R and me

by Pistoff 16 Replies latest jw experiences

  • Pistoff

    What is it like for you when you run into someone from your happy days growing up in the Kingdom Hall?

    It happened to me recently, and it brought out a flood of memories about R, an old friend and mentor.

    It is a service day; as we drive along Route 6 in R’s gray four door Rambler Ambassador, we pass a Baptist church. It is a Thursday afternoon, sunny and warm, and R and I are on our way to the territory to make calls. It is my last year of high school; I had earned enough credits in my earlier years so that I could temporary pioneer in my senior year. I remember the look on my counselors’ faces when I tell them my plans; not interested in college, I tell them. (Why go to college when the end is so near? We will need farming skills, this is what I tell them.)

    As we pass the red brick Baptist church, he taps me on the arm with the back of his hand and says, J, they had elders years ago!

    He gives up a small laugh and we continue on. I am silent, not knowing what to say. It is 1971 and the Society has just announced the elder arrangement in the congregations. The old way was for each ‘unit’ to have a congregation servant, an assistant and other men running the departments, Watchtower conductor, literature, etc. The look on his face wasn’t the breathless excitement most witnesses have at ‘new light’; R had been the congregation servant for years.

    I realize looking back that R must have been taken aback at the change; he was the congregation servant, he must have felt a bit betrayed. I would later hear his wife say that they took his congregation away from him.


    R is one of my oldest mentors in the truth. I don’t think it would seem like we were good friends. R is not someone who knows your secrets, at least not in the way friends do. I have seen R only at conventions and funerals in the last 20 years; he is twenty something years older than me.

    But of all the people I have known in the group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, he was the most influential in my life and of those closest to me.

    When I was a child, R was there on the platform, giving talks; he is there on stage, his face set, announcing the disfellowshipping of a young woman I knew who was sitting 2 rows ahead of me. She is obviously surprised by the announcement; her jaw drops and she gets up and storms out. I am 12 years old; I can’t understand what is happening.

    R is at the lectern discussing the building of a new hall, and asking for pledges. An older brother, the Watchtower conductor, asks to come onto the platform; R thinks for a moment, and says yes. The older brother questions whether or not we really need a new hall. R thanks him for his input, but would later humiliate him in a servants meeting, telling him he made the servants look disunified; don’t do it again, he tells him. The older brother moved to California a year later.

    Others would later say about R that he brought a lot of people into the truth, and stumbled almost as many out. A father of a good friend of mine quit the meetings for 25 years after R chewed him out. I never knew what spurred the event.

    R studied with two young men who I would be friends with in my mid-teens; we all absorb R’s way of seeing things, black and white, no compromise. He also studies with my older brother, and the four of us, my two friends, my brother and me, become the four musketeers. (We make up a tiny clique in an already small group; we see things clearly, we have the inside track, we are not slackers. We are awake, the rest of the brothers seem to be sleeping. What are they doing?? To get married now in this system would be selfish, we say; we talk about learning Spanish and moving to South America.)

    R is there when there is trouble in my family; I see him at the front door on a rainy night with 2 others from the Kingdom Hall, rain dripping from the brims of their hats. They are there to find out from my brother the extent of some wrongdoing I still know nothing about. Their faces are grim.

    R is the elder who goes over the questions with me before being baptized, and asks many questions about the Society that are not in the book; my mother later says it must mean they are grooming me for being used in the hall. R makes a point of asking me if someone can be disfellowshipped for stealing 50 cents; I don’t want to answer this question. I grew up poor; I also am remembering shoplifting for kicks when I was younger. Finally, R looks back at the yellow Lamp book, disappointment showing on his face and says, well yes, you can be disfellowshipped for 50 cents. I remember wondering if he has done this, thrown someone out for stealing 50 cents.

    R and I spend hundreds of hours together working on the new Kingdom Hall, built the old way, over a year and a half. I am there with him when the hole is dug by a fringe Witness with an ancient bulldozer, and later when the basement needs to be dug out deeper, by hand, there we are, R and I, with shovel and a pick ax, digging up the hard clay.

    I nearly kill him one day at the building site; we are setting the heavy joists by hand, walking them across the block walls. I am 14; as I tire out, I falter and walk him off the edge of the wall. He falls to the dirt floor below, somehow missing the 1x12’s bracing the block wall. He jumps up quickly; I hear “I am OK! I am OK!” He knows I must think he is hurt.

    We are there when the last piece of trim goes on, and later again the dedication talk is given.

    I silently berate R during summer the first Sunday meetings in that hall, beads of sweat slowly making their way from the top of my head to my earlobes. R felt (a soft way of putting it; R was unyielding about it, and so that is what happened) that installing air conditioning in the new Kingdom Hall would be extravagant and might offend the neighbors. (2 years later air conditioning is installed, at double the cost.)

    And we spend countless hours together in the door to door work. I full time pioneer, the goal of all good witnesses, for one year after high school; by then, he has quit his manager’s position at the bank, taken his pension as a cash payment and is also pioneering.

    Though I can’t remember talking about it, I know we must have, maybe walking along taking doors together; we will pioneer out the last days of the old system, we will get a head start on the new system. I am doing janitorial work at night, some work in the trades during the day, and R is living off his cash.

    Less than a year later, I will be married and spending less time with R, and more time with my smart ass witness friends who are not pioneering, who have taken decent jobs and share my party spirit. I begin full time work in the trades, our congregation is split and R and I are now in different congregations. R eventually runs out of money and goes to work painting houses full time.

    I am writing about R because I saw him again recently, at a funeral.

    He has long since retired and is still an elder, but not actively used. He is forgetful and had a stroke last year. He still seems vital, not much gray hair even though he is 80, and shows no after effects from the stroke.

    His wife saw me at the funeral, and told me that R wants to talk to me, be sure to talk to him.

    More about what R says to me in the next post.

  • Iown Mylife
    Iown Mylife

    This is such a well-written story and I enjoyed it immensely! So many points in here to think about.

    Thanks for posting and looking forward to the Rest of the Story,


  • life is to short
    life is to short

    It totally reminds me of three elders I knew growing up. When you said that "R brought a lot of people into the "truth" and stumbled as many out" that was these elders. They could be really kind and brutally mean in seconds of each other.

    One of these elders berated me to the point that I just wished I was dead because I had taken him on a study of mine, I was only 16 years old and my parents were not strong JW's. I did not know about the head covering thing. This elder just ripped me to pieces because I did not my head covered in front of my study. I know it was stupid for me not to know this very important part of our faith but I did not know that women, young girls had to have their head covered in front of the brothers. I put a paper towel on my head to appease him, but he berated me all the way home, he was in his 60's at the time. I look back now and think how could a grown man do that to a young girl.

    Another time I was pulled into the back room alone with two of these men and told I had to stop dating my now husband because I would ruin his spititual life. Till this day I do not know why they did that. I was not marked, I was in good standing, pioneered, etc. It just totally crushed me and even till this day it hurts for some stupid reason even though I do not now belieive it's the "truth" I did than. I totally believed back than it was my whole life and to have these men say that to me was beyond horrible. Even now in the back of my mind I still wonder what is so worng with me that they would do that without telling me why they felt I was so horrible as to ruin someones life. Who does that to a young 20 year old women? And it was a surprise hit when they came up to me in front of another young sister I was talking to and demaned that I go into the back room alone with them, I had not a clue that they were going to do that, or that I was in any kind of trouble. The sister I was talking to kept asking me what I had done wrong. I never told her.

    All the things these elders did still hurt 30 years later. They left such a mark on my soul and spirit.


  • Pistoff

    Thanks, Marina.

    I obviously have conflicting emotions about it.

  • Pistoff

    LITS, sorry you had that experience with elders; they can be real jerks.

    You are probably well spoken and attractive; elders HATE that, and sometimes sisters do too, and will take shots at you not even knowing they are jealous.

    My experience with R is very conflicted; I liked him.

    He didn't seem ideological and rigid, but of course he was.

    He just seemed to be right, and we responded to it.

    He was very influential in his day.

  • Divergent

    Thanks for the story! Just out of curiousity... what happened to the other 3 musketeers?

  • Pistoff

    @Just Kidding:

    2 are still in, one is the very typical ideological witness, never had a job longer than 2-3 years, has no retirement (his wife told me their 2 choices are being broke in retirement or Armageddon) and the other is, oddly, ideological even though he spent ten years out of the truth, getting his degree, and then making a Lazarus style return.

    Occasionally he tries to encourage me; I remind him that I was here all along, even when he was 'out' getting his degree and his jollies.

    The fourth quit going to meetings early in the 80's, and has returned to his usual anti-social ways, not interested in seeing anyone.

  • life is to short
    life is to short

    Your right Pistoff in the fact that even through they were so hurtful there was this huge part of me that liked them, because they could be nice, really nice at times. I think for me it was because I believed it so strongly that I sort of worshiped these men for who they were in the "truth". Now all I see is how sad it all was and how they used their power in hurtful ways.


  • Pistoff


    " I think for me it was because I believed it so strongly that I sort of worshiped these men for who they were in the "truth"."

    I would never have thought of it that way, but it really was like that.

    After all, 'they were watching over our souls.'

    We forgave them a lot because that idea was in the back of our heads, they were looking out for us, trying to get us into the new system.

    It is what we were led to do, to follow behind elders and 'imitate their faith'.

  • clarity

    You have captured the essence of those strange times.

    The urgency of the late '60's blinded us to reality.

    The stupid feeling of ...oh well, the world is ending soon,

    so we wasted our robust years on hot air & threw away

    people, fortunes and our very futures.


    Well done Pistoff...I so enjoyed this, look forward to



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