Thursday, 31 December 2009

The number of our years.

The twenty-first century seemed like such a far off time when I was a boy. As each New Year's Day came and went, it crept ever nearer. Now we're celebrating the coming of 2010. In my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) book, I wrote about the first time I realized that years were numbered. Here is an excerpt that tells how it happened.
A point arrives in every child's life when time is no longer an undefined stream of experiences but becomes quantified and labelled. That point came for me during that first holiday after being away from home.

"It's New Year's Eve tonight," Mom announced to me as I sat at the kitchen table.

"What's that mean?"

"That's when the old year ends and the new one begins," Mom explained. "This year is 1964 and the new one is 1965."

I had no idea that years were numbered. My mind began sorting out memories as this amazing lesson dawned on me. Events in my past suddenly took on an historical hierarchy. The time Diane brought home a white kitten and Mom made her return it was 1963. I inadvertently set the brand new clothes dryer on fire in 1962. Our family vacation at Sylvan Lake happened in 1961. The time Diane and I gave our large teddy bear a bath in the washtub and we had to throw him out must have been 1960. My mind raced with recollections as I sat in the kitchen pondering my past that evening.

I suspect that my inability to easily recall how old I was during each year started then. Most folks remember the incidents of their lives relative to their birthdays. For no reason I can fathom, I still think of occasions like that as happening in 1964 and not the Christmas after I turned eight.
Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback, containing 6 black and white photos, sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. E-mail me for further information or if you don't have PayPal and still wish to place an order.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

If you can, have a tropical Christmas.

If you ever have the opportunity to spend December in the tropics, I suggest that you take it. I vacationed in Trinidad during the holiday season in 1982 and it was a singular experience to say the least.

An immigrant family from that Caribbean island became members of the house church which I attended in Edmonton. When their father visited the city, he was so impressed with our congregation that he started his own home-based church upon returning to the hamlet of Diamond Village. Two women from our congregation visited their's and were thrilled by their experience. I felt pleased when I received permission from Stephen, the son of the man who founded the Diamond Village church, to stay at his home for a month. A hotel would have cost too much and I wanted to live with the people, experiencing their way of life.

As I travelled by plane to Toronto, where I would connect with my flight to Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, I wondered if I would have to sleep in a hut or similar primitive structure. I knew they spoke English there but not much else about the country. I had a lot of time to wonder about my host's village during the twelve hour flight.

The first thing I noticed as I exited the aircraft was the strong smell of grass. I've heard that people who live in the Arctic often have the same experience when they visit southern Canadian cities during spring. Then Stephen introduced himself. As he left to fetch his car, I sat on the curb in front of the terminal and soaked up the warm sunshine while admiring the palm trees.

Houses in Trinidad were not primitive hovels, as I feared, but modern brick and wooden structures. Stephen lived in a two-story home which was divided up into three suites. The residents had electricity, though a truck did knock down the line to the house and we were without power for three weeks. Apart from buying ice from an ice factory to keep the fridge cool, and though the children missed watching television, we managed quite well with candles and oil lamps. In addition, I bought a battery-powered wall light for my bedroom.

I noticed early on that there was no hot water tap in the shower. When Stephen said the cold water was warm enough, I discovered that he was right. It felt like when a person first steps into a public swimming pool. I grew accustomed to the bracing temperature, feeling invigorated by the time I finished.

Staying with my friend and his family meant that I had to adapt to his schedule. He worked as a contractor so we only went places during his down time. These were often church-related events. Stephen and his relatives took me along to do mundane chores such as shopping as well. I found the latter to be fascinating. The various towns and cities we visited had both modern shopping malls and outdoor booths, often side by side. The decorations inside the mall had me scratching my head. It seemed most incongruous to have displays of reindeer and snow in a land which had no experience of either. Seeing beer sold in the grocery store was also a shock. That was never allowed in Canada. We did go to a few tourist places, such as the beach at Los Iros Bay, but our trips were mainly to local shops.

Since Trinidadians drive on the left side of the street, I kept walking to the wrong side of the car. After three weeks, I finally became accustomed to sitting in the left front seat. I soon felt as if I actually lived in Diamond Village instead of being a mere tourist.

I also adjusted to the accents of my friends and their different expressions. When I arrived in late November, I needed to concentrate or I would lose the gist of the conversation. By Boxing Day, when I left for home, I could follow their discussions easily. My friends also used sayings such as "just now" differently. That meant immediately to them, not recently. When the water supply was interrupted for maintenance, Stephen told me that the pipe was, "locked off." They also said that the ice in the cooler was "burning" my hand. I suppose that makes sense if one has never felt cold as we do.

Instead of lights and tinsel, some Christmas trees had coloured cotton ribbons draped on their branches. Many families had artificial trees since shipping Evergreens to the caribbean was expensive. Whether they were decorated Trinidad style or as in North America, presents were always left under them.

After the Christmas morning service, my friend's family and I opened our gifts. I received a lovely short-sleeved carnival shirt, complete with drawings of steel drum players, printed all over it. I wore my present, which fit well, all that day as we feasted.

Everybody ate the family's traditional Indian cuisine but the spices were placed next to the dishes instead of being mixed in. My hosts understood that I would appreciate not having my tongue catch fire. As a result, I had no difficulty with what I was served. The oddest thing that I ate during that vacation was shark meet. It tasted a bit like beef and had a grainy texture. I also thought it a treat to eat coconut meat out of the shell and drink its milk. Though the bananas on Stephen's tree in the backyard weren't ripe, I was amazed that they grew upwards, not hanging down as I had imagined. Stephen also kept ducks and we ate both them and their eggs. With the variety of tropical fruits and unusual soda pop flavours, I never lacked for interesting refreshments.

The sunlight seemed strangely dim when I returned to Edmonton. When a friend drove me home from the MacDonald Hotel, I absent-mindedly walked toward the driver's side before realizing my mistake. I soon adapted again to living in Alberta but I never forgot how nice it felt to wake up in summer-like conditions, to enjoy the warm breeze wafting through the windows, and the exotic scent of Trinidad's foliage after a sudden downpour.

I wrote more about that vacation in my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed, which should be in print next November. I have previously published When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies) and Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) which you can read more about at the Inscribe writers group website. E-mail me too if you want more information on my memoirs.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Being home felt like going to heaven.

Being "home for Christmas" has become a worn-out cliche in today's commercials, yet the words have a much deeper meaning than a dictionary could ever provide. For me in 1964, returning home after three months at an impersonal institution for the blind was like going to heaven. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is how the timeworn tradition felt like pure happiness to me.
Diane felt ecstatic when I came through the side door. She practically jumped into my arms and hugged me, nearly knocking me down the basement steps.

Because both parents brought me home, we ate only sandwiches for supper. I ate mine heartily. For the first time in three months, I was not eating institutional fare. "I hope you don't mind," Mom apologized. I was too busy wolfing down my supper to answer. Food never tasted as good to me as that impromptu meal did.

"I didn't have time to make your bed downstairs so you can sleep upstairs in your old bedroom," Mom apologized again. I did not mind that either. I was back home where I belonged and that was all that mattered.

I felt perfectly secure and totally content as I lay in the bed which Diane and I shared for our first few years of life. Being home was a dream-come-true for me. I delighted in the wonder of finally being with my family.

"Is this what it's like to go to heaven?" I asked Mom sleepily. She chuckled and said, "Maybe. I'm so glad you're home." Mom tucked me in and kissed my forehead. I drifted off feeling happier than I had been since summer.

Getting back to the old family routine was pure joy. For example, I could eat cereal again. Mom made toast which was not soggy. I had missed drinking Postum, a type of coffee substitute. Mom made me as many cups of that beverage as I wanted. The greatest joy of all was finally dining with my family. Playing with my own toys again and being with Diane felt like having sunshine after weeks of rain.
Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Scotty is gone but not forgotten.

The fact that parents must be constantly vigilant these days breaks my heart. Children once wandered where they pleased without fear of paedophile predation. It did happen occasionally but at nowhere near the rate it seems to now. In my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I recount the death of an elderly friend at Christmas as well as how he treated my sister and me as his own grandchildren.
"I've got some bad news for you," Mom announced. "Your friend Scotty froze to death in his sleep. His door blew open during a storm one night and the fire in the stove went out." My heart broke as I struggled to hold back the tears. The man who became the grandfather I never had was gone.

When Diane and I were both attending Park Elementary School, she introduced me to a senior citizen who everybody called Scotty. This man, whose real name was Frank, lived in a one-room tar-paper shack on an undeveloped lot in the town. On our weekend wanderings and trips home from classes, we often visited this amiable gentleman. He was generally pleased to see us, although we did occasionally try his patience. In spite of that, we grew fond of him and he became our surrogate grandfather.

Diane and I thought it was "really neat" that Scotty owned such a unique dwelling. It made our two-bedroom middle-class home appear humdrum in comparison.

While everybody else used natural gas, our friend cooked on a coal stove which also served as his furnace. I loved to warm my hands by it on cold winter afternoons and watch the glowing embers. As Scotty had no electricity, he burned candles and lit kerosene lamps. We wished we could have such exotic lighting in our house.

Many aspects of Scotty's home and life captivated us. His hand-operated water pump, for example, fascinated us. He used a real outhouse instead of an ordinary flush toilet. Scotty burned his own garbage as well. I envied him since Mom reprimanded me regularly for burning paper in the basement. He had his own rain barrel too. I felt astonished that the water ran down a stick, hanging from the roof, and how it flowed without needing a downspout into the barrel.

Since our elderly friend was somewhat feeble, we gladly helped him with his chores. Carrying in buckets of coal from his rickety storage shed, pumping water, and hauling it to the house made us feel virtuous. Working for Scotty seemed like such a fun way to pass the time until supper. Diane and I would frequently debate regarding who would do which chore, believing that the other was having more fun.

Mom claimed she received a premonition that she should visit Scotty on the evening he passed away but Dad vetoed the suggestion. Whether Mom was right or not, Scotty died the way he wanted to live, surrounded by his few possessions in his own one- room home.
Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Is decorating a "green" thing to do?

When I think of all the time and money expended on Christmas by people, I can't help but wonder why we bother with it. In fact, I believe Mr. Scrooge was right in the first place. Some will argue that activities such as decorating are fun. I certainly enjoyed it when I was a child but that was because I didn't have to pay for all the paper we wasted. In my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I wrote the following about this topic.
After the excitement of the prince's visit subsided, my dorm mates introduced me to the Tyler House tradition of Christmas decorating. With crepe paper and an abundance of enthusiasm, we each decked our bedrooms. The seasonal adornments added colour to the drab grey floor tiles and pale yellow walls of our quarters. Unfortunately, we were unable to attach anything to the ceiling. It was crisscrossed by concrete beams which were covered in a type of flaky grey stippling material. We attached the crepe paper to the wardrobes and walls instead.

I also learned the hard way that crepe paper has the distressing ability of stretching. Franklin, suspecting nothing, became entangled in my work. I took down the sagging streamers and hung fresh ones all over again, apologizing to Franklin all the while, who good-naturedly forgave me. On our last evening at Jericho, we gleefully tore down our decorations. Though it may seem like an insignificant act of rebellion, it was one way of expressing our opinion about being held in that institution.
In the following chapter, I wrote about how an argument happened between me and my dorm mates regarding sprucing up our quarters.
While everybody decorated their dorm rooms that December, I had a disagreement with the other boys. After arguing for approximately a half hour, I said, "How about you decorating your part of the room your way and I'll decorate my corner the way I want to?" My roommates agreed, ending the argument but not the bad feelings. I must admit that I over-decorated to compensate for only having my little area to work in.

On the night before we left for home, we did our usual ripping down of decorations. Gripped by the excitement of the moment, I decided to climb on top of the wardrobe and jump through the streamers over my bed. Fortunately, the springs were strong and I did not injure myself. No supervisor saw what I did either.
Though we now have recycling programs for many waste products, I feel that decorating is wasteful in itself unless the decorations can be reused year after year. Had all the money people spent over the decades on this holiday been used to feed and employ the poor, I'm sure this world would be better off.

Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The day I knew God got it.

Throughout most of my life, various Sunday school teachers and radio preachers gave me the impression that we had to lobby God relentlessly with our prayers before he would give us our daily bread, let alone do anything nice for us. Dickens' Mr. Scrooge seemed positively generous compared to the tight-fisted creator they portrayed. Worse yet, certain legalistic church elders taught me that I didn't receive the sight I prayed so earnestly for because I had hidden sin, a lack of faith, or ancestral sin blocking the way. That all changed on June 18, 2000 when God lovingly answered one of my most heartfelt prayers, disproving the blasphemous assumptions of my former teachers. The following is adapted from my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed, a story of my years in a cult church and my eventual discovery of the real God..
I sighed with pleasure as the long day of moving into the new house finally ended. As I lay in bed, I marvelled at hearing a chorus of frogs instead of the maddening rumble of Edmonton's traffic. "Thanks so much Heavenly Father for your awesome kindness to me," I prayed. I drifted off to the amphibian serenade and for the first time in four years, I slept without ear plugs. Waking up the next morning, I felt as jubilant as a child on the first day of summer vacation. "Thanks for today and this wonderful house, Heavenly Father," I rejoiced as I leapt out of bed. After racing to the bathroom and checking on my bunny, Gideon, to see if the move still upset him, I opened all the windows to let in the June breezes and then ate breakfast. The serenity of my new neighbourhood astonished me afresh as I munched my cereal. Everything I prayed for, God provided. I had asked for a place outside of a town, with no nearby neighbours, and with amenities. Now I lived in a three bedroom home in Radway, the sort of place that I had yearned so long and hard for. "Thanks Heavenly Father that you get it," I exclaimed as I walked to the kitchen window and admired the sunlit trees in the neighbouring field. "You actually get it about me. This place is a miracle. I used to think that you didn't care about my feelings but here's the proof," I said as I slapped my right hand on the counter. My eyes filled with tears of joy and relief as I realized how completely the Lord understood my need for quietude.
God still hasn't given me 20/20 vision but I see much better spiritually than all those physically sighted blind guides of the blind who once judged and condemned me. I hope to have How I Was Razed in print next year. In the meantime, please check out Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) and When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies) at the Inscribe Writers Group site. The page has descriptions of my books, pictures of their front covers, and PayPal buttons for your ordering convenience.

Friday, 20 November 2009

"Why should the Devil have all the good music?"

Today's christian teens have access to a wide choice of God-honouring music. Thirty-five years ago, this genre was in its infancy. LPs by a handful of Christian rockers were often found only in a few specialty record shops. Apart from Sweathog and Ocean, the latter being a pop group, I heard no Christian acts on the local rock station. Through the Edmonton Public Library's record collection and a friend I met through the Full Gospel Fellowship International, I discovered that there were artists and groups who really rocked for the rock. Here are just a few of these pioneers.

Larry Norman, who passed away in February of 2008, has a website where his CDs are available for purchase. The stock keeps changing as his organization has limited editions of his albums pressed or burned to CD-R. Even so, Larry's music was ground-breaking and unique. He often received criticism from older Christians for his songs due to the popular belief that the beat was a Satanic influence on teens.

Resurrection Band, also known as Rez Band and Rez, started out as part of a larger band called Charity in 1972. When the Jesus People community in Milwaukee split into four groups, the members moved to Chicago. As rock music was thought of as the Devil's tool by many Christian record companies, they had difficulty finding one that would sign them. They released two independent cassettes of hard rock before being signed to Star Song Records four years later. After going through stylistic and personnel changes, they broke up in 2000. The Resurrection Band site is inaccessible to screen readers but it has pictures of the group and audio of the band's music.

Stryper burst onto the music scene in the mid-eighties as a "white metal" overtly Christian band. Dressed in yellow and black, they often tossed Bibles into the audience during concerts. The group broke up in 1992, reforming and touring in 2003. Two years later, they recorded the album called Reborn and in 2009, they released Murder By Pride. Stryper, at the time of this writing, is still performing and touring. Samples of the two newest album tracks can be heard at the Stryper site. Information and photos of the band are also there.

Daniel Amos Band, also called D.A. or Da, formed in southern California, playing acoustic guitar music at coffee houses during 1974. They released their self-titled album two years later. Their 1977 LP, Shotgun Angel, showed the band's shift from country to rock stylings. The band went on to record rock albums such as Horrendous Disc and ¡Alarma! until some of the members started a side project called The Swirling Eddies in the late eighties. Daniel Amos came together again in the nineties for several more albums and concerts. Their music is still available at the Daniel Amos site.

In my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed, I tell of how the cult church elders criticized me for the music I loved and how a handful of Christian rock records strengthened my faith. I also mentioned my passion for secular rock music in my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir. More information about it can be found at the Inscribe writers group page.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The principle of one principal.

Did you ever get punished for something that was not your fault, even when you tried desperately to explain yourself? I had the misfortune to be doing the wrong thing at the wrong time back in 1966. In those days, corporal punishment was still practiced in the educational system. Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind was no exception. From my memoir, Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), here is one example of when I was unjustly discipline.

In all my time at Jericho, only once was I unjustly strapped. One rainy November afternoon, a small riot broke out in Mrs. McMaster's class. As we waited for her to arrive, the noise level of our chatter rose steadily. Soon children began pushing each other off of their chairs. Mrs. McMaster stood in the doorway and tried to regain order. My classmates were making too much noise to notice her. She turned on her heel and fetched the principal.

"Alright you kids, whoever's standing - come with me!" Mr. Brice thundered. I had been pushed off my chair and stood looking for a place to sit when the principal rounded me up with the other rioters and sent us to his office. One by one, we had our hands slapped with the strap.

"I wasn't doing anything wrong," I protested through my tears. I started explaining why I was out of my seat when our principal interrupted. "Don't lie to me. I saw you standing in class. Go back to your room and behave from now on." I followed the other boys back to the Music Room, fuming at the injustice of it all.

Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Royalty in the rain.

Though my exile to Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind was a hardship, it did provide experiences that I may never have had. One of those was being in the presence of Prince Philip. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is the account of how it happened.

Jericho received a second important visitor that year, and his coming temporarily took my mind off my troubles. Prince Philip visited Canada and one of his many stops was in Vancouver. Though a steady drizzle fell all that day, everybody was in a state of heightened anticipation. Before the prince was due to arrive, a woman from the Administration Building knocked on each classroom door to brief us. "All of you kids must wait by the parking lot to welcome His Highness," she instructed. "None of you is to stand on the road. You wait on the sidewalk next to it. Here are some Union Jacks for you to wave when the motorcade comes." The woman handed Mr Lao a box of flags to distribute to us and left.

The same messenger returned a while later to announce that the prince was about to arrive. Everyone crowded around the parking lot's perimeter, waiting for the big moment. "He's coming!" the woman proclaimed. As we franticly waved our Union Jacks, two long black vehicles drove swiftly around the lot before stopping in front of the bowling alley and swimming pool. The Jericho staff had erected a covered podium on the lawn next to the building, where we all dutifully gathered, waved our flags, and listened attentively. Since I was at the back of the crowd, I could not see what our regal visitor looked like. After a school staff member introduced the prince, he stepped up to the microphone. "I see your weathermen must have known of my visit here today. All this rain makes me feel quite at home," he quipped. I failed to understand why everyone rocked with laughter, not knowing how habitually damp the climate of England was. His Highness then delivered a long speech filled with the sort of generalities which members of the Royal Family are wont to say at public appearances. My mind wandered as the prince spoke, so I am unable to recall specific details of his speech. All I remember was that some important person with a posh accent was droning on and on while we became increasingly chilled.

After Prince Philip finished and the school officials thanked him for visiting, His Highness' staff members gave all of us blind students a ride in their black limousines. I suspect the deaf children were given the same privilege. The size of the vehicle to which we were led astonished me. I had never seen any car that large before. It even had a set of grey folding chairs which were squeezed between the front and back seats, allowing many of us to fit in each vehicle. I was not in the car with the prince but my group rode with two other officials. As the chauffeur drove through downtown Vancouver, we were oblivious of the honour granted to us. My classmates and I became engrossed in chatting among ourselves while the men in the front seat discussed arrangements for His Highness' next appointment.

When we returned to our classrooms, Tracy, a platinum blond intermediate dorm girl with a bossy voice, came around to collect our flags. "We don't have them anymore. Some deaf kids yanked them out of our hands and ran away," several of us lied. I felt strongly tempted to hand mine back to Tracy and expose the deception we agreed to but my nerve failed me. I never heard if punishments were meted out to those unfortunate students who we blamed, but we justified our covetousness by thinking that we ought to have been given those flags as mementos.

Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 30 October 2009

A tribute to a caring supervisor.

Life in a boarding school can be painfully lonely. Because of this, little gestures of thoughtfulness by the staff matter greatly to those children forced to live there. Whenever kind-hearted employees buck the trend of being disinterested minders, they make life bearable for the institution's students. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an excerpt that relates one man's generosity toward us inmates.
Our supervisor pleased us all with an outing on the evening before Halloween. "We're going to have a bonfire. Everyone come and follow me," he announced at the door to each bedroom. We eagerly grabbed our coats, put our shoes on, and followed him to the brow of the hill overlooking the school.

Mr. Cooper collected branches and bits of scrap lumber to fuel the bonfire. Then he lit it. The flames roared up, warming our faces. Mr. Cooper placed more wood on the fire when it began to burn low. A shower of sparks rose into the twilight sky.

"Wow!" I exclaimed. "I never saw that before."

"Haven't you ever seen that?" our supervisor asked. "Fires do that, you know. Watch this," he said and poked the bonfire with a stick. Another cloud of red hot ashes soared upwards. All the boys who had sight gasped at the spectacle.

"I want to show you boys something real exciting," our supervisor announced. "These are horse chestnuts. When I throw them into the fire, they'll pop." A minute after he tossed a handful into the flames, we gasped in unison at the small explosions. Even those who were totally blind relished that, as well as the loud pops the wood made as it burned.

After a while, Mr. Cooper led us in a few songs. I did not care for that activity but I enjoyed the ghost stories he told afterwards. They suited the darkening gloom and the mood of the evening well. We had not had that much fun around Halloween in years. Mr. Cooper made the night memorable because of his bonfire and his genuine love for us.
Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant examples of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A birthday away from home.

Most children celebrate each birthday at home until they become adults. I was not so fortunate. My eighth birthday was spent five hundred miles away from all I knew and loved. Even so, I made the best of the situation. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an excerpt that relates what happened on that day.
I spent my eighth birthday away from home, another new experience. Somehow, I had the notion that presents would be waiting for me the moment I woke up.

"It's my birthday - where's my presents?" I excitedly asked Mrs. Sandyford.

"Why do you think you would get gifts so early in the morning?" she asked.

"I thought that maybe things might be like that here," I admitted sheepishly. When no presents arrived that day, I felt terribly let down.

As it was Sunday, my supervisor let me play records all afternoon. I had a splendid time. "I want to do this for all my birthdays," I enthused to Mrs. Sandyford. "You'll not be allowed to if it's a week day," she reasoned. "You'll be in school next year you know." That fact totally eluded me.
Though I had fun that day, I felt chronically homesick throughout my time at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. My condition was inadvertently made worse when my Uncle and aunt came to visit me there. Here is an excerpt that tells what happened.
Miss Boyce ushered me into the waiting room, normally off limits to children, where my uncle and aunt sat.

After asking how I was doing, Uncle Bill gave me a white race car, a gas station, and a silver dollar for my upcoming birthday. As we chatted, Uncle Bill assembled the gas station. Then he presented it to me. I marvelled at its gas pumps and rows of toy automotive products. A cosy feeling, similar to being home, swept through my heart as my uncle and aunt encouraged me to play with the toys. Jericho faded into the background as I enjoyed being in the company of my relatives.

All too soon, my uncle and aunt hugged me, wishing me well. Sadness engulfed my heart as they walked out the front door. Christmas was still two months away, almost an eternity for a child on the verge of turning eight years old.

"I'll keep your dollar safe in the desk and you can ask for it next June when you go home," Miss Boyce promised. As I had no reason to disbelieve her, I meekly handed it over. "A whole dollar is a lot of money for a schoolboy you know," Miss Boyce explained.

My beautiful gas station did not last long. Piece by piece, it became progressively vandalized until my supervisor threw it in the garbage. The race car did not last either. I felt heartbroken that everybody was allowed to play with my toys and wreck them with impunity while I was severely punished for taking apart the space station.
Today's disabled children need not be sent to distant institutions as I was forty-five years ago. They can be home-schooled or enroled in designated local public schools equipped to help them. Please visit the Inscribe writers site and click on the Deliverance from Jericho button to learn more about this book. Though it was written for a general audience, this memoir would be of interest to teachers and vision-loss professionals. They doubtless would benefit from contrasting my experiences with that of today's registered blind students.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The great water fight of 1964.

Blind and visually-impaired children are just as mischievous as their sighted peers. I amply demonstrated this in my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir. During my first term at the institution, I perpetually ran afoul of both supervisors and teachers. The following excerpt is just one of the many examples of my rebellion against the dictates imposed upon me.
More trouble came my way when I foolishly followed the crowd. One night someone started a water fight. At first, I tried to ignore the rapidly growing chaos in the hallway. "We're having a water fight. You want to join us?" a boy invited. "No, I better not. I'll get in trouble." "Come on, you're missing out on the fun," he urged. The object of the game was to spit water at somebody and the other person was supposed to dodge it. I forgot who spat a mouthful at me but I retaliated. Soon the hall floor was drenched as many of us joined in the fun. "The night nurse is coming!" a boy warned. Everyone involved in the water fight scurried into bed and tried to act as if nothing had happened. Suddenly we heard a thud and a splash as the night nurse slipped in the hallway. "Who's responsible for this mess?" she demanded as she went to each bedroom. "Everybody out of bed!" The night nurse checked our pyjamas and wrote down the names of anybody who was wet. Then she told us to change into dry pyjamas and go to sleep.

All those involved were rounded up after school the next day for questioning by Miss Boyce. "I want to listen to Peter's record player," I whined as our supervisor dragged me out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the Quiet Room. Along with our supervisor, Superintendent Principal MacDonald, a stern grey-haired man, joined the inquisition that afternoon. The questioning appeared to continue interminably. I remember that the ringleader was spanked but I cannot recall his name.
Having been raised in a home where discipline was somewhat lax, it was inevitable that I would get into trouble repeatedly that autumn. During the writing of my memoir, I recorded as many of these incidents as I could remember to demonstrate the humanity of us blind students. To learn more about this 196-page paperback memoir, please see the Inscribe page.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The bowling ball convoy

One of Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind's proudest boasts was its two-lane bowling alley. The chief accessability feature of the facility was a set of chrome hand railings to guide blind children as they bowled their balls. What the proud administrators failed to tell the public was that the alley lacked pin-setting machines. Two hapless students inevitably spent their entire recreational periods setting up pins and sending back balls. Even so, the more inventive of us victims found ways to amuse ourselves. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an example of our mischief and how we had revenge on our dormitory supervisor, Mr. Moiarty.

I did not mind going bowling and I understood that somebody needed to set up pins as well as send the balls back. Even so, I hated those tournaments which the intermediate and senior dorms held. Mr. Moiarty badgered me until I agreed to set up pins for the teams. The first Saturday afternoon of the tournament was warm and sunny. The weather clashed with my bleak mood as I shuffled into the bowling alley. While I was setting pins up, and before I signalled that I had moved out of the way, he decided to lob a ball down the alley.

"Get out of the way," he shouted, suddenly realizing what he did.

"What!?" I called. The ball hit my right shin with a resounding crack. I doubled over, howling in agony. Mr. Moiarty raced to the pin-setting booth, picked me up in his arms, and carried me to the infirmary. All the way there, he apologized for not looking first. Fortunately, my shin was only bruised but it ached for a couple of weeks. However, that accident did not excuse me from setting up pins for long. As a result, my loathing of organized sports grew rapidly that autumn.

Though working in the pin-setting booth was tedious, Geoffrey and I, who usually were sent there, did find ways to amuse ourselves. The funniest of these was to hoard balls until the bowlers ran out of them. Then, the two of us placed almost all of the balls on the rails. Like a convoy of trucks, they rolled toward the rack. All but one travelled up the slope to where the bowlers waited. When that ball rolled slowly back toward the pin-setting booth, Geoffrey or I sent the final ball down the rails. It collided with the other ball, knocking it onto the alley and toward the door. The game caught on with the other boys, much to Mr. Moiarty's annoyance. I happened to be at the other end of the alley one evening when he chased a rogue ball into the lobby. The ludicrous sight of our supervisor frantically grasping at and missing the ball had me doubled over in uncontrollable laughter. We considered ourselves fortunate that no punishments were meted out for showing such disrespect. However, we giggled behind Mr. Moiarty's back whenever someone mentioned our bowling ball convoy game.
My memoir includes many other acts of innocent devilment and harmless defiance of authority in a matter-of-fact style. The final chapter contains a short history of Vancouver's infamous institution from it's beginning in 1922 to its closure in 1998 due to the sexual abuse of deaf pupils. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 U.S. from the Bruce Atchison PayPal-equipped page.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Has the world ended yet?

Preachers continue to predict the world's end and it keeps not happening. Family Radio founder, Herald Camping, is one of the latest ministers to claim that the Bible has given him an exact date for Judgement day. He reasons that from the flood during the time of Noah to 2111 is exactly 7,000 years. Camping figures that Noah entered the ark on May 21st, so the wrath of God will be poured out on that date in 2111. In view of his failed September 6, 1994 prognostication, this one also is unbelievable.

Back in 1970, I fell victim to this end-times prediction addiction. Here's an excerpt of my next book, How I Was Razed, that shows how gullible I was regarding those prophets of doom. Its still in need of revision and editing so I apologize for any mistakes in the text.

The entire nation was shocked on October fifth when the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ), a group dedicated to violently removing the province from confederation, kidnapped British trade commissioner, James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour and Immigration, Pierre Laporte, five days later. These events troubled me deeply. Was this one of the end time signs? Would Christ come and take us to be with him before the nation broke up? "I'm worried, Stephen," I confessed that evening. "What are we going to do when Canada is no more?" "Don't be such a moron," he scorned. "Canada's not gonna break up. The government will deal with the FLQ and that will be the end of it. You're so naive," he added. Though I made no reply, I still felt that the country was in peril.

Prime Minister Trudeau seemed to have the same opinion. The War Measures Act was enacted on October sixteenth. It drastically curtailed personal freedoms and gave the police powers to enter homes without a warrant. Most Canadians applauded this action but some felt it was an unjustified intrusion into personal freedoms. Though some innocent people were arrested and a barn, used as an FLQ meeting place, was burned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Federal Government of Canada had valid reasons for concern. During the years 1963 to 1967, the FLQ planted 35 devices in a systematic programme of bombings of government and English Canadian business establishments. From 1968 to 1970, they planted over 50 bombs. Having armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Montreal upset Canadians accustomed to the blessings of a peaceful country. the body of Pierre Laporte was found in the trunk of a car on October seventeenth and James Cross was freed on the third of December. Some FLQ members were arrested, some fled the country, and the group was disbanded. I thanked God for his intervention in the crisis, though I wished that nobody had been killed.

On the thirty-ninth anniversary of the FLQ's heinous crime spree, My fears of that day seem ridiculous. I now know that Christ said nobody knew the time of his coming except for his father in heaven. These phony end-time prophets have cried "wolf" so often throughout history that few folks believe them. When Christ does return, it will be as sudden and unexpected as a thief in the night. I, for one, won't waste a moment trying to guess when that will happen. I'll keep on giving to the poor and studying the Bible as God meant it to be read, not through the theological lenses of publicity-seeking preachers.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The day I snapped.

Charles Adler, a national talk show host, recently had a segment on his program regarding bullying in schools. He said that administrators aren't doing enough in confronting their parents about the harm their children's cruelty does to their victims. In my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I had much the same problem with authorities not dealing decisively with my nemesis. Here's an excerpt that tells what happened when he finally pushed me past my breaking point.

Remembering our success with getting Mrs. Parker fired, I spoke to Mrs. Corrigan about the school bully. She listened patiently while I poured out my grievances with him to her.

The next morning, she came and called Charlie out of class. His face was brilliant fuchsia when he came back in. "Atchison, I'll get you for this," he threatened as he returned to his seat.

Terror seized me all through class. I had difficulty concentrating on the lesson. Never had I seen the school bully so angry. When recess came, I retreated to what used to be the swing set next to the junior boys' dorm. The adults had removed the swings and hung landing nets, the type marines use, in their place. Few students played on them since the novelty wore off rapidly.

Suddenly, I saw Charlie coming through the school doors. I quickly climbed to the top of the net to get away from him.

"You caused me a lot of trouble you know," he said. "Why did you have to tell Mrs. Corrigan all that stuff about me?"

I clung to the pole at the top of the former swing set, fearing the worst.

"I'm not such a bad guy," he assured me. "Come down and I promise I won't hurt you." I doubted that, having been tricked by him before. Fortunately for me, Charlie let me go without beating me up.

Charlie teased me as usual one evening at the Dining Hall. I tried to ignore him as the adults continually advised but to no avail. Anger and frustration built up in my mind as I ate. Before I had time to think, I lunged at Charlie and grabbed his throat. He pulled my hands away as he said, "whoa - wait a minute. I was only joking." Everyone at the table sat in stunned silence as I realized what I did. The school bully suddenly became apologetic and shocked. "You weren't really going to kill me were you?" he asked. Charlie was much kinder to me after that.

Though I believe revenge belongs to the Lord and I was wrong to literally take it into my own hands, he gave those in authority the responsibility of maintaining order and justice. Jericho's principal failed her God-given duty in that her lacklustre "talking to" only made Charlie angrier. This incident convinced me that bullies of all sorts, from school boys to terrorists, only respect superior strength. Appeasement is seen by them as a sign of weakness. Our politicians and school administrators would do well to heed the lesson I learned back in June of 1970.

Friday, 18 September 2009

One step closer to publishing my next book.

I'm pleased to present the cover art for my next book, How I Was Razed. This is a memoir of my fifteen years in a cult church, my rejecting god for nine years because he didn't heal my sight as they claimed he would, and my eventual discovery of authentic Christianity. If all goes well, it should be in print next year.

As I edit the manuscript, I'm continually astonished at the absolute nonsense I once believed. In the house church, their self-appointed and anointed teacher of God taught that we were once aliens, that even God was physically damaged from the radiation caused by the nuclear war in heaven, that the earth was created so we could be born into bodies not genetically damaged by radioactivity, and that we would colonize the stars once God made a new heaven and a new earth. He also taught that aliens were watching this planet to witness the manifestation of the sons of God and that we would someday evangelize the mutants throughout space. This false teacher further claimed in 1972 that Quebec would soon separate and lose a war with Canada, that the southwest United States would be uninhabitable, that ultraviolet tatoos would be put on us as identification which we could use to access our bank accounts, and that those refusing this mark of the beast would flee to a city of refuge in the Northwest Territories' Nahanni Valley. This pseudo-minister even claimed to have the stigmata and that cloths soaked with his blood would protect whoever bore them.

Being a naive convert, fresh out of Vacation Bible School in 1969, I had no idea just how blasphemous and crazy the notions this man taught as gospel truth actually were. Thanks to a series of personal mistakes and the influence of genuine Christians, I now know what the Bible really teaches and how to read it for all its worth. I hope that How I Was Razed will comfort those who had similar experiences and warn them not to throw the metaphorical baby out with the bath water. Writing this memoir has helped me too. Confronting the agonizing betrayals of my trust and taking them to God in prayer has helped ease the pain caused by those memories. As with writing the Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) book, dealing with past hurts instead of hiding from them has actually eased my terrible feelings and nightmares. For more info on this and other wise biblical counselling, check the Hope For The Heart site. If you would like similar artwork for your project, check out the Hamtramck Idea Men site.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The shock of an exiled child.

Forty Five years ago on Labour Day, I believed I was merely going to a new school. Being only seven years old, I had no notion of how far Vancouver, British Columbia was from my home in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Consequently, I assumed the airplain ride would be part of my daily routine. When a young woman supervisor collected us at the airport and drove us to a large brick and concrete art deco building, I thought it was a hotel. In my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I wrote of how the hard truth of my situation knocked all those naive notions out of my head. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter that tells how it happened.

I followed the rest of the boys back to the dorm after school. Doubtless, I thought, a grownup would soon be picking us up and taking us home. As it was a warm sunny afternoon, the wait was somewhat pleasant.

Becoming bored with hanging around the swings, next to the dorm, I asked one boy, "When will we be going home?” "Christmas," he said bluntly. I could not believe my ears. "You're joking!" I managed to blurt through the shock. "No, I'm not. We really have to stay here till December."

I felt utterly devastated. How could my parents betray and abandon me in such a far away place? Christmas seemed a million years away. What began as a wonderful adventure suddenly became a tragedy. I held back my tears, though I certainly felt like sobbing.

That was not the only shock I received that day. Miss Boyce sent everybody to bed at seven. I could not believe it. No one went to sleep at that hour of the evening. "This must be some sort of mistake," I thought, so I started to wander the hall.

"I told you to get back into bed!" Miss Boyce ordered.

"I want to play. The sun's still shining."

"Go back to bed and I mean it!" Miss Boyce barked.
I shuffled back into the bedroom feeling thoroughly defeated. With the sun blazing brightly outside, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep. To my surprise, I drifted off fairly quickly.

At my web page, you can read more about this memoir of my time at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind as well as my debut memoir, When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies). Please contact me via the web page for further details and watch this blog for more book excerpts. I also am on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, I have a few videos on YouTube. See you there!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Back to School made me sick.

Remember your first back-to-school shopping trip? Was it a fun experience? You might be shocked to learn that Mom never took me to buy school supplies until I was in grade 8. In the following excerpt from my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I explain why.

At almost fourteen years of age, I had never been shopping for school supplies. Mom, my sisters, and I went to the city one afternoon to buy what we needed. I felt overwhelmed with the choices of pencils, notebooks, rulers, and other items which I would require now that the B.C. government no longer supplied them for me.

Then an incident happened which caused me grave concerns regarding my future. Mom led us around a wealthy neighbourhood to pass the time until our bus left for home. The sun beat down from a cloudless sky as we strolled along the sweltering sidewalk.

"Can we stop and rest?" I pleaded, "I feel so hot and tired.

"Just keep walking," Mom said. "Look at those lovely houses! Your friend Randy lives in one of these."

As we waited to board the Greyhound bus that evening, a wave of extreme vertigo swept over me. I staggered and tried to catch my balance. The depot began to grow dark. I saw what appeared to be ashes floating in the air. Then I tripped over a suitcase and ended up kneeling on the cement.

"What's the matter, huh! Huh!" Mom badgered as I desperately wished I could lie down. Passengers around me stared and some shouted suggestions. A security guard came over and helped me to my feet.

"We better take him into the office," he said.

"I feel sick," I said as I sat in a swivel chair. A guard fetched a garbage can. I promptly vomited into it. Then I leaned back, trying to make the remaining dizziness go away.

"I guess we'll have to take a cab home," Mom admitted as our bus pulled out of the lane. "May I borrow your phone?" The guard handed Mom the receiver and she dialled a taxi company.

I headed straight for my bed when we arrived home. As I lay listening to the radio, Mom marched into the room.

"Why the hell did you have to pull a stupid stunt like that for?" she blasted. "You cost me nine dollars, you know that?" As she ranted on, my heart sank. It was not my fault I became ill. In addition, I did warn Mom that I felt hot and tired.

Today's North American disabled children are commonly educated in local public schools, at home, or in nearby special schools. Half a century ago, kids such as I were shipped off to distant institutions for months at a stretch. Please visit my page to learn more about this unfortunate page in Canadian history. You're welcome to follow the progress of my next memoir, How I Was Razed (and How I found Authentic Christianity), on Twitter.

Friday, 21 August 2009

"You can't treat people like that, you know."

One of the common topics on The Albert Mohler Program is the reluctance of young adults to grow up and leave home. There are actually twenty-somethings who rely on their parents to do their laundry, feed them, and let them live at home without paying rent. Some do this because of economic reasons but others want to spend their disposable income on fun things like big screen TVs, MP3 players, and cars. As far as I'm aware, parents generally don't mind or they reluctantly put up with this state of affairs.

My adolescent experience was totally opposite to those stay-at-home adult children. After attending Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind, I lived with a family that Mom paid to take care of me. This was because I needed to attend a special school in Edmonton that had counsellors to help me by recording reading assignments and with other sight-intensive tasks. As a result, I had to grow up quickly. In fact, my first landlady's expectations were, in my estimation, unfair. From my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed (and How I found Authentic Christianity), here is an excerpt about how I was expected to make an adult decision while still being a child.


Sometime during the summer, I complained to Mom about the long journey to school each weekday. "If I could live within walking distance, it would give me more time to do homework and relax," I suggested. When I enrolled for my grade nine classes, Mom had still not found a new boarding room close to the school. This uncertainty caused considerable stress between Mrs. Boyle and I. After three weeks of receiving no definite answer, she confronted me.

"Listen, Bruce, Will you be staying here another month or not?"

"I don't know. I've asked my mom but she hasn't told me anything yet."

"When will you know about what your mom will do?"

"I don't know. I'll ask her when I go home this weekend."

"I need to know now, not next week. You can't treat people like that, you know." As she began a tirade about considering others, I thought, "It isn't my fault that Mom hadn't found me a new place to live yet. I would never mislead anybody, especially Mrs. Boylle, about that." This situation seemed extremely unfair. I had no experience in finding new living quarters, my isolation at Jericho preventing me from learning most social and living skills. Fourteen-year-old children generally know little about adult responsibilities in any case.

"May I call my mom on the phone then?"

"Well alright but don't talk too long. It's long distance and you know how much that costs."

I dialLed Mom's number and briefly described the situation. "Tell her I'm still searching the newspaper for suitable boarding houses," she advised. Mrs. Boylle remained unsatisfied but she had to accept that answer for the time being.


Though I understood my landlady's dilemma, in that she needed to find a new tenant or lose a month's rent, I still fail to comprehend why she didn't call Mom herself. In fact, adults who use children as go-betweens ought not to criticize them when they let them down. It wasn't my fault that Mom hadn't found me a new place. On the other hand, she could have shown me how to do laundry, cook for myself, and understand the process of finding new accommodations. Many of today's twenty-somethings still appear to lack this knowledge.

Friday, 7 August 2009

"the rest of the story."

In my previous blog post, I wrote about an event that changed the direction of my life and eternal destiny, namely surrendering control of both to Christ. As Paul Harvey used to say, here's "the rest of the story."

After leaving Mrs. Blacklock's Vacation Bible School, nobody contacted me or my family about attending church. I didn't even receive a Bible or New Testament to study after I put my faith in Christ. In fact, I had no idea of how important those disciplines were to the development of my faith. Back at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind that September, I attended the same Anglican church I had gone to since I was first exiled to that institution in Vancouver five years previously. The government allowed me to attend public school in Edmonton the next year but the family who I boarded with never went to church. As a result, I listened to Christian programs on the radio each weekday evening and became enamoured with the teaching of Garner Ted Armstrong. His authoritative style and the things he said seemed so much more intelligent than the usual preaching I heard.

The second family who I boarded with in 1971 introduced me to a most remarkable man. At his house church, This "anointed teacher of God" taught us about humanity's pre-birth existence as space aliens, how the Holy Spirit was actually a force of millions of departed saints, that every other church had only portions of the truth, and that a city of refuge in the Northwest Territories' Nahanni valley awaited vulnerable Christians escaping the soon-coming mark of the beast. Additionally, he allowed the spirits of deceased Christians to inhabit his body and teach advanced members of the congregation arcane secrets. He also prophesied Zaphnathpaaneah's (Joseph's) resurrection and subsequent conquest of Canada, Quebec's imminent secession from Confederation, and part of downtown Edmonton slipping into the river valley. As I had no discernment training, I believed it all.

Throughout the 15 years that I faithfully attended Thee Church, the elders continually condemned me. My passion for CB radio and rock music were despised as evil, my purchases of an open reel deck and stereo were considered wasteful, and the assistant minister often prevented me from "bothering" our minister with questions. Most devastating of all to me, my chronic failure to be healed of my poor sight was considered by the elders to be a sign of hidden sin, a lack of faith, and unconfessed ancestral sins. The non-stop criticisms and hypocrisy of the church leaders caused me to leave in 1987. I turned my back on God for 9 years before coming to my senses. Thanks to a blind friend in America who sent me good Christian radio shows on cassettes, I deprogrammed myself of all the lies I'd been taught and learned the truth about Christianity.

Condensing more than 40 years of my life into a single blog post is difficult. I've had to leave out many important events for the sake of brevity. Telling the full story is why I'm currently working on my next book, How I Was Razed (and How I found Authentic Christianity). Millions of people are lured from Bible-believing congregations by those who promise them secret knowledge and power while preaching things that are manifestly bogus. My hope and prayer is that my testimony can help those people, as well as the ones hurt by cults as I was, to learn the real character of the Heavenly Father. God willing, this book should be in print next year.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Something far better than cookies and Kool-Aid

Monday, August 3, will mark a milestone in my life. Forty years ago, I made a decision that profoundly changed me. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is the story of how I started on a spiritual journey that continues to this day. My hope is that you'll follow the same path that I did back then.

"Sharon's mom is having a Vacation Bible School in her basement. She wants me to invite everybody I know. Would you like to come?" Diane invited.

At first I felt ambivalent, remembering what happened the previous summer. "I suppose so," I said after thinking it over, "I can always go home if I don't like it."

Diane and I attended all five days of this home-based Vacation Bible School. I came expecting to enjoy Kool-Aid, cookies, and stories. To my amazement, I received a much more valuable truth in the curriculum.

Once we were settled down, Mrs. Blacklock began her lesson. "Did you know that you can have a personal relationship with Jesus?" she asked. As I had never heard that doctrine before, I listened all the more intently.

"The Bible says that we are all sinners and that nobody is good enough to go to heaven," she continued. "Going to church is nice but it won't save you on Judgment Day. Only believing in Jesus Christ will save you from going to hell."

I felt shocked. Could this honestly be true? No one told me about that before. I thought only wicked people went to hell.

"If you give your life to Jesus, he will come into you and live in your heart." This sounded impossible too. Jesus was up in heaven and God appeared uninvolved with his creation.

As she outlined how Christ died to pay for our sins and that we could be forgiven because he took our punishment, my heart stirred within me. Could this actually be true?

Then Mrs. Blacklock told the story of Nicodemus and how he was an outstanding religious teacher in Israel. Even with all his education and status, he had no understanding of what it meant to be born again. Suddenly, I realized the meaning of what Jesus said.

A few years previously, a Christian clown visited Jericho and performed magic tricks in the boys' Playroom. Along with the usual vanishing objects and interlocking hoops, this man told us how Nicodemus met Christ late one night. It was merely one of many Bible stories to me then. Now I realized that it applied to me as well.

I pondered what Mrs. Blacklock taught us all during the week. As at previous Vacation Bible Schools, I coloured, memorized Bible verses, and listened to Bible stories. Mrs. Blacklock handed out Gos-pills for correct answers. They were actually jelly beans but I savoured the play on words. Mrs. Blacklock also pretended they were vitamins as she handed them out and urged us to, "Vite 'em in to Sunday School." She then told us about her church and the fun we would have while attending it.

On Friday, Mrs. Blacklock asked us a life-changing question. "Would you like to invite Christ into your heart and accept him as your saviour?" Though I could think of no serious sins of which I was guilty, except for stealing the glass lumps, I decided I had nothing to lose. I raised my hand and said yes. Our teacher led us in the sinner's prayer and then she welcomed us to the family of Christ. Though I felt nothing dramatic happen, joy and a sense that God was pleased with me filled my heart.

I ran all the way home, a distance of a few blocks, after the school ended. "I've been born again!" I exclaimed to the family as I rushed through the front door. They all stared at me, saying nothing. Doubtless, Mom and my sisters thought I had lost my mind. I felt let down because I thought they would understand this important life-transforming decision I had made. Either nobody told me or I failed to understand that not everybody would comprehend my spiritual transformation.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Today is a sad anniversary for me. One year ago, my beloved Netherland Dwarf rabbit, Neutrino, died. Though I have four bunnies to keep me company, Neutrino had his own unique personality and charm. He lived in my house for eighty-two months, allowing me to become intimately familiar with his irrepressible character. As I wrote in my debut memoir, When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies), he had a rough start to his life. Below is an excerpt from the book regarding Neutrino's arrival at my home.

After Sunday service one August afternoon, my friend Willy strolled up to me. "I've got this little rabbit," he began. "He's in a pen with the others, but they keep biting him. The poor guy just sits in one corner of the cage while the rest of the rabbits sit in the other. He's too small to be a meat rabbit, so I was wondering if you wanted him."

I felt sorry for that poor picked-on bunny so I accepted Willy's offer. Sunday after Sunday, I waited for him to bring me the rabbit, but something always stood in his way. It wasn't until the last day of September that my church friend brought the rabbit in a dilapidated carrier. "I want the carrier back sometime soon," Willy said. That didn't bother me at all as I had other carriers which were in much better condition.

When I arrived home, I took out the bunny and placed him in the white cage, which I then moved into the living room. As I watched him exploring his new surroundings, I pondered the interesting things Willy had told me. Three church families had that poor rabbit in as many years and all lost interest in their pet. The children must have manhandled the little creature, causing him to be wary of them. No wonder he cringed and was jumpy whenever I reached out to stroke his fur. Of course, he was traumatized by the big bunnies that bit him and that could have accounted for his nervousness too.

The last family who had him called him Peewee. I despised that name because it reminded me of that children's TV show Peewee's Playhouse. Since the rabbit was tiny and his black fur made him hard to see in dim light, I called him Neutrino. In scientific terms, a neutrino is a sub-atomic particle that is nearly impossible to detect and can pass through most matter without disturbing it. I also loved the rock group Klaatu's song The Little Neutrino.
That was in 2001. A year ago, Neutrino's day started out badly. Because I used paper from the library's shredder for his litter, he refused to wet on it. My left foot found the spot on the carpet runner where he peed. I put the rugs in the washing machine and cleaned up the mess, grumbling all the while about the fact that he had to be such a brat first thing in the morning. When I looked into Neutrino's cardboard house before supper, I found that he had wet on the newspaper I'd placed there and his behind was soaked. I took a basin and cleaned his butt before placing him in his newly-changed litter. As I answered e-mails after supper, Neutrino had a seizure. Racing into the kitchen to find out what the noise was, I saw him lying on his side. The silence I heard when I held his chest to my ear told me the sad truth.

Though I still miss Neutrino, I feel that I gave him the peace and security he lacked at his first three homes. Most bunnies never receive the affection and vet care that he had. My hope is that my memoir will cause its readers to treat their bunnies as well as I did Neutrino.

Friday, 17 July 2009

"One small step" forty years ago

Forty years ago, the first human set foot on the lunar surface. To celebrate this milestone, NASA has released digitally-enhanced video of that historic landing. Here is an excerpt from my second memoir, Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), that tells of my family's experience of that exciting event.
It's an interesting fact that human beings remember exactly what they were doing during the times when historic events happen. July 20 started out as another bright Sunday morning. Diane, Linda, and I spent several hours at the creek, picking saskatoons. We saved most of those purple berries but none of us could resist eating a few. "I'm just making sure these are ripe," we told each other.
When all three of us had filled our small pails, we walked home for lunch. Diane and I had a difficult time keeping Linda, who was only four, from eating all of her berries, especially since we struggled with the same temptation.
The town was ominously silent as we headed home. The sky became overcast and not even a bird sang. Nobody was on the streets or in the yards either. "They must all be inside watching TV," Diane remarked.
I agreed and wondered aloud, "It's so eerily quiet. It's like the whole world is holding its breath, isn't it?" Doubtless, everybody was waiting for the historic moon landing to happen.
Our family ate the saskatoons for dessert, topped with condensed milk and sugar. The combination of flavours was delicious and we savoured every mouth-full.
Then we settled down to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing coverage on television. Even though the set's contrast was failing, our eyes remained glued to the screen. Walter Cronkite appeared to be on every channel and his reporting gave us the feeling of actually being at the Houston mission control.
As we watched the newscast, various experts speculated regarding what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would find once they landed. NASA installed large pads on the Lunar Module's feet in case the moon was covered in fine dust. Some scientists speculated that the lunar surface would have collected approximately fifty feet of it over the four billion years of our solar system's existence. Only the most optimistic people believed there might yet be alien lunar life.
The Lunar Module separated from the command module and began its descent to the surface. We watched eagerly as we saw on the screen how the moon came up closer and closer. As some scientists had predicted the ship might crash on the surface, I silently prayed it would land safely.
Finally the moment came and we heard those famous words, "The Eagle has landed." Humanity's first voyage to another world was a success. Then we waited as Houston made the decision to let the astronauts leave the Lunar Module. We felt thrilled as we watched Neil Armstrong descend the ladder and to hear him say, "That's one small step for man; one big step for mankind."
All of us cheered except Linda who was too young to comprehend this momentous event. We tried to explain to her that two men were walking on the moon but she still did not understand. At that age, everything is both magical and possible so why shouldn't people be on the moon?
In addition to this account, I wrote reminiscences of many other cultural events of the sixties. While I was in Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind and at home, these milestones had a profound effect upon me. I feel certain that those of us who lived through those turbulent times, and who actually remember what happened then, will enjoy my memoir. At the moment, it can be purchased for $25.00 U.S.D., plus $8.00 for shipping and handling, by sending a PayPal payment to Bruce Atchison.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Listening is the best medicine.

Listening can be the best medicine.

During my half century of life on this planet, I've found that listening can be the most helpful thing one can do. This was aptly demonstrated recently when a certain friend poured out his troubles. The only contribution I made to the conversation, apart from monosyllables, was that perhaps something in his wife's childhood made her behave as she did. This friend e-mailed me some days later and said that our talk did him a lot of good. By the way, I'm being deliberately vague here as this is a private matter between this friend and myself. I do my utmost not to betray confidences placed in me.

I can recall many times in my life when a listening ear was all I needed in order to sort out my troubles. In my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed (And How I Found Authentic Christianity), I tell of the professionals who listened to me without an attitude of condemnation. Though the psychiatrist gave me no concrete answers, I realized that other people weren't as superior as they appeared and I wasn't such a bad person. A psychologist gave me a few insights but no real answers that I could sink my metaphorical teeth into. Even so, just having a safe place to sort out my troubles was of great help. As I told her, it's like having a clean table to dump out the contents of a bag on instead of just rummaging around in it. Everything is in plain sight but not in danger of becoming soiled. Two pastors gave more help in just a few hours than all the therapists that I had seen. I'm not yet free of past hurts but a talk show host named June Hunt suggested that I hand over my anger and my troubles to Jesus Christ in prayer. This, and writing my memoirs, has given me the most help in dealing with my past.

Either through ignorance or malice, people have given me trite advice that did more damage than good. Like the time my sister, Diane, rubbed my broken arm to make it better, these well-meaning critics caused me a lot of pain. For example, the elders at the house church that I attended, and that I'm writing about in my next memoir, admonished that my poor sight was due to ancestral sin, my lack of faith, or unconfessed sin in my heart. The legalistic attitude of these people eventually turned me against God for almost a decade. I came to realize it wasn't the Lord's fault but the bad council of people claiming to serve him. Another piece of harmful advice came from teachers and principles at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. "Ignore the bully and he'll stop bothering you," was their mantra. I suffered for years as a result of heeding them. Only after I tried to choke the bully to death did he stop harassing me. I wrote of this and other wrong-headed council in Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School).

I've heard folks joke that God gave us one mouth but two ears. There's a lot of truth and wisdom in that. If people listened twice as much as they spoke, more help would be given those who needed a friend to confide in. When people listen in order to understand, rather than to correct, it helps both parties come to a resolution or at least to a feeling of satisfaction.