It turned out that in 1970 there was a lot of changes being made at Bethel. One of the major changes was that a Bethelite didn’t have to go to Kings County or the Brooklyn Heights congregations first before getting assigned out to a local kingdom hall in the New York City area. So instead of waiting six months I was assigned to the Inwood congregation in upper Manhattan.
I was assigned there with another new boy, John who came in the same week as me. John was a quiet kind of guy who always had a strange confused look on his face. His brother was a Bethel heavy there. It was always a good thing if you had some family there and John’s brother was a factory floor overseer. If you were going to make Bethel your career having family members there in positions of power helps. It didn’t help poor John, however. A couple of years later John had a break down and tried killing himself at the Watchtower Farm. Having a bunch of family around was good thing as long as you were happy. If you’re not happy and want to leave the lord’s house you got extra guilt and shame.
Daryl Christianson met us both in front of the 124 building and we headed to the subway station. The trip to our new congregation would take about an hour. Once on the train we met another brother who was going to the Inwood hall also. It turned out that it was going to be his last congregation meeting there. He had been at Bethel for four years and was leaving. Daryl had just hit his four year mark too but he was staying. My guess is, they had both came in together like John and I.
I couldn’t help but think to myself why would anyone ever leave Bethel, being so close to 1975? He didn’t say much after we were introduced. I found out soon enough that guys who had been there awhile didn’t have much to say to the new boys. They were in two different worlds. Just like the guys in Viet Nam that have much to say to new recruits. There was nothing you can tell them that they won’t figure for themselves eventually, if they didn’t get killed first. He just set there with his eyes glazed over looking at the bill boards and graffiti inside the subway car. It was one of his last subway rides and he looked numb setting there. I wondered what experiences he had while he was there. His last day was my first day the changing of the guard so to speak. After a few minutes I had to ask.
“So since you have been here for four years, do you have any advice to give a new guy like me?”
He set there for a few seconds and then looked at me with my shit eating grin. He said, with a blank look in his eyes.
“Yeah….Just do your work and keep your mouth shut. They don’t care about you here.” Then he turned and looked way.
Wow, I was dumb founded. What an attitude I thought. I will never be like this guy, I thought to myself.
The congregation you were assigned to could a big difference in your stay at Bethel. Some brothers got great jobs and shitty congregations, other brothers got great congregations and shitty jobs. Then the truly lucky guys got great jobs and great congregations. These brothers were called “Golden Boys.” Their stay a Bethel was like a walk in the park.
What constituted a good congregation? The first thing was there wasn’t too many Bethelites in it. Inwood had only four initially. Daryl Christianson, Larry Fisher, John and me.
At Midtown were I went to the memorial at, there was over sixty Bethelities at the meetings. The odds of getting invited to a meal out or getting any food from the local brothers and sisters was practically zone. Food was a big deal too. Because it took so long to get to our meetings there was no time for many Bethelites to go to the dinner at Bethel. We had leave work, clean up and head straight to the meetings. The wonderful sisters at the Inwood hall, would make up a brown bag full of food. We got the bags at the end of the meetings. So we had our dinner at about 10:00 p.m. at night on the subway train heading back home. We got back there at about 11:00 and up again at 6:30. Sundays after the meetings there was always a place for us at one of their houses for a home cooked meal.
Inwood congregation had about 50% blacks 25% Porto Ricans and 25% mixed nationalities. It was my first mostly black congregation. After fifty years and dozens of Kingdom halls, I must say the blacks have the best congregations. They are truly wonderful people. They are the real deal and if you are real too, they would do anything for you. However, if you are an uppity self-righteous white boy, they will stand clear of you. They saw lots of us, young white Bethelitites who were full of ourselves come and go. Some didn’t leave on the best terms.
We got two more new boys assigned to our hall in the next couple years, Dave Paro and Dennis Miller. Many a Bethelite would leave Bethel and marry a local girl from their kingdom hall. Dave Paro married a Porto Rican sister from Inwood.
Most of the available sisters in the New York area were either black or Porto Rican. Ninety percent all Bethelites were white. The few white sisters there were either very young or already snapped up by other Bethelities. So of course, there was a lot of mixed marriages. Which of course is fine. Except there was a few weird ones too. Like the nineteen year old, skinny white kid from Wisconsin, who married the forty two year old, three hundred pound black sister from the Bronx. She also had three teenage boys of her own. One of her teenage boys was the same age as him. I wondered what his folks thought when he left Bethel before his time and brought her back home to Wisconsin?
There was an old saying at Bethel. “They longer you are here the whiter they look.”
If you were looking for available white sisters over sixteen years of age, odds are you needed to get at least a hundred miles away from New York City.
Having just got there, girls were the last thing on my mind. It fact I was quite a jerk about it still.
A beautiful sister from Kansas wrote me a letter after I was there a few months. I think she was interested in me. I wrote her back a fiery letter stating “What are you thinking? I have made a four year commitment here, so please don’t write me anymore!” What a jerk I was.
Anyway Inwood was a wonderful Congregation. There was a few whack jobs there like any otherb kingdom Hall.
Sister Cornell would come up to me and show me her field service report. “Look at this Brother Casarona twenty two hours in field service, ten return visits, three books and nineteen magazines placed.”
“Very good Sister Cornell keep up the good work.” She was German and very overbearing. I felt sorry for her two teenage kids and her ex-husband who I never met. In her living room was a huge portrait of her father, dress up in his Nazis uniform.
Sometimes when you were giving a talk, the Black brothers or sisters would speak out with “Yes!” or “That’s right!” without been called on. Just like in the old tent revival meetings in the south. Can I get a amen!
I’m sure the strangest people there was us Bethelites.