to do whatever you can when you have a family to support,” he said. But he never complained and he never missed a day of work.
He once said there were times of despair, depression, and even suicidal feelings. We were not told about that when we were kids, and only cautious scraps about his suffering came out in later years. It appeared that Dad had a very rough upbringing. But his religion seemed to give him the strength to pull through the difficult times.
Sometimes Mom and Dad fought about there never being enough money. I remember the shouting about relatives and bills and the crying of Mom. It put a fear of fiscal responsibility into me that I never recovered from. Insecurity.
But even though life could be bare bones at times we seemed to have fun as kids. We did not perceive ourselves as poor. We had one bicycle between the four of us and each of us had a tree alongside the road on which we played “horsy”. We would stand on the lower branches of our trees and jump up and down, pretending we were riding horses. Trees were always very important in our lives. They made us feel that we owned something important and that we had plenty of things to do.
We must have had some money because Dad traded in our Austin Hillman and upgraded to a Studebaker with rear suicide doors. He once took Henry and Erna Heppner for a ride in the Studebaker and proudly showed them the overdrive. I remember sitting in the front between Mr. H and Dad, listening to Dad boast about the car’s special features. I was impressed especially with the overdrive even though I had no idea what it was. But the way Dad talked about it, it had to be important. H appeared to be impressed.
In the 18 years that we resided in Chilliwack we lived in 14 different houses in every part of the town. Dad was always trying to strike it rich through real estate deals (Mom said that he once invested in a search for gold in northern BC and even missed several mortgage payments to do so. It upset her a lot). Dad was terrified of mortgages and debt and maybe his frequent moving was his way of trying to run from them. But that constant moving helped us to get to know the area and its people. It also made Chilliwack feel all the more like home.
Mom and Dad did other things that made Chilliwack feel like home. They were very social people. Over the years we visited most of the church member’s homes and we always had lots of visitors to our home. It seemed Dad and Mom knew and were friends with most of the people in the community. That also made Chilliwack feel very much like home.
And after work Dad would often drive us up to Cultus Lake to go swimming with family friends. We had a special beach that we used so frequently that we considered it to be our own.
Dad also loved to explore, so on weekends we would go driving up logging roads and climbing local mountains. We covered many of the country and logging roads in the upper Fraser Valley over the years. We knew the area.
Geographers say that if you want to feel at home in an area, then walk its roads, paths, streets, and streams. Go everywhere and get to know your area. We did that with Dad.
Dad And Compassion
While a very strict man at times, Dad could also be disarmingly human. He let his compassion for others prompt him to do some very spontaneous things. Once in a Safeway store he saw a man fighting with a woman. Dad ran over and tried to break them up in order to protect the woman. But she turned angrily on him, shouting, “This is family. You stay out of this”. Oh well, didn’t someone say that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Too many people won’t bother to get involved in other’s problems and we have all heard of the consequent tragedy from such careless passivity. A common story in our youth was that of a young woman in New York who was stabbed to death as watching neighbors pulled their blinds and coldly turned away from her screams for help. Dad would never have done that. He would have rushed down and risked his life to help the woman. In recent years that story has been challenged as urban myth.
If people were hurting or in need, Dad would offer to help. He did extra helping things like leave home early to pick up other people’s kids for Sunday school.
“He’s a good man”, my sisters Barb and Gail used to say when reflecting on his life. I agreed. He was at times full of compassion.
He also took his own unique approach to resolving various things. I can remember the times in church when he was late from his ushering duties. Instead of walking down the aisle and stepping on people’s toes or bumping their knees to enter our pew, he would just climb over the backs of the pews till he got to ours. We laughed at such silly spontaneity.
Sometimes spontaneity got him into trouble. One summer while on vacation in the US, Dad went into a grocery store and seeing the easily available beer, he bought himself one. I was too young to remember, but Mom said she put up a horrible ruckus and my sisters started crying and wailing like Armageddon had come. It was like we were all slip sliding straight into hell. Poor Dad.
Later in life I felt that religion had ruined Dad. He would have enjoyed a drink once in a while, but he would decline because he did not want to set a bad example and open up the floodgates of sin for the rest of us. He felt obligated to be a good testimony and set an example.
I often wished he would just relax, let go, and be a normal human being, and even get tipsy like Martin Luther used to do. That’s where they got Luther’s famous little Table Talk. Abstaining Evangelical pastors quote from that book all the time, quite unaware that it comes from the after dinner beer guzzling of Luther, when his face shone and his heart was merry.
Dad had so much fun in him, but his religion kept threatening him and quenched the humanity and life in him. He just never discovered the mental tools to question it all or think it through and make an escape from the terror of the Fundamentalist God.
I think Dad’s strict control of us kids was motivated by concern that we would be lost in hell unless he kept us on the straight and narrow as defined by his all-controlling Evangelical religion.
We realized that our parent’s generation had their own approach to raising children. Many of us feel now that it was a bit stern. But it was all they knew and they did their best with that knowledge. Most importantly, there was no serious abuse in our family. We had our butts whipped the odd time when we deserved it, like the time I locked my sister Gail in a barn with an owl and forgot her there.
And sometimes Mom was a bit too firm about our behavior, especially when we were visiting other people’s places for meals. When the hostess asked us if we wanted seconds, and we always did, Mom would glare us into silence and answer for us, “No, they don’t want any more”. Liar, liar.
Most parents try to control their children far too long and such overbearing control only produces resentment in children and an effort to break free of parental control. It ruins so many parent/child relationships. Children should be given more freedom and responsibility for decisions about their lives at much younger ages. They should be allowed to make mistakes and learn to choose for themselves.
Parents can provide advice to help guide children, but they should not control them in an excessively interfering manner. Only a few basic guidelines on major issues are necessary, like being nice to other people. There is no need for all sorts of rules on peripheral things such as dress, appearance, or music.
I understand now that my Dad’s strict control of me caused the bad feelings between us. I deeply resented his humiliating domination of me and when I was physically able to, I broke free.
A few months after my escape to a friend’s farm, A and I were successful at running away to Vancouver. We landed in the worst part of the city, East Hastings Street. It was the area of drunks and hookers and bums. But it was freedom from Dad’s suffocating control. I could wear tight blue jeans and pointy shoes and let my hair grow longer, several inches even.
Our first night on the streets, we tried to stay warm by standing together in a phone booth which had open walls at the base. Later we tried to find cover in the back of a truck at a car lot. It was wet and cold in the fall. Eventually we found a job and lived in a motel with other young guys. There we got drunk and made complete fools of ourselves, vomiting and falling around in drunken stupors. We were not prepared for freedom.
On the motel floor below ours there was a bookie who would buy us whiskey and try to get us drunk. He was a huge round man with eyes that bugged out behind coke bottle bottom glasses. To impress us, he often showed us the fat roll of bills that he carried in his pocket. Once, A said the bookie offered him $75 to have sex with him. A suggested we should both do it for the money but I was disgusted and told A to forget it.
Away from Dad in Vancouver, I could completely forget about religion and church and God, most of the time. I could just be a normal human being. The odd time that I went home, Mom was always welcoming, but Dad, barely controlling his rage, would occasionally warn me, “God is gonna get you”. I think he was trying to use God to regain control of me. But he was now the quiet sullen one in the background.
It was now the mid Sixties. A and I moved back to Chilliwack after about 6 months in Vancouver. But we never really moved back home. Home became sort of a place to touch base every once in a while. We spent a lot of time on the streets or at houses that other guys were borrowing or renting. We also made escapes to Alberta and Toronto.
Living on the streets of Toronto as 16-year-old teens, we were approached by many older gay men looking for sex. They promised lodging or jobs but at a price that I did not want to pay. Some were film producers, others were business people and artists, some just street bums, but I was repulsed by all of them. Life on the streets required constant vigilance against fondling hands. While I try to be an accepting and tolerant person, I still feel uncomfortable around gay men.
By 1965 our early shoplifting adventures had turned into more serious break and enters (B&Es). Several times we were caught, taken to jail, and put on probation. Some guys we knew, like H K, even went to prison. They would come out after serving their sentences and tell us horrifying stories of inmates selling their bodies to other prisoners for a pack of cigarettes. Those stories frightened me.
One infamous weekend in 1965 in Chilliwack, juveniles committed about one hundred break and enters. It hit the national news as scores of us were rounded up and put in jail. The joke making the rounds was that the entire soccer team of Rundle School was in jail. Break and enters were becoming a fad among teen guys.
Many of us had seen and envied PB’s torn twenty-dollar bills in a picture frame hanging on his bedroom wall. He had thrown the other half of the bills away. If that amount of torn money was just for display, what other riches had B&Es brought him? He was the model juvenile delinquent that we aspired to be like.
Research has shown that about 80% of young men between 15 to 20 years of age become involved in juvenile delinquency. The vast majority will grow out of it by the time they reach 20 years of age. So relax parents. Well, at least most of you can. Pat Barrows is now serving a life sentence for murder.
Our juvenile drinking had also progressed on into occasional drug taking. It was only occasional because we never had enough money to buy drugs on a regular basis.
We even sold drugs a few times. Mostly LSD. We would buy the drugs in Vancouver and then sell half of them at double the price back in Chilliwack in order to recoup our original money for another purchase. We could then take the rest of the drugs ourselves.
One night several of us went down to Seattle with $300 to make what was considered a big marijuana buy. I despised the term marijuana because the newspapers used it. We called it ‘grass’ and viewed ourselves as cool and street smart because we had a sub-dialect that separated us from our parent’s straight culture. We were ‘heads’ (people who did drugs) and looked down on ‘juicers’ (people who still got drunk and had not yet turned on to drugs).
On the streets of downtown Seattle we found a man who was willing to take us to someone who would sell us the drugs. Naively, we followed him to a suburban side street and waited in the car while he took our money into a house to make the purchase for us. After several long minutes he did not return and on checking the house we discovered that he was no longer there. We had been “burned”.
Afterward, I remember sitting out in the car, looking skyward and remembering Dad’s warning, “God’s gonna get you”. I felt God was getting me then. But other than the odd time like that, God was just not a factor in my life anymore.
Along with other Christians, I had been taught to believe that God sovereignly determines and controls every event in life. Everything is preordained and God uses everything to teach people lessons, to correct them or to punish them for their sin. That is why I suspected that God was involved in our loss.
Another time I returned home and discovered that my parents and sisters were all absent. It was just before supper, the time of day when everyone was usually there. My Dad had often warned us of the Rapture- the time when Jesus would return to earth and take all the Evangelicals up into the sky with him where they would all fly off to heaven leaving everyone else to be burned and destroyed on earth.
After checking the house thoroughly, I began to feel a sick, panicky sensation in my guts. What if they were all gone to heaven and now it was too late for me to repent? I stood forlornly in the front room looking out the porch window wondering how many other damned souls knew it was already too late.
About a half-hour later everyone returned home. They had just rushed out to see a house on fire in the neighborhood. Whew.
Other than those few odd incidents, the subject of God or religion rarely came up in our youth culture. But that God was still hanging around in the background. Once we were doing drugs with a younger fellow who started to fall apart emotionally. He began acting panicky and saying things that people who have lost too much inhibition start to say. At one point he asked the group in general, “What about the stuff in the Bible? Do any of you think that’s true?” After a moment of embarrassed silence I responded, “Yeah, it’s true”. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe I was uninhibited too.
Mostly, in doing drugs we were hoping to get a strong hit of LSD that would knock us flat in what we called a “white out”. We never found drugs that strong.
Sometimes we would do LSD and then go to parks and try to act like true hippies. Some of the group would look at flowers and say things like “Wow” or “Groovy”. Others would write poetry or touch trees. I just wanted to get really zonked and lay on the grass where I was hoping to see the white blaze.
We did some crazy things to survive on the streets. Late one evening in North Vancouver, a friend named W and myself went into a Chinese restaurant for a meal. We did not have any money with us. Not a cent. We walked in past the till, which was on a counter right by the door, and sat on the far side of the room in a booth. Then we started ordering dishes of food. I was so nervous that my bowels felt like emptying in my pants.
It was the most miserable meal that I have ever eaten. Usually, I love the flavors of Chinese food, but that night I could not taste a thing.
We started to panic as the meal progressed and consequently kept ordering more dishes from the menu in an effort to keep the owner busy in the back. We were hoping that if we ordered enough things then the owner would have to stay in the back and we could slip out. But after placing our orders he kept returning right away to stand by the till and watch us.
We tried to appear casual and relaxed, like men on death row. But we looked more like deer staring into headlights.
Finally, we realized that it was no use dragging it on any further. It was time to make our escape. We walked toward the till and the owner moved over close to the door, looking at us very suspiciously now. My heart was pounding so hard that I felt my legs would give way and I would collapse on the floor. We was on the side of the till closest to the door and I was by the counter on the other side of the till. I felt trapped. W started fishing in his jacket pockets as though he were looking for money. Then suddenly he blurted, “Oh, I forgot my cigarettes in the truck. I’ll be right back”. We had not come in any vehicle and the parking lot was empty. W bolted out through the screen door. I panicked and ran right after him.
Frantically sprinting across the parking lot in the dark, I could feel the breathing of the owner right behind me and hear the pad of his feet almost stepping on mine. I thought I was a fast sprinter but he stayed right behind me. At the other side of the parking lot there was a large building and a field of tall grass behind it. It was even darker behind the building. We hit the weedy field and the owner finally gave up, cursing us in Chinese as we continued leaping through the grass.
How did I know he was cursing us? Cursing is like music; it’s a universal language.
I caught up to W on the other side of the field and we fell into the grass laughing hysterically and gasping for air. After the adrenaline rush and panic of the chase it was such a release to escape capture. God didn’t get me that time.
Another time in the dark of night several of us crept up to the front of our town’s RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police or as some drunk Americans once pronounced it- “Ruckamumps”) station and planted some marijuana seeds among the flowers in the planter at the front door. It was a high-risk prank. The door could have opened at any moment and a fully uniformed RCMP officer could have walked out. Maybe even The Bull, a heavily muscled officer who could have taken any 2 or 3 of us down at the same time. I had seen his massive neck one time when he was wrestling at our high school gym.
As we did horticulture at the police station, we remembered our friend W R who had gone to Oakalla prison for one and a half years just for being caught with marijuana seeds in his coat pocket.
After planting the seeds we ran back a safe distance before stopping to bend over and slap our thighs, laughing like we were crazy. It was the adrenaline. And the fun of it. We could visualize the newspapers with the picture of marijuana growing in the front of the police station. How would the cops explain that?
The B and Es continued into my seventeenth year.
Crime And Punishment
My years of teen delinquency were coming to an end. One weekend a number of us went out to shoot up speed at an old empty farmhouse someone had obtained access to. We felt cool with our hypodermic needles, which had their own little black carrying cases. Using those needles made us feel like big time drug users doing hard stuff. After the weekend I had to return home because I had become very sick. It may have just been the flu, but I fantasized that it was drug related, maybe even hepatitis like B R had contracted from dirty needles. That had gained B a lot of awed attention.
A couple of days later as I was lying on my parent’s living room couch recuperating, there was a knock at the front door. Dad answered and then called me to come. He sounded disgusted. There were two policemen standing in the doorway wearing long trench coats. One of them announced formally, “Wendell Krossa, we have a warrant for your arrest on break and enter charges. You’ll come with us”. They were so serious and frightening.
I panicked, my heart thumping loudly in my ears. I told them I would have to go upstairs to get my shoes. That was the third time I would appear before the same judge and I knew that he would send me to prison this time. Other young guys I knew had gone to Oakalla (an adult prison) for their first offense. I had been lucky because during my appearances in court for previous offenses the probation officer had told the judge that I came from a good Christian home. In response, the judge had been lenient and had twice given me probation. That would not happen a third time.
I was sick and weak and knew that I could not defend myself against the perverts in prison. Dad had often warned me that they also whipped guys in prison. That scared me more than anything else did.
Now it was all over.
Upstairs, I looked out my sister’s bedroom window and momentarily thought about climbing out and making a run for it. There was a stretch of sloping roof, then I would hit the ground, run through the garden, past the raspberry stalks, climb over the five foot wood slat fence and into the back of the Safeway parking lot and away. But I was weak from my illness and running would only make things worse when they finally caught me.
I was sick and tired of the hiding, the pumping adrenaline, the panic, the paranoia and the queasy guts. In the past few years there had been too much tension and even moments of terror when we had been stopped by the police with drugs in the car. Fortunately, we were able to toss the drugs out the side window into the grass before the police could get to the car. We were known drug users and sellers. And that was in the 1960s when a drug charge meant serious prison time.
I was also tired of living on the street underage, trying to keep clean by bathing in public washrooms, eating raw corn stolen from gardens at night, and trying to stay away from the police. One summer in the Central BC town of Penticton we had lived on the beaches, sleeping at night in school buses and sometimes even on the ground under the buses, which were parked for summer holidays. Inside the buses we slept across the aisles, feet and legs on the seats of one side and upper body on the seat at the other side. When someone at the back went out to urinate during the night, their clambering over bodies as they moved toward the front door would disturb everyone. It was not much fun.
We were on constant watch in order to avoid being picked up for vagrancy and sent home to our parents. But one night the police discovered us sleeping on the ground under a bus. They rudely beamed their flashlights directly in our faces as they woke us for the ride to the police station. One of them, commenting on our long hair, said to his partner, “Well, it looks like we’ve got a bunch of girls here”. Redneck.
Our hair had often evoked derision from more conventional people. Sometimes when we were hitchhiking, people driving by would lean out their car windows to shout, “Hippies, why don’t you get haircuts”. We understood persecution.
I was tired of it all. Tired of being an outsider to normal society and tired of being considered a criminal, even though I never thought of myself that way.
Now I was facing 2 years in prison, based on similar convictions for others I knew who were caught for similar crimes.
I went back downstairs feeling trapped and very scared. Dad was standing to the side of the hallway inside the front door, scowling in rage but perhaps more in disgust and discouragement, as if to say, “Here we go again”. I went with the two officers and got into the back of the police car where the window cranks and doorknobs were all removed.
When we arrived at the police station it flickered across my mind once more, but only momentarily, to make a run for it while we were walking in.
They put me in a cell by myself. I had been held in that police station several times before. The cells were depressing with their dull gray paint on cement walls and gray steel bunk beds. The lighting was too weak to brighten up the gray. And there was no privacy as the steel doors had little openings where officers could look in anytime to see what you were doing.
The officers on duty added to the depressing nature of jail experiences by maintaining a cold professionalism. It intensified the scared sense of isolation and rejection that we felt on being locked up. They would not even talk with us, only answering yes or no to any questions we asked. That made you feel all the more like the criminal that you actually were.
I sat on the bottom level of the steel plate bunk beds and collapsed inside. I had been wasting my life on the streets, sleeping wherever I could find a place to stay, grubbing for food and working only occasionally. I had quit school and was on my way to becoming a useless bum just as my Dad had warned me about. My life seemed such a waste.
The relationship with my family had been severed almost completely as I only occasionally went home when out of money or hungry enough. Now I was in the worst trouble of my life and not even my parents could help me.
I had made a complete mess of my life and in remorse I broke down and sobbed. Then, not caring if a police officer looked in through the peephole, I got down on my knees on the cement floor and asked God to forgive me. I had what religious people call a conversion experience. As I prayed, I immediately felt released and incredibly relieved. I felt at peace. It was a feeling that it was all over with and everything was all right now. I knew then with a sense of finality that there would be no more fear, no more running and no more trouble with the police.
When my Dad came the next day to work out the bail arrangement and release, I went up to him in the hallway where the police officer was assembling my personal belongings- shoelaces, belt and wallet. I whispered to Dad, “It’s all over now. It’s going to be all right”. He turned and glared angrily back at me.
I had done what Dad had long wanted but he only responded with anger. There had been too many disappointments and harsh feelings over the years to simply wish it all away with a dismissive wave of the hand. Forgiveness would require years of improved performance.
Outside in the car, Dad sat with shoulders slumped and in angry frustration asked me, “What’s wrong with you?” He was still smarting from the humiliation of another arrest and having to go pick up his failure of a son. He could not believe that I was going to change.
For the next few months while I awaited my trial, I was put under house arrest and forbidden to go out anywhere. An old friend, N P, dropped by one day to visit and talk. He excitedly told me of his plan to buy a new Mustang. It felt great to see someone from the old gang. N and I had always liked each other. He had once brought me home late at night and just before I got out of his car he had said to me, “You are such a nice person. You are always nice to everyone”. It was the first and only positive thing I can remember being told up to that time in my life.
That one positive comment of N’s would have a powerful effect in shaping the way I subsequently viewed myself and in defining the type of person I wanted to become. But that natural desire to be a decent person would run smack into the unmovable wall of Fundamentalist Christianity which would soon try to crush all such tolerant and forgiving humanity. The conflict between humanity and religion would define the next decade of my life.
Just a few days later I was told that a train had crushed N. He was racing another car to beat the train to an unmarked crossing. The other car just made it across the tracks. N didn’t.
Returning To Religion
Dad pushed me to get back into church life. He insisted that I start telling people that I was now saved, a born again Christian. I felt awkward about that because it was not the way I perceived what had happened to me. I would never have thought of it as a conversion to Christianity or to religion in any way. It was just a personal change from the delinquent behavior of previous years.
But Dad took control again in his forceful manner. He stated firmly that I would not go out with my old friends and I would get back to church. It was no use arguing with him. He said that he had the court’s authority to back him up so I did not resist.
The old shame that had dominated my early years returned once again but with more conscious intensity. I did not want to get involved in the church again but now I would have to explain to my friends that I was religious. I would no longer be able to go out drinking or hang around at the Saturday night dances.
I also realized that I would have to go back to school to finish my last year or so of high school. It was horrifying to think of facing old friends as a shameful Christian, as someone who had become involved in religion.
I had often seen the religious types at school sneaking down the corridors, hugging close to the lockers that lined the walls, then darting glances every way to see if anyone was watching before quickly dodging into a class room for noon hour Bible study and prayer meetings. Art had often snickered at them. I would now be one of them.
But my family provided me with a last minute escape. They moved wholesale to Alberta that fall of 1968 just as school was to start. Their destination was the small village of Three Hills located some 80 miles northeast of Calgary, near Red Deer. Three Hills was the home of the world famous (at least in the Evangelical world) Prairie Bible Institute, known abbreviatedly by members as PBI or Prairie.
The court in Chilliwack, after hearing a recommendation from my probation officer that I be sent to prison, gave me a 2 year suspended sentence for my crimes. Once again, whew.