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NEW BLOG COMING

I’m branching out to a different subject, folks, but with the same hyperbolic style you all enjoy.

The title is “The Late Boomers’ Club,” written especially for a sadly neglected microcosm of American society:  Those of us who are technically “Baby Boomers” but who never marched on any city, were more familiar with “pucker power” than flower power, and could not get our parents to drive the family station wagon to Woodstock.  In fact, by the time we discovered the Beatles they all had beards and Yoko was on the scene.

Most of us were totally oblivious to the Cuban Missile Crisis or Bay of Pigs (why were there pigs in the bay anyway?), but we probably remember President Kennedy’s funeral and the moon landings for sure.

Sit back and enjoy a hilarious exploration of Late Boomer subjects.  It’s a subject that engages me, so look for the first post on Tuesday, February 4.

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I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

So, I’m driving home from Walmart, in the rain, mind you, when I pop on the radio and what’s playing on Sirius 70s on 7?  England Dan and John Ford Coley’s hit from 1976, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”  Within 20 seconds I’m sobbing into the steering wheel and yelling at the windshield (which was foggy, but that’s neither here nor there) “That man stole my youth!!!!” 

Now, to set this outburst into context:  Before making the always-regrettable decision to head to Walmart, I’d been watching a “Modern Family” marathon, specifically, the one where Haley goes off to college, and it hit me like the head of the Statue of Liberty’s head from “Cloverfield” that I’d never, ever had those years to enjoy.  Not that I’d never mused much about it in the intervening eon, but I’d never quite thought of it in terms of what this particular song would have meant to me if I’d been spending that autumn of 1976 visiting colleges and anticipating all the cool stuff I would be experiencing, even though the real me in 1976 had absolutely no clue about college life, ­(plus, I’d been bullied so much by my father that I was afraid of my own shadow). 

This song should have been a paean to my youth.  In later years it should have evoked memories of being giggly with my roommate while we painted each other’s toenails and drank cheap wine, watching some popular coming-of-age movie (on a black-and-white TV with a wire-hanger antenna since there were no VCRs, and not a lot of cable coverage, back then).  It should have reminded me of that time when my high-school crush showed up on campus and serenaded me, al la John Cusack.  It should have reminded me of big hair and bright colored clothing and shoulder pads, and pushed–up sleeves, and …

Unfortunately, what it meant to me in my real life was this:  Throughout the summer of 1976 my parents had been pushing me, yea kicking me yea, holding a virtual gun to my head yea, forcing me at scimitar point to walk the plank into marrying a man 7+ years my senior, whom I had not ever even thought about, let alone nurtured any warmer, hotter, sexier, saltier feeling about. 

No.  At that portentous time in a girl’s life, 17, when the ED/JFC hit was playing, I was wielding a putty knife, peeling wallpaper (and trying not to gouge the plaster) in an old house next to the kingdom hall building site, singing along to the radio, dimly not having a clue about the meaning of “We’ve both played that game before, say ‘I love you’ then say goodbye.”  No.  Instead, I was cluelessly puzzling in my brain about this virtual stranger I was engaged to and why he “loved” me so much.  We’d hardly ever interacted.  He’d been away at Bethel for several years, and… (brain exit stage left) well, no matter, Mom and Dad approve very strongly of this guy, so that’s [Watchtower] good enough for me.

I spent the next 4 years doing…well, it wasn’t fun, but it was an education.

So, good-bye college, I never knew ye.

The Horror!!!

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This morning I was wasting time on Pinterest, scrolling through someone else’s food board (and judging from the number of pins featuring casserole dishes piled high with glistening, cheese-smothered, artery-clogging, totally scrumptious-looking food, this person must be as big as a house) when I spotted something that sent me into a flashback of my early days as a Jehovah’s Witness:

red plaid lunchbox

Terrifying, isn’t it?  Yes it is, and this is why.

During 7th grade my family had been studying with the JWs and we had been adopting the new lifestyle, including dressing more conservatively.  Well, I did anyway.  Everyone else was fine, but I wore the prevailing style of the day, miniskirts.  Mind you, I was not one of those girls who had to lean backwards in order to sit down and still maintain her ladylike facade, but I wasn’t “modestly dressed” by kingdom hall standards.  As a result, my hemlines were sent crashing down to my kneecaps.

Dad was even more stodgy than most JW fathers and refused to allow me to wear pantyhose at age 13, so I had to stick with my cable-knit knee socks.  By the time I was dressed I looked like a teenager from 1943.

Now, we lived in the boondocks, and even in 7th grade I was still attending an elementary school where standards of fashion were quite forgiving.  Nobody at Carl B. Lord Elementary School gave my new look a second glance.   I even got away with wearing gaucho pants!

However, Dad decided that our house was too far away from the center of all things JW, the kingdom hall.  There were others in the congregation who lived even farther away than we did and seemed not to mind the drive.  Gas was still only about 30 cents a gallon (free steak knives or monogrammed tumblers with a fill-up), so that was no motivation.   In any case, the house was sold and we moved into town.

The circumstances of that move were a bit unfortunate.  We had to be out of our country house only a couple of weeks after the folks bought the house in town.   The real estate agent had told us it would be no problem but then neglected to inform the family living in our new digs until only a week before we were to move in.  Those poor people had to pack and dash and apparently they spread some bile around the neighborhood about the reason for their hasty departure.

Our neighbors were not pleased to see us move in.  Our car got egged a few times, and the kids would hoot and holler and throw rocks at my brother and me as we rode our bikes past their house.  Great, just great.  In a few weeks we were also sharing classrooms with those little thugs.

I suspect Mom was trying to be thoughtful when she spotted that lunch box in the store and brought it home for me.  She even said, “It’s plaid!  Plaid is very fashionable this year!”  With that she dispatched me to my new school.

I was an 8th grader, starting at a junior high school where second-year students were supposed to know the school routines and rules.  Since I was extremely shy and timid to begin with, standing out in any way was a horror show for me.  I didn’t dare to ask questions, and I had no friends.  Consequently, I made mistakes and got yelled at a few times by the office staff.

The school building itself was spooky.  It was a three-story gothic-style brick building that had formerly been used as the high school.  Inside, the hallways were gloomy and hung with tapestries depicting Medieval life.  The ceilings were high and there were huge staircases that we had to climb. My home room was on the third floor.  They had even stuffed a few classrooms in the basement which featured circuitous corridors bristling with mechanical devices and pipes.  The classrooms on the upper floors had 10-foot-tall windows, most of which opened only under extreme protest.  There was nothing familiar, homey, or cheerful about that building.   It screamed “Dickensian insane asylum.”   All the place needed was gargoyles and a Scottish moor to complete the effect.

Being the new kid is hard enough without also showing up on the first day outfitted in long skirts, knee socks, a red plaid lunch box, oh and don’t forget – a set of bizarre religious beliefs, some of which forced me to take unpopular stands.   Life would have been easier if I’d had a “kick me” sign taped to my back.  In the hallways I was taunted, teased, pointed at.  It took me a few days and a lot of tears to master the combination lock on my locker (surprisingly enough Carl B. Lord Elementary didn’t feature lockers).  But the worst torment occurred in the cafeteria where my lunch box was the most popular object of ridicule ever to make an appearance in that school.   The inside of the box bore the slogan “One of the ‘Rustless’ ones!” in an unfortunately bold font. The kids sitting at my table found that slogan to be endlessly hilarious.  It’s a wonder I made it out of that building alive on the first day.

After a tearful night back at home where I begged my father to take me out of school, (I mean, what was the point of enduring all of that trauma when Armageddon was coming in a couple of years anyway – or maybe sooner, you couldn’t know) the red plaid lunchbox stayed at home and I was allowed to use a paper bag.  Believe me, that was a huge concession in my house.   Even knowing the humiliation I was enduring at school my father insisted that I wear a skirt or dress at least 3 times a week.

We lived about 2 miles from the school, and at first I rode my bike to and from school every day.  Once the weather got cold and snowy I decided to try the school bus.  I had always ridden the bus when we lived in the williwacks and was used to old Mr. Boler or Benny White, both of whom ran a tight ship.  One day, a boy gave Benny some lip, and the bus came to an immediate stop.  Benny threw the kid (and I mean threw) off the bus and we carried on as usual.

Their only concession to our youthfulness was occasionally to drive fast down the pothole-infested final leg of our bus ride while we bounced on the back seats hoping to hit our heads on the ceiling.  That’s what passed for thrills in North Vassalboro, Maine.   That, and on especially cold mornings spitting on the aluminum railing on our front porch and watching it freeze almost immediately.

Riding the bus in town was quite another experience.  On my first ride someone grabbed the hat off my head and threw it out the window.  It was when the food fight started that I decided I’d rather freeze my patootie off walking back and forth than ride with the single-helix mutants on that bus.

So, when I innocently scrolled to that photograph of my old nemesis, the red plaid lunchbox, all of the horror came flooding back over me.  But now, sharing it all with you, I feel I’ve exorcised those particular demons.

The Escape

Over the past 9 months I’ve covered the subject of The Odd Life of Jehovah’s Witnesses quite thoroughly.  Although I will most likely continue to add to this blog, it’s time to move on to other subjects.

This week’s post is the first 1000 words of my forthcoming book, “The Escape,” soon to be e-published .

 

The Escape – A True Story

April, 2004 Time to Leave

Phil’s rage boiled up inside of him and his alter-ego, “The Commando,” glared at me from his eyes. For the first time in our 27-year marriage I was afraid of him. I knew with absolute certainty that he hated me and was going to kill me.

I knew why I was seeing “The Commando” instead of the Phil I usually saw. I had changed significantly in the past 6 months, and he felt threatened by the new me. I was definitely not the same girl he had married; I was no longer willing to be the passive, obedient Jehovah’s Witness wife. I had found my personal power and was expressing it boldly regardless of Phil’s or anyone else’s opinion.

For example, six months earlier I had joined an online community for Clay Aiken fans and had made friends outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These ladies embraced me, and I found that JWs weren’t the only people in the world that could show love. In fact, these ladies showed me more kindness and love than any of the JWs I’d known.

Additionally, through the online forum I had begun writing and receiving accolades for it. The self-expression involved in writing conflicted with the self-repression that is part and parcel of life in a cult. I was feeling powerful and free.

And then, probably the icing on the cake, I had recently traveled alone and attended a concert with these new friends in a distant city. We acted silly and fangirly, went out for drinks at night, and had more fun to the inch than I’d imagined was possible. I felt lighter, happier, and I had a bunch of new friends.

To Phil my online activity was tantamount to rebellion. Worst of all in his eyes, I had contacted and renewed my friendship with my disfellowshipped friend, Laurel. That alone could have landed me in serious trouble with the local elders, if he decided to tell on me.  I had distanced myself emotionally from both Phil and the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now all that remained was to remove myself completely from both.

However, my hand had been forced. I didn’t want to be the subject of one of those terrible headlines, “Man Who Killed Wife was ‘Nice Guy’ According to Neighbors.” My life was in danger, and I had to leave, not in 6 months or a year, but now. I didn’t let on to Phil that I was afraid, but I went online and told my friends about the change in my situation.

We quickly formulated a plan. Since I had been working as a home-based medical transcriptionist I could move anywhere and take my job with me. I arranged temporary shelter with Laurel and her partner. I purchased a plane ticket to Dallas where I would live with Alicia (one of my “Clay friends”) and her daughter until I could get my own place. I made up a story so that I could ship my work equipment to Texas without Phil being suspicious.

The next day I took my usual late-afternoon walk down to the lakeshore and stood there gazing at the familiar boat-filled marina while the cold wind whipped my hair and reddened my cheeks. I strolled through town and stopped by an ATM where I withdrew half of the $400 in the account. Then I continued along the shore path, looking out to the horizon realizing it would be a long time before I ever took this walk again. It was a beautiful place to live, but it had been my prison.

I quickly decided what I needed to take with me. Everything had to be either shipped or checked on the plane to Dallas. The eventual plan was for me to live alone, and being prone to anxiety attacks, I knew I would need distraction. Phil didn’t watch much TV, so I decided to take the TV and the VCR. He didn’t use the Internet, but he did research using a DVD of the Watchtower Society’s (corporate entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses) library of publications. I decided he could use his PC at work for those projects, so I wouldn’t be depriving him if I took the PC.

There wasn’t much more I could take except some of my clothes and a few books.

I wrote him a note explaining that I had left and giving him some practical advice: Close the checking account, change the utilities to his name, and so forth. I left him our only car and our cat. Although I loved my kitty dearly, Phil and Socks had a special relationship that I didn’t want to break up.

The next morning after Phil left for work I quickly unplugged and gathered the electronic items, packed my bags, and waited for Laurel to arrive. She was late, and as time ticked by my anxiety grew. I sat on the living room couch trying to read a book, but none of the words were sinking in. I was worried that Phil might pop in for some unknown reason and there would be a messy scene. Then the phone rang. It was Phil calling from work.

 

Conditioning

Many people wonder why an intelligent woman would remain in an abusive relationship for decades.

The answer is: Conditioning. And it starts young. I was conditioned by my mother’s passivity and coldness as well as my father’s verbal and sexual abuse to accept poor treatment without complaint. So when, at eighteen, I married a man I did not love and found myself bound for life to a likeable guy who regularly raped me, I accepted the situation. I didn’t even consider leaving him.

(Copyright 2013 Sally Cottle)

Waking Up, Part 2 – The Final Straw

Years slipped by, but every time I thought about the Watchtower Society’s pedophilia issue I felt a pang of conscience.  Nothing was being done!  Nothing was changing.  Children were being abused and the perpetrators were not being disciplined nor was law enforcement being involved in the majority of cases.  How could this be happening in God’s Only True Organization?

I was disgusted.  My meeting attendance, already slipping, dwindled.  In 2001 my father passed away after a very short illness.  He had been the Presiding Overseer in our congregation for some 14 years but had moved away about a year before his death.   The elders are supposed to make a “condolence call” on a congregation member who has lost a relative.  Nobody came.  One elder called, but all he wanted was some demographic information on my father to insert into his memorial talk.  None of the other elders called.  I was already more or less “marked.”   Very few congregation members came to the memorial service for my father.  I was furious.

My friend and her husband had written to the Society regarding the pedophilia issue to no avail, and my husband was deep into his “wait on Jehovah” mode.  I felt disgust.  By late 2003 I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not God’s chosen people.  Maybe they had been at one time, but not anymore.

At the Congregation Book Study we were studying the book, “Revelation – Its Grand Climax at Hand” for the third time.  With my newly unleashed skepticism I noticed that one whole section of the Revelation prophecy (regarding the seven trumpet blasts) was applied to the Watchtower Society without any scriptures cited for support.

Each trumpet blast was linked to a convention of the International Bible Students Association (later renamed Jehovah’s Witnesses) which at that period of time were usually held in Cedar Point, Ohio, and in particular a resolution passed at each of seven conventions in the late teens and early 1920s.  These resolutions were printed and distributed as widely as a small group of people could manage, which was pretty limited, as you might imagine.

Supposedly the trumpet blasts were to be heard worldwide and result in devastating consequences for whatever sector of society was being condemned.  It suddenly hit me that these resolutions could not be the trumpet blasts because they received limited distribution (certainly not worldwide) and accomplished nothing but possibly insulting a few people.  Big whoop.  It kind of reminded me of the proverbial ant railing against a freight train.

My father-in-law (a JW from 1953 until his death in 2013) used to be fond of saying, “It’s amazing how a bunch of old ladies sitting under the trees in Cedar Point fulfilled bible prophecy.”  He said it as a joke, but now it hit home.   What a load of crap!  Why should this puny group of people think they’re God’s chosen messengers?  Honestly, a lot of Revelation sounds like the ravings of a man on a bad trip from ingesting psychedelic mushrooms.

So, now the dam was breached.  If that piece of what the Watchtower Society taught was a nothing but hooey then what about the rest of it?  I remembered my lessons from geometry class that if one part of a statement was untrue, the whole statement was untrue.  I was very disillusioned and angry.  My husband tried to “help” me by instituting a family study, something he had neglected for some time.  I had to go along with him because he was my spiritual “head.”

However, the process had begun.  Little by little, the cracks in the “dam” widened.

At about the same time, I joined an online message board for fans of a particular singer.  I had never been anybody’s fan before (fandom is strongly discouraged as a form of idolatry), but I was captivated.  This was 2003, and the Watchtower Society had not yet realized the danger posed by the Internet, so nothing but the vaguest counsel had been given about joining online communities.

The forum allowed me an outlet for writing, and I was receiving praise from my fellow board members who enjoyed my posts.  All of a sudden, I felt powerful for the first time in my life.  I had a gift!  Strength flowed through my veins and energized my torpid mind.

I couldn’t read The Watchtower magazine any longer; it contained too much “Hurray for us and the rest of you are nothing but dead meat” rhetoric.  The meetings were becoming intolerable.  The kingdom hall was awash in hypocrisy.  The whole thrust of the blathering from the platform was numbers, numbers, numbers.  How many hours did you get in field service?  How many books or magazines did you place?  How many meetings have you missed?  How many years have you been faithful?   Whatever happened to the emphasis on Christian qualities and becoming more Christ-like?

Many times, partway through the meeting I would feel a pressure in my head like it was going to explode.  I’d gather my books and head for the door.  Luckily, we lived close enough that I could walk home.

I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the ministry, trying to convince people that JWs were God’s people and that they should join up.  It was all lies.

I bucked my husband’s headship and decided independently to take a trip to meet some of my message board friends and attend a concert with them.  I didn’t ask; I told him I was going.

I had the best time of my life meeting my friends and attending the concert (we’re all still friends 10 years later and get together frequently).  It dawned on me that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hold a corner on the market of being “nice” and “good” people.   These ladies were kinder and more loving than most of the JWs I knew.  That realization really caused my head to explode.

When I came home, I was a changed woman.  My husband saw it, and it angered him.  He was one who kept his anger bottled up, and it showed in passive-aggressive ways.  Now I could see that he was very deeply angry.  One night he had an issue with the computer and asked me for help.  I came to his aid, but he was already furious.  At one point, I looked into his eyes and saw that he wanted to kill me.  I’d lived with the man for nearly 27 years.  I had never been afraid of him (despite his frequent flirtations with homicidal rage – long story) but now I was terrified.  I was going to become the subject of one of those tragic headlines: “Puzzled neighbors say man who murdered his wife was a ‘nice guy.’”

I contacted my friends on the message board and my BFF, and we devised a plan to get me out of there.  I left in the middle of the day less than a week later and never looked back.  A few days later I delivered my letter of disassociation to the kingdom hall.   That was nine years ago this month.

In the aftermath, of course, I have no contact with my mother and brother who live 5000 miles away.  I divorced my husband and he remarried a few years later.  I’ve recently reconnected with my paternal extended family (after 40 years), so I don’t feel so much like a speck floating in the universe.   I’ve discovered the world is not a dark forest of terrors as the JWs would have their members believe.  Demons do not lurk behind every tree and parked car.  People are just plain folks, not slavering minions of Satan.  There is beauty to be found in each precious day of life which is especially enhanced because I’m enjoying it with a free mind.

Waking Up

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One of the oddest things about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what happens when a JW “wakes up” and discovers TTATT (the truth about The Truth).

This awakening is a long process.  It starts with a niggling doubt, some teaching that just doesn’t quite sit right.  Maybe it’s a change in a teaching, what the Society calls “New Light.”  For me, it was a change in a core teaching about when The End would come.

The Watchtower Society has taught for well over 100 years that Jesus gave his followers a clue as to when the end would come.   In Matthew 24 his disciples asked him for a sign that the end was near.  Jesus described a whole laundry list of not-so-remarkable events (wars, earthquakes, etc.) to watch for.  Then he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things occur.”

Mix together a vague prophecy, some devil-may-care chronology, a belief that God is communicating only with you, and a whole heap of hubris, stir well.  Yield:  An adjustable end-time teaching.  Serve relentlessly.   Without getting into nitty-gritty detail, the Watchtower Society had taught that the “time of the end” began in 1914 (with a whole lot of emphasis on WWI), and since Jesus had said that the end would come within the lifetime of a generation, it is logical to conclude that the system would end in the 20th century.  Many times in their literature they stated outright that the end would come before the new millennium.

Fun fact:  The Watchtower Society holds that God’s truth is revealed gradually, only when Jesus’ followers are ready for it.  They cite a handy scripture in Proverbs 4:18 that says that the light gets brighter and brighter, even though that scripture is not talking about doctrine, and is probably mistranslated in their Bible.  In any case, all JWs get really excited whenever there is “new light” in the Watchtower magazine.

Around about 1995, the Society could hear their chronological clock ticking and came out with some “new light” about the meaning of the word “generation.”  It was so murky and illogical that I can’t even remember exactly what their argument was.  It had something to do with the definition of the word “generation” that made it possible for any group of contemporaries to be part of a “generation.”   The moment I heard it I said, “We’re going to see the year 2000 in this system.”  I recognized it as a maneuver.  An organization that claims to be the sole conduit of God’s Truth shouldn’t need to maneuver,  shouldn’t find it necessary to overturn a doctrine that had stood for nearly a century just to save face (and they’ve changed the understanding of “generation” twice more since then).   That realization started the ball rolling for me.  It took another nine years for the ball to strike the pins.

During those nine years I started noticing cracks in the Christian personalities of those around me.  I saw politics and cliques at work, elders who hardly ever used their Bible when giving talks, and just general hypocrisy.  I was irritated.  Luckily, I was not alone.  I had a friend who shared my irritation.  Once she and I discovered our mutual growing antipathy we started to get together regularly for what we called “natter” sessions where we would express our feelings about the organization freely without worrying that the other one would turn us in to the elders.

I had known for several years that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a big problem with pedophilia.  Of course, in any microcosm you’re going to see a cross-section of the human condition, but there was a much bigger problem with JWs, and it still exists.  Their procedure for dealing with accusations of pedophilia does not involve law enforcement, nor is it likely the perpetrator will ever be disciplined for his actions.  Here’s why:  Even as recently as October 1, 2012 the Watchtower’s stated procedure when an accusation of child abuse is brought to the elders’ attention is for the elders to contact their local branch office of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  The branch will give them instructions.  Under no circumstances are the elders or the accusers to contact the police.   In other words, keep it hushed up.

Within the congregation, the elders can convene a judicial committee only if there are two witnesses to the offense.  When does that ever happen in a case of child molestation?  I’ll tell you – never.  The perpetrator is considered innocent of the charge, and it is quite possible that the accuser will be the one in hot water for making an unsubstantiated accusation.

I knew of a situation in a neighboring congregation where this very situation existed.  There was more than one report of a young man in the congregation, an elder’s son, molesting younger boys, sometimes even in the kingdom hall.  Because nothing could be done to discipline the young man, he was free to prowl the congregation and snatch more victims.  Outraged parents took their children and started attending my congregation, even though it was a long drive for them.  Some of them actually packed up their households and moved to my town because their home congregation had become a dangerous place.

When I found out what was happening I was completely outraged.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse myself (although it happened before I became a JW) I couldn’t understand how God’s organization could permit such a situation to continue.  Maybe the boys in Brooklyn didn’t know about it.  Shouldn’t we tell them?  Of course, being a woman, any letter I sent to headquarters would be sent back to the elders in my congregation.  I asked my husband at the time to write, but he decided he would “leave it in Jehovah’s hands.”   My faith was strong then, so I went along with his decision, but the idea that there were children suffering shattering emotional trauma was impossible to ignore.

If you are outraged that a mind-control cult is harboring pedophiles, please view this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcIC4g5tulw and visit this Facebook page:  The Association of Anti-Watchtower Activists

Next week:  The Final Straw

It’s not a church. It’s a kingdom hall.

Jehovah’s Witnesses meet together in a kingdom hall.  They’ll wince if you call it a church.  These structures are either remodeled existing buildings or built from scratch.

When my family started attending meetings we went to a kingdom hall that was a remodeled warehouse.  It was the ‘70s, so you can probably imagine the décor – gaudy carpet with lots of orange and red in it, plain-Jane fake wood paneling,  a brick planter in front of the platform (don’t call it a stage) full of orange and yellow plastic flowers, and dark stained woodwork.   We sat on metal folding chairs that had a vinyl “pad” on the seat about the thickness of a saltine cracker.

This building became too small for the growing congregation, so we did a remodel and extended the back of the building.  The work progressed slowly, even though some friends from other congregations came to help on the weekends.  There was one meeting I remember when the back of the kingdom hall had been torn down, so we spent the evening looking through plastic sheeting at the stars.

In another few years even the remodeled hall was too small, so the brothers went looking for someone to donate land to the congregation, which they found.  The property was an old farm with a house and barn and a nice big field suitable for a kingdom hall and parking lot.  Back in those days you could design your own kingdom hall.  Nowadays the Society offers you a couple of plans to choose from, but we digress.

The brothers decided, bless their hearts, that an elder’s family should live in the long-abandoned house, so a chunk of the collective effort was focused on making the house livable.  My family was the one chosen to live there and sort of guard the building site (although it was several hundred yards away).

At the building site, the brothers ran into grief almost immediately.  While digging for the basement they ran into a long ridge of granite ledge.  Of course, they would need to blast, so they applied for a permit.  The official in charge of issuing permits wanted his palm greased, and the indignant brothers refused to give in to his demands.  Instead, they hired a whole bunch of jackhammers and spent months chipping away at that granite ledge.

Five years later, there was a building with a congregation meeting in it, but it wasn’t completely finished.  Finally, a visiting circuit overseer shamed the elders into making up a punch list and getting all the little stuff done.   By then, it was time to remodel.   I had married and moved away, so that wasn’t my project.

That’s an extreme example of how long it took to construct a kingdom hall back in the day.  The Society decided that this was not cool because it kept the brothers busy building instead of preaching.  They devised a whole new way of construction – the quick build.  It was a revolutionary concept back when the first few quick builds went up.  Here’s how it works:

Weeks ahead of time the site is prepared with a slab and parking lot.  They have the utilities hooked up and ready to go.  The materials are gathered and food service is planned so that the workers can stay at the site.  On the designated weekend skilled crews of JW volunteers descend upon the work site and build the whole kingdom hall, right down to carpet and wallpaper, even landscaping, in less than three days’ time.

At first, a general invitation would go out to the entire circuit and a thousand people would swoop in, most of them just to watch the thing go up.  The building site was crowded, the port-a-potties were maxed out, and a lot of food went to feed people who were just standing around gawking.

“No, no, no,” said the Society, stamping their collective foot.  “That’s not what we meant.”  Then they devised a structure whereby Brooklyn could control it more tightly.  They designated Regional Building Committees (RBC) who would oversee every quick build in their area.  There was also a thick notebook of instructions that had to be followed to the letter.  I was at one quick build where the local elders messed up a few things (including arranging for the port-a-potties to be serviced) and all of them were removed as elders in the aftermath.  Yikes!

The RBC also scheduled the crews so that only the people needed at the time were milling around the site.  The drywall crew didn’t show up until later Saturday afternoon or evening, for example, and worked through the night.  Of course, the local congregation members could be there anytime.  They were usually doing grunt work or food service.

In order to get on a crew you had to apply to the RBC.  My ex-husband volunteered his carpentry experience and worked on a bunch of quick builds around New England.  I was not allowed to accompany him, not that I really wanted to.  Hanging around a building site that is not your own is no fun at all.  Worse, I’d be expected to participate in field service, letting the locals know about the project and inviting them to drop by for a little impromptu propaganda treatment.

There were strict rules on the sites, too.  No slogan t-shirts could be worn, for example, so leave your “That’s what she said” shirt at home.

On Sunday afternoon, the congregation held their first meeting in the new hall.  Of course, there were always a few details to finish up, and sometimes things were not quite ready for a meeting due to some unforeseen complication.  All in all, it was a pretty amazing process, but hoo boy, don’t cross the RBC or you’ll find yourself in a serious pickle.

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