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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.

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.

Down Time

Taking a week off, everyone.  If you haven’t read all 32 of my posts, please browse the archives and enjoy!

Party Like it’s 1959

party 1959

You would think that since Jehovah’s Witnesses pass up all the holidays, as well as birthdays, that their lives must be completely devoid of fun.  Heavens, no!  JWs have frequent “get-togethers.”  At least that’s what we called them in the U.S.  Never used the word “party.”  You can have all the fun you want, as long as you follow some basic rules.

Size of gathering:  Must be manageable and well supervised.

Back in the 1970s (in the U.S. at least) an alarming trend developed that had lovers of righteousness rending their garments.  Large roller skating parties were being held at roller rinks.  A blanket invitation would be issued, perhaps posted on the congregation information board, to several area congregations, and donations would be collected to cover the cost of renting the facility.  No booze would be served, and there were plenty of adults to chaperone.  Everyone had good, wholesome fun skating around the rink.  Of course, as with any crowd, there has to be at least one person who sees the gathering as an opportunity to be naughty, an “incident” occurs, and there are consequences.  I think the “incident” that caused the furor was that some “worldly” kids wandered into the party and all the clean and shiny JW kids were contaminated by their worldliness.  Maybe they played some disco music (the horror!).

A great deal of tut-tutting occurred and resulted in an edict being issued from the Governing Body to the elders putting the kibosh on all large gatherings.  Even though my brother and I had not attended any of these parties, my father, being a sucker for strict rules, sat us down and with a stern face announced that in future we would not be allowed to attend a function if more than 10 people would be there.

I was thinking, “Shoot, we sometimes have more people than that over for dinner.”  As it was, we weren’t allowed any freedom of movement anyway, so I don’t know what he was worried about.

Amusements:  If any games or sports are played, nobody can get competitive about it; competition is unchristian.  If there is music, only wholesome music may be selected (in other words – nothing anyone really wants to hear).   If there is dancing, no suggestive movements will be tolerated (which pretty much narrows it down to square dancing and line dancing).

Refreshments:  If alcoholic beverages are served…you know what – just don’t do it.  Nothing good ever came from having an open bar.  JWs love Kool-Aid anyway.  ;o)

Food:  Since nobody can afford a catered affair it’ll be potluck.  Staples of a potluck dinner include several molded gelatin salads (one of which must contain mini marshmallows), at least one big pot of chili, baked beans, potato salad, three varieties of macaroni salad, four or five spaghetti casseroles, chocolate brownies, blond brownies, apple brownies, and M&M brownies.

The inevitable sing-along:  Has to be Kingdom Melodies, so that everyone can sing, “We Are Jehovah’s Witnesses” at the tops of their voices.

Timing:  Since pleasure should never overshadow theocratic activities, it pretty much has to be Saturday afternoon, so that everyone will have the opportunity to participate in the field service in the morning.  Sunday afternoon is out because it’s field service time.  Now, be sure the whole event wraps up early enough so that everyone will be fresh for the Sunday meeting.

The reason for the get-together:  I think I went to exactly two get-togethers that were thrown for no reason at all, and those were softball games.  Most of the time you’d have to wait for someone to get married, have a baby, or move away before anyone suggested a gathering, and then it was usually the same person or people who threw every get-together.

The guest list must be controlled and invitations issued (either orally or by card).  No general announcements will be made inviting everyone.  In fact, there was even a Watchtower article about get-togethers that stated that nobody should feel hurt if they are not invited to a get-together.  Yeah, right.

Watermelon must be served.  This is really just a joke.  Some of my less-than-pious friends pointed out that, in The Watchtower, every illustration of a get-together showed watermelon being served, so it became a joke among us.

That brings up another point.  While I was a  JW, and especially in the 80s and 90s, we got quite a bit of counsel on the subject of get-togethers (including wedding receptions)and these were accompanied by a photo or drawing of a group of JWs having fun together, and these pictures were always meticulous in their realism.

Usually it would be set in someone’s living room.  Everyone would be dressed like they had just taken off their ties after a meeting – females in skirts, men in nice slacks and sport shirts.  Never would you see a pair of jeans or a t-shirt on anyone.  No sneakers either.  Someone would have a guitar.  On the coffee table would be a bowl of popcorn, a pitcher of some brightly colored liquid (the literal Kool-Aid) and the inevitable sliced watermelon.  There would be people of all ages represented, and everyone would be singing.  Yup I’m yawning too.

It never went down that way.  Seriously, does that sound like fun?  Usually, someone would rent a school auditorium or Grange hall or something like that, tables would be set up for the food, someone would bring a couple of basketballs to amuse the kids, and generally everyone would just stand around in little knots, chatting (read: gossiping).  If there was a sound system, they’d pop in a recording of Kingdom Melodies (I guess there’s a new song book now, but that’s what it was in my time as a JW) which would bring the mood way down.  At some point, one of the elders would call everyone to attention, say a prayer, and we’d queue up for the food.  Once the eating was done, maybe someone would suggest a game of some sort.  I remember dividing up into teams and having a potato race where you have to hold a potato between your knees while you move as fast as you can over a prescribed distance and back.  Hilarity ensued.

Other get-togethers involved softball games in someone’s pasture, tables of food set up outside, same procedure.  I really enjoyed those games because I could whack the snot out of that softball and release a lot of frustration.  People were always amazed at what a slugger I was since I have never given the appearance of being athletic.

Oh, and everyone, except Brother Elderly, would be wearing jeans and t-shirts.  And sneakers.

I attended a number of Super Bowl parties as well, but I understand that the Governing Body has started condemning them as being “a trap.”  Too much merriment and – gasp! – the possible overconsumption of alcoholic beverages.  The parties I went to were not drunken romps.  Usually, whoever threw the party had a large TV, it would be potluck, and everyone behaved themselves.

I think that if you want to be bad, you’re going to find a way to be bad no matter how many rules are imposed.  So, party on, JW Super Bowl fans!

THE END IS NEAR!!!!

The doctrine that draws people into the JW cult like flies to a barbecue and has the most influence on how JWs live their lives is the promise of eternal life on an earth that has been restored to paradise.

Only baptized JWs will receive this extremely generous gift, so remaining a JW in good standing is essential.

They reason that God’s original purpose for the earth was for the perfect human couple, Adam and Eve, to produce an earth full of perfect people whose sole job would be to spread the original Eden worldwide.  Of course, then Eve and that snake had their little chat and, yada-yada-yada, everybody dies, the planet’s a wreck, and you can’t buy a decent piece of fruit at the supermarket.

But, rather than God throwing up his hands and saying, “It is what it is,” he hinted around in the Bible about not giving up on his original idea.   The plan involved thousands of years of suffering for mankind (think of it as a “time out”) the death of his son, and, of course, an intrepid band of true believers who would arise just in the nick of time in the “last days” to spread the word.  After some vigorous Earth scrubbing by God (Armageddon) they would form the foundation of mankind  in the “new system of things” and would live forever, never having died at all.  Everyone who has ever died (except the ones snuffed at Armageddon) will be resurrected (with some possible notable exceptions – that’s up for debate) and after one little hiccup (a final temptation and then the destruction of the Devil) they all live happily ever after.

Obviously, I’ve left out a few details, but that’s the basic idea.  Of course, generations of Bible scholars never figured this out, but JWs know “the truth” because God has communicated it to the big guys in Brooklyn.  What’s more, it’s going to happen very, very soon.  So soon that they’ve been living in a state of urgency for 130 years.

If this system of things is going to its violent end at any moment (maybe tomorrow) and billions of ignorant people are going to die, then why would you waste time doing silly things like getting an education or investing for retirement or pursuing a career or building a house?  Now, there are some JWs who do these things, but believe me, they face a lot of tut-tutting from their fellow congregation members or even getting hauled into the library for a tut-tut session with some disapproving elders.

Instead, you should spend every spare moment trying to get everyone to become a JW so that they can be spared execution by God.  Your vocation is the ministry; your avocation is your job.  The job supports you in the ministry, and that’s it.

My family joined the cult back in 1972 when I was 13 years old.  Back then everyone was convinced The End was coming in 1975, so the urgency had risen to a frenzy.  As I have recounted in earlier posts, my parents did things like quit their jobs, sell the car, and force my brother and me to eat dry peanut butter so that they could spend the maximum amount of time in the ministry.  I was told I would never graduate from high school because The End was that close.

Although God apparently misplaced the schedule and nothing happened in 1975, the Watchtower Society did what it does best and kept the fire to the feet of the membership.   The End could come at any time.   So, I didn’t go to college.  I learned to type in high school, and thank goodness I did.  Back then typing was a rare skill, much sought after, so I had no trouble finding a job.  But that’s all it was – a job.  No career ladder for me.  Instead, it was a long series of office jobs, and by the time I had extricated myself from the cult, I had no actual career and the income to prove it.

My ex-husband’s parents, in the misguided belief that he would enthusiastically embrace the full-time ministry as a career and rise through the ranks to become a circuit or district overseer (they receive a small stipend from the Watchtower Society), failed to ensure that he learned a trade.   Consequently, he was doomed to spend his life working at one crappy job after another, dragging me along with him.

But, remember – The End is coming soon.  Keep your eyes on the prize (they have a whole song about that in their songbook).

Let’s suppose that you have a talent that cries out for expression from the depths of your soul.  You have eternity to pursue that talent, so it would be just plain ridiculous to nurture that talent with so little time left in this system of things.  Besides, JWs do not seek fame.  You are strongly discouraged from exploiting your talent to become rich and famous.

So, use that glorious singing voice only at the kingdom hall and at the occasional get-together.  Forget about dancing (not forbidden but frowned upon), acting, or writing anything other than letters.  Painting, sculpture, playing a musical instrument, gardening, and similar activities could fall under the heading of “hobby,” so as long as you engage in these activities only occasionally (remember – these are urgent times so you need to spend your spare time in the ministry) it’s okay.

When it came down to my passion, writing, sometimes I would feel a burning desire to put pen to paper and let it flow, but I had to squelch it, or else write another letter (distant friends loved getting my letters because I threw myself into them).  I tried to picture myself writing fiction, but nixed that because any love story I wrote would have to be painfully chaste.  My lovers wouldn’t even be able to hold hands until they were engaged, and even I wouldn’t want to read that.  I thought about children’s books for a while, but it lacked appeal.

I should add that once I started writing, it produced such a change in me that within 5 months I left the cult.  Nothing like self-expression to break that cult mentality.

The JW life is very narrow because of their end-is-near mindset.  Their concept of the future has nothing to do with the world around them, so they resist every attempt to involve them in its affairs.

You’ve been reading the words I couldn’t write while I was a JW.  And there is no “end” except the period at the end of this sentence.

Life in a Congregation – Part 3

The second meeting on Thursday nights was the Service Meeting.  This meeting featured assigned material from a monthly flyer called “Our Kingdom Service.”  The focus of the meeting was the ministry – how to be effective, encouragement to do more (read: guilt tripping); but it covered organizational matters as well – assembly dates and themes, how to dress for a visit to the World Headquarters, encouragement to give more money (again, guilt tripping).  Often, demonstrations were given of suggested presentations to use at the door.  Anyone could be drafted to give a presentation, another 5 minutes or so of terror.

We were often regaled with an experience about some person who had seemingly impossible circumstances who still managed to engage in the full-time ministry (pioneering) or to increase their hours temporarily (auxiliary pioneering).  A composite of this beknighted individual would be a single mom with 5 kids under the age of 10, a wooden leg, no car, and a full-time job breaking rocks in a quarry using a sledge hammer.  Dang, if she could do it, why were you being such a cream puff?

I actually responded to this arm twisting one time and auxiliary pioneered for 6 weeks (I tried it out for two weeks just to make sure I could do it before I submitted my application) while working full time.  That meant I had to get up and 0-dark-30 and head down to the area around the train station (with a group of similarly motivated JWs) to give away magazines, thus putting in some time before work.

After work I was picked up by a car group who were covering not-at-homes (homes that had been called upon at another time of day but without finding someone at home) during the dinner hour, an activity which did not endear us to the community.  As you can imagine, when I finally limped home in the evening I was pretty well tapped out, and we often dined at the sign of the golden starches.

On Saturday I put in a full day in the ministry, and on Sunday I was out for a long afternoon.  And just where did I fit in housework?  I dunno.  I think we just lived in squalor for that month.

The month of the pioneering was May, and we were living in Eastern Massachusetts at the time.  During the first week of that month we had a snowstorm of 8 inches, and on the last day of the month the temperature soared to 100 degrees.  In between, on one Saturday, we were surprised by a phone call in the wee hours to come help a single mother whose child had been in a car accident.  When we returned home we had a year-old baby and a 3-year-old with us.

The rest of that story can be summed up in a few words:  We had no children, we knew nothing about children, the baby was still breast feeding, and I had never changed a diaper in my life.  I’m sure you can imagine how that day went.

But I digress.

The parts on the Service Meeting were generally assigned to elders or ministerial servants and sometimes involved strong counsel directed at the congregation as a whole.  This meeting was also the one where any disfellowshippings or other disciplinary action would be announced.

Rounding out the week was the Sunday meeting which featured a public talk, usually by a visiting speaker who would bring his family with him.  The outlines (or manuscripts) for these talks were provided by the Watchtower Society, and usually each elder in the Circuit had three or four outlines that he had developed into talks and would give wherever assigned.  For those who had to listen, it was usually an hour-long struggle to keep your eyes open.

My ex-husband was an elder, so often on a Sunday we’d be traveling to another congregation.  Some of his talks I heard so many times I could have given them myself.  I was not particularly outgoing, so it was exhausting for me to muster the traditional elder’s wife’s toothy grin and buoyant personality.  After the meeting I would have to put up with a bunch of women coming up to me and telling me what a wonderful man my husband was, and blah, blah, blah.  Meanwhile, he’d have given the closing prayer and be milling around on the platform with the local elders.

Afterward, we often had to go to someone’s house for “hospitality,” meaning we’d have lunch with them and it was another few hours of torture for me while I had to keep the toothy grin plastered on my face.  By the time it was all over and we were headed home I’d be exhausted and asking for an ice cream.  The only good point of being the visiting speaker was that we weren’t expected to participate in field service after the meeting.  Sometimes we could even beg off after the talk and leave.

After the public talk comes the Watchtower Study which is a consideration of an article from the Watchtower magazine which featured question and answer much the same as the Book study (read: a big yawn-fest).  This was another instance of needing to prepare well in advance or at least give the appearance of having done so.

There you have it.  In addition to field service, JWs spend 5 hours over 3 days of the week attending meetings and more hours preparing for them.  In my case, that means that I never saw any TV program that was scheduled for a Tuesday or Thursday, leaving me woefully out of the loop on a chunk of the pop culture.

One of my current favorite things is to wake up on a Sunday and know that I don’t have to get ready for a meeting (you always get dressed up for meetings, so there’s no jeans and t-shirts – it’s suits, ties, skirts, and pantyhose) or to turn on the TV on a Thursday night and gloat that I don’t have to gulp my supper and run out to a meeting.  Yay!  I’m free!