During some 12 years spent in a religious community where one does not have to worry about where the next meal comes from, and all one’s basic needs of life are met, and suddenly one finds oneself outside and the question of survival becomes a reality. I was aware before taking my 2 year leave and so before leaving I made sure to find a job. This was in the late sixties as I made friends with a candle-maker.
I came across this guy one day as I visited the old sector of Montreal where he was seated at a table putting the final touch on a sand-cast candle. It was a round table and there were these candles cast in sand and very original and beautiful. He asked me what was my work in life and I told him that I was a Franciscan friar and he said “wow! If you teach me some Franciscan spirituality, I can teach you how to make candles.” I agreed!
My youngest brother had been studying at the Montreal School of Art and I had been to several of his exhibitions and met and made friends with some of his friends and I remember in one conversation, one of the art students was speaking of how great it could be if artists could gain a livelihood by their art and that they could travel from one city to another and live just by their art. I presume I was already thinking of testing to see if I could gain an honest living outside the monastery by doing something creative instead of just a ‘job’. And so I took the offer of this candle maker and agreed that once a week i would come and spend an afternoon in his shop and talk about St Francis and his teachings while he could give me something to do in the process of learning the art of candle making.
It was fascinating and there was lots of room for creativity and to make it interesting, the candles were selling and the artist was able to gain enough for himself and his helper. One day when I gained enough confidence and he appreciated my work, I asked him: “If I came to work for you full time, could you pay me a salary good enough for me to live by?” He looked at me and said, “It depends on how you want to live?”
“Well am already accustomed to live a very simple life.” I said “I dont need much. I dont need a car. I dont smoke and go to bars and fancy restaurants etc. How much would it cost to rent a room in this area?”
He looked at me and said “you will have to ask Howey. He lives in a room down here.”
Howey told me he had a room in a boarding house close by for 15 dollars per week. I went to visit and thought to myself, ‘this is not worse than my room in the monastery. It is even bigger and has room for a fridge, a small stove and a table to eat.’ So this was a start and I had found out that I could obtain a leave of absence from the monastery for a period up to 2 years. It was called an “exclaustration”. which simply meant living outside cloister.
I told my candle-maker friend I was ready to work for him and he agreed to hire me and I was able to obtain one year absence from the Order…..and told that if I needed another year I must have to ask again, which I did and obtained it. On looking back, I ask myself how it ever happened. It was the right time and right place and it was what, on looking back in retrospective, I was maybe guided to do.
Making sand-cast candles was an enjoyable art craft indeed and it gave lots of room for creativity. The sand was usually in buckets and had to be of a certain texture and wet but just wet enough so that if one placed a container in it, it would leave a mark of the form of the container, in which the hot melted wax could be poured and from which form the candle would take its shape.
We used Parrafin wax of a certain number which we bought in slabs in large quantities. The wax was melted in barrels standing on electric stoves. We had thermometers which kept count of the temperature as the wax at 300 degrees could turn into flame and shoot way up to the ceiling. When the wax was at about 120 degrees we could then pour into the moulds and allow to cool. They could be topped up with wax of another color and the final process was putting in the wick and using a small blow-torch we did the finishing touches. Usually some sand remained on the outside of the candle giving it a kind of middle-age antique appearance. Its hard to fully describe and I have not seen any of these candles around these days. Where did all the candle-makers go?
Here is a kind which is on utube. Instead of paper cups, we used buckets and we poured several dozens at the same time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXiUbsC3VgI
It was quite an adventure renting a room and living in the old sector of the city where many an artist and hippy hung out. They soon became my friends and I had found a new community of brothers amongst them. I must admit that the pay was awful but I found friends who shared willingly.
I was taught many a survival trick. Howey told me to buy 1 doz bananas every week as it was good cheap food and filled the stomach. In the morning after my meditation I would eat a banana and drink a cup of tea and save the tea bag cause “one tea-bag is good for 3 cups and all you need is hot water and some sugar and that you can get from a cafe”: advice from Howey. “Try and get invited for dinner at least once per week” he said. Tighten your waist and dont waist energy running around” he would say and sometimes he got paid and I didn’t and so he would invite me over for breakfast. This guy was always laughing especially when he was making candles and putting colored powders into the wax. I discovered one morning having breakfast at his place, that he had some stuff in a jar in his kitchen and he put some on his tongue. It turned out to be something like ‘mari’ in a powdered form. He wanted me to try some but I was very reluctant because once I did try a puff at something else and got very sick with an upset stomach.
Those were the days of “happenings” and I dont know what they are called nowadays or if they exist anymore. the first one I went to was held on Mg Gill campus. It was in the evening and there was a sort of stage set up and an orchestra playing some rock music and strobe lights were shining on all the dancers. I was watching all this and wondering to where was it leading when all of a sudden i saw a guy stark naked who ran up stage and was swirling in the strobe lights and he left there and ran out down to the streets and as he ran by, I realized it was my candle-maker teacher. I was shocked. The next day at the shop, Howey told me yes it was our boss and he spent the night in prison but had to appear in court that day. we saw him the next day and he said the judge charged him a fine of 100 dollars for indecent exposure.
“Were you drunk?” I asked. “No” he said, “I was stoned!” He explained that he consumed a certain amount of Acid and he was on a ‘trip’. In it, he died and felt free and wanted to dance and something told him that because he was dead and free he did not need clothes and so he threw away his clothes and ‘went into the light’. He told me that he was having a ‘very spiritual experience’ when the cops had to come and spoil it’!.
This guy was a singer and with another friend they opened one of the first singing cafe spots in the city. It was called “Matter of Opinion”. They had music from the Beatles and my candle maker sang and played a guitar and served us sandwiches called “amop sandwiches”. I never heard of them anymore and the coffee shop is not in existence. Those were the sixties and we listened to the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel and so many great artists! This was a wonderful place to gather and so many became my brothers in this new community where I learnt so much. They all knew who I was and that I had intentions of going back after my two years were over and they teased me at times and tried hard to find me a girl friend. I did have one that I loved being around and she invited me to her place many a time. She was a Yoga teacher and a very spiritual woman and because from the start I told her I had no intentions of marrying and wanted my relationship with her to stay like sister and brother, she respected me and we got along fine. She was for me,I thought, like St Clare was to St Francis. We shared meditation and books and music. I loved the warmth and coziness of her place and she served special herb teas that I never knew about.
She was originally from England and she moved back there. I kinda wish I could see her again.
It was at that time I heard about this gathering which was going to happen in Woodstock. I was invited to go with a bunch of guys from Montreal but it was risky travelling with these guys across the US border when they could not give the assurance that they would not have ‘mari’ in the car. I had no intention of risking being on a police file for ‘illegal substances.” I stayed back, anxious to see them on their return and to hear all about it. It seemed that this was a huge Youth Convention which was motivated to change the world!
So there you have it my friend!