My mother was divorced, where should I go?
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Author: Bruce Woods
Pastor with 50 years of service, Writer and Author of <Between Two Women: A Stratford Story>, Great Grandpa of 22 great-grandchildren and 10 grandchildren, loves reading, gardening, and writing. You can reach him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
October 31, 1948—I am now seventeen and at long last, I am free! At last--happy with an unfolding future full of hope. I was a boarder paying nine dollars a week at Art and Margaret Sadler's house in London, Ontario and they have semi-adopted me as though I was their son. At the dinner table, we had grandpa Sadler, the Sadler family including Ron who is my age, and Betty their eleven-year-old daughter plus six other boarders all nineteen-year-old girls. They had just graduated from High School and were enrolled at the Teacher's Normal School, which conveniently is right across the street. My memories of those wonderful conversations around the Sadler table were full of inspiration and laughter. On Sundays, I went to the Baptist church with the Sadlers, where I met another twenty-five kids my age. True—I had to work part-time to pay for my room and board but the happiest life I could ever imagine was mine.
Time to retreat seventeen years to my childhood! I grew up in Stratford, which is a little north of London. I was dearly loved by my Grandmother and Grandfather, but at age three my Grandpa died. Unfortunately, my mother Ethel, who now had been divorced by my father lived and worked in Stratford with a disappointing life. Oblivious to her troubles and with plenty of playmates I had a happy childhood.
Each night my grandmother's bribe to get me to go to bed was the promise to read to me from a storybook called Hurlbuts' Story of the Bible. My prayers were memorized and ended with "Now I lay me down to sleep!"
My two best friends were Royce Clark, a Lutheran, and Vince Schooley who went to the Catholic Church. In wintertime, they always made an outdoor skating rink, which was a great place to play hockey under the watchful eye of the older Catholic kids. Summertime brought canoe rides with my mother on the Avon River. Then came the Sunday concerts in the park.
When mother's brother Norman got married to Jean, he moved away. Meantime, I inherited his bedroom and my games and toys took over my former sleep quarters. Add to all this, the success of my mother's Beauty Parlor business now made extra things affordable like going to movies every Monday night.
The first special event, I remember was in 1938 when the King and Queen of England visited Stratford. The Following year World War II broke out. Grandma, mom, and I would always listen to the war news after supper. I shall never forget June 22, 1940, when France surrendered. I was so scared they'd invade Canada but mother replied, "Don't worry Bruce, if the Axis ever did that, the Americans would stop them." So, my mother bought me some Dinky war toys to fight the Germans, which I always won. Little did I know in a domestic way war was coming to our house.
Coming home from school in March 1941 when I was eleven, I heard my mother screaming at Grandma as I came through the door. "You never warned me about men!" She shouted with a lot of other nasty words and tears. I stood astonished and confused. Finally, she ran upstairs crying and flung herself on the bed.
Compassionate but understanding how shocked I was, Grandma turned to me and said, "Oh Bruce, I've been trying to keep this a secret for so long but you saw all that and now it's all out in the open. I don't understand your mother's anger at life, but she blames me for it all. I suppose this is the result of her tragic divorce. What I cannot understand is why she blames me for all this when I tried so hard to warn her before it was too late."
For three months I tried to forget what I could not understand when suddenly my mother announced to me that it was time that I should meet my father. I met the father and Phyllis his second wife. The first impression for me was the lovely house they lived in, next came the tool shed and finally my half-sister Pat that was one year older than me. After a happy week with my other side of the family, I was now aware of the comparison. We seemed so poor compared to the luxurious home my father owned and I started to weep but quickly stifled away the tears. My comparison was the worst thing I could have done for the relationship between Grandma and my mother. Grandma, trying so hard to protect my mother, rebuked me. The home was slowly becoming a war zone with me as the unsuccessful peacemaker between mother and her ongoing feud with Grandma.
After grade six came a reprieve. In the summer of 1942, mother saw an ad that resulted in a two-week vacation at a farm right at Lake Huron. Mom and I went to visit the Bogie Family where I met their son Graham. Wow! Their lakefront was complete with cottages and the luxury of swimming at the beach. That's where I got a mix of farm life and lakeshore life as well. Feeding the chickens, watching the pigs, and getting my hand licked by a calf took up the morning, which for a city kid was quite the experience. Next came the lakefront in the afternoon; after supper was hide and go seek and sometimes a bonfire at the beach with the Milky Way Starlight to observe.
The next five summers I was with Graham and he would visit me in Stratford to learn all about city life during the winter holidays. I even got to go to Graham's one-room schoolhouse for two weeks, one September.
Despite all this, my happy childhood was now gathering storm clouds. Mother's fits of rage were taking on a tragic twist of mind. Back in 1931 divorce was rare and through the years my mother's fertile imagination was now gradually sponsoring a new fantasy. She was sure that people were looking at her as an evil woman who was a seducer of men. She imagined gossip was spreading throughout our town and my mother was the subject matter. She could see it just the way people were looking at her. Try as I may, I could not convince her she had conceived a lie. Finally, her rage against grandma had reached the point of no return. Despite her toughly confused mind, she thought up a way of escape just when I had turned fifteen.
"Bruce, I have made a decision. We are going to move to Vancouver where I am going to establish a new beauty parlor and make lots of money. Furthermore, you will be the beneficiary as we collect that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
At long last, a solution to mom's problems had come. From my point of view, this was also a solution for grandma, who due to mom's fits of rage was now suffering from palsy. Mom's deranged plan took us West in wintertime on the train in November 1946. The beautiful landscape we were supposed to enjoy was swept over with snow.
Winnipeg was so blustery the day we arrived we could hardly see the buildings. The prairies were none better. Jasper Park was an improvement but cloudy. The Rocky Mountains we were to enjoy were missed because we traveled to British Columbia at night.
When we arrived in Vancouver it was raining. My mother's reaction was, "Let's go to a movie while I think this thing over. ”Her decision was quick and after a delayed dinner lunch mom said to me, "I've made a mistake, I should have gone to Calgary to set up my new business." By six o'clock we were back on the train to cold but sunny Calgary.
My visit to enroll in the biggest High School I had ever seen shook me to the core. Worst of all, my mother could only get a part-time job in her profession. Next came the revelation when she told me she was not as rich as she thought and was out of money so we had to live in a single room with a shared kitchen. At age fifteen, "the penny dropped." My mother was on a wild goose chase. This whole venture was a nightmare from a mixed-up mind.
My decision came quickly! "Mom, I will sell my bicycle and my skates, and I will buy a ticket home on the bus. When I get there, I'll find the cash to get you home. ”Alas! I discovered I only had enough to buy a ticket to Chicago. Solution! "No problem! For the rest of the way, I'll hitchhike home."
Didn't know in 1946 that a minor was breaking the law if he tried that kind of thing in Illinois. A policewoman, who arrested me when I asked for directions rearranged my plans. She made me phone my uncle Norman who came to the rescue with $15.00 for a train ticket home. Next, Grandma and I raised fifty dollars for mom's return, which got her back just in time for the Christmas season. She made a hundred dollars in a week, about the same as she had earned for four weeks of work in Calgary, Alberta.
Things did not get better back in Stratford and poor grandma paid the price. Finally, mom's three brothers stepped in and sold the house. Grandma and I moved in with uncle Gordon and aunt Elsie.
Mom decided to start a new business in London, Ontario. Six months later, after I finished my grade 11 High School class in Stratford, I moved to London to witness her ultimate failure. The grand admission came next! Mom finally said to me, "From now on you are on your own." That's how I wound up living at the boarding house with the Sadlers.
It took a while, but God stepped into my life. A pretty girl that I took a liking invited me to church. That got me started so I decided to read the Bible. Of all things in Genesis. Not where I would steer someone today but it was right for me. My big issue was is the Bible true. Once I had established that it was, I fell by my bedside and invited Christ to be my Savior. The next day I stopped using profanity. I immediately concluded I must have become a Christian.
Then came the miracles. My mother married a farmer, and from that time on her troubles seem to slip away. I had the next three years of my life with the Sadlers and loved every minute of it. Then in 1951, I married Joan Amy, a beautiful girl from Waterloo, and attended University in her hometown. Then came one more miracle.
By 1953 I had four years studying my Bible and teaching Sunday School. Last two years my class had forty young people. Great preparation! Meantime, I had a preacher friend named Clayton Wilhelm, who was supposed to preach at the Arthur Baptist Church the first Sunday in September, Labor Day Weekend. Due to an unexpected conflict, he asked me to take his place. With two days' notice, I prepared my sermons, and to my amazement, after a deacon's consultation in the afternoon, they called me to be their pastor.
I was twenty-two years old and as of yet the graduate of nothing. Ultimately, after graduating from University I would attend Dallas Theological Seminary and spend over fifty years in the ministry. I have finished my days in Hamilton where I, with the help of others, established Hamilton Baptist Housing Ltd. Our committee built 161 townhouses for low-income people. I also wrote my autobiography entitled "Between Two Women: A Stratford Story" which sold over 12,000 copies. In my sunset years at age eighty-nine, I often smile at the wonderful path that God designed for me.
My Uncle Wray Woods, an Anglican Christian, when he discovered (thanks to our developing friendship late in the game) by reviewing my life's story said this, "If I had known what you were enduring to work your way through high school, I would have adopted you and cared for you all the way through University."
My reply was, "And you know what Wray if you had done that, I would have gladly accepted it. But as I think about it, had that ever happened there is so much about faith and life, in general, I would never have learned. So maybe the life I had to live was for the best----a great preparation for the ministry I now enjoy."
Theologically, I believe God is in control of things yet gives us some freedom as well to make mistakes, and overcoming them is a learning lesson for our life's journey so we can be a blessing to others.
Yes---and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.