Friday, 2 December 2011

Gathering Storm Clouds

This part of my story is quite distressing for me and I have been in a quandary as to where to begin and which way to go with the yarn.

I was most certainly busy most of the time that I lived in Ottawa. As well as regular duties at Westboro United there were Presbytery and Conference meetings/gatherings to be a part of. Somehow I was elected to the Board of Stewart House - a retreat center located in the village of Pakenham some 30 miles northwest of Ottawa.

This duty meant that I had an early evening meeting in Pakenham once a month from autumn until spring. I remember, with amusement, one evening when I telephoned my regrets - an ice storm had descended upon the region and I did not fancy a drive out there on icy highways. Those who were there razzed me about that. They were the members who lived up in the hills in Lanark County, west of Pakenham. They drove over on the icy back roads so, certainly, I could have navigated the highways out from the City?

I do enjoy people so I met many - including a number who were not a part of the congregation. One of the first of these was Gary whom I had met at a function at another Ottawa church. He was looking for a place in which to live so I invited him to share my roomy house with me. Thereby I met a close friend of his, Roland, as well as Gary's fiancee - Lynn - and her elderly aunt. Roland also lived at my house while Lynn was often there for meals.

One weekend Lynn invited us all to visit her parents who lived out in Almonte (for you basketball fans, Almonte was the hometown of James Naismith who invented basketball - after he had moved to Boston to teach). We had been there for lunch and then decided that we would go for a drive through Lanark in order to see an unusual rock formation in a local quarry. Instead of taking the highway we opted for a scenic drive through the back roads which, because of the terrain, were not straight.

At one point some of us noticed a cloud of dust in the direction where the road we were on would be turning. Sure enough another car came flying around the corner. brakes were applied, and we were hit head on. The car was a mess but none of us were hurt beyond being shaken up.

What happened next absolutely astounded me. The lad driving the other car jumped out of the wreck, unhurt, and began apologizing only to be interrupted by some young men from a third car that was behind the one that hit us. They began punching the boy who had hit us - NOT because of the accident, but because he had taken the auto without permission. They were speaking a form of English but with a strong Scottish accent and this was my introduction to Canadian "hillbillies". Their ancestors were originally from Scotland but had lived in that marginal farming area of the Lanark Hills for generations.

Both cars were badly damaged but none of us were hurt.

There were others who lived at the manse - as well as the Covenant Players who were in the house during their visits to Ottawa. Most were good friends and 'housemates' but there was one who generated a fair bit of trouble. It turned out that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and was the catalyst for the events that ended with me being told to leave.

While he was there he did travel with me (to Montreal as well as to Vancouver) causing me a number of anxious moments. During the final horrible week in Ottawa, his mother invited me out to lunch - to thank me for giving her son the longest period of 'relative stability' that he had had in quite some time.

While I was in Ottawa, my Aunts Marie-Anne and Cecile retired from active work as nuns. Just prior to that they were honored by the Order on the 50th Anniversary of their Profession of Vows. In the eyes of those two ladies - while I was not a Roman Catholic - I was the 'Priest of the family' so my presence at the Renewal of Vows ceremony was commanded. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to sit in the choir loft in the chapel with the other priests. Thereby I was an observer of the ceremony - but not a participant.

Wayne Purdy, ma tante Sister Cecile Lacasse, me and Cecile's twin, Sister Marie Anne Lacasse following the service honoring 50 years of my aunts' vows. 

Wayne's mental instability spun way out of control and I found myself desperately trying to warn other people that he was 'out to get them'. It all ended on one weekday in December 1976 when I was called into Dr Matheson's office where I was discharged from my duties. I was given an airline ticket back to Vancouver and was told to leave ASAP.

I flew home wondering what I would tell Mom, Dan, sisters and friends. They all welcomed me and did not ask any questions - just waited for me to be ready to talk. While I was staying with Mom and Dan I received a telephone call to tell me that a member of the congregation (a policeman who served on the Morality Squad) had proof that I was indeed a homosexual.

I did fly back immediately after New Year, stayed with friends who lived in Hull, Quebec; and with their assistance we quietly packed everything. An agent of one of the national moving companies was a strong United Churchman and he agreed to look after the moving of my 'stuff' back to B.C. As soon as I was settled, I informed him of my new address and my belongings soon arrived.

During that visit Dr. Matheson took me out to lunch where - in the course of the conversation - he told me that I was never to return to Ottawa again! That threw me - how could I (who was not a felon) be barred from visiting a city?

Fast forward to Remembrance Day Weekend, 2000. I had been living in Toronto for 11 years and a friend and his partner were being sent to Ottawa to attend a special event. They offered to take me with them so I asked them to remember to pack their suits as we would be going to church on Sunday morning.

We drove up to Ottawa on the Friday for the event scheduled for Saturday evening. Saturday was the 11th of November so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Remembrance Ceremony which was very well attended and, also, very moving. The other two went off on their own while I caught a bus out to Westminster Avenue. I walked past what was once my 'home' and then past the church and then where the Mathesons lived. While passing the church I looked at the sign board out front noting the time of the Sunday Service - only one while there had been two when I was there.

As it so happened, the boys had forgotten their suits so were dressed in denim and leather jackets but we went to church anyway. It was Remembrance Sunday but the church was only one-half to two-thirds full. We sat in a pew near the back with me the furthest in from the aisle. At the end of the service there was the usual Recessional of the choir. As that was finishing I felt somebody pat me on my back.

I turned and saw three or four older people two rows back. They looked familiar but I could not put names to them. One of the women said, "Ernie! Is that you? Where did you go to, what happened"? Nobody had said anything to the congregation when I had disappeared.

The minister had finished shaking hands with departing congregants so came over to find out who the two fellows in jeans and leather were. I pushed in front of them - I was wearing my suit - and said, "I am Ernie Lacasse!" He jumped as if he had received an electric shock. Then he told me that I had left a 'preaching robe' behind (which I do not believe that I did) and that he would give it to me as soon as he had finished with the lingering congregants.

My buddies were smokers so they went outside for a cigarette while I made my way to the 'Ladies Parlor' for the Coffee Hour. As I was pouring my coffee I saw Major Hauser, a Korean War Vet, and spoke to him. When he recognized me he too jumped.

He had suffered injuries in Korea and, by that time, he was fairly crippled and apologized that he had to find a chair quickly. He too asked me what had happened at the end of 1976? Just then my friends returned so I introduced them to Rollie as the minister also approached to tell me that he was free to give me 'my robe'.

I had recognized another couple - the parents of the young woman who had gone with me to Hollywood to join the Covenant Players. They were still in the sanctuary where a new synthesizer was being demonstrated. From the minister's office I went there to greet them. Muriel - the wife - was sitting in a choir stall and, therefore, out of reach while Duncan - the husband - was standing at the front of the church. I touched him on the shoulder, he turned with a look of puzzlement so I said. "It is me, Ernie Lacasse!" Unlike with Roland and the lady in the church pew, I did not feel at all welcomed.

When the three of us left to drive back to our hotel - and brunch - I was told that Major Hauser had said he had always wondered what had happened to me as he thought that I had been a good minister!

However, I was able to slay the dragon!

Since then I have met a few openly gay United Church clergymen - as well as one who has undergone the procedure in order to change from a male body to that of a female. She had been to Westboro recently and said that the congregation had disbanded and the building sold.

Times have changed - but too late for me.

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