My grandfather was an early Jehovah Witness, joining the sect about 1920. It was founded about 1916 by “Pastor Russell” as my grandfather called him and later was led by “Judge Rutherford.”
I am not sure which of my grandfather’s eccentricities were his alone and which were associated with his religion. He was a blacksmith by trade, but by the time I knew him well he must have been retired, because he spent his time walking long distances, going from house to house, spreading the word. He would visit my father’s sister, Tempie, and seeing an abundance of vegetables she had just harvested, he would request some to take on his journey. “Mrs. Bartlett could use these.” He also carried discarded clothing to the needy. If we saw him walking up the hill to our house, we would alert my mother, who would quickly hide her cigarettes and ashtray. He remonstrated with me about crossing my legs at the knees—this was bad for circulation. I still don’t cross my legs at the knees. He brought my brother and me treats from the health food store--this was back in the 1940’s--candy made from carrots, for example.
On one memorable afternoon he preached to me and my boyfriend for about an hour about God. I wish I could remember what he said. I was amazed at this memory – he quoted many passages of the Bible – he seemed to know the whole book by heart.
I suspect that what attracted him to the Jehovah Witness sect was its scholarly nature. After he died, my grandmother gave me his Bible. Half of the volume is the actual Bible, half study apparatus. She also gave me his interlinear translation of the New Testament.
His father was a shepherd who had emigrated from England. The story goes that he went to work in the wool mill and at one point had a conversation with the owner. When the owner discovered that he had been a shepherd and was working towards bringing his large family over and eventually having a sheep farm of his own, the owner offered to pay for this dream. I learned from family research done by a cousin that Tom Senior had given some of his land to the Plymouth Brethren to build a church. The church is still there although it has changed its stripes several times over the years.
Tom Senior was long gone when I arrived in this world. He died 6 months after my mother’s birth. My grandfather married late, in his forties. He was 20 years older than my grandmother.
My mother remembered the slight embarrassment of being called in from playing to evening prayers. “The other children knew why I was being called in.” My aunt doesn’t remember the embarrassment, but she does remember the evening prayers. “My father would kneel with me beside my bed.”
I think my brother and I have inherited our God holes from this grandfather. Alas, we didn’t inherit his amazing memory.