In the beginning

We were a family of six. Mum, Dad and the kids. In the early seventies my parents decided that they didn’t want to continue to live their hand to mouth existence in the UK any longer. They applied to the New Zealand government and were accepted on an assisted passage to New Zealand.

We arrived and settled in a small provincial city. We older kids were placed in a tiny school on the outskirts of the city. It was vastly different to the last school that I had been in. The windows and doors were open all day long, even in the middle of winter. We had to take our own food to school instead of having over-cooked school dinners. There was a swimming pool, a new game called Four Square to learn and climbing frames in the playground.

I had to learn to play another new game called netball. Being uncoordinated and conscious of my new glasses, I didn’t enjoy it very much. Somehow I made it into the school “B” team and secured the wing defence spot. We played other local schools and on Wednesday afternoons would set out on our bikes to go to our interschool games.

Mum settled in to the life of a Kiwi housewife. She made jams and chutneys with the fruit and vegetables from our garden and learned to bottle the fruit from our trees. She took to riding a bike and caught the bus to get into the town or to get the groceries.

Dad didn’t settle quite as well. He had a good job in a local business but he didn’t always get on with his colleagues. He would come home from work angry and tired.

I remember our first couple of years in New Zealand as being full of “new”. We had so many new freedoms and we explored our new environment thoroughly. I made new friends and, looking back, I was probably a bit of an oddity. I joined the local library and was annoyed that I was limited to children’s books. Although I took a good look around the place I was generally happier reading. While my sisters found the local swimming pools and parks, I looked for trees to climb. All I ever wanted was to sit in a tree and read books.

In the mid-seventies Mum and Dad decided that our family needed another child. Specifically, they wanted a boy as a companion for my young brother. They embarked on a campaign to convince social workers that we were a family fit to have the privilege of a chosen child. Looking back, I am not sure how they managed it. There was no money and we were crowded into a small three bedroomed house.

By the middle of the decade we were Mum and Dad, three girls and two small boys. I was at intermediate School, the girls at primary and the boys at kindy. Dad continued to work in the city and Mum had a job as a teacher’s aide at the local primary school. We had explored further parts of our new country and met the glamorous older cousins who had moved to New Zealand before us.

Genes

Connecting with the people who share my genetic material has always been fraught with a bit of angst. Last night was an exception. Two of my glamorous cousins arrived to catch up on the last half decade. It was good.

They mentioned their excitement at our arrival in this country. We talked about famous meetings and remembered old photographs that need to be scanned and saved.

They remembered my teenage years and how I planned to go to medical school. People wouldn’t believe that now given my inability to look at anything bloodied or broken, but I had wanted to be a doctor for several years. I had the ability too – was always in the top classes – and was on the sciences track.

The cousins laughed when they watched me play with my granddaughter. They remembered my early teens and how I started parenting early – always an eye on my brothers and sisters.

After they had left, I thought about those early teenage years. I’m not sure why or how it happened but increasingly I became responsible for my brothers and sisters. My next sister down, two years younger, didn’t need a lot of looking after. But I took on more and more responsibility for the the younger three. I made their school lunches, dressed them in front of the ancient old panel heater and nagged them to tidy up the bedrooms. At the weekend I took them to the park and watched them clamber over the climbing frames and dig in the sandpit.

After a wonderful evening of reminiscing the glamorous Auckland cousins left.

Confirm

So where am I up to?

The teenage years. Picture this … a nerdy sort of girl with glasses and pig-tails. Not unattractive. Not a bad figure … but what did I know?

My mother instilled in me that I was the bright one and I was the ugly one. The one with, as she said, “a face like a pickled onion”. My younger sister was small, thin and surrounded by friends. Although I had my parents’ approval, she had the X-factor and that counted for more than brains. Mum said it didn’t matter because I was the bright one. Sister number three? Who knew. Her life seemed to be spent crying or hanging on to me or to Mum.

When I was eleven or twelve I started to attend confirmation classes at the local Anglican church. Dad and I had attended the church on and off the whole time that we had been in New Zealand. It was quite close to home and the vicar’s daughter was a friend of mine. I studied hard and was accepted for confirmation. I was confirmed by Bishop Paul Reeves who went on to become the Govenor General of New Zealand. This later appointment confused me as I understood that the church and state needed to be kept separate. I was also confused about why Dad started to lose interest in my confirmation as I got closer to the event. Surely I was pleasing him with my actions?

Over the ensuing months, things started to change at home. Dad made new friends and started to talk about new ideas. Suddenly he seemed to be a different person and his routines changed.

Dad talked to me about new truths that he had found. He stopped attending the Anglican church with me and started to read the Bible daily. Our home became littered with brightly coloured books and gaudy newsprint tracts. Dad changed his routines and instead of taking us to the library on Saturday mornings he left early dressed in a suit and tie.

I loved my Dad. I wanted to make him happy so when he started to talk about his new friends and his new ideas I was curious. He spoke about the future and families and started to make promises. Dad introduced me to some of his new friends and asked me if I wanted a Bible Study with his new friends.

I said yes.

Truths

When I agreed to have a Bible study I did so because my Dad asked me to have one. Mum did the same thing. We were introduced to an older “sister” and given new Bibles and small books to read. One of those books was “The Truth Book” – The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life which covered all of the essential knowledge that was necessary to really understand what the Bible was about.

The Bible study was an interesting process. It was an hour or so long and the sister had a set procedure to follow. First we would have a bit of a chat, then she would pray and we would start the study. We took turns to read the paragraphs and she would ask me the questions. We would read the scripture passages mentioned in the paragraph and talk about what they meant. The answers were all in the text. The sister’s book was heavily annotated, “marked” and I quickly learned that this was the right thing to do. It was a weird feeling at first because I came from a family that held books in high esteem and we never ever wrote inside them. I soon overcame that tension and got into the habit of preparing for our weekly studies.

Dad took me along to the local Kingdom Hall to meet other Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first time that I ever walked in they swarmed and I was overcome by it all. I was introduced to lots of people. All the men had suits on, even the boys wore shirts and ties. The women were in skirts or dresses.

The Jehovah’s Witness services were called meetings. They started with a prayer and then a song. The congregation we attended had a band so it was quite lively. After the song, one “brother” got up and spoke for nearly an hour. Everyone followed along in their Bibles and some people took detailed notes. Then, after another song there was a question and answer session from the Watchtower magazine. This took another hour. The meeting finished with a song and a prayer. Different brothers conducted different parts of the meeting. Sisters spoke up to answer the questions but never addressed the congregation from the stage.

Before and after the meeting people hung around and talked. I met lots of clean cut people and recognised some of the young people from school. At first it was overwhelming but everybody was so nice and wanted to be my best friend. Being a bit of a lonely youngster I was quite taken with all of the attention and I enjoyed the limelight.

After a few weeks our entire family started to attend the meetings. We were quite a novelty. Seven people in a row. It caused a bit of stress on the budget to have new clothes and good shoes but our new friends started to drop in bags of clothing and shoes from other families. At first that was really exciting but then I realised that I was wearing hand me downs from the new friends I was hanging around with. Fortunately I could sew and so I started to make myself skirts, blouses and dresses so that I could fit in with my new friends.

Priorities

Our family quickly got into the routine of attending Sunday meetings. Tuesday meetings followed and then we started to attend Thursday Book Studies in family homes. We made some close friends and started to be invited out for meals and other social events.

I started to find my new friends much kinder and warmer than my old “worldly” friends. The new people were so upbuilding and positive and seemed to understand how difficult it was to live in such a corrupt world. My priorities changed and I began to see how important it was to be surrounded by people who were loving and kind. And everyone was so knowledgable about the Bible. I was determined to be just like them and read everything that I could. All of the extra reading meant that, like Dad, I quickly progessed in my understanding of the scriptures. People were impressed that I could recite Bible passages and understand and explain the intricacies of Bible prophecy. I enjoyed the attention. I started to put my hand up at meetings and answered questions like everyone else.

After completing a few Bible Studies and attending some meetings I was invited to join the Saturday morning witnessing sessions. At first I was allowed to hang back and watch. It wasn’t hard to learn to do and after all of the learning at the Kingdom Hall I naturally wanted to join in. Although it wasn’t explicitly said that “placing” (selling at that point) lots of magazines and books was the goal, there was a lot of kudos for those people who managed to empty their bags.

At this point I started to make friends with brothers and sisters who were devoted to doing Jehovah’s work. It was quite an honour to work with some of them in field service because they were so good at what they did. I met pioneers, people who made the commitment to spend many extra hours witnessing and holding Bible Studies. Auxiliary pioneers spent 60 hours a month in service, regular pioneers signed up for a year at a time and did 90 hours a month. These people were highly respected by the rest of the congregation and despite the fact that they didn’t work fulltime they always had new clothes and enough petrol for the car. I thought that they were wonderful and I wanted to be just like them.

In order to advance in the congregation, I had to be baptised. In order to be baptised I had to be fully participating in congregation life. This meant that I had to join the Theocratic Ministry School and learn how to manage a conversation in the door to door work. In the weekly Ministry School we learned how to deflect objections and deal with all of the common things that would be said to us. People think that it’s really clever to say to a door knocking Jehovah’s Witness that they are a Catholic or a Muslim. That was easy to deal with and while we didn’t physically wedge a foot in the door we learned all of the verbal tricks. The meetings taught us how to conduct Bible Studies and how to help new students into the faith. It all made perfect sense and I really loved my new life.

I got baptised in 1979 at the Living Hope District Convention. It was just my second convention and I was 15. I wore one of Mum”s pink tee-shirts over my blue togs. I”ve still got the photo. I look so young and so full of hope.

High-school dropout

I went to a small sized co-ed high school. I was in an accelerated stream and stayed with the same group of students through high school. We were on track to take six School Certificate subjects, to get a good University Entrance and Bursary and were considered the nerdy ones. I didn’t play sport but was a member of the school debating team and I did a bit of drama and enjoyed speaking.

Our debating team was a reasonably good unit and we acquitted ourselves well in interschool competitions. The competition for the places was quite fierce and usually I was the only girl in the team. Our team captain was a long-time good friend. He and I had been sort of nerdy girl-friend/boy-friend for several years (apart from when I went out with his best friend) but when I became a Witness I put an end to all of that nonsense. It wouldn’t be right to be going out with a worldly boy. I also dropped other friends that could have been a bad influence on me. I particularly remember dropping the vicar’s kids after several years of good friendship.

I had been doing quite well at school but towards the end of the fifth form, with exams looming, I got a bit slack. It was more exciting to be out doing God’s work and be with God’s chosen people than to be studying for vain glory.  Fortunately I still passed all of my exams but with a 53% for history it was a close call. I got excellent marks in Maths and English and did quite well with Science, Biology and Geography. The History mark annoyed me but I decided it wasn’t really important given my new life.

As I entered the sixth form my priorities changed. I decided that, after years of planning to study medicine, I would instead finish school after the seventh form and go on to be a regular pioneer, a full time door to door minister. I planned to use my holiday time to practice and enrolled as an auxilary pioneer in the May holidays. This meant that I would spend sixty hours in field service during the month. In order to get sixty hours in during the school holidays I needed to do some long hours door to door. Other witnesses knew some “special pioneers” who were working in the field in Wellington. I arranged to go down and stay with them in order to learn the ropes and to have a better opportunity to get my sixty hours of service completed. Special pioneers were highly revered in the organisation because they devoted 140 hours a month to God’s work. They received a small sum of money from the congregation because it was understood that 140 hours didn’t leave much time for making money to live on.

The two weeks that I spent in Wellington convinced me that pioneering was going to be the life for me. I made new lots of new friends and learned more about life as a full-time minister. I decided while I was in Wellington that I wasn’t going back to school. I didn’t see the point of completing school when there was so little time left – the end of the world was fast approaching and I wanted to be doing Jehovah’s work.

My father was excited that I wanted to be a fulltime worker in field service. Mum was less thrilled. Although she too had been baptised as a Witness she had only ever gone along to keep the peace with my fiery father. Mum suffered from fairly severe autoimmune problems. She had been a  smoker for several decades after a doctor told her it was a cure for pneumonia. When she stopped smoking her weight ballooned and her rheumatoid arthritis quickly became more serious. She developed psoriasis and eczema and her asthma became quite severe. The drugs that fixed one problem created new illnesses and issues. She used her health as an excuse and managed to become inactive in the ministry quite quickly. She did conduct several Bible studies with people and accompany other sisters on return visits to interested people but she managed to avoid the door to door work. Mum had never been as religiously inclined as Dad but she used to go along with him to keep the peace.

My sisters never really got involved with the organisation either. The sister closest to me in age was a social butterfly with a huge circle of friends. She just wasn’t interested and made that quite plain. My other sister was Mummy’s girl and stayed close to the apron strings. The boys, now in middle primary followed Dad and me everywhere and so they became popular congregation members as well.

Mum’s lack of interest in “The Truth” meant that Dad and I received more kudos for what we did – having an unbelieving or unsupportive spouse or parent was looked upon as a special kind of difficulty to overcome. I was regularly invited to spend time with other families and friends. I had a special friendship with a young married sister who had married into a large Maori family. We became very close and I wanted to be just like her. Another sister wanted to adopt me and “groomed” me to marry one of her three sons. The boys were very bright and we were good friends.

Life was good. At just sixteen I had found my life’s meaning. With a brand new driver’s licence, a few dollars in my pocket and my eyes on the prize I was set for a career as a fulltime minister. I came home and didn’t even bother going into school. I just rang them up. My teachers and friends were shocked. The school asked me to reconsider or hold off a while. But I was determined to be steadfast. I had been warned about such opposition and I knew that if I remained strong it would strengthen my faith and I would receive more blessings from Jehovah and more support from His congregation.

There a few rules when you’re developing a blog. Apparently. They tell you that you need to

position yourself

  • build up ten or so posts so that your visitors see a picture of your content
  • set up excerpts so that anyone who adds you to their RSS reader is forced to visit and take a look at your site
  • drop thoughtful comments into similar blogs
  • trackback and permalink
  • attach your blog address to your signature and strategically sign everything that you write on the internet
  • tag like mad, ping like crazy and promote, promote, promote

I’m in a complex position in that I don’t exactly know whether I do want readers here. Maybe I just want authorship? But if that’s the case why haven’t I just kept this inside my own head or kept a journal? Or perhaps I only want certain readers here? And I’ve left the comments on …

This is a very egocentric process. Writing about myself and my version of my story has made me feel very self-centred and a bit precious. I’m actually going to allow myself that luxury because it’s  cheaper that finding a counsellor or a professional to listen to me.

So I’m going to write my autobiography. From the inside looking out, my life has been a little more complex than some. I’m only half way through it as well, so what I hope is that writing it down in my virtual psychiatrist’s couch will help me to get on and make the most of the second half of my existence.

I know I’m fairly fucked up. Twenty years in a cult, abuse, depression … that’s what happens. But I’m lucky, because I got a second chance.

So, back to the beginning of this post … am I going to promote this blog?

Celebrations

Our family had no money when I was growing up. Lots of my friend’s families had no money either so I didn’t really notice the things that I didn’t have until I entered my teens.

When we became Jehovah’s Witnesses, my parents suddenly didn’t have to think about celebrating birthdays or Christmas anymore. I can remember the resentment that my sisters felt about this sudden swing away from what was ‘normal’. It must have been a huge financial relief for my parents although on the other side they had all sorts of new things to finance.

Now we had to be dressed up three times a week. In pre-Warehouse days shoes were expensive and so more often than not we wore our school shoes. Mum was a knitter and a sewer and had passed on the skills to us girls. We also got lots of hand-me-downs from more affluent congregation members. There definitely was more joy in giving than receiving.

We had to attend three conventions a year. One of would be held in our home town but the other two would involve travel and accommodation. Mum and Dad tried all sorts of ways to economise over conventions. We’d travel 2-300km morning and night so that we slept in our own beds. We’d live on homemade soup for several days.

One thing that didn’t change was Dad’s drinking habits. My father had always been a beer drinker. In years gone by Mum and Dad had tended to follow English traditions and go to the pub and then bring home crates or flagons of beer (this was well before the days when people worried about driving over the limit). Becoming a Witness sent Dad’s drinking habits ‘underground’. Drunkeness is a serious sin for Witnesses so he needed to be more discrete.

Every Friday night I worked at the local dairy. I was paid $4.05 (after tax) for my efforts and had to give half of it to my parents for ‘board’. After I left school I was able to increase my hours at the dairy and get a job at the parts department of a local car dealership – my parents still took their half. I wasn’t resentful of this at the time. The Bible said that we had to ‘honour your father and your mother’ and I felt that I was doing so by sharing my earnings with my parents.

A lot of Mum and Dad’s money problems came about because Dad had left his salaried job and started his own business. He was talented at his work but he had a poor head for business and money. Dad would spend too much time on the wrong parts of his work and then neglect to follow up accounts. During lean times in the summer, he and I both took on casual fruit picking jobs to support the family. Even Mum, despite becoming increasingly unwell, had to take on extra work.

Signs of the times

I was sixteen, had a large leather bag of books and magazines over my shoulder and a fervour in my heart. I was out to change the world. One door at a time.

In those days we walked a lot. A couple of mornings a week we met at the local Kingdom Hall at 8:30am and were knocking on the first door before 9:00am. We’d wander around until 10:30ish and then someone would mutter about morning tea and disappear. Sometimes there would be a friendly person who would invite us in for a cuppa. Or we’d find a bakery with doughnuts. This was well before the days of cafes and cappucinos. Usually we would work until twelve and then knock off for lunch. After food at someone’s house we’d pile into cars for Return Visits or Bible Studies. It was always a relief if someone else was invited in to a home or the call took longer than anticipated. At the end of the afternoon we would count up our hours and add them to the tally.

Morning field service could be a little problematic. Sometimes we made arrangements to work with a particular partner but other times we had to see who we were assigned to work with. Elderly brothers and sisters liked the opportunity to work with us young ones. We used to get a lot of counsel from the older ones who liked to impart their spiritual and moral guidance guidance.

In the early 1980′s most people that we called upon were friendly enough. Even the people that weren’t interested usually had a nice way of telling us. We used to know who we could push further and those who we had to listen to. The city that we lived in had a large elderly population so it was often a matter of talking about the garden and the kids before taking the magazines out. I cringe now but I had an excellent “did you know that you are closer to God’s heart in a garden” speech that I could trot out on first sight of an old lady tending her roses.

There were times when we were asked to do “Not At Homes”. This meant that we would take a list of homes that hadn’t been home the first time and call back and see if we could catch them. Some publishers (as door knockers were called) were notorious for recording the wrong numbers and so we’d get an ear bashing from the householder. Other times the householder had deliberately not answered the door and so they would get grumpy about us calling again soon. Either way we couldn’t win.

If someone was particularly nasty we would record them as a “Do Not Call”. These people were reserved for the elders to call back on because we knew that they were not worthy of the honey from our lips (pearls before swine). In 2014 imagine that “Do Not Calls” are common now. In the eighties we would gather around and talk about them as a “sign of the times” and a welcome evidence that we were living in the “last days of this system”.

Mondays were country witnessing days. I loved country days because we would take our lunches and flasks of coffee, pile into cars and head off out into the wops. We’d stop at every driveway, knock at every door (even out of season, obviously empty shearing quarters) and look for people to talk to. More than that, because we couldn’t get back quickly we gave ourselves permision to leave magazines on the doorstep and count them as placements. My report used to look very good after country witnessing.

I enjoyed my door to door work. In mid 1980 I applied to become a Regular Pioneer and work in the fulltime ministry. This meant that I would be devoting 90 hours to the fulltime ministry every month. It also meant that I joined a select group of people amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was so proud, not of myself, but of the joy that I was bringing to Jehovah’s heart.

At seventeen

I enjoyed the first few months of my pioneering “career”. There were always new places to go, people to meet and things to do. In later years things lost their gloss but those early days were really exciting.

Dad was as keen as I was and although he was working fulltime he world spend as much time as he could spreading the good news. He’d be out all Saturday morning – every Saturday, most Sunday afternoons and often on some weeknights. By now Mum and my sisters had completely cooled off but the boys were keen companions for Dad.

One Saturday Dad came home and said that he had been working with someone new. David was newly baptised and was new to the city. Dad said he was a fine young man and that we should get to know him better. The next Saturday Dad brought him home for lunch.

David wasn’t tall but he was quite good looking and he dressed quite well (brown pinstripe was the congregation fashion that year). Better than that, he drove a nice car and he was single. I was smitten.

When David asked me out I said yes.

Our first date (only we didn’t call them dates back then) was a meal at a restaurant. He turned up with wine for Mum and Dad and perfume for me. By that point my parents were smitten too. We went out to the restaurant and David was the perfect gentleman. I discovered that he was ten years older than me and adopted. He was living with an elderly aunt and his Mum came to visit regularly. I thought he was perfect.

We started to go out together and the congregation smiled its approval. We’d play tennis at weekends and join other young witnesses at the beach. Other Witness families loved David too and so we were invited to meals and more social events.

David started to sit with my family at meetings and so the inevitable questions started. One night David asked my father if he could drive me home from the meeting. He parked the car at a dark spot andasked me to marry him.

I was seventeen and I said yes.

We went home, talked some more in the car and I took David inside. While he spoke to my father in the lounge to ask his permission for us to marry, I giggled with my mother in the bedroom. We celebrated with a cup of coffee.

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