April Fool's Day
April Fool's Day reminds me every year of one special day. It was the April Fool's Day that I left the United States and returned home to Canada. I had resigned my pastorate in New Haven to return to Canada to both find a church in Canada to serve and to make sure my son was raised a Canadian. He was about to enter the first grade and I knew if he went through school in the US he would be acculturated as an American. He was born in the US and held duel citizenship with a special birth certificate as a "Canadian Born Abroad." You are what you live, not what is one the documents. It had always been my ambition to have a church in Canada. The time seemed right. I felt I had done what I could for the church in New Haven. I had also managed to be both a minister and a single father for the last two years of my tenure there so I felt I could fullfil both roles in a new charge. I was feeling quite optimistic for the future.
My brother, Richard and his first wife, Lynn, came down to New Haven from Toronto and helped me pack up all my worldly possessions and stuff them into the largest U-Haul I could rent. The last thing to fit in was my canoe. Everything just fit. I don't think I properly thanked my brother and his wife for there generous effort. Thinking back on it, I realized it was a substantial commitment on their part. Maybe, he saw it as payback for the time I drove with our father to Mankato, Minnesota to bring him home after he graduated from University. In any case, I remain impressed with this act of generosity and caring on his part.
With my son, Parker, in the passenger seat , in a truck like the one above, we left on a great adventure up the Connecticut Turnpike, across the Massachusetts Turnpike and then north and west on the New York Thruway to the border crossing at Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario.
The moment of truth at the border, when you pray the border agent doesn't follow any hunches.
I approached the border check point with much trepidation. Crossing the border always seemed a little scary to me. I know that you are in a no man's land between the American and Canadian agents. You could find yourself unable to go forward or back. While the Canadian border agents we always pleasant ("Welcome to Canada") the American agents always seemed like a tough bunch. "What's your citizenship.Where are you going. How long will you be in the US. " with a wave of the hand you are either waved into the US or directed to the side to be thoroughly questioned and searched.) I can just imagine how intense crossing must be these days in the present climate of fear.
In any case, there I was five minutes before midnight with a large truck full of all my worldly goods driving up to the US agent. I had prepared a detailed inventory of what was in all my boxes. There was among all that stuff 75 boxes of books. I knew I could be asked to unload everything and have the truck thoroughly searched. It was a slow night. There was little traffic.
Was the agent bored and wanting something to do? I opened the back of the truck for the agent to see my load. A long painful pause ensued. Finally, with a wave of the hand he had me close the door of the truck and he sent me on my way.
Two minutes after midnight I was waved passed the Canadian agent on the other side of the bridge. "Welcome to Canada." It was now April Fool's Day. I was safely in Canada with my 500 pounds of marijuana. . . . . . . . . . "April Fools!"
These were emotional days for me. The next morning I went out of my father's house and opened the back of the truck. There was everything I owned. Some of it had minor damage for the way I transported it. I lifted my Salem rocker off the end of the truck. Sat down. And, I cried.
Life had changed for me. I left a home, a job, a community of friends and a wife behind in the US.
I had no job, no house, few local friends, a unfinished suite of rooms in my fathers' house, a son who may need help to adapt without his mother near by and a new school and friends. I also was anxious about how my mother was going to behave. Two years earlier when I was facing divorce she had impulsively said "Come home, I will look after Parker." I had to tell her that I would look after Parker, he was my responsibility. Now here I was at her home just a flight of stairs would separate us. Was my mother going to try to take on the mothering role. I would have to forcefully say we would live separately. Their needed to be a lockable door between our homes. Also, Parker and I would eat together and not just be joining my mother and father for our meals. In the end, my mother had come to realize that she no longer had the strength to be doing everything for the two of us. I have no regrets about Parker have a few lovely years with my parents close by. At the time, It was all very stressful and depressing for me. What was our future be like?
I had been looking and interviewing for another church position. I had turned down an offer to become the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church
in Oneonta, New York. I decided to hold out for a position in Canada. To this day, I wonder if that decision was the right one. Oneonta is a lovely small city far enough away from larger cities to have it own integity. I liked the community and the church. It I had not had Parker, I probably would have accepted the charge. It is nice to see it is still a lovely town and a solid church.
I never did go back into the ministry full time. I had a couple of offers in the next couple of years I was back in Canada. One was to return to the US as the minister of the Third Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, an inner city suburb of Chicago. Austin is a largely black community, in decay, adjacent to the up scale community of Oak Park. Just as in New Haven, the line between the black and white communities was just a street of two apart. . . two different worlds. At the time, I was very interested in the inner city and the life in the black community. I have lived in such communities in Roxbury, Ma. and New Haven, Ct. Austin was a tough community. For the one and only time in my life I envisioned owning a gun. In the end, the church broke the rules and did not offer me the job. They had heard that their former minister was unhappy where he was and they invited him to return rather than hire me.This is not supposed to happen but I did not protest.
There were a few rejections. The one that was hurtful to me was to be rejected by our church in Winnipeg. They discriminated against me because I was a single parent. In spite of my successful life being a minister and a single father in the church in New Haven, they felt I would not be able to give them my undivided attention. I was insulted and very disappointed that one of our churches would hold such a view and not be supportive of a single parent as their minister. With more than 50% of our minister's now women I imagine ministers that are single parents are readily accepted today.
One last chance to be a full time minister. I let pass. I was offered the Unitarian Church in Halifax. Unfortunately, I got the call the day my mother died. I asked them for a little time to make up my mind. After a week, I declined, thinking I should spend at least a year with my father as he adjusted to being without my mother. I don't know if that was a real reason or an excuse not to go. With that decision, I realized I might never get a chance to serve a Unitarian Church in Canada full time. It was another one or those moment on the road through life when the rest of your life might have been quite different.
It all began with that fateful April Fool's Day, so long ago. In any case, I look to that day as the watershed day in my life that I look backward and forward to what was and what has been working out since.
Happy April Fools. Perhaps, "happy" is not the right word in my case.