||My Feller Memories|
I wrote this section to contribute my 2 cents worth to a pre-existing discussion of sex at Feller. However, a funny thing happened on my way to the sex forum… it took me too long to get this piece written and when the relatively tame musings on Rick's site provoked a couple of letters of protest, the discussion suddenly disappeared (I believe it's now back if you know where to look). Anyway, in spite the fact that some of the context was missing, I forged ahead anyway and provided some of my observations on the strange and unusual courting rituals of the feller natives. I'm no stranger to controversy but it didn't seem that I raised the sleaze content above acceptable levels, since my contributions did not elicit further protests.
In a previous, but now missing-in-action memoir, Rick Elger suggested that sex was difficult to talk about at Feller. Well, I don't entirely agree with that (big surprise). At least the boys talked about it at great length amongst ourselves. I think that what Rick may have been suggesting was that we were actively discouraged from talking and thinking about it by the staff. I agree, I don't recall ever having a frank and helpful discussion about reproductive biology with any adult. I grew up my whole life amidst the strait-laced Baptist need to deny anything to do with sex; and it seemed that it was especially important to repress the blossoming curiosity of our adolescent sexual hyper-drives. At Feller in my days, this produced tension in boy-girl relationships that was as thick as the lumpy mashed potatoes Mr. Lacombe used to serve in the dining room (did any one really believe the legend that the specks of black pepper were saltpetre, added to curb the boy's lipidos?). I suspect that's what makes this topic so fascinating to me, and thinking back to our furtive games makes me smile, wince a bit too, but it's cathartic for me to explore it.
My recollection was that our attempts to communicate across the fire doors and scheme to arrange trysts were arguably the central driving force of our existence and were way more important to us than our studies. Andy McCullough may have carried it to a fine art but most of us passed notes and did lookout duty at one time or another. My most instructive experience along these lines occurred when I was in grade 7 or 8. One of the senior girl prefects was standing outside the ground floor doors into Massey Hall talking to a guy hanging out the Grade 5 classroom window. As I went to enter and go up to our apartment, she hemmed and hawed about how I didn't want to go in there, but wouldn’t come right out and tell me why. So I opened the door on to a couple that was very heavily involved in a necking session. Discreetly apologizing, I backed out and went around by the boy’s side and through the gym. I learned an important lesson in the art of look outing (and a lot of other things); most of the time it’s better to come right out and say what you mean.
From some of the other postings, it seems that this location was a much-used spot even in previous generations. Perhaps it was because it provided several different exits, up the stairs to the gym, out the doors and back past the chem lab. However, the grade 5 classroom was my particular favourite for several reasons. It was right downstairs from our apartment, it was a bit more private and I could gain access whenever I felt like it (if I couldn't score a key, I'd figured out how to get in one of the back windows). I know that the girl's tube was also a site of frequent rendezvous since I used to shoot baskets in the gym a lot in the evenings after I had finished my homework. Well, as Andy has documented, there were other nooks and crannies that were used, but these are the places I’m most familiar with, likely due to their proximity to where we lived, and perhaps because they were marginally safer because of my parent's relatively laissez faire attitude. I believe that my parents had a pretty good idea as to who was going out with whom and what was going on, if not on an incident-by-incident basis, at least in general terms. Fortunately, they seemed to have a tacit agreement that, since for most part it was necking and a bit of relatively minor fondling, they would look the other way unless they were concerned that a couple might be going beyond what they considered harmless. I remember my father getting a kick out of one of the guys being so elated after sneaking a kiss from his girlfriend that in his jubilant running and jumping down the girl's tube he clobbered his head on one of the steel beams and knocked himself out. KO'd by love, as it were. I suspect that on occasion if Dad happened upon a couple that he was fond of, he would just try to almost but not quite catch them so he could indirectly tease them about it later.
Well, despite the mild nature of most of the encounters, it seems likely that there must have been some of the actual ‘stuff’ going on. There was at least one case of ‘appendicitis’ that at the time I accepted totally at face value, but sifting back over various reactions and phrasings I feel may have been a miscarriage. In addition, as Rick has suggested, one or two of the bolder guys climbed over roof and went directly to their girlfriend's rooms. I may be wrong, but I think that this was rather rare. We all assumed, with no small measure of admiration and perhaps a bit of jealousy, that it would not be worth the risk to steal a few kisses and some cuddling. I hope it was worth it, because the house mother patrols were every bit as diligent and sneaky as those at a prison camp and it seemed that eventually, almost everyone who did this was caught and expelled.
Why did so much of this illicit trysting go on? Well, I suppose it was because we weren't given much, if any, opportunity to be even mildly affectionate in a physical way with our sweethearts in public. Official policy, strictly enforced by most of the staff, was that even tame PDAs such as holding hands and snuggling were verboten. In retrospect, I can't help but think that, although the danger of being caught did add some spice to the mix, forcing us to sneak around and meet on the sly did not exactly help us develop healthy attitudes towards our relationships with the opposite sex. So what did an official date consist of at Feller? For most of my stay there was a single Saturday night activity (perhaps a movie or a variety night), during which we were segregated on different sides of the aisle in the chapel and then we were allowed to sit together for a few minutes at the tail end of the activity and chat, but no touching please. Of course, during basketball and hockey season, the game was often the activity and if you happened to play on the team, except for a few minutes after the game, you were out of luck for that week. No wonder our teams did so poorly. And the Sunday afternoon walks? Well, as documented elsewhere on this site, these left an awful lot to be desired, except on those rare occasions when you hit the right chaperone. I know that at one time square dancing was permitted but I spent so much time trying to remember the complicated patterns that I didn't feel any sense of intimacy. Half the time they made you dance with someone other than your girlfriend, which got her jealous if you seemed to be having too much fun. Hmmm, was even this eventually discontinued as too risqué? I wouldn't be surprised.
OK, so what was the only legitimate dodge for getting in a chunk of uninterrupted cuddle time with your sweetie? Well, in my opinion, it was those trips when the choir traveled to the surrounding Baptist churches to demonstrate that Feller did indeed still exist and show the congregations what they were supporting by contributing to the Grande Ligne Mission (and the Board wondered why we were under-funded?). You didn't have to have much singing ability but man, if you were a couple, you were going to try to be in the choir. Although, my familiarity with the nooks and crannies in many of the churches we visited, provided pre -service opportunities to escape prying eyes, bus trips back after the concert were our idea of heaven. A relative eternity to snuggle in the dark with the lights turned off. Rick seems to recall fighting for a spot on the second bus but I think there may have been some sort of established pecking order, because I don’t remember actually having to elbow anyone aside. Rick also suggested that Mr. Imre was the best (actually worst, come to think of it) chaperone, but my recollection was that Uncle Steve was also pretty decent. He allowed the lights to be turned off and sat in the front seat ignoring the fogged up windows behind him on at least a couple of trips that I remember.
I suppose that, given the lack of opportunity and the paucity of knowledgeable discussion concerning matters sexual, it’s not too surprising that we were a relatively naïve bunch (how many of us half-believed the myth that the black pepper speckling the mashed potatoes was saltpeter to tone down the urges of the boys). The conventional wisdom is that in those days we weren’t exposed to as much material as kids are today, and we certainly weren't exposed to it as early. As far as the sexual revolution was concerned, we were stranded on this isolated island with a bizarre set of rules and little direction as we listened to the outside world on our transistor radios under the covers at night. I’ve previously suggested that we had absolutely no guidance on these matters from adults but as I'm writing this I conjure up a couple of memories that suggest that this is not completely accurate. I do recall my girlfriend telling me that once my mother ended up talking with the some of the older girls during CGIT (Christian Girls in Training? I can't remember, did they have that on Wednesday nights instead of Sea Cadets? Sorry I've wandered into stream of consciousness here). Anyway, this talk seemed to consist mainly of the notions that boys are sex fiends and you can't trust contraceptives, so abstinence is the only way to go. Admittedly, all those points were mostly true; boys of that age (and presumably girls, although they did a better job of hiding it) are sex fiends. And in those days, contraception likely consisted of a beat up condom that had been carried around in the boy’s wallet for a few years in hopes of getting the chance to use it. In fact, it usually ended up serving only to wear a distinctive ring in the wallet and eventually had to be discarded in tatters (I think I finally used my first one as an item in a scavenger hunt during my freshman initiation at college). Looking back, I’m wondering if the whole discussion wasn’t entirely for my girlfriend's benefit. In this regard, my mother and I were definitely working towards different goals and, in this case, as with most others, my mother carried the day.
The second sex-ed talk I remembered (wow, 2 in 7 years) was presented by a visiting minister who was at Feller to perform a week of evangelical services. Remember those mini-revival meetings we had every year? Anyway, on Sunday afternoon he collected all the appropriately aged high school boys together and offered to answer any questions that we might have about ‘life’ (confident chap to think that he had the answers). I don’t think any one actually asked him anything (we also must have felt we had all the answers. Not true as I was to discover in a few seconds). OK, so this guy takes the bull by the horns, as it were, and starts talking about the evils of masturbation and how it demeans boys and girls who do it. Well, that was it for me and the guy next to me, I have no idea what he went on to talk about, we spent most of the rest of the time trying to figure out how girls masturbated (hey, I admit to being naïve). Fortunately, I eventually did figure this one out with a bit of help, but at the time it was a most puzzling thing.
Ok, so I’m going to complete this segment with what may be my best Feller story, although one could argue that it may not be eligible since it didn’t actually take place at Feller. I'm going to apologize in advance, if drunken revels and adolescent fondling are perceived by some as juvenile and offensive, but it gives me considerable pleasure to remember that this sort of thing was not completely abolished despite the best efforts of the anti-passion Gestapo.
Lost in the mists of time is the actual occasion for this event. However, based on the weather and the cast of characters, I believe it must have been sometime during either the fall of my senior year, or 6 months later in the late spring of that year. One of our male classmates had a cottage at a lake in the Eastern Townships and one of the girls had a cottage on the other side of the lake. A group of a dozen or so boys and their girlfriends congregated at this lake and had a week-end party that, at least at first, was somewhat laxly chaperoned by the parents of the girl. We spent the better part of the first afternoon ‘snuggling’ in the cabins. At some point, her father must have realized that we were way too quiet, did a cottage check, and was shocked, I say shocked!! to find us all paired off behind closed doors. I know that no one was caught in flagrente on our side of the lake so it was, as usual, all pretty tame. Not surprisingly, there was much more chaperoning from then on, but there were still plenty of opportunities for walks in the woods away from prying eyes; I’ll let you fill in the details.
In fact, the trysting was not actually my fondest memory of this affair. That distinction belongs to the stag, male-bonding beer-fest that took place one night, after the girls had been shepherded back to safety on the other side of the lake. I would like to claim that it was common sense but, in fact, it was abused taste buds that led me to stop drinking halfway through my 2nd beer. [An observation: doesn’t your first beer taste absolutely rancid? What in our nature forces us to keep drinking this swill until we actually acquire a taste for it?] Thereafter, I and the rest of the mostly sober majority, spent the better part of the night trying to make sure that the handful of our brethren who overdid it didn’t make so much noise that the cops were called, or get lost in the woods and do themselves any real harm. I had fun chasing after one of my classmates with a cup of milk because someone insisted on the truth of the old wives' tale that drinking milk would make him vomit and that would help sober him up. And he, apparently having heard the same old wives' tale, slyly and gleefully avoided me, laughing maniacally and saying he knew what I was trying to do. The next morning, it wasn't clear who was worse off, the guys that were hung over, or those of us that were exhausted from chasing around after them half the night. One thing is certain, the chaperones had a much easier time of it the next day. That week-end was our rite of passage and we all became adults, sort of…