To explain a little bit more about the importance of Oregon and becoming JWs, several years before we set out for Oregon, my grandmother pulled up in front of our home in Orange County and announced, “I know when Armageddon is coming!” even though the scripture says “nobody knows the day or the hour.” Nobody knew but she knew. Well, she heard it at an international assembly of JWs at their annual convention.
Later, representatives from the JW Governing Body at headquarters in New York would say after 1975 had come and gone and still no Armageddon, “Some of the brothers and sisters jumped to that conclusion.” Yes, to deny their culpability – they blamed the “brothers and sisters.” But for some reason, the “brothers and sisters” marched forward under the assumption that Armageddon in 1975 was a done deal and made life decisions accordingly.
My grandmother lived about half an hour away and she would often drop by unannounced. One Flag Day, she surprised my mother and scolded her for having a flag displayed in the front of the house – one of the neighbors had given it to us. My mother tried to escape her mother’s religion – she was even tempted to have a Christmas tree one year, but never went quite that far.
No Christmas tree or visible decorations, but she would buy and make Christmas gifts for us and we’d celebrate Christmas. This wouldn’t actually be on Christmas Day but on a day or two before to be able to deny guilt at actually celebrating Christmas should her mother drop by. My mother would wrap presents elaborately and display them in creative ways.
One year they put us in my brother’s red wagon that he’d gotten for Christmas and wheeled us out to the backyard to see my gift – a tether ball! Woo hoo! I’d become the queen of tether ball and one of my favorite things at WDW is to hit the tether ball at the boat dock at Ft. Wilderness. Two years ago we did this on Christmas Day.
Back then we’d watch Christmas programs on TV and sang Christmas carols in our home and I sang in the school choir. We had special party snacks, too. I appreciate having these memories. And when Christmas break was over, I rejoiced in being able to return to school and join in with the other kids and talk about “what I got for Christmas.”
I also remember the Johnsons across the street and their silver Christmas tree with Christmas cards strung on the wall and all of the presents underneath the tree. We’d have neighborhood Christmas parties – the kids would have their own party – we’d play Beatles records, eat popcorn, and drink kool-aid while the adults drank Screwdrivers and talked religion. The Johnsons were Lutheran and the Sylvias were Catholic, and in those moments, my mother claimed to be a Jehovah’s Witness.
When my SDad’s Catholic sister and family would come down for a visit to Disneyland, they’d ask the Sylvias where their Catholic Church was. This made an impression on me early on – how devoted my aunt was and that she went to church with the Sylvias when they were on vacation. Later, this aunt would delight in my conversion. She’d married into an Italian Catholic vineyard/winery family in the Central Valley and had embraced that life as her own.
Not long after the Armageddon announcement, my mother and SDad went on a scouting trip to Oregon. They took my younger sister with them and my brother and I stayed with my grandmother. I think my SDad might have reveled in the idea of moving away from his mother-in-law, you know the “crazy woman with the Watchtower on her head,” but when they got to Portland during work traffic he said, “It’s as bad as the traffic in Orange County–we may as well stay there.”
Plan #1 to move to Oregon failed, but they sold the house and we moved to an apartment in nearby Santa Ana just in case they should have the sudden urge to move to Oregon. In Santa Ana, I met friends I still have today and who attended our wedding. See, things work out in interesting ways.
When Plan #2 to move to Oregon also failed, we moved into another new home back in my previous school district and I rejoined my childhood classmates now in high school. And when Los Amigos was built, some of us were moved to that high school, and that’s how I was on the track to being the first graduating class.
The way to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness is that you study with another JW, attend meetings, and eventually you make that commitment by baptism. This is a special JW baptism and when I converted to mainstream Christianity, I had to get rebaptized into the Trinity to make a valid baptism.
We’d been studying with different JWs off and on for years. This was my mother’s way of soothing her mother without actually committing to it. But one day the couple studying with us as a family called and said they weren’t going to study with us anymore because we weren’t making progress. Apparently going to the Sunday talk at a circuit assembly once or twice a year wasn’t a big enough commitment.
The JWs had this new program that if you didn’t make any progress within six months, they would drop you. Aha! My mother’s plan that had been working for years had now been foiled. It was either put up or shut up. She reacted badly to the news that they were being dropped – as if they’d just received the pronouncement that they were doomed to die at Armageddon.
Actually, this was my mother’s opportunity to convince my SDad that somehow we needed to get away from that evil, materialistic Southern California. I think she said something like, “If we stay here in SoCal, K will get pregnant and M will be on drugs.” That was all he needed to hear Plan #3 was implemented and off we went to Oregon and the road to becoming JWs.