Chapter 1: Baptism of Fire
Mary Evanston was worried. It wasnít obvious to the casual observer, but anyone who knew her could tell it in little ways. Like the way she was quickly and half-heartedly washing the breakfast plates with lunch already frying on the stove. And how she kept staring into the soapsuds and repeating fragments of prayers.
Spring had arrived, accompanied as usual by the hectic sound of the banging screen door. To Mary this was a comforting sound because it was the sound of her children funneling into and out of the house, often with squeals of delight. But she knew that Ted, her eldest, wouldnít be the cause of this sound anymore; he was no longer acting like one of her children; he had been detoured from lifeís little pleasures.
"Hi, Mrs. Evanston. Is Ted home?" Mary jumped; it wasn't one of her children who had burst in on her reverie and was now adding fingerprints to the besmirched woodwork, it was Tedís friend Paul Huberman standing in the kitchen doorway, smiling in a good-natured way.
"Yes, he's home. But you wouldn't know it; locked up there in his room with his crazy books." She smiled back at him. It was good to have a handsome young man looking at her the way he did; it was delicious without being in the least dangerous since he was so young. It merely brightened her long morning. She fully suspected that she was fonder of the boy than Ted was, especially lately.
"He'll be down when I call him for lunch in just a minute. Why don't you stay and eat with us, Paul? We're having pork-chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and Jello for desert." She tried to say all this without sounding like a mother.
"What flavor's the Jello?" he asked in a teasing way.
She laughed and called out, "Jason, turn off the TV and go call your brother for lunch!"
By the time Ted entered the kitchen, his brother Jason had already finished a long summary of cartoon plots he and his other two brothers and one sister had lived through that morning. "We've been waiting five minutes for you," his mother scolded, although they had all actually begun eating before his arrival.
"Hello Paul," Ted said, ignoring her.
"Hey man, how're you doin'?" was Paul's not unexpected response.
Ted sat down without a further word and began to sheepishly look at the faces surrounding him. Their eyes seemed to be scrutinizing his every movement and he couldn't do what he had to do until they stopped. Fortunately, Juanita, his little sister, began fighting with Jason over some trifle, and that caught all eyes away. In a flash Ted's head was bowed, his eyes closed, and his hands clasped together so tightly against the edge of the table that his black knuckles turned yellow.
"Oh Lordy! What have we here?" his mother exclaimed after calming down Juanita. "Looks like Teddy's come to pray instead of eat. Well, then, we might as well divide his food up amongst ourselves; no sense in it going to waste, 'specially since it's all blest and everything now." She took Ted's plate and passed a pork-chop to Paul.
"Here, Paul, you're a growing boy, take Teddy's pork-chop. I know you appreciate my cooking."
Paul looked at the new addition to his plate and hesitated; he didn't want to come between his friend and his friend's mother like this.
"I get his Jello!"
"Dibs on his Jello!"
"I asked first!" Jason yelled.
"Mom! Jason says he gets the Jello all the time!" Patrick was complaining, as if his mother had somehow missed Jason's triumphal cries.
"Mom, don't give it to Jason all the time!" Juanita pleaded, her voice sounding on the verge of tears (as it was at least a dozen times a day).
Ted opened his eyes and raised his head. Pulling his chair in closer to the table he looked at his mother and calmly said, "I've finished thanking Jehovah for our food, mother, and now I would like to have it." His great self-control seemed to shout out loud that he had won a great silent victory, but looking about him he noticed that none of them realized it.
"Well, look who's come back to the land of the living!" his mother taunted.
"Everyone, I have an announcement to make," she paused for dramatic effect, "Ted told me today that he's going to get baptized as a Jehovah's Witness this summer." She smiled mockingly at him as she left her words hanging in the air, just waiting for the others to catch on to their meaning. Ted looked at her in infinite sadness; she had betrayed his private trust. What he had told her in private--what meant so much to him--she had opened up to public ridicule unmercifully. It was as if she had unbandaged a wound and shown them where to pour the salt.
Jason was the quickest; "Teddy's gonna be a book salesman. But only crazy people buy crazy books."
Mary nodded her approval, especially since Jason had picked up on her description of them as "crazy books."
"Hey, man, you don't wanna go and do that," Paul said, "that's a white man's religion. You're gonna be goin' around selling books for the man? Oh no, man, that's too much. What's got into you anyway? You better start comin' back to church with us or the whole neighborhood's gonna be on your tail; we don't like Jehovahs around here, no sir."
"Mommy, is Teddy gonna go to hell?" Patrick asked.
"Yes, darling, unless we stop him from doing this bad thing." Mary patted Patrick's head as she told him this with a serious expression.
"Why do you lie to them like that?" Ted asked, the self-control leaving him. "Didn't I explain to you that there is no hell? Didn't I prove it to you in black and white?"
Mary retorted, "'And whosoever shall say Thou Fool will be in danger of HELL fire.' And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.' There's your hell, young man."
Juanita began to whimper; hell was a scary place.
"And do you know what else?" Mary began in the same tone she used in her first announcement, "He says that God's gonna kill all of us if we're not baptized Jehovah's Witnesses too!"
Juanita began wailing her loudest fingernail-across-the-blackboard screech. They all seemed impervious to it with the exception of Paul who visibly winced.
"Teddy's goin' to hell 'cause he don't go to church," Patrick began chanting.
Paul, who had decided to eat the pork-chop, was quickly heated to the boiling point. Half enraged by Mary's words, and half by Juanita's wail, he only needed Patrick's war-like chant to set him off. "Man, you better get your act together. What do you mean talking about us that way? This here's your family and I'm your best friend. You know what they call a man who turns on those closest to him? A traitor, a Judas!"
Then, as if forgetting that such an application works both ways, Paul concluded with the ultimatum, "You become a Jehovah and you're no friend of mine!"
As Paul tore into the meat with his teeth, seemingly to emphasize his seriousness, Mary took one last stab, "No one likes those fanatics. They're self-righteous doomsayers trying to sell their religion to good Christians--"
"Benjamin still likes me," Ted interrupted, turning to his baby brother who had been observing the entire scene in the strictest silence, "you don't think I'm bad, do you Ben?"
Ben, who wasn't old enough to give a verbal response, but nonetheless seemed to sit in judgment over the whole procedure from his lofty highchair, appeared to contemplate the question for a moment, and then, looking directly at Ted, belched loudly.
Gales of laughter swept the room, and no one laughed louder than Ted. Even Juanita stopped crying and started laughing instantaneously.
Ben looked about the room in wide-eyed wonder and gave half a giggle as his contribution.
When all had sufficiently composed themselves, it was evident that the torrent of laughter had effectively put out the fires of persecution for the moment. The children, having finished their desert, went out to play, and the atmosphere in the room immediately mellowed. Mary deftly swooped Ben out of his chair and carried him off to her bedroom, leaving Paul and Ted alone amidst the rubble of the meal.
"Wanna go check out the chicks at the beach?" Paul asked hopefully.
"Is that all you ever think of?" Ted asked, annoyed.
But Paul didn't answer; the answer was too obvious: "that's all any man thinks of," his silence seemed to say, and he kept up his hopeful look.
"No," Ted explained, "I'm going out in service at one o'clock."
"You mean you're gonna go door-to-door selling magazines on a day like this?"
"That's what I mean."
"Because God commands us to do so in the Bible."
"All right, I'm going with you!"
Ted was taken aback. "What?" he asked in disbelief.
"If you'd rather go 'round bangin' the Bible on a beautiful day like this than go check out the chicks, then there must be something that's a lot of fun out there. I suppose you get into a lot of fine lookin' momma's houses like a travelin' salesman, and I want a piece of the action."
"It's not like that at all," Ted responded bitterly, "there's always two of us that go to each door so thereís no hint of impropriety. Besides, if we see a woman starting to come-on to us we're supposed to run out of the house."
Paul was going to laugh heartily. He opened his mouth and held his sides, and just at that point he stopped, startled by the realization that Ted meant it. There could not have been more shock in Paul's voice when he said, "I don't believe it," than if Ted had told him that the Witnesses were secretly cannibals in search of the plumpest householders.
"You'd believe it if you ever came to a meeting and saw what kind of people we got there," Ted said matter-of-factly.
"I'm goin' with you right now door-to-door," Paul insisted.
"I'm sorry, but you can't," Ted said smugly, not feeling sorry in the least, "you have to pass a test first proving that you're worthy and that you believe in what we teach from the Bible."
"Who's gonna stop me?"
It was evident that nothing short of a wet T-shirt contest could stop Paul now. Ted could only hope that the friends at the service meeting would somehow dissuade Paul.
As the Kingdom Hall was too far to walk to, Ted always went to the service meeting at the Johnson's house. This was a walk of only five short blocks, and only one question passed between them on the way; Paul asked Ted if there were any attractive girls that went door to door with him. Ted answered that there were. "But they're white," he added a short time later, in order to lessen the sweetness of Paul's expectations.
"I don't care," Paul said.
A short time afterwards Paul tried again with, "And most of them are married."
They were within a block of their destination when Ted hit upon a desperate idea. Paul didn't know where the meeting was, so all Ted had to do was lead him around for another few minutes and they'd miss the meeting. He was just about to veer off from the right street when he heard his name called. Looking around he saw Bob Morrow smiling at him from inside his car.
"You going out in service?" Bob asked.
"Yeah, we're meeting at the Johnson's," Ted replied.
"Well so am I. Hop in and I'll give you a lift."
Ted started to refuse the offer, saying "It's only a block--" but Paul was already opening the door and climbing in the back seat, so Ted got in the front.
Bob reached his hand back to Paul and introduced himself. "I'm Bob Morrow. Are you studying with Ted, or are you visiting us from another congregation?"
Paul shook Bob's hand in the strange fashion in which each hand actually grabs only the other's thumb, and lied, "I'm studying with Ted here. We're old friends from way back. Ted here's my main man, and when he gets something good he shares it with me."
"Well that's just fine, " Bob smiled, "you just keep it up. There's no place like Jehovah's organization. We have a lot of black brothers all over the world, you know. There's absolutely no prejudice in Jehovah's organization. But Ted here's the first black brother in our congregation."
"What about brother George Butler?" Ted asked in surprise.
Bob laughed, "Oh yeah! I forgot about him. No, I don't mean I forgot about him, I mean I forgot he was black." With smiling eyes he glanced in the rear-view mirror at Paul and concluded, "you see what I mean; we don't even notice when a brother's black."
"That's cool," Paul responded disinterestedly.
"How old are you, Paul?"
"Sixteen and a half."
"And you're what now, Ted, nineteen?"
"No. Everyone always thinks I'm so old. I'm just going to be seventeen next month."
Bob parked the car and they walked towards a white stucco duplex.
"Still in school, then, Paul?" asked Bob, who had a salesmanís irritating habit of overusing a person's first name in order to sound friendly at a first meeting.
"No, I did the same thing Ted here did." Paul kept referring to Ted as "here' since he was needing him as a support more and more. He was fast losing his initial spunk, and now he needed to continually point to Ted as his reason for being there. This would have been a comfort to Ted who was a bundle of nerves expecting Paul to do or say something wrong at any moment; unfortunately he didn't pick up on it.
"A couple of no-good dropouts, huh?" Bob laughed again and patted the two on their backs, leaving his arms around them both, and ushering them up to the house almost as if he were carrying home bags of groceries.
As he knocked on the inside door he winked at Paul and said, "That's all right boys, all Jehovahís people are dropouts from the world in one way or another."
A faint female voice was heard to say, "Come in". Bob opened the door, and after letting the other two in ahead of him, he called out in his most boisterous voice, which cut through all the fainter-voiced helloes, with the stupidest of all ice-breakers: "Isn't that right, Vonnie?"
"Isn't what right?" Vonnie Johnson dutifully asked in her soft voice.
"Isn't that right, Phyllis?" Bob asked without missing a beat.
"Isn't what right?" Phyllis Dorsey asked, rolling her eyes to indicate that this was not an altogether new tactic of Bob Morrow's.
"That we're all dropouts from the 'world's broad field of battle'!" Bob answered them both, while showing off his knowledge of Longfellow.
"Yes, that's true," Vonnie agreed. Then she stood up and held out her hand to Paul. "Hi, I'm Vonnie Johnson, and this is Phyllis Dorsey, and what is your name brother?"
Paul, who had lost all his impetuousness by now, somewhat meekly shook her hand in the conventional manner and simply told her his name.
"Are you studying with Ted?" Phyllis, who had remained seated, asked.
"Well, uh, yeah, I guess--we just started."
"That's nice,' Phyllis beamed.
"Well, let's sit down and get this show on the road!" Bob ordered, clapping his hands together. During the shuffling of chairs and passing around the yearbooks, Paul had time to collect himself and scrutinize his surroundings. The first thing he took in was, of course, the two women. Vonnie was tall and thin with carefully teased long brown hair and a figure that made his whole body go weak with desire. "Too bad she's married," he thought to himself, as if she would automatically fall into his arms if she were single. Next he turned his attention to Phyllis. She had long blond hair that seemed to sparkle. Her face naturally formed itself into a cheerful smile that was heartwarming. She was on the short side and rather plump, with breasts like a very fat woman might have. She was just acceptable, Paul thought, and wondered if she was married too.
As his attention was finally diverted to the room about him, he noticed the lack of any holy pictures or crosses with the exception of a small painting he could see in the kitchen of an old man praying over a loaf of bread. The carpet in the living room was threadbare in places (its color also clashed with the peeling wallpaper, but Paul didn't notice this). Directly across from the couch was a portable TV with a cardboard sign atop it on which someone had written with a runny pen:
"FINALLY, BROTHERS, WHATEVER THINGS ARE TRUE,
WHATEVER THZNGS ARE OF SERIOUS CONCERN,
WHBTEVER THINGS ARE RIGHTEOUS, LOVABLE,
CHASTE, WELL SPOKEN OF, WHATEVER VIRTUE
THERE IS AND WHATEVER PRAISEWORTHY THING
THERE IS, CONTINUE CONSIDERING THESE THINGS."
2 HOURS A DAY LIMIT!
Paul was just about to ask about this sign and how it was possible to watch less than six hours of TV a day when he was brought back to the matter at hand by Bob's voice:
"Well, I don't know how you're gonna work this, sisters, but I think one of you'll have to read the text."
There seemed to be some confusion over this in everyone's mind, and in order to divert Paul's attention from this fact, Ted showed him where to turn in the Yearbook that was given him for the day's text.
Then Vonnie began to read, "The text for today is found in James 1:4 which reads, 'Let endurance have its work complete not lacking in anything.' Why do we need endurance?"
Phyllis raised her hand and Vonnie called on her. "We need endurance," she began, "because this old world is evil and Satan wants us to stay in the world, so he puts up all sorts of obstacles in our way."
"Yes," Vonnie agreed, "but if we overcome these obstacles we won't need endurance, will we?"
Ted raised his hand and after a nod from Vonnie began, "Not all obstacles can be overcome. The Watchtower comments mention such things as persecution by family and friends, misunderstanding and ridicule. We can't always change how others feel about us, and so we have to put up with it without complaint and maintain our faith."
"Yes," Vonnie said slowly, while looking tenderly at Ted, "and some of our brothers and sisters have it worse than others, such as those with opposing families, or those just coming into the Truth. We should always remember to ask Jehovah to give them an extra portion of his spirit so that they can endure. Are there any more comments or questions on the day's text?" As her eyes gave a quick once-over of the people in her living room, Bob cleared his throat as if he were about to say something, and Vonnie quickly asked Ted to read the comments from the yearbook. This accomplished, they laid their plans for the territory they would work that afternoon and what book they would try to place with householders.
They settled on a territory a few blocks away that Phyllis had signed out last Sunday. They'd "work it" with the "Truth" book. This decided, Phyllis helped Vonnie to pin a little doily in her hair.
Vonnie blushed, closed her eyes, bowed her head, and said, "Let's ask Jehovah's blessing." It was apparent that she wasn't used to praying aloud before brothers. Even Paul sensed that something was odd in the fact that Bob took no part in the meeting, especially since he had been so verbose prior to it.
Bob resumed this verbosity as soon as they had all piled into his car; "Been to any meetings yet, Paul?"
Paul, who was seated next to him, thought it a strange question; "I just been to one, man."
"Yeah, that's right," Bob chuckled, "but I mean at the hall. Have you been to a Sunday Public Talk, or a Tuesday night Ministry School?"
"No, he hasn't," Ted volunteered; the time was now or never to break the real news about Paul, "in fact I'm not so sure this is a good idea to bring him out into field service already. He hasn't really qualified according to the Organization book."
Phyllis and Vonnie, seated to the left of Ted in the back seat, looked at each other in slight alarm. Ted appeared to be overly frank in discussing his "Bible study" when he was present.
"That's all right," Bob assured, "The O.R. book says we can't stop anyone from going door-to-door. Besides, it'll be a good experience for him. As long as he has the desire to serve Jehovah in this way, we should let him."
"I'm beginning to wonder if itís such a good idea too," Paul admitted, "Maybe I'm not ready yet for this. It's kinda scary going up to people you don't know with a religion they don't want. Don't people get mad at you?"
Ted breathed a sigh of relief. He finally realized that Paul had gradually become terrified at the entire prospect and had no more thought of doing something that would embarrass him.
"Sure they do," Bob said, "but we don't mind it. We have to endure persecution. Right Vonnie?"
"Just like our text this morning said," she agreed.
"And a very fine text it was," he smiled at her through the rear-view mirror, "handled just like a pro, too.
"Just like a brother," Ted added, trying to be complimentary but instantly realizing he had committed a faux pas.
There was an awkward moment that Bob quickly filled, "So we can look forward to seeing you at a meeting real soon then, Paul?"
"Do the women run all the meetings?" Paul asked innocently.
Ted felt sick. Just when he had relaxed, Paul came up with something wrong to say. But it wasn't his fault, he didn't even mean to do it, it was a very natural question, and Ted's previous comment was almost as bad.
"Well, brother," Bob began after a long pause, "unlike other churches, Jehovah's organization is kept clean. When a brother or sister stumbles from the Christian way," he pounded his fist against the edge of the steering wheel, then continued, "when a brother becomes dangerous to the congregation, certain privileges have to be taken from him. Isn't that right, brother Evanston?"
Ted truly wished he had not been called on in this delicate matter. But Bob's voice had become overly tense and it seemed he couldn't continue without it deteriorating into a whine. So Ted replied, "Yes, but we don't look down on a person who's been publicly reproved. The congregation is admonished to encourage the brother back to a full standing in the organization."
With this slight hint of sympathy Bob was able to resume, "You see, I can go out in service and turn in my time, but I can't answer at the meetings or lead anyone in prayer. Ted isnít dedicated yet, so a sister had to run the show today since there were no qualified brothers."
By this time they had arrived at Phyllis' territory and split up the work among them thus: Ted and Paul were to work together, going "house over house" with Vonnie and Phyllis, as Bob worked his way back to them from four blocks down.
Ted and Paul were walking up the steps of the corner house when they heard Bob spinning his tires and kicking up sand left over from winter as he sped to his starting point four blocks away.
"Hey, man, you sure you wanna go through with this?" Paul asked.
Ted laughed, "Is this the same guy that said nothing could stop him about an hour ago?" He rapped on the aluminum door, and feeling vastly superior to Paul, said, "You don't have to say anything. I'll do the talking. Just stand there and look like you agree."
Scarcely had he said this when the door swung open. A large woman in her thirties stood glaring at them as she took a drag from her cigarette. As she was in her bathrobe and had curlers in her hair, it was obvious she was not expecting to greet anyone at the door.
"Good afternoon," Ted began, trying to sound cheerful and unfrightened, "I'm sorry if we disturbed you. My name is Ted Evanston, and this is my friend Paul Huberman. We're talking to people in your neighborhood today about current conditions in the world and how the Bible not only predicted them, but holds out the only true hope for the future."
"What're you selling?" she asked sharply.
Ted relaxed considerably. He always felt at ease as soon as he knew where the householder stood. It was clear she'd never be interested in the Truth, so it didn't matter if he made a mistake.
"Oh, we're not selling anything, ma'am. We're just trying to bring the Good News to people. But if you don't have time to talk today, I'd like to leave this little book with you--" he stooped down to reach into his satchel and bring out the "Truth" book, but as he did so he heard the aluminum door close and lock. When he looked up, there was only the mocking smile of Paul.
"You sure handled that," Paul was jeering as they walked from the house.
The sisters were already three houses down as no one had answered at their first house.
"Hey man, let me try the next one, huh?"
"Don't be absurd," Ted snorted, trying to retain the upper hand (although it was obvious that in Paul's mind he had already lost it).
Paul turned into the second house from the corner and Ted stopped him. "They just took that one, aren't you paying attention?"
"We're working every other house. The sisters are getting the alternate ones.
Paul looked dumbly down the block, "How'd they get so far ahead of us?"
"Mostly because they don't stop to ask stupid questions." Ted felt himself losing control again, and quickly steadied himself verbally. "Patience, patience, he's not in the Truth; you've got to have patience," he said as though thinking to himself aloud. "The second reason is that no one was home here, so they didn't have to waste time talking to a disinterested goat like we did."
Paul ignored the goat reference; he was peering intently at the porch window of the house before him. "Hey, man, I see somebody in there. What're you sayin' nobody's home for? Let's take it."
There was indeed someone home, as Ted could now see. The woman, trying to peek from behind the drapes unseen, now realized that she'd been spotted. Feeling somewhat foolish for having hidden, she opened up the door before Paul had even reached it.
"Yes?" she said, and seeming to take fright, pulled the door closer to her again so that just her head stuck out.
"Good afternoon," Paul began, saying word for word what Ted had said at the previous door. By the time Ted had recovered his shock and moved from the sidewalk to the lady's front steps, he was just in time to take over from Paul. Taking out the little blue "Truth" book from his bag, Ted turned his back to the house and paged through it so she could see it as he pointed out the illustrations and Scriptures. At the end of his presentation he awkwardly pressed the point, "So would you like to have the book?"
She was about to say, "No," when Paul took another stab, "C'mon ma'am, you don't mean to say that there's nothing in that book you don't know? I mean, sheeat, you never saw so many Scriptures and 'illustrations' now, did yuh?" He seemed to be parodying Ted by making "illustrations" sound like a pretentious word.
There was a certain charm in his vulgarity which caused her to reconsider, "Well, all right," she said at last, "how much is it?"
Paul looked at Ted since he had no idea.
"It's just a quarter, ma'am," Ted replied, "to cover the cost of paper and printing,"
"Just a minute," she said and disappeared behind the door. When she returned, she took the book and put a handful of change in Ted's hand. "Here's some extra for your good work."
"Well, thanks for the thought," Ted said, "but we really can't accept money above the cost of printing. We're only out here to spread Jehovah's message of the coming New Order, and it wouldn't be right to take money for it." After handing all but a quarter back to the woman, Ted concluded, "I hope you have time to go over that book. I'd like to stop by again sometime and see if you have any questions or thoughts on the book, if that would be all right." He knew that this was the point where his presentation would stand or fall. There were some nice people out in the world who would just take the book to be nice but would never read it.
"No, that's all right," she said, "We've got our church we go to and they seem to pretty well answer all our questions. But I'll look the book over."
A more mature brother might have stopped here, content with making a placement rather than estranging the householder with a further argument against her church, but Ted couldn't resist so long as he had a listening ear (no matter how unwillingly it was listening). So after he had pointed out what he felt were intolerable flaws in Christendom, and how the Jehovah's Witnesses tolerated none of these flaws, he was adamantly told not to return.
The next three houses failed to "stick out their tongues" (Ted privately amused himself with the thought that these houses were faces, their front doors mouths, and the householders tongues). This gave Ted and Paul time to discuss the relative merits of the lady they'd placed a book with.
"I can't believe you placed a book," Ted admitted, "I've been doing this just about every day for two months now and I've only placed two books."
"You did it, not me," Paul said, making light of it.
"Are you kidding?" She was about to say no when you started talking. By the way, watch your mouth. Jehovah's people don't use foul language."
"What'd I say?" Paul asked.
Ted just shook his head slightly.
"C'mon, what'd I say?"
"How can I tell you what you said when I just told you that we don't say those kinds of words?"
"Well, how do I know not to say 'em unless you tell me what they are?"
"Okay, it was the word some people associate with manure."
"Oh, you mean shit?" Paul laughed, shrugging his shoulders and using the very word unconsciously again in expression, "Sheeat, shit's not even a swear word. Everybody says it. It doesn't mean nothiní."
"Then why say it?" This was a good question, as Paul had to admit to himself.
But Paul still possessed the trump card: "You blew it by not taking the money. We had her up till then. You made her feel bad by not letting her be generous."
"Yes, but we can't let them feel they can buy good will with Jehovah; they have to do more than that." It was a weak justification Ted realized.
They had reached the end of the block where the sisters were waiting for them. "We just struck out three in a row," Ted mused. Staring at Phyllis, he suggested, "Maybe we should change partners."
"That's a good idea," Vonnie quickly agreed, "people are probably afraid to open their doors when they see two black brothers."
"All right," Ted said, taking charge like a full-fledged brother. He assumed Vonnie's last remark was meant to pay him back for his previously having likened her to a brother. "I'll work with Phyllis, and Paul, you work with Sister Johnson."
"We're not on a first-name basis anymore, huh?" Vonnie pouted.
"Sorry," Ted smiled; it affected him strangely when she flirted with him like this, "Paul, you work with Vonnie."
As they all walked across the street, Phyllis volunteered the following information: "Vonnie placed a book with a real nice man, and I placed two magazines with some school-aged kids. I wonder why they werenít in school?"
"They're all home at my house, too," Ted sighed, "Their summer vacation started early this year for some reason."
"Oh yes, I remember," Vonnie remarked, "They started school early last fall so now they finish early too. That's nice; they get to enjoy the spring."
"Speaking of placements, you'll be glad to know that Paul placed his first book." Ted said this in a calm voice which hurried towards the end like a man who has just introduced some famous movie star and runs off the stage as quickly as he can to avoid being crushed in the oncoming adulation.
"Oh, how wonderful for you!" Phyllis exclaimed, giving her number ten smile.
"Let's hope that's the first of many more," Vonnie said in a voice approaching a whisper. It wasn't yet her sexiest voice, but it was close enough to make Paul envision placing thousands of books just to hear it again.
They were about to split into two groups again, and Phyllis called out to Paul and Vonnie, "Good luck!"
Vonnie and Ted laughed at this. Phyllis looked perplexed for a moment, gave a slight gasp, and then held her hand to her mouth, bending over in laughter and embarrassment. "Forget I said that, I haven't slipped up on that in a long time."
"That's all right," Ted assured her. As they turned into the first walk he took her arm and spoke consolingly to help justify this action, "I find myself saying 'luck' sometimes, too. It's a hard habit to break, but you've just got to keep working at it."
Paul was struck by the very different tone Vonnie took with the householders. Her voice was still delicious, but it was no longer sexy. She seemed to be in perfect control of both her voice and body. She also had a much better presentation at the doors than Ted. He decided to copy her presentation instead of Tedís when she asked him to take a door.
It wasn't long before they met up with Bob, who promptly told them of his three book and six magazine placements. As they walked back to the car the usual stories were exchanged about the unusual householders they had met. Ted and Paul walked a little behind the others, and Ted quietly commended him, "By the way, thanks for not asking Bob what it was he did to get publicly reproved."
"You think I'm really tactless, don't you?" Paul asked in mock indignation, "but, just between you and me, what'd he do?"
"No one knows that but the elders, I'm afraid. Or rather, Iím glad that no one knows but the elders. All they tell us is that he engaged in Ďconduct unbecoming a Christian.í" After a lengthy pause, and just as the others had reached the car, he added, "Thereís a rumor, though, that he and a certain sister got a little too close."
They dropped Phyllis off first. Ted thought to take her hand in helping her out of the car, but she grabbed onto the door instead.
After she said goodbye to everyone, Ted shut the car door and got bolder, "I'll walk you to the door."
"Oh, thank you," she giggled.
"I haven't seen you in awhile," he swallowed, adding the hard part: "that's not good for me."
"We were visiting another congregation last week," she explained, ignoring the last part of his comment.
"Well, I hope to be seeing more of you soon." He tried to sound ambiguous but failed; his meaning was all too plain.
"Well, Iíll be temporary-pioneering next month, so you'll see me out in service a lot then." She gave her broad smile, pretending she didn't know what was on his mind. "Well, goodbye."
Ted stood there, staring after her until Bob honked the horn.
Ted got back in the car, and rode in silence with the others for a few blocks until Paul called out: "Hey man, you can drop me right here by the park; there's some cats I know that hang around out here."
"All right," Bob said, pulling over to the curb, "I hope you learned something from your experience serving Jehovah today, Paul. It was the most valuable thing you've done so far in your life. We're all your brothers and sisters here and we want you to know that you're loved and appreciated. You always have a place to go in our spiritual paradise
"Is this going to take long?" Paul was wondering to himself as Bob continued his "speech to new people" which included a long harangue against the world and Christendom, and only concluded when Paul was actually out the door with "And I want you to remember, Paul, 'bad associations spoil useful habits'."
"Yeah, okay," Paul responded, "Nice to have met you all. I'll see you later, Ted." And he was off to join his seedy-looking friends.
"He's not your Bible Study, is he, Ted?" Bob asked.
This question so shocked Ted that he couldn't believe Bob had asked it. Somehow Bobís powers of observation and deduction were greater than Ted had thought possible.
He sat there in silence that was deafening until Vonnie broke it; "Paul told me that you didn't get to eat your dinner, Ted."
"Yeah, that's right." He jumped at the opportunity to end his shameful silence and change the subject.
"More persecution at home, huh?" Bob asked, helping to ease the situation.
"Bob, drop me off next," Vonnie requested, I'm going to fix Ted a nice hot meal."
Ted, who had climbed into the front seat after Paul's departure, looked back at her with embarrassment, "No, that's all right--" he mumbled.
"Now don't let me hear any No's", she scolded, "Richard and I will be glad to have you eat with us. Then we can all go to the meeting tonight right from our place."
Ted was Richardís Bible Study. Richard and Vonnie usually picked him up on their way to the hall.
"Here we are!" Bob called out, stretching the word "here" like Ed McMahon introducing Johnny Carson. They quickly said their good-byes before he could enter into another of his discourses, and were soon inside.
"I hope this won't look bad to the neighbors," Ted said quietly.
Vonnie left him in the living room on the couch as she started fussing with pots and pans in the open kitchen not fifteen feet from him. "Oh, it used to be that a sister couldn't be alone with a brother without the door open," she never used her hands to talk, and so she continued working efficiently, bringing speech and preparing dinner into one marvelous harmony. Ted visualized her words flowing into the food and sweetening it. "They even had to take a vow every morning at Bethel to leave the door open in such situations," she continued, "And then there was a big to-do once when brother Russell locked the door for one minute to talk privately to a sister. Wow! They thought that was just terrible!"
The sound of the stirring spoon and the bubbling beef stew blended with the aroma of the cooking, and Ted had died and gone to heaven when her voice was added to the mixture.
"Of course that's all changed now. I mean, we all know that we can trust brothers and sisters together in tight situations. And now that the world no longer thinks anything of it--well, what's to worry?"
But Ted still felt nervous alone with her. He felt so strangely about her. It was very different from the way he felt about Phyllis. He was attracted to both of them physically, but with one a physical relationship was within the realm of possibility, and so such ideas didn't have to be constantly purged from his heart. He was more attracted to Phyllis' personality than her body. But with Vonnie it wasn't so much what he'd call personality as what he conceived of as the sensuousness that exuded from her and lathered up and down his entire body like a thousand soft tongues.
"When you die you don't go to heaven, what's the matter with you," he scolded himself in his mind for his past thought in a supreme effort to expunge these last thoughts of Vonnie from consciousness.
She was sitting next to him now at a barely acceptable distance.
"It'll be ready in another 20 minutes; by that time Richard should be home," she told him.
"That sounds real good. I really hate to impose on you like this," he stared at the blank TV screen, afraid of getting lost in her large inviting eyes, "and I want you to know I'm really grateful."
"Don't mention it. You're not imposing when someone invites you to have dinner. Did you want to watch TV?"
"No, no. I never watch it anymore. There's so much immoral sex and violence on it." He immediately regretted having uttered the word "sex" in her presence, and he began to blush.
"I noticed you looking at it, that's all. Or is that your shyness again?"
He looked down at the rug. Whenever anyone mentioned shyness he instantly became shyer.
"You know one of the points in the Ministry School they have you work on is eye contact with the audience. You've joined the Ministry School, haven't you Ted?"
It seemed she was leaving the subject of his shyness, so he quickly answered, "No, not yet."
"You've really got to overcome that shyness of yours if you want to bring the Truth to people. Giving a talk in front of the congregation for the first time is hard, I know. But that's the whole purpose of the school; the more you do it the easier it gets.
The phone rang, startling them both. As she answered it, Ted tried to get rid of some of his tension. He thought of removing his sport coat and loosening his tie, but this seemed improper. He just took deep breaths and wondered why she was causing him to be so uptight.
"Okay, about nine then? All right. Later! " She hung up the phone and sat back down closer to Ted. "That was Richard; he has to work late," she pouted.
"He'll miss your delicious-smelling supper then?"
"Oh yes. He won't get off till about nine. He says he'll meet us at the hall then. Won't that look just fine, him coming into the middle of the meeting in his work clothes." She sounded disgusted.
"Better late than never," he quipped, trying to ease her mood.
It soon appeared to him that he eased it too much. "Now, where were we?" she asked innocently. "Oh yes, I was going to give you your first Ministry School lesson."
"Aren't just brothers supposed to do that?" he countered.
"You're not a brother yet, so that doesn't count."
"Then why did you and Phyllis let me give the orders in working the territory today when Bob wasn't there?"
"Well, women are supposed to be subject to men. It's only in certain things that I outrank you because you're not baptized yet. A sister could conceivably have a male Bible Study, though it's more proper to turn him over to another brother. But, I mean, we sisters talk to men door-to-door don't we?"
"Yes," he agreed, studying the rug as if he were a collector.
"And we teach them things, don't we?"
"Your point's taken."
"Good, then here's your first lesson on eye contact. I want you to look into my eyes from now on whenever we talk to one another. And when we're with others I want you to look into my eyes when no one else is talking. Think you can do that?"
"Sure, I can do that."
"Well it's hard now because you're looking at me."
"All right, I'll look away." She turned her eyes towards the front door and Ted stole a peek at her and then turned his gaze to the kitchen. She turned her eyes to look at him and saw that he wasn't looking at her, "C'mon," she pleaded, grabbing his shoulder and making him flinch and stare in dumb surprise smack-dab into her pupils.
"That's better," she said in her near-whisper. "Now keep it up, you're doing fine. I know what a hard time you're having at home from your opposing family, and you've got to get closer to all of us to compensate for that loss." She was gently rubbing his shoulder and using her full-whisper, "It's hard for guys your age to keep your minds off sex, I know. And here you not only have to fight those urges but an opposing family," she ran her fingers along the hairs on the nape of his neck, "and shyness as well. But we're all rooting for you. All your brothers and sisters are supportive of your fight." She now had her arm around him and was slightly squeezing his other shoulder.
"Sister, you're not making it easy for me now!" He jumped up, freeing himself from what he imagined were the tentacles of temptation.
"You can't mean that my merely touching you excited you?" Vonnie said, sounding as though she really doubted her powers of enticement.
"Look, " he said quickly, "I'm going to get baptized in the upcoming assembly, and--"
In a burst of real emotion she hopped up and kissed him in congratulation on the cheek, but close enough to the mouth to make him collapse back onto the couch. He was demolished now, unwilling to put up any resistance to her.
"That's great, I'm so happy for you!" she laughed delightedly, and walking into the kitchen called in a motherly tone, "Supper's ready!"
After dishing out the steaming contents she went hunting for her purse and fished out the doily that she had used at the service meeting earlier that day. "This is getting a lot of use today," she smiled, "will you help pin it on me?
Ted stood up and fastened it with trembling hands. When they were both seated they bowed their heads and Vonnie prayed.
After the meal Ted sat alone in the living room studying his books in preparation for the meeting. When she finished washing the dishes, Vonnie joined him. They studied together in silence for half an hour when she said, without taking her eyes off her "Aid to Bible Understanding" book, "Why don't you take your suit-coat and tie off and be comfortable?"
"Because it takes so long to re-tie it," he answered in kind.
"Oh, don't you know how to take it off without untying it?" she asked, looking at him at last. "Here, you just slip this little end out," her fingers deftly performed the operation under his neck, and she was soon holding the fat tie in her hand, waving it triumphantly before his face. "Then, when you want to put it on again, you just slip it around your neck, he felt her long fingernails clicking at his neck again, "and slip the little end back through the loop." She tugged up tightly and brushed off his lapels. "There: good as new. Now you try it."
Ted clumsily undertook the task, and when accomplished, waved it slightly to and fro as she had done as if this were a necessary part of the procedure.
"Now let's unbutton your collar," she insisted as she did the deed. "There, now you'll feel better."
He sat there, all nerves, waiting to see what she'd do next. But all she did next was go back to reading and underlining her "Aid" book.
"Can you drive, brother?" she asked as they were walking out to her car.
"Well, yes. But I'm real out of practice. Besides, wouldn't you rather drive your own car?"
"A brother should drive a sister, not vice-versa," she replied matter-of-factly.
"I'll never understand all these different rules of subjection," he despaired.
"Once you're a baptized brother it'll be easy. Then you'll have all the sisters in the organization in subjection to you: just think! It's almost worth it just for that, isn't it?"
They both laughed. But Ted further refused to drive, so Vonnie reluctantly did so.
No one apparently was in the Kingdom Hall parking lot. But as Ted and Vonnie walked up the steps to the front door, their hands moving along the railing as if Ted were grabbing sections of it and handing them back to Vonnie, they noticed Elder Nelson seated in Brother Stokes' van. He appeared to be holding an animated conversation with Sister Julia Salvayes. Ted and Vonnie pretended not to notice. Under normal circumstances they would have waved and waited to walk with them, but it appeared he was scolding her and she was near tears.
Inside the brightly-lit hall Ted felt all his fears and troubles melt away. There was a strength he could feel whenever he walked in among a group of Jehovah's people. It was the power and blessing of Jehovah's spirit, he knew.
"Well, hello Brother Evanston, Sister Johnson!" Rita Salvayez greeted them, standing closest to the door, and almost hidden by the light coats, old umbrellas, and a few winter coats that had been hanging there for months unclaimed on the hooks that lined the narrow entranceway walls. "I'm waiting for my sister Julia. She's out there catching it from Brother Nelson, I'm afraid,"
"Well, I hope she takes it to heart," Ted said as he brushed past her into the hall proper, leaving Vonnie to gossip with her.
He started making his way towards the magazine- and book-counter when a firm hand grabbed his shoulder.
"Hello Teddy." He turned to see Bob Morrow's broad grin. "I was just telling Andy here what a great day we had out in service."
"Yeah, five books and eight magazines in one afternoon is pretty good!" Andy agreed excitedly, "That must be a real good territory. I never get territories like that. You guys must know the right people." At this they all laughed good-naturedly. Brother Andrew Flemming seemed scarcely old enough to be signing out territories and talking with grownups. Ted estimated his age at 12 or 13. Coupling his maturity before his years with his bright red hair, he seemed a sort of mascot to the congregation.
"How many of those books and magazines did you place, Ted?" Andy asked with great curiosity. He seemed to look up to and admire everyone, and that tended to make people feel good around him.
"Actually--and this should make you feel better about not getting good territories--I didn't place anything."
"Oh, uh--" Andy fumbled for words, now sorry that he had asked the question.
"You helped place a book, now don't be so modest," Bob said.
As Bob and Andy began talking of sports, Ted gradually drifted away from them and made it to his previous destination. After a moment a brother appeared from behind the counter that swept along the entire left wall of the spacious hall. He was taking magazines out from under it and arranging them in display along three feet of the counter.
"Good evening, Brother Lindquist," Ted said as he shook the man's hand, "I'd like a "Theocratic Ministry School" book tonight."
"I'm sorry brother, I don't remember your name," Jerry Lindquist admitted with a bashful look. After being told, he introduced himself from force of habit (for it was obvious Ted already knew his name, having just said it). "Unfortunately I'm just the magazine servant. You'll have to wait for Brother Cranston to open the book counter. He should be here any minute."
"Better late than never." Ted wished he didn't have to rely so much on clichés when he tried to make small talk. It seemed better not to talk at all than to use such worn-out phrases.
Amidst the sights and sounds of the hall: the bright fluorescent lights, the swirl of people showing each other Bible verses, laughing, relating trials, triumphs, and tribulations, the elders murmuring huddled in a corner, attaché cases surrounding their feet; amidst all this flurry of activity, there sat brother George Butler alternately wiping his glasses and checking his watch.
"Hello, Brother Butler," Sister Gleason greeted, as Ted made his way towards him, "How are you tonight? All set for a good meeting?"
"Oh, yes, yes," He replied, "Just fine, sister. Thank you, thank you." At this response she smiled and walked away.
Ted sat down on the folding metal chair directly in front of Brother Butler and turned around to talk with him. The difference was that Ted really did talk to him, and it seemed to him that he was the only one who ever did. The others seemed only to patronize him as their "token Negro", or so it seemed to Ted. George Butler looked at it somewhat differently. He recognized the difference between the way Ted talked to him--asking him important questions about his life--rather than just exchanging pleasantries. But he also recognized that he had been treated a whole lot worse in his half century of life. There was bound to be a slight amount of standoffishness between white brothers and himself which even the Truth couldn't entirely efface. It was one of those inherent imperfections in man due to last until the New Order.
Ted saw that Mike Cranston had stationed himself behind the book-counter, so he excused himself from Brother Butler and made his way there once more. He passed close by Elder Dave Nelson, who had finished admonishing Sister Salvayez, evidently, and was now speaking with Vonnie Johnson: "I don't see Richard here tonight; is he sick?" He made it sound as though being ill was the only acceptable excuse for missing a meeting.
"No, I'm an electrician's widow tonight, I'm afraid," Vonnie joked, turning on the charm to no avail.
As Elder Nelson began delivering his "20 reasons why you should attend meetings" speech to a disgruntled Vonnie, Ted picked up threads to another conversation. It was Eric Potter saying to Sandy Wilson, "You mean to say you've never heard it? Sounds like a jet engine warming up. I was right in the middle of a talk once when I heard it for the first time and it threw me off completely. I stood up there grasping Ė"
"Hello Ted, how are you tonight?" Mike Cranston asked as he shook Tedís hand.
"Just fine, brother. I was wondering if I might get a "Theocratic Ministry School" Book from you."
"Yes siree!" he said gleefully as he dipped under the counter and came back up with a small purple book. That'll be 25 cents since it isn't for placement, I take it?"
"No, it's for me. But why is this 25 cents and not 20 cents like all the other books?"
"Well, the only reason the Society lets you have them for 20 cents," Mike explained, "is so that when you place them for 25 cents it helps to pay for your expenses in gas and time, et-cetera. It doesn't really help much, though, with gas prices what they are."
Jerry Lindquist, who had been watching this transaction from behind his stacks of Watchtower and Awake magazines a few feet beside Mike Cranston now entered their conversation. "Hey Mike, I wonder what Ted's got on his mind, buying a book like that?"
"I don't know," Mike replied, smiling hard and strongly insinuating that there wasn't a doubt in his mind.
Ted caught up the smile and mood, "Oh, I'm just collecting these books; I never actually read them. You needn't worry, you'll never have to suffer through one of my talks; there's nothing that could get me up on that platform."
"Ted," Mike said in a sincerer though still jovial mood, "once you get up there you'll never want to come down."
"Brothers, could you take your seats please. The meeting's about to start." It was Elder Dale Garvias' voice booming out of the P.A. system. He motioned to Mike Cranston to turn down the amplifier located behind him along the wall. He turned to do so but Eric Potter was already there adjusting the knobs.
"Everything 's under control now, brother," Eric told Mike, who commended him on his efficiency (although it was, in fact, Eric's responsibility).
"By the way, Brother Evanston," Eric said slowly, his attention still fixed on the sound equipment, "we need someone to run the left mike during the service meeting. How would you like to do it?"
Ted saw that there was no way out and put up but feeble resistance; "I don't think I know all the names well enough to bring them the microphone when they're called on."
"That's no problem," Eric replied, taking out the two poles with microphones on their ends and unraveling the long cords wound around each, "when a brother or sister's called on, all the other hands go down. You just go to the hand that remains up."
Ted knew that it was an honor to be given even the slightest responsibility in the hall, especially for someone as new as he was, so he accepted. This also solved his seating problem. Usually he sat with the Johnsons. Tonight it wouldn't look right to sit with Vonnie since Richard wasn't there. And he didn't yet have the nerve to sit by Phyllis. Such an action, he knew, would be tantamount to announcing their engagement to the congregation, and he wasn't even sure she liked him yet.
So he enjoyed sitting at the far back of the hall with the long pole ready beside him. He could observe the whole congregation. It was a comfort to see all his brothers and sisters at one glance like a miser neatly stacking his gold coins before him so as to take them all in at a glance. "These good people are my riches," he thought to himself.
Brother Garvias announced the song they were to sing. Sandy Wilson waited for the songbook pages to stop rustling amongst the standing congregation and began banging out the tune on the piano off the right end of the platform.
After the song came the prayer, and after the prayer came the Theocratic Ministry School in which brothers and sisters of widely varying experience and competency tried their hand at giving a six-minute talk from the platform. It was Ted's favorite meeting. He liked the way Brother Garvias spared no one's feelings in offering criticism after each talk, and announcing what mark the speaker received for the point he or she was working on.
Ted liked trying to guess what point the brother or sister was working on during their talk. When a brother seemed to take any excuse to gesture wildly, arms flailing the air all about him, Ted correctly guessed that he was working on "Use of Gestures". Now possessing the "Ministry School" book, he was able to look up all these points as Brother Garvias directed everyone's attention to them.
He made up his mind during a particularly poor talk given by a very young sister, to join the school after the meetings that night. Because of their subjective position, sisters couldn't address the congregation directly; so a table was set up on the platform where two sisters would converse, one giving her talk to the other. It was more captivating than the brothers' sometimes monotonous monologues, but in this particular talk the young sister had evidently memorized her talk and forgot all the words half-way through. She tried to ad-lib to fill in the remaining minutes, but soon terror overcame her and she sat out the remaining two minutes in humiliated silence before brother Garvias rang his bell indicating the time was up. This sudden clear tone startled everyone and sent a few snickers through the audience. But it seemed terribly cruel for Garvias to make her sit out her time like that. It turned out she was working on "The Use of Notes," and so had failed miserably.
"If she can get up there and give another talk after that," Ted thought to himself, "I can do it too."
The hour up, another song was sung, and the Service Meeting began.
This consisted of experienced brothers giving talks on field service techniques, demonstrations of how to make a new presentation to a householder, and arrangements, plans, and announcements for placing literature. It was in this second meeting that a question-and-answer talk was given for which Ted, working down the left aisle and Andy Flemming working down the right, were required.
The first speaker began wrong, Ted decided, in that he asked a too-obvious question: "What is it our grand privilege to do for Jehovah?" No one cared to answer this question, as it would display no brilliance to do so. But finally a hand went up and in desperation Ted made for it before the brother had called on him. Ted began to reach the microphone over to him across five or six people sitting between him and the aisle when he saw that it was Bob Morrow. A murmur went up in the hall. The brother on the platform saw what was about to happen and called out, "Ah--Sister Kapler, please, brother." Ted looked up at him perplexed, and then remembered the stricture on Bob. "The sister right next to Brother Morrow there, brother," he directed Ted who pulled the mike back a little to the sister who grabbed it and pulled it to her mouth.
"We get to go out in service and place our new publication. " She said, answering his next question as well for good measure.
As Ted returned to stand towards the back of the hall, there was a pause in the brother's talk, and everyone was suddenly aware of Ted's squeaking shoes. The next one who answered was on Andy's side, so Ted relaxed. It was an odd, awkward, or downright wrong answer, the kind speakers always delight in because of all the hands that instantly shoot up hoping for the chance of pointing out the error, or showing how much better they can phrase the thought. But the brother giving the talk was a little off his stride tonight, and he was consulting his notes trying to determine if the answer was acceptable while all those hands were out there like so many stalks of wheat gently waving in the wind, begging to be plucked.
In this rather tense gap of silence a strange sound was heard; Eric's words were recalled instantly to Ted's mind, "like a jet engine warming up". It was Sister Nelson, the elder's wife, suppressing a sneeze. Trying to be a lady by letting it out easy, she only succeeded in making such a ridiculous sound that even a cloistered monk of twenty yearsí grueling discipline would, upon hearing it, burst out laughing. Tongues were bit; faces grew red and grimaced. Lips were forced downwards in supreme efforts of the will. The brother on the platform turned his body away under the pretext of coughing, but it sounded more like laughter. When he had let so much out he returned, excused himself, and quickly scanning for the most composed face he could find, called on Phyllis Dorsey. Ted wondered how he'd manage to hold the mike without shaking with laughter. He felt he'd explode at any moment because the dignity of the meeting, when shattered by the least humorous thing made that thing seem exaggeratedly funny. But as he held the mike out to Phyllis, he caught sight of David Nelson's somber face, and this was enough to pull him together.
"THEODORE EVANSTON!" called a voice out of hell--a voice that seemed to crack Ted's mind wide open and spill out all these wonderful people, all this love, all these truths--it was his father's voice.
"Theodore Evanston!" Larry Evanston called again as all heads turned to look at him, standing larger than life, at the back of the hall. Ted didn't know what to do. Should he take the mike away from Phyllis in mid-sentence? Should he ask his father to be quiet? While standing there stunned, Jerry Lindquist, who was supposed to be the usher for that meeting, stepped up to Ted's father with a quiet word and a firm hand on his arm.
"Take your hands off me," Larry spewed forth as he jerked free, "I want my son, and don't any of you Jehovahs try to stop me!" Ted didn't want the meeting broken up any further on his account, so he laid the mike down and walked out with his father.
"What's it gonna be, young man?" Larry asked as they sped off in his pickup truck. "A man comes home after days of work, he wants his family there with him. He don't wanna hear they've gone off to some fanatics. When you quit school I thought you'd get a job and help your old man out. Did you do that? Huh?"
"Damn right, no! I had to pay my old man rent when I was your age. Shit, I was out there breakin' my back to help support my family. I didn't go out all day long makin' a fool of myself botherin' people, gettin' doors slammed in my face. And don't tell me that don't happen 'cause Paul told me all about it. Hell, he's more my son than you are. He's there more than you are. Besides that, he's got a job and helps his family. Now what's it gonna be? Your mother's worried sick about you not comin' home for supper, gone till after dark. She thinks you've gone crazy. Everyone says you've changed and turned on your family. Now what's it gonna be?"
"What do you mean?" Ted asked, the tears streaming down his face.
"I mean you've got a choice. You're old enough now to decide what you wanna do. You get baptized a Jehovah, you can kiss your family goodbye, or don't they allow that?" he mocked, glaring at Ted so long that Ted started worrying about running into something.
"Watch the road!" Ted pleaded.
"Don't tell me!" Larry hit his son across the head with his open palm, releasing all his hate and frustration. "I can watch the road! That's how I make your living, or did you forget? Breaking my ass day in and day out on the road, and then I come home to what? Now what's it gonna be, your family or the Jehovah's Witnesses?"
"I can't leave the Truth," Ted whimpered.
"But you can leave your family, is that it?"
"I don't want to leave either."
"You have to choose one or the other. I ain't havin' no good-for-nothin' Jehovah under my roof. That's just like havin' the Devil in the house. That's what Pastor Enright told me last Sunday. He says 'havin' one of them in your house is like invitin' the Devil into your heart.' You already got the Devil in your heart; now what's it gonna be?"
Ted looked at his father through watery eyes. Somewhere inside them both there was a vague awareness that they loved each other. But Ted couldn't help but contrast the peace and warmth of the congregation with the fury and harshness manifest in his father's love.
"I'm going to be baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses," he said at last, his voice quivering.
By this time they were on the freeway, and Larry pulled onto the shoulder. He reached over and opened Ted's door, "Get out!" he cried. They were the last words he'd speak to his son for nearly a year.