Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The Toronto Interlude

There was a bond between my mother and I that never existed between me and my Dad. The bond with my mother was established at birth and nurtured by years of talking together, working together and playing together.

My older cousins have told me of their appreciation for their Uncle Walter. The man they described was someone that I never knew. I wish that I had and I sometimes think that if we could meet now that we would find each other interesting and even likable. I wish that could have happened in his lifetime. I don’t think of him as an evil man, I don’t hate him, but there just was never a warm father and son relationship. Most of the time the relationship was cool, at best lukewarm, and sometimes it was fiery hot.

It was good for me to get away again. I still didn’t have much of a clue about anything, but I must have grown a little more backbone and a little more interest in others during that time at home.

I don’t remember the train ride to Toronto, registering at the school or how I found a place to live. But I have clear memories of the place I first lived. Karl Frey, a German from Romania was a painting contractor and he had acquired three big old houses on Lyndhurst Avenue, just a block or two from Casa Loma. He and his wife, with their young son, occupied the main floor of the middle house. One house was rented to a family. The rest of the rooms in the middle house and the third house were rented out, mostly  to students at DeVry Tech.The school was on Lawrence Avenue, a good distance away, so Karl provided a van that we all piled into to get to school and get home again. This was old Toronto, stately old houses, tall trees on both sides of the street whose branches formed a leafy green arch over our heads.

I lived in the same house as the Frey family. I think there were seven of us in that house,  myself, Peter Nassler and Lyle Mitchell, both from Saskatoon, Donald Kim Chu from Vancouver, a Bourgeois from New Brunswick, a young man from Québec and another from Sudbury. We occupied the two upper floors of the house, sharing a bathroom on each floor. There was a kitchen for our use in the basement and a TV room. There must have been laundry facilities also. Peter, Lyle, Don and I became good friends and spent long hours discussing subjects of national and international importance. We were quite sure that we westerners saw things clearly and the eastern people around us were all lost in the fog.

I even remember two of the teachers at the school. Mr. Wolf was German, taught math, had an off colour sense of humour and a very disorderly classroom. Mr. Foucault was French-Canadian, very serious, taught electronics and there was no nonsense in his classes. The office manager was a very nice lady named Ariel.

I’m not sue how long it took to finish the course, I believe it was a good year. I found work as a quality control inspector at Renfrew Electric, a manufacturer of resistors and other electrical stuff. One of my co-workers there was a young man named Gallant Gainsiegge (I’m not at all sure of the spelling, but I think that is close). He had grown up in East Germany, escaped to West Germany and then came to Canada. At that time there were still a number of European companies manufacturing very small automobiles. One of them was DKW of West Germany. Officially, DKW stood for Das Kleine Wunder (the little wonder), but Gallant told me that people in Germany called it Deutsche Kinder Wagen (German kiddie car).

After finishing school, Peter, Lyle and I moved together into rooms in the bungalow of Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum, an older Jewish couple on Lyndhurst Drive in Downsview. Don had found work in northern BC. Mr Nussbaum still had a pickup that he used to go around to various factories to collect scrap metal to sell. I went with him to help a couple of times. I also cut their grass with a reel mower. That’s what I was doing the day of the total solar eclipse on Saturday July 20, 1963. There were warnings not to watch the eclipse directly. It had rained recently and there was a 40 gallon drum in the back yard and the top was filled with water. At each pass with the lawn mower I would glanced at the sun’s reflection in that puddle to follow the progress of the eclipse.

Downsview was north of the 401. One day us three Saskatchewan boys stood on the Dufferin Avenue overpass and watched the bumper to bumper traffic beneath us, three lanes in each direction. We could hardly comprehend the enormity of such a thing. By now I can see the same kind of traffic in Saskatoon and in places the 401 has grown to 12 lanes in each direction (counting feeder lanes).

Mixed in with our discussions of how to fix the world were discussions about starting a business together. We got as far as getting permission to put up a sign in a local store for our appliance repair business. I successfully fixed a toaster and a mixer but soon we moved again and that was the end of our big business.

I guess my backbone still had not stiffened up enough as I found myself looking for another job. What I found was a job in the Admiral factory in Port Credit (now part of Mississauga). This was a long way from where we were living so the three of us moved again to the west end of Toronto. It took me an hour to get to work, first by street car and then two buses. I had been making $1.25 an hour at Renfrew, Admiral paid $1.60, a huge increase.

I was given a spot at the end of the radio assembly line. My job was to plug in the finished radio, turn it on and adjust it so the needle lined up correctly on the dial. If it didn’t work, then it was my job to find the loose connection and add a bit of solder to make it work. Then I would insert the radio in its plastic cabinet and it was ready to go.

The TV assembly line was not far from my work station. In the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963 I noticed that the TV workers were leaving their work stations to cluster around a TV at the end of the line. I wandered over and asked what was going on. Someone said that President Kennedy had been shot.

The work day was soon over and I made my way home. We spent the next two days watching events unfold on TV, seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV on Sunday afternoon.

I did an enormous amount of walking during those two years in Toronto, exploring the city. I believe I attended church three times. Twice in a massive old brick Anglican church on St. Clair Avenue, not far from the place I was staying on Lyndhurst Drive. There I at least got a warm welcome from the black usher, but that was all. When we moved to Downsview I made one more attempt, attending a newer Anglican church in that area. That left me completely cold.

My job at Admiral eventually came to an end and in 1964 I made my way home to Saskatchewan again, only home was now in Moose Jaw. I never used my electronic training again.

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A Teenage Failure

It was good to be home again, to eat my mother’s cooking, to sleep in my own bed in my own room, to help out around the farm and to visit the old buffalo rubbing stone, my rock of refuge. I was sure that the people in town thought of me as already a failure at the age of eighteen, so I avoided contact with them as much as I could.

After a few weeks of this my father exploded into my room one Sunday morning to angrily demand that I get dressed for church and come with them. He was right, I needed to get out among other people, but his way of forcing the issue did nothing to make me feel any less a failure. However, the rejection I dreaded at church never happened and I slipped back into the familiar rhythm of Anglican worship services.

There was perhaps some solace to my soul in the magnificent words of the Scriptures, prayers and hymns, but I don’t recall much spiritual sustenance in the sermons. The preacher at that time was a young man from England who never really got acclimatized to the prairie way of life. One sermon that I remember was about what an evil game hockey was and how cricket was the proper sport for Christians. He was that much disconnected from reality in rural Saskatchewan. I don’t think anyone ever tried to set him straight, they just politely ignored him.

Gradually I dared to peek out from my protective covering a little bit at a time and found that I suffered no painful consequences. I still went to find the peace and quiet of the old rock, but perhaps the long walks along the ravines did as much for my mental state.

This is long ago, I have repressed these memories for years and many things are no longer clear to me. I believe it was at this time that I worked for a few days helping to pour the foundation for a new high school. It has come back to me that the incident of my father burning himself and me taking over his farm duties and janitorial duties at the hospital occurred during this period.

I must have been home at Craik for almost two years. In the summer of 1962 I was off to Toronto again, this time to attend DeVry Technical Institute to learn electronics. Not that I was terribly interested in learning electronics, but it was a field that offered many job opportunities and once again my parents were ready to pay my way, so off I went.

A Vagrant Without a Clue

I didn’t report the theft of the money to anyone. I never considered asking anyone for help or advice. To admit the theft would be to admit how stupid I was and face the humiliation of being publicly denounced for my stupidity. That was my state of mind at least.

I don’t remember many details from so long ago, but I packed all my stuff into a trunk and sent it by rail to Toronto. For all I know it’s still sitting in the baggage storage there. And I bought myself a ticket to Ottawa. I didn’t have any purpose or goal in mind; I didn’t have a clue. I just wanted to get away. What did I want to get away from? I didn’t have a clue.

I still had some money and I spent a couple months in a seedy hotel. I walked the city, the paths along the Rideau Canal, around Parliament Hill and the ByWard Market. I did a lot of reading. People I avoided. I was still wrapped in my protective wadding, seeing, watching, but not a part of anything that was happening around me.

When the money had about run out I spent a night or two at a men’s shelter. Then I decided to hitchhike to Toronto. I didn’t have a clue where I would go in Toronto or what I would do. Maybe something would work out.

I must have gotten a ride that took me almost to Smith’s Falls. I don’t remember; all I remember is walking down the highway near Smith’s Falls and getting a ride from there that took me right into Toronto. The man who picked me up was disappointed. Driving up from behind I must have looked like a girl as I hadn’t had a hair cut for several months. Before he dropped me off he gave me money for a haircut.

Here I was in downtown Toronto, still with no money and still without a clue. I was hanging around one of the big stores to keep warm when a young police officer asked to see my identification. He was startled when he saw my name and showed me his identification. His last name was Goodenough! He kindly advised me to move on and try to find a proper place to sleep and keep warm. I had no clue how to find such a place.

A night or two later a couple of homeless men led me to an abandoned house where we could at least have a little shelter for the night. In the middle of the night men with flashlights discovered us. They were police officers and they hauled us off to jail.

The next morning we were summoned to appear in court on charges of vagrancy. When my turn came a Salvation Army officer intervened and said he would take responsibility for me. The judge discharged me into his care. I was taken to the Salivation Army men’s shelter and led to curtained off space with a proper bed.

I don’t know how long I stayed there. It was warm, the food was decent and I dimly remember hearing a gospel message or two in their chapel. Not that the gospel registered on me in my state of mind. People sometimes came to the Salvation Army looking for workers for a day. I remember going out with a few other guys to distribute flyers in a prosperous looking part of the city. I was intrigued bythe houses; remember – I had wanted to be an architect. I wondered what they looked like inside and what kind of people lived in them. The guys I was with had no patience for that kind of dreamy talk. The more flyers they could distribute, the more money they would make. This was my first time doing something like this and I didn’t do all that great a job of keeping up with them.

A few days later the officer in charge of the shelter asked me to come into his office. He told me that the Salvation Army operates a missing persons service and through that service my parents had found out where I was. He dialed their number and let me talk to my mother. A few days later I was on the train again, going home to Saskatchewan.

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