A fifteen year old boy wakes up on Blueberry, a communal farm in rural Canada, to what seems like an ordinary day. Cold and weary, Anthony opens his eyes, throws off the blankets and heads to the outhouse. The cold morning air and breathtaking views at Blueberry, one of many Northern Canadian farms founded by Sam Fife’s Move of God, ensured he was awake. Snow crunches under his boots disturbing the quiet. Dead twigs snap underfoot while the echoes of screeching ravens fill the sky.
Back inside, his father flatly reminds him. “Time to milk the cows,”
“I’m coming,” he responds.
Anthony can see his breath as he walks to the barn to milk the cows with his father. After relieving a few weighted udders, he tells his father that he needs to go to the bathroom.
“Finish milking” is the harsh reply.
“I really need to go.”
His father dismissively scolds, “When you’re done.”
After milking the cows, he walks across the farm to his family’s little home to change his pants and clean up. No concern was shown for the cruel indifference that led to crapped pants.
Next was the chore assignment meeting. The older boys are staying at a non-Move farm where they are making hay so Anthony is assigned to firewood alone. Wood is often delivered by horse and wagon. The horses are a bright spot so seeing them cheers him. Anthony loves horses, especially riding and farm life allows a good bit of that.
He delivers wood to those of the several dozen cabins that are low and chops and stacks firewood at each one. While other boys his age go to school, join sports teams, and play video games, Anthony chops wood; cares for horses; tends sheep; and worst of all; builds roads, buildings, and lights the tabernacle stove at 4am year after year, long before the ripe old age of fifteen.
After restocking the cabins, Anthony heads to the tabernacle for lunch. The meager food and famously brick-heavy wheat bread fit his mood. Potatoes, carrots, and turnips are grown in the garden not far from Anthony’s house. Since they keep in the cellar, they are a main source of daily vitamins, if not joy, throughout the year. Other vegetables and any kind of fruit are rarely on the table in winter.
Money is mostly shared on the farms with much of it coming from the worker bees funnelling up to those rising up the Move’s power totem pole from elders to Traveling Ministry, and then to the Father Ministry at the top.
Sam’s new flying program to spread the word about the end of the world and the opportunity to be part of the earth’s salvation is expensive. Since much is required for the Father Ministry’s airplanes and travel, the lack of food and toilet paper is the source of regular complaints. Hunting and gardening provide most of the food for the families who live on the farms and Blueberry is no exception. Wild animals are a regular source of protein. Moose, beaver, and occasionally bear are on the menu. In early spring, bear is lean and wild tasting since they eat anything they can to make up for winter’s hibernation. In the fall, grass and berries have fattened up Canadian bears so to Anthony, they taste more like pork. A few moose fill his belly each year and although moose is good, it gives him terrible gas.
Anthony sat at a long, crowded table in the tabernacle not saying much. In Move parlance, he is in the fire. In reality, he is experiencing situational depression. It has only been six months since his banishment to Graham River, a Deliverance Farm for the most troubled. Anthony’s trouble? Noticing girls.
Once, he let his hand linger on the calf of a pretty blond while on a hayride. (She would one day become my best friend when we both find ourselves living on a Minnesota farm for the rebellious in the Move). Linda’s family was afflicted by birth defects due to two instances of intermarrying in her immediately family. She was the only one not to live with visible results. Pretty and buxom with creamy skin that tanned beautifully in summer, boys made sure to cross paths with her whenever they could. Anthony was no exception.
Another girl who caught his eye was Helen. Helen was lovely. A captivating smile in a pretty face made her a joy to look at, her brilliant energy and humor captivated Anthony.
As he glumly eats his lunch in the same room with the girls he admired, he remembered a recent betrayal. Tom Rowe, a member of the Father Ministry rode into town in time for John Clarke, Helen’s father to do something about the boy who had taken a shine to his daughter. Telling the other elders that God told him Anthony is gay, he arranges to have the demon of homosexuality cast out in an exorcism. Despite Anthony’s father being an elder and one with a substantial financial investment in the farm, he did nothing to defend his young son.
He remembers the drama of the exorcism when Rowe placed his pudgy hands on Anthony’s head rocking it back and forth while commanding the demons to depart.
“In the name of JESUS! I command you to leave this vessel.”
Another elder echoes with similar authority, “In the blood of Jesus I command you to go back to the depths of hell.”
“You have no power here,” someone says spraying spittle in his face.
“We crush the head of the snake with our heels, In The Name of JESUS, Rowe shouts” while several hands leave his head sweaty and his heart empty.
Richard, seething with anger and unsure how this will rid him of lust for girls, says little.
He looks around the tabernacle uninspired by the building, the people, and especially the meal he is about to not enjoy.
Anthony is numb. Feeling alienated from the others eating in the large room, he greets few. So many memories and too many of them unhappy. He had been back about six months from his punishing trip to Graham River. Being sent to a deliverance farm was bad enough. Having an elder accuse you of being gay as a way to get you away from his daughter left an especially bad taste in his mouth. Graham River was a community governed by misfits employing notoriously harmful discipline of people of all ages.
Despite the long hours of hard work and occasional episodes of torture, such as ice baths for those suspected of being gay, he found much pleasure in learning new aspects of rural life.
Learning to butcher, he found the only way to get leverage was to raise a large knife overhanded like Anthony Perkins in Psycho. He loved working with the sheep dog, hunting, and got used to castrating sheep.
In the tabernacle, he eats enough to satiate his hunger and no more. The brick-heavy wheat bread drops to his plate with a thud when he’s finished. Since the meal does nothing to buoy his spirits, he’s as unhappy as when he first sat down.
After lunch, he heads to the sheep barn to care for the animals there. Alone in the barn, he grabs one of the many ropes and throws it over a beam. This decision requires very little thought because it seems the only way out and he is leaving. He makes a large noose, slips it over his head, and climbs up to a platform 10 feet off the ground. As he steps off the ledge he hears a loud crack. The beam and rope land on top of him as he kerplops on the hard ground.
Adding to his misery and sense of helplessness, he has one more disappointment; he is still alive.
Returning to his family’s cabin, he grumbles to his mother about his grievances;
“I’m leaving. I can’t take it here anymore.”
“They’ll change your diaper and send you home” is his mother’s unforgettable reply.
Her lack of concern only hardens his reserve.
With a light suitcase and a heavy heart, he walks off the farm and out of the community that had been his everything since he was a little boy.
Anthony plods through the snow, scrambling up a never-ending hill toward the top where the road from the farm meets the highway. Before reaching the top, he hears a truck approaching. His heart quickens as he hurries to meet it. The truck driver is surely surprised to see a boy so far from anywhere. A boy, on foot, with a suitcase and no explanation. Asking few questions, he shares a little coffee and a lot of kindness. After driving him into town, the driver buys him a hamburger and listens carefully to the little Anthony will say. After years of farm-life food, the burger is about the best thing he has ever had.
The man and the burger are pivotal as this stranger from “The World” shows unexpected kindness while doing him no harm.
He couldn't imagine the peaceful life he was about to enjoy just like he couldn't know he would soon be meeting with Sam Fife himself to tell his story.
Because Anthony never came back despite attempts by a powerful elder and even Sam Fife himself in person, several other boys left soon after- never to return.
I didn't know Anthony yet, but this part of his story would one day be a part of the oral history of what happened to us. My oral history. Anthony and I would become good friends. The story of his attempted suicide and subsequent departure from the Move would decades later become part of a collection of horror stories living in my body that compelled me to put ink to paper.