Chapter 2: Richard Johnson
As Ted climbed the fence to get off the freeway, he realized that it was too late to walk back to the hall. The meeting would be over by the time he walked that far. It was unthinkable to return to his home. The only alternative was the Johnson's home.
He had a lot of time to think on that lonely, long walk in the dark, and it seemed that Satan bit at his heels every step of the way.
"Is this what I really want to do? Or am I being brainwashed and don't know it?" He smiled through his dried tears at this last thought; he had never thought so clearly. If indeed his brain had been washed, it was only the dirty thoughts of this old world that had been washed away--and so much the better. He felt clean, untainted by worldly desires. And yet, visions of beautiful women still danced across his mind. He sped along in fast cars or impressed everyone at the disco with his chic clothes and dancing ability in his fantasy life which had not quite died, though he smothered it hourly.
In an effort to kill the "old man's" thoughts, this "new man" began reviewing how he had come to be a new man.
It was a frigid day in January when Ted sat with his little brother Jason at the kitchen table and circled the Help-Wanted ads for jobs that matched his qualifications. When the doorbell rang, Patrick and Juanita made a run for it to see who could answer the door first. It was Jason who intercepted them and reminded them that they weren't allowed to open the door when their mother wasn't home. However, to prove how grown-up he was, Ted took charge of the situation. Believing that such prohibitions no longer applied to him since he was now 16 years old, he opened the door. There stood a man in his thirties, well dressed, carrying a leather briefcase. A little to one side and behind him was a very pretty woman. They were both tall and looked like the people Ted had seen on The Lawrence Welk Show: what one might call "perfect people".
"Good afternoon," the man began, "my name is Richard Johnson and this is my wife, Vonnie."
"Hi," Vonnie said cheerfully.
"And what can I do for you today?" Ted inquired, trying to impress his brothers and sister with his grown-up manner of speech.
"Well, you could listen to a couple of Scriptures for me with an open mind; how does that sound?" Richard was always fond of departing widely from the recommended presentations given at service meetings, and his favorite system was ad-libbing.
"Very well," Ted replied with exaggerated dignity. Looking back at his siblings with a superior air, he invited the strangers into the living room to sit.
Soon Ted forgot all about impressing "the little kids" as he became engrossed in the Scriptures they had him read aloud. After he had read a description of what they told him the "new world" would be like from Isaiah, Chapter 11, Vonnie used her precious instrument of speech to repaint the picture in her own sweet words:
"Just think of that, Ted: wouldn't you like to live at a time when there'll be no hatred, prejudice, or crime? When all the earth's people are well fed, loved, and happy? Even the wild animals will be tame then. 'The lion will lay down beside the lamb.' And more importantly, people with lion-like characteristics today will no longer devour the gentle, meek, lamb-like people. They'll all be brought into a wonderful, blissful harmony with Jehovah God ruling over all, sending his blessings down amongst us like refreshing rains in the parched desert. There'll be no sickness, disease, or death, for Jehovah says he'll wipe every tear from our eyes, and death and mourning and pain will all have passed away. We'll live a more natural existence then, closer to nature (which will then be pure as the 'river of water of life' flowing from Jehovah's throne) like we were always meant to be. God has created this world for the good of man, and even though man has ruined it to the point of no return and made colossal problems for himself that are forever insolvable, Jehovah God is still going to forgive him and wipe out all the mess man has made. Then will come the new world of peace and plenty when he showers his blessings on all his people.
"But, in order to be one of his people, you have to align yourself on his side now. Otherwise, if you're still part of this old world when Armageddon comes, well, you'll be swept away with the old world, because only those looking forward to and praying for the new world will survive into it."
Ted’s mind spun from all this. They struck him as beautiful words, and much wiser men have mistaken beauty for truth. He bought their magazines and borrowed money from Jason to buy The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life book. They asked if they could come back--he invited them back. They asked if they could start a Bible Study with him--he eagerly agreed. This was by far the best news he had ever heard, especially to think that there was a whole church-load of people like these--all perfect, all new-worldly, all so knowledgeable and pleasant. He could readily believe Vonnie's description of it as a ‘spiritual paradise among Jehovah's people’."
But as soon as Mary Evanston returned from shopping that day, Ted began to have second thoughts. Never had he heard a group of people so reviled by anyone, least of all by his mother. You would have thought Ted had let in members of the Ku Klux Klan in her absence rather than Bible students. He reluctantly agreed to have no more to do with them, and soon forgot all about them, shoving the book and magazines to the back of his already stuffed dresser drawer.
Ted had just quit school a week before this incident and he spent the following week fruitlessly searching for a job. He was sorry now that he had given up his paper route as "too childish," because no one else would hire someone so young. It was a frustrating week, but his mother and father, he knew, were behind him. He had been surprised when he first told them his wish to drop out of high school; they put up no resistance! In fact, they seemed glad of the prospect. They had been suffering through hard times on Larry Evanston's small paychecks, and every little bit would help. But so far he was faring poorly in finding employment.
The next Saturday, exactly one week after their first visit, Richard and Vonnie knocked on the Evanston's door. This time both Ted's father and mother were home.
"Yeah?" Larry asked impatiently, his mind on the hockey game he was missing.
"Hello, sir," Richard began, trying to soften the brittle character before him so that his coming powerful words of good news wouldn't snap him in two, "we're a couple of Bible students sharing God's message with people in your neighborhood today—"
"Naw, I haven't got the time," Larry broke in, and started to shut the door. Vonnie quickly came to the rescue: "Is Ted home? We talked to him last week and he asked us to come back today."
Larry, who wasn't thinking clearly about the matter at hand since he heard crowds cheering on the TV, called Ted to the door and returned to the game.
Ted dutifully went to the door and began talking with them. He found them a fascinating couple. At first he remembered his mother’s words and wondered how to graciously get rid of them, but soon the woman's honeyed words had him enthralled once again.
"I'd invite you in--I can see that your hands are turning blue from the cold trying to turn your Bible pages--but we couldn't talk above the TV, I'm afraid," Ted replied.
"In that case," Richard said, using his most sincere voice, "we want you to know that there's a place you can come to where you can hear more of the Truth and meet Jehovah God's people. We have a Kingdom Hall where we meet twice a week. You've probably seen it--right off Freeway 61."
"Yeah, I think I have. But I don't have any way of getting out there."
"We also have meetings at our house,' Vonnie added. "Every Thursday night we have a book study there with just a small group. We don't live far from here. You could easily walk it if you don't have a car. In fact, we'd be glad to give you a ride to the hall anytime--"
"What the hell is this?" Mary shouted, "Why have you got that door open, letting all the heat out, Theodore Evanston?" She had the habit, common to parents, of calling her children by their full names as if this better conveyed her anger. To begin a dispute over a trifle was also her usual strategy. In this manner she could build up her anguish to a fevered pitch by the time she reached the weightier matter. "Don't you know how much our gas bill was for last month? Why are you standing there? Are you talking to someone?" She feigned ignorance of the visitors.
"Hello, Mrs. Evanston," Richard bravely began in an overly cheerful voice, "we were just talking to Ted about the Bible. We were here last week and he showed some interest in what we had to say. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to invite us in; we could save your heat from escaping and talk with both of you."
Mary thought a moment, scowling. Then her face brightened and she told them to come in. They did so. Ted sat down opposite the sofa where his father sat at one end, engrossed in the television. But when Richard and Vonnie followed suite, Mary scolded, "I didn't say you could sit down! Say what you gotta say standing right there; I don't want you dragging snow all over my carpet. Don't you people have any consideration?"
"Sorry," Richard mumbled, finally realizing what he was up against.
"As we were telling Ted last week, the Bible holds out the only true hope for mankind, pointing forward to a new order of peace and happiness."
"Yes, I've got a Bible and I read it, " Mary replied, "So what do I need you coming here for? Makin' people feel they're not Christians, like they should be going to people's houses making fools of themselves like you! You think you're so much better than us, don't you?"
"No, not better. If you'll get your Bible I'd like to look up some Scriptures with you that'll show you why we come to your door."
"I don't need to get my Bible, I know enough of it by heart. I know what it says about false prophets coming and deceiving true believers. I know what it says that I need to believe unto salvation; 'That the Lord God so loveth the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him shall be saved.' I believe in him, so what need have I of you? You're false prophets, you don't believe in Jesus, and you don't even believe we have a soul. Well, you'll find out you've got a soul when you get to hell, 'cause that's where you're all going!"
Richard made bold, just as Mary's words were ending in their triumphant curse, to walk over to the television and turn the volume down considerably. Ostensibly this was in order that Mary wouldn't have to shout so loud over it. But really, it was so he could make his answer more readily heard without destroying the effect by having to raise his voice: "You say that you believe in God and in his Son, But just what, exactly, do you believe about them? The Bible tells me that God is love, and that his anger cannot last forever. This is the God of the Bible and the God I believe in. But you seem to believe in something entirely foreign to this notion of a loving God; you believe in a tormenting God that stokes the fires of hell! And through this belief is your salvation assured? Madam, forgive me, but I doubt that you can be sincere in what you say. You don't need to look in the Bible to see if what we have to say is true or not? Well, if you managed to memorize Acts, Chapter 17, Verses 10 and 11, you'd have seen the example of the Boreans whom the Bible calls noble because 'they received the Word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.' The Bible encourages you to 'make sure of all things' because, sure, many false prophets have gone forth and are deceiving many--but how are you to know which are the true and which the false without recourse to God's Word? We boldly come to your door, Bible in hand, ready to prove to you that your church is the false prophet that misleads you, and that this," he held the Bible up dramatically, "is the truth that will set you free!
"You say that we are fools to come to your door and proclaim the good news to people who already have religion. If I am a fool, I am a fool for Christ, as Paul was. He didn't share your strange belief that all one needed was faith; he wrote: 'With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.' James likewise points this out in asking, 'Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if a certain one says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? Indeed, as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.'
"The hatred you bear towards us is manifest, dear lady. But Christ told his disciples to preach the good news of this kingdom and baptize disciples in his name. We do that like no other religion. Christ also taught that his people would be hated and persecuted on account of his name; you yourself prove therefore that we are true Disciples of Christ."
Mary had been standing there trying to take all this in and look for some flaw, some opening where she could make an attack on the man's words. Now she simply turned her back on them and walked over to the TV.
"What did you do that for, woman?" Larry screamed as his wife clicked the set off with great emphasis. He had been sitting there through all this with his had cupped over his ear, his body straining on the edge of his seat to hear the play-by-play over the arguing going on in the room.
"You throw these people outta here!" Mary cried, her entire body tensed, eyes shut, as if she couldn't wait for the intolerable presence of these demons to be removed.
Larry stood up, concerned about the state of his wife. He cast a mean look at the two and said, "You heard the little lady--get the hell outta here!"
They left without a word. Mary slumped down into the easy chair as if she had held the taut posture for centuries and was completely exhausted.
"You all right, honey? " Larry asked as he turned the set back on.
"Sure, I'm fine. I don't listen to the Devil when he comes into my house; hell, he's been sittin' in my ear too many times for me not to recognize his voice. It's that young man there I'm worried about."
Larry looked over at Ted and could see why she was worried about him. He was so caught up in the words he had just heard it seemed he wasn't aware they had stopped. He had never heard such a triumphal comeback to his mother. She always had the last word--always, that is, until now. What mastery this man and woman possessed of the Bible and language. It had to be nothing short of the truth!
"Don't listen to 'em son," Larry cautioned, "Here, sit down with me and watch the game. Momma, bring in some more chips and a beer for Ted."
"Beer? For Ted?" she laughed.
"Sure, he's old enough now, aren't you, son?"
Ted looked at them both, going back and forth from one to the other imperceptibly slowly. "Didn't you--didn't you hear them? What they said, the words they used?"
"Naw, naw. I was listenin' to the hockey game here, Teddy. C'mon an' watch it with your old man. Stop thinking of them fanatics; they'll put a spell on you and you'll wind up thinking wrong thoughts."
Ted got up and went to the window. "They're just getting into their car now," he said.
"And good riddance!" Mary chuckled.
"There's another man and woman in the front, " Ted continued reporting, "I wonder what they'll tell them about us."
"Who cares?" Larry responded scornfully, returning full interest to his game.
"They're laughing! Mom, Dad, they're laughing at you!" Ted called out in astonishment and began laughing himself.
"Get away from that window and let be, for land's-sake!" Mary grew bitter at the thought of people laughing at her.
Ted laughed all the harder and went out the door, slamming it behind him. Mary gripped the armrests of her chair and gasped. By the time she reached the window Ted had made it across the street and was leaning over to talk to them through their car window. By the time she opened the door and yelled at him he had already received the paper with the Johnson's address and phone number on it.
In the weeks that followed Ted managed to buy scores of books from Richard and read several. He locked himself in his room, coming out only for meals, and assimilated every scrap of information he could manage to understand by himself. When at last his lengthy "grounding" had elapsed, his first outing took him to the Johnson's home. There, Richard began to teach him every night (rather than the usual once-a-week lesson) using the Truth Book. Ted zipped through the book in three weeks and began attending meetings and going out in service.
Now he had reached the point where he was studying and preparing himself for baptism at the upcoming convention on the Fourth of July.
He had memorized the answers to the required 80 questions and anxiously awaited the three meetings with the elders who would ask him these questions before approving him for baptism.
Ted finished reminiscing as he now approached the familiar Johnson home. He hoped that they weren't in bed already, and began thinking of how to explain his plight to them in the most dignified and eloquent way. Ted had not only been studying the Truth, but also attempting to reach that plateau of excellent speechmaking and grace that the best Witnesses all seemed magically to possess. His speech had improved greatly in the last few months. He looked up every unfamiliar word that he came across in each issue of the Watchtower to help improve his vocabulary and made a point of using his newly discovered words whenever possible. Soon he began sounding very much like a Watchtower article, he thought, but the truth was that his speech often sounded pretentious.
He stepped lightly onto the wooden porch so as not to awaken the Johnsons, in case they had retired early. But as he approached the door, he could hear voices. He went inside to knock on their front door but hesitated; the voices were arguing heatedly.
"I'll have to give it up then, won't I?" a pause, "Won't I?"
"Yeah, sure. But you'll be pioneering with the kids."
The voice that asked was Vonnie's; that which answered was Richard's. Ted didn't know whether it was right to disturb them in mid-argument, but he felt it was worse to eavesdrop, so he knocked on the door.
"That's easy for you to say," a distraught Vonnie was heard to say, "you're at work all day and half the night."
"We're back to that, are we?" Richard despaired, "Look, I told you I try to get out of it, but once in awhile I have to work late. I've got responsibilities--a crew of men working under me--"
"And who do you think has to take the criticism for your absence? I got a good going-over from Brother Nelson on your behalf tonight. He told me what a bad example it was to the congregation. I was so embarrassed."
Realizing that they hadn't heard his soft knock but were battling on a higher volume, Ted resolved to knock again as soon as Richard had a chance to reply to Vonnie's last statement.
"He's an old fuddy-duddy sometimes, that Brother Nelson. He should realize that a man's gotta work to support a nagging wife and child. Plus I got lawyer's fees, trying to get custody of my kids. And I'm going to get custody," he added with determination, "so just reconcile yourself to that fact. You knew I wanted them when you married me. If you couldn't handle being a mother you should've backed out then!"
This last blow was much too harsh, and Ted allowed time for Vonnie to make her defense.
"I am a mother, or did you forget about our daughter already?"
That was enough. Ted knocked loudly.
"Well hello Ted," Richard smiled, shaking and pulling his hand at the same time, "c'mon in. What brings you here at this late hour?"
Ted looked around the room for Vonnie but didn't see her. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I got thrown out of the house by my dad."
"Yeah, Vonnie told me all about what happened at the hall with him coming in and hollering. Boy, Satan is really giving you a hard time. But don't feel like the ‘lonesome stranger’; he does that to everyone just before they get baptized--it's the last thing he wants you to do, so he's going to be trying his best tricks now. But we know 'em all--he's got nothin' new up his sleeve, as the Bible says in a better way. So what happened after your dad took you out of the hall?"
"We just got in the pickup and headed down the freeway. Then he asked me to choose between my family and being baptized. I chose the latter, and he put me out."
"Right on the freeway?"
"Yeah, I had to climb the fence to get off it, and then I walked here. But it wasn’t so bad. I had lots of time to think."
Richard smiled at him and Ted couldn't help laughing a little from sheer joy. Not only had he successfully passed Satan's big test and chosen the Truth, he was using such favorite expressions of Richard's as "I chose the latter". A warm, good-natured feeling passed between them and made them feel more than ever like brothers.
After this glow had somewhat dimmed, Richard lightly hit his forehead with the base of his palm. It was a common gesture of his whenever he had a sudden revelation. The only peculiar thing about it was how he took care to bend his hand back as far as possible and curl back his fingers as if he were afraid they might touch his hair or head.
"The apartment upstairs is vacant and I've got the key!" he exclaimed. "The landlady left it with me in case I had to show it to anyone who stopped by when she couldn't make it. You can sleep up there tonight."
"You're sure it'll be all right?"
"Sure. Nobody's gonna know. It's furnished with a bed and everything. I'll have Vonnie hunt up some blankets for you and you'll be all set."
With that, Richard opened the bedroom door and went in. It opened onto an old wooden desk covered with opened books piled in disarray. On either side of the desk stood floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books. The bed was to the left of the room and Ted could just see the edge of it as he stood politely back from the doorway. On the far-left wall, out of sight to Ted, were the dressers and closet.
"Here they are," Richard took the keys from his desk drawer, threw them up a few inches and caught them with a swift swoop of his hand.
"Honey!" he called, emerging from the bedroom and passing through the living room towards the inconveniently placed bathroom, "Honey!"
"What?" her faint voice responded.
"Ted Evanston's here. He's gonna sleep upstairs. We got any blankets to put on the bed up there?"
"Just a minute, I'll be right out."
"Well, let's sit down," Richard chuckled, "we'll have an hour to wait for her now."
Ted sat on the sofa in the same spot he had occupied earlier that day with Vonnie. He didn't smile at Richard's joke, as he didn't want to take sides in their quarrel even though it wore the thin disguise of humor.
"Better yet," Richard said, excited as a kid having his friend stay overnight, let's go up now and I'll show you the apartment."
They went out into the hall and turned up the steep, narrow flight of stairs. The door at the top opened out onto the steps forcing a person to step back and stretch to maintain hold of the knob. In Richard's case this wasn't difficult, as he was tall. The apartment was much nicer than the Johnson's. It had a thick shag carpet, new wallpaper, and dark wooden kitchen cabinets. Like Richard's, the living room was open to the kitchen, and in fact, the kitchen was larger than the living room. Down a tiny hallway to the left of these rooms was a bathroom on the right and a bedroom straight ahead.
"This is really a nice place," Ted said, "it all looks so new."
"Yeah, they re-did everything a couple years ago so they could raise the rent. I used to live up here before that. But when I got married we moved downstairs because we needed more room."
After he had shown Ted around and explained how it used to look, Richard sat down on the sofa and sighed, "Ah, for the life of a bachelor!"
Just then Vonnie walked in carrying blankets, a pillow, a pot, and a carton of milk. "Do they have the refrigerator on up here yet?" she asked as she made her way to the kitchen.
"I'm sure they're gonna keep it running when no one's living here," Richard mocked, smiling at Ted and expecting him to smile back in due appreciation of his wife's stupidity.
"The gas is on, anyway," she commented, taking no note of him.
"What are you doing, sister?" Ted asked.
"You're gonna find it hard to get to sleep tonight in a strange bed, so you drink this nice warm milk and that'll help."
"That's very thoughtful of you."
"That's what sisters are for." As she smiled at him, he saw her face fully for the first time since she'd come in the room; it was obvious she'd been crying. Her eyes were red and her complexion blotchy.
As Vonnie went into the bedroom with the covers, Richard began asking hard questions; "So what are you going to do now that you're on you own? Or are you going to try living with an opposing family again?
"No, I don't think I'll go back. I can't take that anymore. It's a constant persecution, a breaking down when I need building up. I guess I'll have to find a place of my own and get a job."
Richard looked around the room exaggeratedly, and with a sly smile said, "What about this place?"
"This place?" Ted responded in surprise as if the thought had never occurred to him. "I could never afford this place!"
"Oh, you'd be surprised what you can afford when you've got loving brothers and sisters looking out for you."
"Love doesn't pay the rent," Ted laughed.
Vonnie came back in shortly thereafter, "Let's go, Richard. Honestly, let the boy get some sleep now. If I don't drag you away, you two will be talking all night."
"Yes, dear," he patronized. "You sleep on what I said, Ted. We'd sure like to have a brother living up here instead of worldly people. "
"But would your landlady want someone like me?"
"She loves Jehovah's Witnesses, as tenants," Richard replied, "because they take good care of the place and pay the rent on time.
"Usually," Vonnie felt compelled to add, which made Ted chuckle.
When they had left, Ted slowly drank the warm milk and wondered if what Bob Morrow had said was really true; did they really forget that he was black? For it was this fact that he was worried about in respect to the landlady, not that he was a Witness.
When he had already stripped down to his underwear and was about to crawl into bed, he realized how terribly warm it was in the room. All of the heat seemed to pass right up from downstairs since it was always cool and drafty down there. He went to shut the heating vent in the corner of the floor, but as he enjoyed the feeling of the warm air streaming across his face and running through his hair for a minute, he also heard the bickering voices once again.
"I wasn't going to tell you this yet," Richard began, "but it looks like June is going to give me custody of the kids for sure now. It's only a matter of days at the most, we think."
"How wonderful for you," Vonnie said sarcastically, "what made the little witch change her mind? I thought she'd never give them up."
"You mean you hoped she wouldn't. "
"Well, I can always hire a maid, I suppose--"
"Don't be stupid. It's your duty as a wife to care for my kids. They're not hellions, you know. I've talked with them about the Truth. Besides, you have to love, honor, and obey me, so be an obedient, submissive wife."
"I want to be a submissive wife, I want to be a mother. And I want to be a pioneer. In fact, I am all those things already. But if you bring in three more kids for me to take care of--kids that aren't even in the Truth--well, I won't be a pioneer anymore to start with. Then I won't have time to spend with Jeannie like a real mother should. I'll be spending all my time with someone else's kids."
"My kids!" Richard reminded her.
"And how do I break the news to Jeannie?" Vonnie continued. "How do I tell her that she's going to have to share her mother four ways all of a sudden? How do you think that's going to affect her life?"
"Jeannie's always happy to see the kids when they come, you know that. They get along real well, especially Joey and her."
"As friends. They get along as friends, They've never had to be brother and sister before!"
There was a pause and a softer voiced Richard began, "Look, Darling, it's all set. It's gonna happen. There's no use fighting about it now. Let's just discuss it..." There was a long period of soft words that Ted couldn't catch. He was about to hop into bed when he picked out these final ones wafting up through the register: "It's our duty to make disciples. This way we can make three disciples for sure."
"If you can't convert 'em, breed em! Huh?" Vonnie laughed.
"Hey, that's not a bad idea," Richard said. And Ted, listening as hard as he could, heard no more voices. He smiled, stripped off his underwear due to the heat (the register was stuck open), and fell into bed.
There was no time for reflecting over the emotion-packed day he'd just lived through. He thought of going over it all in his mind and especially scrutinize Vonnie's conduct towards him to assure himself it was only sisterly concern and that he was physically over-sensitive. But sleep robbed these intentions of their fulfillment.
"Rise and shine! Rise and shine!" said a T-shirted, unshaven Richard at 7:00 the following morning. He was standing over Ted roughly shaking the bed. A breakfast of bacon and eggs downstairs at the Johnson's followed.
At lunch-time Richard told Ted that it would be futile looking for a place to stay before he found employment. So all that day Ted searched for suitable work--and found none. When he returned at 2:30 in the afternoon feeling beaten, Jeannie Johnson ran out to meet him and gave him a hug.
"Well hello there, Jeannie! Did you just get back from your grandma's?"
"Yeah. An' you know what? We went downtown and bought new shoes. See?" She held up her left foot in her right hand to display the tiny red shoe.
"Wow, that's real pretty!"
"Aw, you don't mean it."
"Why ever do you say that?"
"Cause boys never care about shoes an' stuff like that. C'mon," she urged, grabbing his hand, "I'll show you my Gramma."
As he was thus unceremoniously ushered in, he fixed his eyes in surprise on the two women; they could scarcely be distinguished. The lines of age on the one were matched by the lines of worry on the other. He figured Vonnie was upset about the matter he had overheard the night before. He tried his best to turn the strange sight to good; "Boy, you two look more like sisters than mother and daughter!"
Vonnie smiled over at her mother who laughed with a backward thrust of her head and body while slapping her knee; "Von, you must of forgot your makeup this morning if you look as bad as me!"
Vonnie laughed at this half-heartedly, and Jeannie joined in with her giggling, although she didn't know what was funny.
"Mom, this is Ted Evanston. He's thinking of renting the upstairs."
"Pleased to meet you," Ted smiled, not knowing whether he should move forward and shake hands or not. He had shook so many thousands of hands since coming into the Truth. He decided not to since it might look funny and he didn't want to start the elderly lady laughing again.
After pleasantries and small talk, Jeannie came running in and began imploring Ted to come and see something in her room. He was feebly trying to excuse himself from attending the sight, as she pulled anxiously on his arm, when Vonnie came to the rescue: "Jean Alice Johnson, that's not the way a lady behaves. Now sit down on the couch between Teddy and Gramma."
"Sorry," she pouted as she sat.
Her grandmother gave her a hug saying, "That's my little darling!" which revived her smiles.
"Jeannie," her mother began, returning to the familiar form of address to show all anger had passed, "you remember Joey and Bobby and Sherri, don't you?"
" Uh-huh. That Joey," she said with feigned disgust as she turned to Ted, "he takes all my toys out every time he's here and spreads them out all over my bed and--" she began giggling uncontrollably and the rest of the incident was indecipherable.
"Well, how would you like to see them again?" Vonnie asked.
"Oh boy, would I! I'll bet they'd come in an' see what's in my room right now."
"What is in your room, Jeannie?" Ted asked, trying to relieve the tension in the air and delay the dreaded moment that was to change the sweet little girl's life.
"I'm not gonna tell you." She folded her arms and stuck her nose high in the air. Then she made as if about to jump down in excitement but stopped and asked, "Mom, can I stop sitting down now and run around? Not all over the house like you don't want me to, but just in the hall and my bedroom?"
Ted couldn't help but make the analogy between her and a well-trained dog told to "stay".
"Not yet. Mommy has more to say to you and then you can run around with even more excitement!"
"More excitement than those guys comin' over? What, tell me, what?"
"Well, Jeannie, you know that your father and I love you very much: more than anything in the world. But we also love Bobby and Sherri and Joey. And you love them too, don't you?"
"Sure, I love everybody!" she exclaimed with an expansive gesture which left her arms about her grandmother and Ted.
"And they love us too. In Fact, they'd like to stay with us all the time instead of a week or two now and then. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"All the time? Forever?" She crinkled up her face at the idea.
"Yes, wouldn't that be nice to always have someone to play with?"
"Yeah. But sometimes--"
"Wouldn't you like to have them for brothers and a sister? Vonnie interrupted, her voice beginning to crack.
She shrugged her shoulders, "That'd be all right I guess, if Joey helps put my toys back when we're done playing."
"Come here and give your mother a big hug!" Vonnie cried, with tears coursing down her cheeks.
"You're gonna be one big happy family, you'll see," Vonnie's mother assured her as she watched her daughter and granddaughter in a loving embrace. "But I guess I'd better be going now."
Ted left too, feeling out of place at such an intimate family moment. He began underlining the Watchtower for next Sunday's meeting as soon as he got upstairs. He was only a few paragraphs into it though when his mind began to be distracted by material necessities. Here he was in an apartment that wasn't his, without food, a job, or anything but a bag full of Truth books, magazines, and a Bible. Things couldn't go on like this for long. He heard Vonnie calling him and went down. She served him lunch and suggested he get his things from home if his dad wasn't there now. At first he hesitated since he didn't feel right about putting his things in the apartment when he hadn't rented it, but she convinced him it was better to have them than leave them at home. So he used her phone and ascertained the absence of his father from home.
Jason wouldn't let Ted in the house at first, out of meanness. "We don't want no Jehovahs in here!" he called through the locked door.
"Mom's gonna give you a beatin' if you don't let me in, Jason. And if she doesn't, I will!"
Jason could never stand up to a threat, and so let his brother in without another word. Then he ran upstairs ahead of him to their room. "C'mon, Pat. We gotta make sure he don't take any of our stuff."
As his two little brothers crowded into the bedroom they had shared for so long, Ted felt his first pang of homesickness. He almost longed to see Patrick jump down from the top bunk with the "boom!" he used to dread every morning, and hear Jason poke and swear at him from the bottom bunk.
He answered few of their numerous and irrelevant questions as he packed his things in the old, beat-up suitcase that had stood for years at the back of his closet. When he had packed all his clothes he looked about the room for any other possessions. All that came to sight were two things too bulky to fit, so he made a gift of them to his brothers; "Jason, you can have my microscope-set if you promise to take good care of it."
"And Patrick, you can have my model airplane."
Ted shut the bedroom door to look behind it. There was nothing there but cobwebs, but on the back of the door he saw his Donna Summer poster. "Hmmm, this'll have to go." And he began taking it down.
"Aw, do you have to take that with you?" Jason wailed.
"No, I'm not taking it with me. I'm tearing it up."
"What for? Don't do that! I like lookin' at it. If you ain't gonna take it, leave it there." Jason tried pulling Ted's hands away from the object of his desire.
"Look, it's mine so I decide what to do with it. You're too young anyway to be lookin' at women."
"Am not. I'm eleven years old now. Shit, I'll be shavin' soon!"
Ted laughed and reduced the poster to fragments. "Now where's my Playboy magazine?"
"I ain't tellin' yuh. You'll just rip it up like you done this."
"I’ll find it if I have to throw all your stuff over the room. And if I don't find it, I'll tell Mom you've got it and she'll give you a beatin' and probably tell Pastor Enright who'll give you another."
"All right," he reluctantly gave in, "it's in the desk drawer there."
"Thank you, " Ted responded cheerfully, retrieved the worldly object, and tore it into bits.
"Well, I'm off. You two kids be good now. Don't give your mother any trouble. And remember what your brother did. When you get a little older you'll see it was the right thing and you'll do the same if you're right-hearted. I only hope there's enough time."
"You goin' away forever?" Patrick asked with wide-eyed wonder.
"No, you'll see me around once in awhile. It's just now you'll have this room all to yourselves."
"Till Benjamin gets a little older, then they'll move him in here." Jason lamented.
"Yeah, but you can have my bed now, if you want it." Ted knew how much Jason wanted his bed to get out from underneath Patrick. It was more than enough compensation for the loss of a big brother.
"Well, you guys be good now. Don't forget your big brother--" he broke off and left the room hurriedly, afraid of crying before them.
As he went down the stairs and into the living room, he heard his mother in the kitchen, She had to know he was there, but chose to ignore him. So he left a note atop a Truth Book for her and placed it on the end table by the door:
"Dear Mom, There is no greater gift that I can give you than the Truth. At least read what your son believes in with an open mind. Love, Teddy."
Walking laboriously past the neighboring houses with the stuffed suitcase banging against his leg, Ted marveled at what a dead, ghastly aspect these giant "faces" wore. All of their inhabitants ignorant of the Truth, just waiting to die with only false and stupid hopes. The thought might have caused a more seasoned thinker to feel pity, but Ted could only sneer.
"Hey Teddy, my man," Paul Huberman called out from across the street as he emerged from his porch, I gotta talk to you, man. I got a business proposition or two for you." He ran across the street and took the suitcase. Walking along beside Ted he explained his scheme; "Look, Ted, I hear you got kicked outta the house an' you got a place to stay already. Now, I got a job an' you don't. But you got a place of your own an' I don't. So let's scratch each other's back, you know? Ain't that what friends are for?"
"Friends don't suddenly emerge and help you with some trifle," Ted answered sternly as he yanked the suitcase out of Paul's grip, "just because they want a favor. Nor do friends go around telling lies and making trouble for each other."
"Hey, man, what you talking 'bout?"
"What did you say to my old man about going out in service yesterday? Whatever it was, it's what led to him kicking me out. So don't talk about friendship to me."
"Oh, listen, man. I didn't say nothin' but what happened. I said I tagged along to see what it was like, and how you got doors slammed in your face and people yelled at you an' stuff. I didn't bad-mouth you or nothin'. I just told the truth. Isn't that what you're so hepped up about anyway--the truth?"
"All right," Ted sighed, "what exactly do you want?"
"I wanna move in with you. I'm tired of livin' with my folks. It's time I was on my own in my own pad, you know? And you need a roommate to pay half the rent since you ain't got no job yet. Whadda yuh say?"
"I like the part about you paying half the rent, that's true. But we might get on each other's nerves. There's only one bed--you'd have to take the sofa."
"No way, man, But listen, that’ll work out too 'cause I'm workin' nights now. I got me a job at Broadway Bookstore on the graveyard shift. I'll bet you could get a job there, too. People are always comin' an' goin'. Hell, they don't hardly ask your name, much less your age or education. And they pay in cash--no income taxes! It's clear money."
"That's a pornographic place, isn't it?"
"Yeah, man. So what's the big deal about that? It's just a job."
Ted shook his head in disgust.
"Look, man, if I didn't do it, they'd just get someone else to sell their magazines an' stuff to the people. I'd be out on the street with no money an' someone else'd be gettin' it all. So don't think I'm spreading dirty books around; I'm just working, that's all."
"Well, I could never take a job like that," Ted said self-righteously, "and you'd have to promise to not bring any of that stuff home if you were to live with me. And you'd have to pay your share of the rent on time before it's due every month."
"Okay man, shake; it's a deal!"
At this they parted. It was agreed that Paul wouldn't move in until the beginning of the following month (June). The ensuing week would give Ted time to get a job and Paul time to pack and/or sell his mountains of worldly goods.
Ted returned to his tentative apartment and began placing his clothes in the many spacious drawers and long closet of the bedroom.
As he did so, he heard four car doors slam, so he went to the window to see who had arrived. It was Richard and his three kids who went to the rear end of the car. Richard opened the trunk and started handling out various parcels, cases, boxes, and objects to the kids who carried them onto the porch. He decided he should offer his help in this operation but he hesitated for a moment, shy to meet them all at once, even though the flurry of activity would divert their attention from him and make it easier for him to meet them. But before he could make a move, Richard reached up and closed the trunk.
About half an hour passed before there was a knock on Ted's door. It was Richard asking him to come down and meet his kids and have dinner with them.
"You sure don't need yet another mouth to feed," Ted protested.
"Sure we do. The more the merrier! Besides, I've got something important to ask you after dinner. C'mon now, don't be so bashful."
Ted followed Richard downstairs. He met Bobby first, who was seated politely on the couch looking through an automotive magazine. He was a slightly chubby boy of ten years of age. With short, neatly combed hair, and beady eyes, he only remotely resembled his father.
"Bobby, this is our upstairs neighbor and new brother, Ted Evanston."
"Pleased to meet you," the boy said without a trace of a smile as he stood to shake hands.
"And, Ted," Richard continued in the customarily redundant way of introductions, "this is my oldest boy, Bobby."
"I'm glad to know you," Ted smiled, although, of course, he didn't know him, "I'm sure you'll be very happy here."
"C'mon," Richard urged, guiding Ted by the shoulder, "I'll show you Joey." They walked into Jeanie's bedroom where, true to report, the little boy was busily engaged in the even distribution of a host of stuffed animals over the bed.
"Hi Ted," Jeannie gleefully greeted, "meet my new brother Joey. Isn't he funny?"
"Hi," the cute little eight-year-old said without breaking his evident concentration from the work at hand. He was smaller than Jeannie though two years her senior. He was quite thin with a long, rather gaunt face. His hair was almost humorously short, sticking up like half-inch long bristles. More unusual was the blond color.
"His mother must've been a blonde," Ted remarked without thinking.
"Yes, she is," Richard responded, and quickly added, "but enough about her, if you please."
They walked into the kitchen where his daughter was with Vonnie. They seemed to be hitting it off well enough as they peered together into a cookbook. "Sherri, I'd like you to meet Ted Evanston. He lives upstairs and will be going with us to meetings, so you'd better get used to him." At this Richard laughed.
Ted smiled, "I wish you wouldn't tell everyone that I live upstairs since it isn't official yet . "
"Never mind that," Richard quickly brushed the matter aside, "let's go in the bedroom. I want to show you something I found in the encyclopedia."
It hadn't escaped anyone's notice that he had allowed not a word to pass between Sherri and Ted. As they made their way into the bedroom, Ted wondered about this. Sherri was a girl of 12 years, with straight brown hair to her shoulders. Her face was nicely freckled, though her eyes were rather dull. Her figure was developing rapidly, one could tell, though she still retained a good deal of baby fat. Dressed in something other than the sweatshirt and jeans she was wearing, he imagined she'd be a very attractive girl for her age, and that was probably why Richard cut their meeting so short. Her age wasn't that far from Ted's: only about four years.
He blotted the girl from his mind as Richard began speaking to him as they sat together on the edge of the bed.
"Wondering how I got custody of my kids all of a sudden?"
"I take it that it's not ‘all of a sudden’. You've been working on it for years, haven't you?"
"Yeah, that's for sure. I thought I'd get them way back when I married Vonnie because my ex-wife never remarried. But she got around it by charging that we wouldn't take proper medical care of them because we'd refuse them blood transfusions."
"So what's changed now? You still won't give them blood transfusions, will you?"
"Not hardly. But June likes to have men come and stay overnight now and then--but mostly now rather than then--and they don't like to do that when they see a house full of kids. So they were starting to cramp her style, she says. Actually, they've been cramping her style all these years; she's just been holding on to them to spite me. But, anyway, now we have three new Witnesses in our congregation!"
"Have you studied with them at all before?" Ted asked.
"Not really studied so much, no. But we've talked to them about it and taken them to meetings when we've had 'em for a week or so. But now we can have big family Bible studies all the time. In fact, we're gonna study for tomorrow night's book-study meeting tonight after supper, and we'd like you to come, too."
"I'd be glad to."
"Well, then, let's go eat."
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
"You were going to show me something in the encyclopedia."
"Oh, I just said that so they wouldn't think we were talking about them. But I suppose you don't want me to be a liar--" He took a volume entitled The Encyclopedia of Religion from his shelf. He turned it to the headings ‘Russell, Charles Taze,’ and on the same page, ‘Russellism,’ "Here, read this. It's rather amusing."
Ted read it over with care, picking out the parts that sounded right as well as those that didn't: "’Russell, born 1852, died 1916… invisible second coming of Christ occurred in 1874… an international revolution of the working classes, bringing the world to chaos. After this would occur the resurrection of the dead, a last judgment taking 1,000 years, and the final establishment of the Messianic Kingdom on earth… those willfully rebellious will be cut off after 1000 years through death by electric shock… stresses systematic sale of literature… subject to frequent arrests selling without licenses, refusal to recognize draft summons, refusal to permit vaccination, and failure to salute the flag.’
"Some of it's accurate, and some of it's hogwash," Ted concluded.
"No, it all seems fairly accurate," Richard corrected, "but it's so old; we don't believe half that stuff anymore. The light sure has gotten brighter since then."
"Yeah, but I mean the way they put it is strange. They pick out one little thing and exaggerate it. I imagine Russell said that those who sinned in the millennium would be destroyed somehow, perhaps by electric shock, and here they state it in a synopsis of our beliefs as if it were dogma. And it says vaccination instead of blood transfusion. That's really going some; we never refused vaccination, only blood. It's a good thing we're out there door to door to let the people know the Truth instead of these lies Christendom prints."
"Actually, I hate to tell you this," Richard said, "but they're right on that point, too. At one time, I believe it was in the days of Rutherford, Russell's successor as president of the Society--"
"Yes, I know the history; Russell, Rutherford, Knorr, Franz."
"Yeah, well, back then they thought there might be blood--animal blood--in vaccinations, so they didn't take any. It caused quite a problem for school kids who had to be vaccinated before they'd be allowed to attend school--but that's all straightened out now."
Feeling satisfied that he'd been further enlightened in the way of the Truth, Ted accompanied Richard back into the kitchen where the table had been set.
They all joined hands and bowed their heads as Richard asked Jehovah's blessing on the food. Ted always had a problem of letting his mind wander during a prayer. He found it difficult to concentrate on another person's conversation with God even when that person was acting as his surrogate. So he joined in with the prayer in spirit, and thought of other things. He was glad that Jeannie and Joey were seated on either side of him; what confusion to his heart if it had been Vonnie and Sherri whose hands he had to hold.
"Our heavenly Father, Jehovah, we ask now that you bless this food that has been so lovingly prepared…" Just what did that mean, "bless this food"? Was it to make it taste better? Give it added nutrition? Was unblessed food less nutritious? Was it to remove any poisons or harmful dirt from the food? As Ted exhausted the possibilities, and as he began wondering why "thanks" weren't substituted for "blessing," he heard Richard come to the end: "and we ask all these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen."
"Amen." the voices around the table echoed. The hands were freed and busied themselves with the feeding of the mouths.
Following the dinner, Richard went upstairs with Ted while Vonnie and Sherri washed the dishes. There he laid on him the important question he'd promised to ask: "I'll bet you could afford this place real easy if the rent was cut in half. I've got an idea in which it would be."
"Tell me more, and then I've got something to tell you."
"What? You tell me first." Richard smiled nervously.
"First of all, I've already decided to take it."
"Well, welcome to your new home, neighbor!" They shook hands.
"And, secondly, the rent's already cut in half in a way, because I've found a roommate."
"Oh. There goes my idea down the drain. I was thinking of having Bobby and Joey sleep up here and paying half the rent for you."
"Hmmm--maybe you still can. Paul, my roommate, works nights so he'll only be sleeping here during the day. So if you just wanted Bobby and Joey to sleep up here at night, there'd be no problem; Paul would be at work. But where would they sleep, anyway?"
Richard brightened up considerably and answered, "That's all right. I mean it's already taken care of. I'm having their bunk beds moved over here yet tonight by one of June's neighbors. Let's see--" he walked into the bedroom and sized up the windowed wall, "yeah, it'll fit right here along the wall. And they can lay in bed and look out at the stars and 'contemplate Jehovah's wondrous handiwork'. And I'll pay a third of the rent. You two can pay the other two-thirds plus your electric bill. How's that?"
"Let's see, how much would that be? I never was good in math."
"Well, it's $150 a month, divided by three; that's only $50 apiece!"
"I think you've got yourself a deal." They shook hands yet again, embarrassed to so abuse a friendly gesture through constant repetition. They returned downstairs and got a half dozen copies of the same study-book from the shelves in the bedroom. These, together with a few Bibles, were dealt onto the just-cleared kitchen table.
"C'mon everybody, Richard called, "it's time for our family Bible study. We've gotta get ready for tomorrow night's meeting."
"But Real People is just gonna start!" Bobby wailed. He had, in fact, just turned the TV on and it was still in the process of warming up.
"What's the matter with you," Richard laughed, "can't you read the sign? We've got to think on better things than television."
"Well, just so we're done in time for Charlie's Angels in another hour. " Bobby flicked off the set and took slow steps, weighted down with sorrow, towards the table.
"Charlie's Angels! We might get done in time, but even so, you're not gonna watch that show! Charlie's Angels, can you believe that?" he asked Ted, still laughing. Ted just shook his head slightly.
They had all gathered around the table once again, this time for spiritual food.
Richard said the prayer to ask Jehovah's blessing on the meeting, and they began.
After everyone had turned to the proper page of their books, Richard read the first paragraph and then asked the question at the bottom of the page corresponding to that paragraph. Jeannie raised her hand and he called on her. Her answer was correct, but lacked something, Ted thought. So he raised his hand, thinking to add something to it. "Well, that pretty well covers that paragraph," Richard said, "Ted, you wanna read the next one?"
Ted felt foolish for having raised his hand; it would've been discouraging to Jeannie to think her answer was incomplete, he guessed. After he read the paragraph, Vonnie raised her hand and answered. Richard added to it, and then said, "Bobby, you wanna read the next paragraph?" There was a long pause.
"I don't know where we are," he confessed at last.
"Haven't you been following along?" Richard asked sternly. A very long silence followed. Ted was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't point to the paragraph in Bobby's book for him. He began to do so when Richard stopped him. "No, don't show him. I want him to admit first that he wasn't paying attention.
"I wasn't paying attention," he finally said with resignation.
"You look up at me and say that again in a different tone of voice," Richard demanded.
"What tone of voice?" he asked in natural wonderment.
"Listen," Richard yelled as he reached across the table and grabbed Bobby's shoulder tightly, "don't try to get smart with me. Now you say you're sorry for not paying attention and for disturbing the whole flow of this meeting. You say it like you mean it without looking down at the floor. And you say 'sir' to me," This last demand seemed to be going some. It almost seemed that, once he had a taste of parental power, he became drunk on it and began raging like a man possessed. But this only "seemed" so in contrast to its context: a peaceful meeting to learn the ways of the Truth. In any case, Bobby gulped and said all that was required of him, though he was so badly frightened that he sobbed all through it and the paragraph he was then made to read.
When Richard asked the next question, Ted's and Jeannie's hands shot up in competition for answering. Richard hesitated, and there was a frozen moment in which everyone hoped that he'd call on either one of them and not notice the fact that Sherri, Joey, and Bobby had not answered a question yet or even so much as raised their hands. "Put your hands down," he began with a slight gesture of command, never taking his eyes off his three "new" kids. "Now what's the matter with you three?"
"There's nothin' the matter with us." Sherri said. It was, in fact, the first time Ted had heard her speak, She handled words rather clumsily, with accidental emphasis on the word "us". Though she perhaps didn't mean to imply that something was wrong with the rest of them, that's how it came out. Joey started to laugh at this, and that started Sherri laughing too.
Richard stood up so fast that his wooden chair went skidding back across the linoleum and toppled over with a loud crash. Fire was in his eyes as he unbuckled and removed his belt. What happened next no one could quite believe. He doubled the belt and swung it at Sherri, hitting her on the left shoulder and neck.
"Ow!" she screamed, holding her stinging flesh, "that hurts!" She said it as if it were a moral condemnation of him, as if it were unethical for a father to cause a disobedient child to hurt. This infuriated him all the more. His newfound power--or rather, his power that had found three new subjects--was not to be questioned so lightly. He hit her again, the leather slapping at the back of her hand covering her shoulder with a wicked snap.
"I'll make it hurt more! You think it's funny? Who told you you could laugh?"
Little Joey was laughing harder and harder until it seemed he would burst at the sight of his sister getting a beating. Their mother had never beat them, and so he couldn't accurately associate pain with the action and feel sympathy; it just looked funny to him. Richard soon rectified this situation, teaching him pain with his belt. Joey started bawling loudly, which caused both Sherri and Bobby to burst out laughing. This resulted in utter pandemonium. Bobby's laugh was a high-pitched trickle that could only be compared to a cross between a thin stream meeting melodiously with rocks and a horse's whinnying. It was the most ridiculous sound Ted had ever heard; he bit his tongue hard to keep from losing control. Jeannie lacked such control and broke out giggling in a joyful way. Richard was a man losing control of his subjects; the more he beat them the more laughter emerged in seeming defiance (for in such a rage it is natural to misread all words and actions as directed against the authority). He cut it off at its root by striking Bobby again and again. Bobby put his arms up to absorb the blows, and crouched ever closer to the table, until at last he was reduced to a little sobbing mass of arms and shoulders, hiding his head somewhere on the edge of the table.
"Now will it stop?" Richard called in his sublime anger. He expected horrified silence to answer his question, and for a moment it did. But then Vonnie made her voice heard with astonishing authority, with the feelings of a mother, feelings that at once transcended all Richard's power (although feeling of any kind would suffice to get the better of beaten-submission).
"Leave your children alone, for God's sake! All they did was laugh!" She was cut short by the belt hitting her in the face. She gave a gasp and held her cheek.
"Don't tell me what to do, woman!" He emphasized the word "woman" so as to remind her of her inferiority. But for some inexplicable reason, instead of getting up and running to the bedroom in tears, as Ted fully expected her to do, Vonnie began laughing. And this, once again, sent everyone into fits of laughter.
He lashed out at the table like Moses did with the rock, but the hysteria continued unabated.
"You can laugh," Vonnie said to Ted, "he won't hit you." This in itself struck Ted as incredibly funny. That she could, in this insane situation, make such a witty remark and at the same time show her understanding of his desire to laugh along with the rest of them, seemed not only remarkable but amusing in an surreal way. He could hold it back no longer and joined in hearty laughter.
Laugher is an odd symptom of no one emotion, and Ted's sprung from a source different than all the others. It wasn't like the defiance of Vonnie's. It wasn't like the terror of Bobby's nerve-straining squeal. It wasn't like Sherri and Joey's sense of the ridiculous, not like Jeannie's joining in. It was at once more elusive and complex than any of these, because he had to tell himself that what was happening was right and just: that Richard was acting as God's avenging minister by training his kids upright with the belt. Because of this, it was to him a divine comedy.
Vonnie, still chuckling (though now it seemed rather forced), pointed out Ted to Richard. "Look, Richard: even Ted's laughing now!"
Richard didn't look. He couldn't take it if his Bible Study showed him lack of respect. Sensing this, Ted made a super-human effort to pull himself together.
There was a knock on the door which seemed to hammer all mouths shut until quiet was restored. It was the man with the bunk beds. The Bible study was abandoned as the men moved the ungainly piece of furniture upstairs.
Soon the house eased into repose. Ted gazed dully at the familiar sight of two boys in bunk beds before him. From what, in fact, had he escaped? The only thing that had changed was the fact that these shadowy figures inhabiting his night were not his brothers. Hopefully they would become his spiritual brothers -- they certainly were not such now. Their conduct tonight had proven that, he thought to himself. His own conduct was not admirable, but he had maintained control longer than anyone else, including Vonnie, and this was a great comfort to him. He felt sleepy and began to pray as he lay flat on his back.
As usual his mind started wandering. But when he prayed by himself like this, he felt his mind wasn't really wandering at all; Jehovah was directing it. Whenever he had a problem or a question, Scriptures and Bible principles came floating into his mind from nowhere (or as he would say, "from Jehovah") which answered his needs completely. Prayer for him, then, was a two-way communication with Jehovah. After a few introductory words from himself, he would quiet his mind and let God do the talking. "After all," he reasoned, "God knows what I need and what I'm gonna say. He doesn't need to listen to me; I need to listen to him." This remained a very private matter that he never discussed with anyone, as it seemed rather unorthodox. Into his thoughts tonight came the Scriptures he had read, but forgotten, concerning children and wives: "The one holding back his rod is hating his son… Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him… Do not hold back discipline from a mere boy. In case you beat him with the rod, he will not die… A husband is head of his wife. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands in everything. Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. " (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13; Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Timothy 2:11) Ted sighed and felt immeasurably refreshed. He thanked Jehovah in Jesus' name for the insight, and promptly fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Richard was tossing and turning on the sofa downstairs. Sherri was sleeping in the bed with Vonnie. Only Jeannie retained her little world undisturbed for the time being. June wouldn't sell Sherri's bed to Richard without making him buy the rest of the bedroom set -- which would never fit in Jeannie's room. So this arrangement would have to do until he managed to buy a new bed for Sherri and squeeze it into Jeannie's room. But these thoughts soon gave way to the problems of discipline. He realized that everyone was distraught that night, what with being in a new environment and all. After all, they were just kids. But what was inexcusable was his wife's behavior. (He did not consider Ted at all.) He was glad he wasn't sleeping with Vonnie tonight; he hadn't the strength for further argument and aggravation.
She was a good woman, though, he knew. And tomorrow she'd coach the kids all by herself into giving an answer apiece at the upcoming meeting, just like she used to do with Jeannie. Then she and Sherri would spend the day baking something to serve after the meeting to all those who stayed awhile in their humble house. He imagined where they'd all sit in his living room, how many brothers would be sitting right where he was now laying.
Then he got down on his knees (a habit from childhood he held on to after becoming a Witness) and prayed fervently for Jehovah to send him an "extra portion of his spirit" to meet the challenge of bringing his children into the spiritual paradise where pain would be no more.
The next morning Ted was awakened by the all-too-familiar sound of feet hitting the floor from a height of four feet. After this grand dive Joey ran to the bathroom. Bobby stirred and Ted greeted him with a cheery "Good Morning. Did you sleep well?"
"Morning. As well as can be expected, I guess. Did you hear Joey snoring last night?" Bobby asked. Ted shook his head, not wanting to verbalize a lie. "God, it was awful! How could you sleep through it?"
"Bobby, I know we're gonna get along just fine, and t don't want to give you the idea that I'm gonna criticize you all the time--"
"Go ahead. Everybody else does."
"No, it's just that I wish you wouldn't say 'God' like that. I mean you could say 'boy' or 'wow' or anything like that, but it's not right to use 'God' as an exclamation"
"Okay, I'm sorry."
"That's all right. Well, let's get up and get us some breakfast. We've got a whole day ahead of us to praise Jehovah." This exuberance in the morning was actually foreign to Ted, but he was trying his best to ease the boy into his new life. Being so young himself, he should have remembered how easily children see through all pretense and how they instinctively loathe it. But Bobby forgave him, knowing his intentions were good.
That day went as foretold by Richard for Vonnie and the kids. They were each instructed as to which questions they were to answer that night. And later, had Ted been upstairs, he would have smelled the brownies baking in the oven.
But Ted wasn't home. He managed to get himself a job that day. It was a sweaty, dirty, low-paying job among grubby individuals whom one would rather not have the displeasure of seeing at a distance, much less working beside, but it was a job nonetheless.
After the meeting that night everyone was feeling in good spirits.
Things had gone well at the meeting; all Richard's kids gave an answer and behaved themselves. The little group had admirably covered the required number of pages in the study-book. They weren't about to fall behind like several of the other groups that were meeting at the same time at the hall and in other brothers' houses. Now they sat around engaging in small talk and snacking on brownies.
"Brother Evanston," Dave Nelson intoned in the same authoritative voice that he used for conducting the meeting in his eldership role, "now that you're on your own, how do you propose to live? I understand you're living in the apartment upstairs without having made any arrangement with the landlady. Is this true?"
No one spoke when Brother Nelson spoke in this tone. It made Ted feel as if he was up for judgment by them all, with Dave Nelson as his accuser. "No, I haven't been able to make arrangements yet. But, then, I haven't had time. I was kicked out of my home, you know. It wasn't my own decision so that I could've prepared these things ahead of time or anything like that." He realized after he had said this that he had spoken too sharply in his own defense. The repressed looks of shock all about him reinforced this realization.
Dave Nelson took a deep breath as if girding himself for a long fight with an unruly subject: "As I understand it, you've been here two days now without making any move towards contacting the landlady about renting the place. Isn't that slightly irresponsible? What have you been doing all this time?" He smiled pleasantly to ease the harshness of his words, but also from the enjoyment of their power. "But perhaps we should discuss this privately?"
"No, that's all right. I see the error of my ways." He looked down at the rug, his face flushed with embarrassment and shame. He was on the verge of tears, but fought them back. He swallowed hard and answered further, "Today I got a job though--"
"Oh, terrific!" Vonnie exclaimed, breaking the monopoly of Dave Nelson's speech.
Others took the hint and congratulated him enormously until he gave them further details. "It's just a daily labor place where they pay you $9 in cash at the end of the day and then pay you about $82 more in a check every week."
"What sort of work is it?" Martha Dorsey (Phyllis' mother) asked.
"Oh, they send you different places. Today I worked in a grain warehouse, I guess you'd call it, down by the eastside railroad tracks. I had to unload a truck of 100-pound sacks of wheat and cart them around. And then I ran a bagging-machine where the mixed or hulled grain poured out or something like that."
"That sounds like hard work," Martha sympathized with her excessive smile which was the archetype of her daughter's. She was such a sweet woman, always smiling and speaking encouraging words like sticky honey. She was almost sickeningly sweet like a frosting made with too much sugar. "But it's really good that you found anything at your age. See how Jehovah takes care of his young sheep?"
Bob Morrow and his father Jack were the last to add their comments on Ted’s big news. Jack Morrow seemed only to come to these meetings in order that there would be an even dozen members present. He never answered a question, and hardly said anything after the meetings either. But since the Garvias' family no longer attended this book-study (Dale had been made an elder and was assigned to conduct his own book-study) and since Ted had come into the Truth and started attending, along with the addition of Richard's three kids, Jack Morrow no longer served that numerical purpose. Now he made the number 13, and Ted half expected him to drop out on that account, so feeble did his participation in the joys of the Truth seem.
Interrupting all these thoughts and chattering was a knock on the door. Richard sprang to his feet and answered it. It was Brother Stokes; "Hello, brother. Is there a Brother Ted Evanston here? I've got something for him here."
Ted rose up, walked to the door and shook hands. The rest followed him with a knowing air. On the porch stood six grocery-bags filled with all manner of food, utensils, and even a few appliances (a toaster was immediately visible). He knew instantly what has happening. He felt as though he should have figured as much and was angry with himself for being so surprised.
"And here's a little something from all your brothers and sisters to help you out with your first rent payment," Jim Stokes said as he handed Ted an envelope fat with dollar bills of various denominations.
Ted took this wondering if it was etiquette to open it now or just hold onto it. He held it dumbly and looked at those about him, "I'm overwhelmed," he began to say, but his voice was drowned by Dave Nelson's.
"We'd like to add to that from our own book study group as well." He took out his billfold and took out a five. Then he took the envelope from Ted and stuck it in, As he did so he noticed a ten in there, so he took another five out of his wallet and stuffed it in. He was about to hand it back when Martha Dorsey grabbed it, and from her it was handed around to the others who likewise added to its contents.
Ted stood there watching all this and making a supreme effort to think of something to say. He wished he could cry right now, but he was too detached somehow. It was as if he was watching all this happen to someone else and didn't feel personally involved. He mustered up words which he hoped would be acceptable, "Brothers, sisters! What can I say? What've I done to deserve you?"
"Don't thank us," Richard replied, "thank Jehovah for bringing you into the Truth. That's a much greater gift than mere material goods."
Ted was prevented from having to thank them further as he was helped to carry the goods upstairs. Richard, he realized, must have been on the phone before the meeting arranging all this with the other study groups.