Very shortly after we became Jehovah’s Witnesses my father rose quickly through the ranks to the position of elder in the congregation. His life became much busier, and we saw less of him. However, as he reminded us on the night his appointment was announced, the rest of the family had responsibilities too. He sat us down and sternly told us that we had to be good examples to the other kids in the congregation. He never wanted to hear that someone’s kid said, “But Brother Long’s kids do it and their father is an elder.” I had to wonder why he was being so stern. My brother and I were, if not model children, very well behaved indeed.
Dad had elders’ meetings to attend every so often. Since he heaped verbal abuse on my head when he was at home, I was always elated when he picked up his book bag, straightened his tie, and left the house on a week night. It meant I could spend the evening in the living room instead of holed up in my bedroom escaping to Avonlea or hanging out with the March sisters.
There was also a huge cloud of secrecy that hung around his activities as an elder. When the phone rang and he answered it we were not allowed to ask who had called. If we answered the phone and someone asked for him we would be severely scolded if we asked the caller to identify themselves. We could never dig around in his book bag or any of the drawers of his desk. We were to squelch our curiosity about anything he did as an elder.
Besides all of that, inevitably every meeting turned into a marathon session as he lingered afterward until we pretty much closed the kingdom hall down. This led to some pretty late school nights and droopy eyelids the next day.
Since I married a ministerial servant, the workload wasn’t quite as heavy on my husband as on my father, and that situation continued for 10 years. It was when dear hubby (DH) decided he desired to ascend Olympus and “reach out” for the office of elder that the pressure ramped up.
First, he had to qualify for recommendation, as defined by our body of elders. It was well known around the circuit that you had to be practically Superman to get recommended by our body of elders, and some brothers had even departed for other congregations where less stringent requirements prevailed in order to get the desired promotion.
Along with him, I had to qualify too. That meant I had to be putting in more than the congregation average in field service hours per month (which meant I had to go out every Saturday morning and at least one Sunday afternoon in the month), I had to keep a spotless home, entertain regularly (called “hospitality”), get to every single meeting and comment frequently, and accompany DH to the Wednesday evening field service meeting – all while holding down a demanding full-time job with a 45-minute commute each way. That Wednesday evening thing meant that I didn’t get supper until afterward, maybe as late as 8 p.m.
There are a million other little things you have to do, like entertain the circuit overseer and his wife during their visit, take part in cleaning the kingdom hall, participate in any kingdom hall maintenance projects, visit sick JWs in the hospital or at home, and sometimes drop in on lagging publishers.
An example of this kind of unpaid extra work occurred during a month when I foolishly decided to add auxiliary pioneering (60-hour requirement) to my already bulging schedule, while still working full time (minus the commute – I had taken a job closer to home). DH and I had been assigned to assist a sister in the congregation who had five children and a husband in rehab.
The phone rang at 2 a.m. This sister’s daughter had been involved in a car accident and she needed help. We jumped out of bed and drove the 20 miles to the hospital where we found our sister in a state. They were admitting her daughter, and she needed us to take the baby and her 3-year-old son. Ignoring my horrified expression she handed me the diaper bag and hurried away.
I need to pause here to inform my readers that I have never been the maternal type. I never babysat, never sought out babies or toddlers, and I had most certainly never changed a diaper in my life. I wasn’t even sure what year-old babies could eat. Did they eat? Our home was not baby-proof and contained not even a single toy.
Back home at dawn’s early light I found myself with an infant and toddler both sitting in the middle of the living screaming their lungs out. I sure as heck didn’t even vaguely resemble their African American mother. As soon as I thought people might be stirring I called a friend who had a couple of kids to ask if she could babysit these two.
Unfortunately, she was going to a wedding that day, but after laughing at me heartily, she offered to come over and give me a diapering tutorial.
DH rushed to the store and bought a passel of toys, none of which appealed to our young charges. Mom came flying by at about 5 p.m. to nurse the infant and to tell us that she couldn’t take the kids back until the next day.
After she left I drew DH into the bedroom and with trembling hands and tear-stained face begged him to find someone else to take these children. I could not face babysitting overnight. We didn’t even have any baby gear! Luckily, we found a family who, after finding amusement in my distress, happily took the kids for the night.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that baby didn’t soil her diaper even once during that day. I still haven’t changed a diaper.