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2007-11-20 11:12 AM
A small part of Our Family Story: Mostly Mom
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There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV.
As I was sitting in the cubicle farm on Monday, drinking coffee and dreading my next twenty-minute stint with my client, a Bible verse (not the one above) came into my head, and I thought, hey, I never was much one for the Bible, but I've certainly held onto some choice passages. Why don't I see what they prompt me to write?
I'm embarrassed a bit to say that the verse in my head defied location. I couldn't remember even what book it was in. I sent an email to my friend Dexter and waited for him to reply. That scripture I’ll write about another day.
Now, I don't know why that brought up a feeling of embarrassment; I've had a very spotty religious upbringing and really can't be blamed if none of it stuck.
My mom left New Jersey at age 24 to come to Seattle, where her uncle Tom lived. She had finished nursing school and needed out of Jersey City. I thank her often, out loud and in my head, for leaving that place and having her children here, in God's Own Country rather than somewhere requiring a nasally accent and bangs a mile high.
She was a good Catholic girl, more devout and appreciative of the ritual and safety of the Church than the rest of her family. Two sisters, three brothers, a mom and dad. Later we would find out that three of my mother's siblings were only half-siblings; between the six kids, there had been three biological fathers. This seems disgusting and wrong, but forgivable when you consider that my grandfather, at 30 years old, had taken my grandmother to wife when she was his family's maid and only 15 years old. There continued a flow of young girls in his life long after he was married and had all the kids. Yeah.
So you see why my gratitude.
Back to Mom and Catholicism. She came to Seattle, ran to it, away from JC, NJ. Upon arrival, she did what any single, lonely gal would do: went to church. Big Church, St. James Cathedral on First Hill. Probably Seattle's Biggest Catholic Church. She met with someone about volunteering, and they told her (get this): "We don't really need anyone right now."
Twenty-five years old. Living alone in a new city, working as a nurse at Group Health, and she was told she wasn't needed. My mother needs to be needed more than she needs her daily latte, so this was just devastating. Thus began the slow but steady march toward thinking perhaps the Church wasn't always right, or kind, or worthy.
She met my dad, Roy, through Uncle Tom. Tom worked with Roy at the phone company. My dad wooed my mom (difficult for him, as he has no skills in this area, and still doesn't, by mom's accounts) and they were engaged. Tom didn't talk to them until I was born, or on the way. It was at least six months. You see, my dad wasn't good enough for my mom. Tom was right in some ways, but psychologically speaking, they were perfect for each other. My mom had been the oldest of six kids and the caretaker to them (she was in eighth grade when she had to walk a bleeding sibling to the emergency room because her mother had to stay home with the babies), and my dad was an only-child rescuer-type who needed to be in charge and seen as intelligent, strong and handy.
Oh yes, the religious journey. While in her mid-thirties, my mother had an epiphany at Church one day. She had become increasingly able to have Her Own Thoughts About Her Life, and the homily "don't repeat and repeat your prayers as the Heathen do" made her give up on Catholicism. Say what? What is the Church, she thought, if not a bunch of dusty ritualized verbiage? She was out.
Fortunately, or not, depending on your perspective on religion, my mother launched a Search. Close friends provided her first non-Catholic church experience by taking her to Bethel Chapel, where people were crying, wailing in the aisles, on their knees, speaking in tongues. This was the outskirts of Pentecostal Land, and she freaked. I don't blame her.
Bring on the SDA Church. We spent a year being Seventh-Day Adventists, sort of. We never could do vegetarianism, not with my Dad in the house, Mr. Venison-Killer-And-Eater. But all of a sudden, the candy disappeared. The sugar cereal was replaced with Uncle Sam (with flax seeds! Kids love flax seeds!). My father’s parents, the local grandma and grandpa, were told to not give us sweets (they did, though, bless them). My mom learned to make what she called Corn Dish, one of the few 1970’s cuisine abominations we were ever made to eat: chunks of torn white bread, laid in a casserole dish, covered in creamed corn and baked, served with ketchup. There was one other ingredient, but I think I must have been deprogrammed and therefore can’t remember it on pain of vomiting. Maybe hotdog slices. The sick thing is that we kids loved that darn Corn Dish. Ugh.
So, we snuck candy at Grandma’s for a year. We used our lunch money to buy candy at B&H grocery across the street from our elementary school, even thought the crossing patrols said they would narc on anyone spending lunch money there. (They never did, whew.)
Then, The Auspicious Day happened. Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door. Ken and Joan are great. They were kind to my mom, and respectful of my dad’s gruff agnosticism. After about a year and a half of study, with Mom dragging us to the most boring (for kids) meetings at the hall every Tuesday and Sunday, and to bible study at someone’s home every Wednesday, my mother was baptized. It was 1977.
I hadn’t heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses before my mom was part of them, but whatever. I wouldn’t have wanted to attend a religious service unless it had pony rides and cotton candy or there was tree-fort-building on the agenda, so there wasn’t much they could do to interest me. It didn’t hurt to go. Well, it did, but not in the long run. Kids experience all kinds of transient pain. I mean, I didn’t want to miss Mork and Mindy, but sometimes life throws you that kind of curve.
(I still had the Saturday-night lineup of Love Boat, Fantasy Island, snack during the 11:00 news, and Saturday Night Live. Why they let me watch that, I’ll never know. They must not have been watching. That, or they realized that I’d lose my membership in the Little Cynic’s Club if I didn’t view a minimum amount of satire each week. Hell, sixth grade was a crucial time in the development of my satirical instrument.)
My mom was happy in her faith. My dad was happy that he didn’t have to buy birthday presents anymore. And that Christmas thing? That spectacle and hassle that sucked families poor every year? He was only too happy to dispense with that ritual!
I only had one real experience of prejudice about my mother’s religion. A girl in sixth grade sneered at me and said, “Your mom’s a Jay-Dub?!” To which I could only reply, “Yes,” even though I had never heard anyone call the Witnesses “Jay-Dubs” before. She didn’t pursue it, and no one else really brought it up again.
(More about MY life as a JW later.)
Now, as my mother’s thirty-year anniversary of becoming a Sister in The Truth has come and gone, I have to say that her faith has been a constant she would never have otherwise had. It brings her structure, hope, and peace, things that have been inconstant in her life.
My father was baptized this November tenth in what my mother reports as an exhausting and long process given my dad’s failing health and dependence on a walker. (You try getting into the baptismal font when you fall over just thinking about walking across the room and you sometimes pee yourself because walking to the bathroom is a bit much to contend with. Thank God for Depends.)
My dad is happy. He has finally, after 30 years of Not Really Giving A Shit, acquiesced into The Truth and is happy. He’ll go to the Paradise Earth to live in eternal peace among frolicking animals and his Brothers and Sisters of all races.
And my mom will be right there with him.
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