EIGHT YEARS OLD GOES IN SERVICE
“It’s time to get up Katie Scarlett,” God-the-Father’s booming proclamation fills the early Saturday morning air.
I open my eyes to see the pearly dawn mist brightening along the horizon outside my window. It is a view I have seen nearly every day for my whole eight years of life.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine!” Father sings gleefully as he heads for the kitchen to make coffee.
I hear the grandfather clock start to chime the hour. Lying in my warm covers for a few precious extra moments I count the slow rich bongs. Eight times the clock sounds and then, reluctantly I open the snug nest of blankets.
It is Saturday.
That means, as Loyal Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are Going In Service. With a heavy heart, I slowly climb out of bed.
Hastily, I wrap the fuzzy green robe around my thin frame. Shivering in the frosty breaking light of day, I am grateful for the robe’s warmth.
In our house the rule is, always wear a robe over my night gown when outside my bedroom. Mother says modesty requires it. Usually I struggle to surrender to this rule. I struggle to be submissive and modest the way the Watchtower says I must.
On this dripping October Saturday, it is cold in our old farmhouse and I notice that I am happy to wear my robe.
I dart on quick tip-toeing bare feet thru the brightly lit kitchen where father is whistling cheerfully to himself as he works in front of the stove.
I head for the hulking gas heater which crouches in the corner of the living room on four cast iron legs. Its rectangular metal body stands almost as high as my head. It is cozy in front of this steady line of flame. Turning the lever brings an answering hiss and the tiny fire is up full blast.
I slowly turn to evenly warm myself awake while keeping one eye on the ticking clock.
I know it is time to get ready to go in Field Service. Familiar dread quietly creeps across my skin as I prepare to go out and talk with people about this God.
I start to pull myself away from the warmth just as father calls out from the kitchen, “Children, come and eat now. We have to leave soon.”
It is the same every Saturday of my life.
My mind skitters away from noticing how sad and afraid I am about Going in Service. Sad about being One of Jehovah’s Witnesses and afraid about convincing other people to join.
I head in to the kitchen to eat breakfast with my father and brother. John-Wayne-Mother is sleeping until the last possible moment. She can get ready in five minutes flat so that gives her at least another half an hour to sleep.
God-the-Father says she works until two or three in the morning on various projects and she gets dressed really fast. Last week she was sewing me a new dress and last night she was painting the kitchen. The oil paint she was using bites my nose.
God-the-Father says that is why she gets to sleep in and we have to get up with him.
Still singing, he is putting breakfast on the table.
“Why are you singing?! Don’t you want to sleep in too?” I say as I sit down in front of my bowl of cereal. “Why are you so happy?” My question is carefully light and teasing. My eight-year-old outrage is ready to back up and restate if he doesn’t like it.
I like to tease him about the singing. He usually laughs.
God-the-Father sets a steaming bowl of creamy oatmeal in front of his daddy-chair at the table. “I get up early all week to be In the World at work.” He grabs a handful of raisins and walnuts from the cupboard and tosses them into the bowl. This time he answers for real.
Sitting down in his chair at the head of the table he says, “I do that to support our family. Today, is Saturday and I get to Go in Service.”
My stomach clinches with the reminder that I am supposed to be happy about Going in Service.
“I love teaching people about Jehovah.” He continues, “I love living as a Witness. Everything else I do, I do to support God’s Work.” He stirs cinnamon into his cereal as he looks at us seriously. “I wake up very happy on Saturdays and Sundays because they are the days when I get to focus on God’s Work.”
He beams at me.
I am afraid.
After breakfast, I climb up on a stool in my closet looking for a dress I am willing to put on. John-Wayne-Mother ensures that every dress in my closet is appropriate for Going In Service. A carefully blank look covers my stomach-churning reluctance.
I don’t want to wear any of them.
“Head ‘em up move ‘em out!” God-the-Father’s whip-cracking sound effect hustles us all out the door at a quarter to nine. He laughs a big deep laugh, as we load up in the car, each of us carrying a Service Bag filled with the Society’s Literature.
Mine is a purse. I am a girl and am not allowed to carry a briefcase. Briefcases are for boys and men. ***(describe rest of outfit: coat, warm tights indicating carefulness of John-Wayne-Mother’s physical mothering.)
We arrive in perfect time for God-the-Father to lead the Meeting for Field Service.
Fifteen minutes later we are heading out to the Field and by 9:30am we are knocking on the first door.
“It’s your turn to work with me today.” Father’s dark eyes twinkle under bushy eyebrows. “It is a father’s responsibility to teach his children and you know I take that very seriously.”
I do know. He says it nearly every Saturday.
I stand in the cold misty morning at a stranger’s door with a knot winding tightly in my stomach. I know I am supposed to be excited to Share God’s Truth with Worldly people.
I am not excited.
I am afraid. Afraid, as the time draws closer and closer to when I will have to convince my father. Convince him I am trying, with all my heart, to convert the people on the other side of the door.
I am not excited.
I am sad. Sad about the idea of trapping others like I feel trapped.
My face shows nothing.
I am eight years old and I have been Going in Service every Saturday since I was born. I have been Talking at the Door for three years already. I know what to do. Exhaling a long breath, I drop his hand and reach out to knock.
I drum a soft rhythm on the wooden panel in front of us.
“Now,” God-the-Father’s voice is quiet in the gently dripping air, “when it is so early, we have to be careful. Knock loudly enough that the Householder can hear you if they are already awake but not so loudly that you wake them up.”
He gestures for me to knock again, a little harder. “Go ahead, it takes practice to learn the trick of it.”
Breathing around the frozen ball in my stomach I knock again, more firmly.
Abruptly the door opens and a tousle-haired man in pajama bottoms stands glaring at us. “Yes?”
Stepping forward slightly, I hold up the Watchtower and Awake magazines just the way we always practice. “Good morning. We are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we are out in your neighborhood this morning talking about God’s promises for mankind.”
“I am not interested!” The man slams the door before I can answer him.
‘Whew,’ I think to myself. ‘That counts as my turn.’ Relief fills my body at my temporary reprieve from my turn Talking at the Door.
I don’t care if the man yells and slams the door. That is way better to me than the man listening to our Message.
God-the-Father’s hand lightly rests between my shoulder blades guiding me back down the grumpy man’s brick walkway.
The fog’s breath trickles slowly from the leaves and blood red petals of the man’s giant rose bushes. My breath eases as this icy tangle filling my body relaxes. I am done with my turn, for now anyway.
In this rush of relief, I tip my head back and watch the bramble of thorns and crinkly green foliage climbing a wooden lattice over our heads as we exit the man’s yard. One glistening drop lands on my upturned cheek and slides like a cold tear down inside my collar.
I follow the sensation down my face and neck, being careful not to show any reaction. I am on the street, In Service, publicly declaring myself to be One of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I know the rules.
“So,” he starts as soon as we are back on the public sidewalk and away from the Householder’s hearing. “When someone starts off angry like that you need to try and get them to soften, before you start your Presentation. Sometimes, when you are gentle, and don’t get scared off by their first reaction, people will listen.
I listen to him tell me, again, how to handle Householders as we walk along the winding suburban sidewalk.
I have heard this about the Householders a lot of times before. I figure I am not going to get away with what I just did very much longer. ***** (deepen in the analysis section)
I will worry about that later.
We are walking past the second half of the sleepy man’s front yard. It is the part that comes after the walkway leading to the door. I look at his many rose bushes. Nana has a lot of roses. She loves them and has told me stories about these wild bramble-y plants.
Thinking about the yards, and the plants, is way better to me than listening to the Society’s Preaching instructions again. I understand what God-the-Father is saying will work sometimes to Reach People’s Hearts. I have seen him do it. I know what he wants me to do…I don’t know if I want to do it.
I don’t know if I agree. I don’t know if this Truth is the only best way for everyone to live.
It is safer to think about the flowers and trees.
I am trying to decide how I feel about their carefully contained pathways with such perfectly smoothed tiny stones. I can tell if I step on those stones my foot will leave its shape behind.
I wonder how the little rocks would feel around my fingers. My eyes linger on these tempting shapes as God-the-Father focuses on moving us on to the next Door.
The sleepy man probably wouldn’t like it if I played with his completely flat path of stones. I know God-the-Father wouldn’t like it. I leash my feet to walk deliberately and sedately on the sidewalk.
I hear the Brothers on the Platform say how important it is to be Modest In All Things. I understand a Witness is supposed to pay special attention to the image we present, especially when In Service. All of which means no playing in the Householder’s yard.
“You can try saying something like,” God-the-Father continues, “Did we wake you? I’m sorry, perhaps, I could leave my message in printed form…and then offer them the Magazines, or a brochure.”
As the last of the roses slip past I can’t resist anymore. I sneak one finger out, quietly, to stroke a single crimson petal. Its velvet caresses my skin softly.
I look up through my lashes to check if he has noticed. No, he is gesturing and talking about Preaching.
I love the roses. The pathways though, with their rigidly ordered stones, feel a bit unfriendly to me.
Nana says a rose bush’s natural shape grows into a wild thicket of thorns, dense leaves and glorious flowers. Their bramble bush nature looks very tightly contained by this gardener’s strictness.
I wonder if the roses feel trapped in this tidiness.
Our path takes us past the rose garden.
The next yard has a closely trimmed stretch of grass.
As usual, we are alternating doors with John-Wayne-Mother and my little brother. I see them standing at the door, talking with a woman in a bathrobe.
Two by two, that is how Witnesses are instructed to go In Service, just like Jesus sent the Disciples into the Field.
There are 10 of us out together today. We drove from the Meeting to the Field in two cars then split into pairs to cover the neighborhood.
I can see two more pairs of Witnesses on the other side of the street. The last pair are working back towards us. They started farther down the street.
When we are In Service we are not supposed to let too many people clump up together. We don’t want to scare the Householders.
We are carefully knocking on every single door in the Territory.
God-the-Father and I walk past the sweep of deep green grass with a huge graceful willow tree holding court in the center of the lawn. I think it looks like the kind of lawn that is begging for someone to somersault down its thick cushioning surface.
Then I see the next house.
My eyes are caught in the wild scramble of plants climbing up and over their covered front porch. The door is hidden in the shadowy green depths of the porch.
It is a cave-like entrance into what seems to be a secret and magic place. I am fascinated. Who lives in such a place?
We climb the wooden steps nestled behind a curtain of colorful flowers spilling from hanging pots. The moist air tastes of growing things. I spot four different windchimes dangling from the edge of the roof. I love the tinkling sound they make in the slight breeze. The front door is painted a deep bright blue.
The doorknob is on the left side of the beautiful blue door so God-the-Father stands on the right. It is his turn to talk, therefore, he has positioned himself to be the first person the Householder sees when they open the door.
His knock is firm and not too loud. I hold my breath hoping for a Not at Home. It is his turn until he talks to someone. Then I hear the faint sound of cartoons coming from inside the house.
Someone is home.
As he raises his hand to knock a second time, we hear footsteps and the noisy whispers of children.
The door swings inward and three young children peek out around the heavy wooden frame. The oldest appears to be a year or two younger than me. He is maybe six or seven. His two little sisters crowd behind him. Bugs Bunny is chattering and eating carrots on a large t.v. on the far side of the room.
“Hi there!” My father flashes them a bright smile. “Are your parents awake?”
“No, I’ll go get them!” The boy springs away towards the back of the house before my father can stop him.
The four-year old is hot on his heels yelling, “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”
My father’s, “Wait, don’t wake them!” echoes unnoticed behind the tangle of children.
They are giggling and racing each other through the house. The baby, who looks about two, is holding a ragged teddy bear around the middle. She stands watching us with big eyes.
Behind her Bugs Bunny is bouncing across the screen.
“Hi there little one.” He wiggles his fingers in a wave at the silent little girl. “Is that your bear? It’s a very nice bear.” His voice is warm and inviting.
A tall man with short spiky hair comes out of the bedroom. The man is wearing black sweat pants and pulls a tee shirt over his head as he walks towards us. He sweeps the baby up into his arms as he crosses the living room.
“Yes,” His voice has a little bite of irritation.
He doesn’t seem much happier to see us than the last man.
“I didn’t intend them to wake you. I’m sorry about that. I know we are here on a Saturday. You probably work hard all week and want to sleep in on the weekend.” God-the-Father’s response is soft and practiced.
I let the sound of my father’s Presentation sink into the background. My attention is on the children and the cartoon.
The bigger two have lost interest in us and are playing some complex game involving matchbox cars, stuffed animals, and wooden blocks. The little one has snuggled into her daddy’s shoulder. None of the children even glances at the t.v.
My eyes keep getting caught by the flickering screen. I wonder why the children don’t pay attention to the show. I guess if you can watch cartoons every Saturday it is different.
I stand very still and pretend I am not interested in the t.v. while I watch the children tumble around the floor. These children look happy. They look like they feel safe to play and be loved by their daddy.
Their daddy has softened into God-the-Father’s friendly persuasive presentation. He is reaching out to take the Magazines.
I am afraid and sad watching this daddy think about reading the Watchtower. I am afraid the rules in the Watchtower are not helping the children. I don’t want these children to have to change the life they are in right now to join me in this Witness life.
I wish I could be playing right now and watching cartoons. I like cartoons. Bugs Bunny is ok but he is on during the week. “Super Friends” is my favorite. It has Wonder Woman and I love her. It is only on t.v. on Saturday mornings at 10am. I see by the clock hanging in their living room it is 10:05.
Wonder Woman is adventuring right now.
Maybe at the next house they will have children who are watching “Super Friends” and I will get to see a bit.