PART 1 OF 24. Sharing "One Wife"
I had been cutting vegetables for the chef salad all afternoon, but at least it gave me relief from watching the children. In the kitchen I could have time to think, which was something we were not supposed to do. Mo wrote in one of his letters that if you thought too much, it was like inviting little devils in for tea in your mind. "You pull up a chair and invite them over and start agreeing with them ... it's 'cause you get your eyes on yourself instead of the Lord -- introspection instead of heaven-spection" ("Dumps" 33:3). Therefore, I felt like I had to be involved in some sort of action constantly, or I might be accused of thinking.
"You're not supposed to cut the vegetables so small," yelled Martha from behind, startling me. I dropped my thoughts and imagined they had broken into pieces as if they were precious china. Looking up into the cherublike face of Martha, I wondered if she could see the pieces of my thoughts scattered on the floor as well as I could.
"I told you that when I gave you the instructions for chef salad. Stay in tune with the Spirit, Jeshanah."
Martha was the wife of the lead guitar player in the band, and she liked to consider herself the lead singer also. However, like all the wives, she also must have a house duty, and she chose to be in charge of the kitchen. She planned the meals, went shopping, and made sure someone else cooked and cleaned. Our band colony, in the suburbs of Boston, had only a dozen members. We each took turns with these chores; however, Jeremy and most of the band were usually relieved of their duties because of practice. They also began playing at local clubs, "to keep in with the music scene" we were told.
The band members looked and acted like the stereotypical musicians of the time. Any Fleetwood Mac fan would recognize Jeremy onstage, with his short stature and curly brown hair, delighting the audience with his Elvis Presley impersonations. The bass player, Sam, a tall nineteen-year-old Californian with dark, ethnic coloring, was distinguished by a gap in his smile where his front tooth had been knocked out. The rhythm guitar player, Enoch, was a tall young man in his early twenties whom we jokingly called "the Pope," since he encouraged everyone to be religious. Martha was a chubby girl with an angelic face; however, she was as tough as the devil on me. I had become the gofer of the home, since everyone else was busy in their calling.
Jeremy's wife, Emma, often could not work in the kitchen because she was caring for her newborn, and Bart, our leader, and his wife, Tirzah, would only cook or clean when they felt like it. That left only the wife of the bass player, who had a baby to care for, our single brother, Abashai, the roadie who did most of the driving, and me. My main job was to help Emma with her children, but I often helped Abashai do all the practical and dirty work of keeping a home running. Abashai was also our provisioner, the person who visited stores and factories asking for free stuff.
Even though Jeremy and the band had received a lot of money to make the album, Bart, who held the highest position in our band colony and was manager of the band, thought we should live as much as possible like other COG homes. I was never informed where the money went at that time, but I was aware that we were living relatively better than other homes in the group.
From what I heard from my husband, the drummer of the band, they had signed a contract with Columbia Records for $50,000. Most of the advance went into buying new instruments and equipment for the band and paying for the recording at a studio in Marlborough, Massachusetts. The rest of the money was used for living expenses for the band families while they were recording, but the upgrade in our living conditions was relative to normal COG standards. No one had personal bank accounts, and I never even bought any clothes but continued to wear hand-me-downs.
We had rented two attached apartments in Sudbury, a suburb of Boston. There were a total of five rooms, two kitchens, and two bathrooms for the twelve adults and six children. Bart and his wife and child took the whole apartment upstairs; Jeremy and his family of five lived in the master bedroom downstairs; Martha and her husband, Obadiah, and their baby were in the other bedroom; and Cal and I shared the living room with Sam, his wife, and their baby. Abashai and Enoch, the rhythm guitarist, whose wife was in England, stayed in the garage, where the band also practiced. In our room we divided the space with a sheet. After spending my first months of marriage with other married couples in the crowded couples' dorm back at Ellenville, I was grateful to have this private area. Always self-conscious of noises made while engaged in sex, I had learned to muffle any sounds.
Having lived with two to three hundred people for the past six months, I felt like this living situation was luxury. In addition, the food was much better, since we actually bought most of it, and I could leave the home on trips to the stores with Abashai to shop and provision, which I really enjoyed. I should have been very happy about my fortunate position; however, my marriage with Cal was terrible. Even worse, it was my fault. Cal loved me. He was proud to be my husband. He treated me nicely, and even tried to make sure I was not overworked, a common dilemma for those on the bottom of the COG hierarchy, such as I was in that colony.
But I knew it was all so wrong. Nothing had changed since the first night I spent with my husband. At that time, I thought that Cal and I were just not meant for each other, but in retrospect, I believe I was not capable of loving a man as a husband. In the Family, love for your "mate" was supposed to be a gift from God; however, there was no special loving feeling in my heart for Cal. Jesus said we should love everyone. Loving "everyone" was easy for me; it was loving my husband that was so hard. Having no clue as to why I could not love the man I had agreed to marry, I thought that maybe that happened to everyone. Maybe love would eventually grow. I did not take this situation lightly, and every day I would invent new causes, reasons, and excuses for not loving Cal as I should.
Mo wrote that he wanted all the complaints about marriage to stop. In a letter called "Get It Together," he told husbands to be nice to their wives (which Cal was), but he also wrote:
The next time I hear of a wife that is not willing to submit to her husband -- after being admonished in the presence of a few witnesses we'll take her in front of the whole congregation and make her submit to her husband ... if you won't do it in the privacy of your own bedroom, you will do it in front of us! ... Do you believe in the Bible? Then why don't you do it? You're breaking the commandment of God every time you refuse! You don't have to feel like it .... How are we going to have a Revolution for Jesus if you can't even love your husband or wife, your brothers or sisters, whom you have seen? [123: 17-20]
In other words, how could I be a missionary -- my one single goal in life?
Mo often denied that he had ever encouraged anyone to marry, and for many years I believed it was only a few of the top leaders, who were eventually demoted, who indiscriminately practiced pairing couples. However, years later I heard the tearful story of Rose, a sister who was present at a mass marriage performed by Mo and his personal secretary, Maria. After Mo had just betrothed a couple, he asked if anyone else wanted to get married. A brother, who liked Rose, stood up and tapped her on the shoulder. Rose knew Mo and Maria personally, and she looked to them for help. Instead, she was told by Maria that Mo thought it was the Lord's Will she marry this brother. They were betrothed in a few weeks, at which time, she later told me, she felt like her life had ended. Not all couples were so badly mismatched, but the majority of us were told that God's Love can extend to anyone. In reality, couples that actually did love each other romantically were usually separated by leaders.
I was still young enough in the Family to believe that my feelings about my marriage might be taken into account by my leaders. I went to Bart and Tirzah to ask for a separation from Cal. I thought that four months of trying was enough. My caring leaders were absorbed in their own private matters. Bart was checking out the latest electronic toy he had bought, some recording device, and Tirzah was fashioning a new dress for Martha, which, I noticed nostalgically, included a lace bodice from one of the dresses I had forsaken when I joined the Family. I stammered out my feelings, hopes, and disappointments about marriage and my request for a separation. They would not even discuss the matter with me, and basically I was told to get into the Word more. However, they did talk to Cal.
"Maybe we need to have a baby," suggested my husband. "You have always been caring for other people's babies; don't you want one for yourself?"
I thought this was an odd statement, considering the fact that the children were supposed to belong to us all, but Cal always had a way of remaining personal in a very impersonal environment.
"Well, yes, but we have been together for four months already, and I didn't get pregnant yet," I replied, somewhat surprised by his statement. Actually, we had not been legally married yet, since most of us did not obtain a marriage certificate unless a child was expected. So what Cal was really saying was that if we had a baby, we would become legally married. I did not consider the added incentive Cal might have had at the time for me to get pregnant, and I think Cal was only repeating what the leaders had told him to say. He probably thought it would be good for both of us, but having a baby made it almost impossible to break a marriage. In those early days, Mo taught that a baby was God's stamp of approval on a marriage.
Cal's question, however, did prompt me to consider having a baby as a solution to my marriage problem. Before I joined the Family, I would have laughed at such a simplistic idea, but after living in a closed society for such a long time, with traditional, and often oppressive, perspectives reinforced constantly by everyone around me, my critical thinking capabilities were extremely weakened. The Bible did say, "Be fruitful and multiply." If God was the one who gave babies, it made sense to ask Him for one. The more I prayed for a child, the more I felt that a baby was what I really wanted in my life.
Ironically, I was still aware enough to know that a child in the Family ideally belonged to everyone. It wouldn't necessarily be "mine." Sitting in the bathroom, the only room that gave me complete privacy with my thoughts since our bedroom was converted back into the living room every morning, I pondered the imagined happiness of holding my own baby in my arms and the very real threat of having that baby taken away from me and cared for by others. In order to prevent that from happening, I reasoned, I would make sure that I was always in the "child-care ministry." I even justified my thought processes, which were definitely selfish according to Family ideals. My mother had given me the name "Miriam." In the Bible story, Miriam was the sister of Moses who watched her baby brother in the river and suggested to the Egyptian queen who found Moses that she would get a nursemaid -- her own mother. In this way, Moses, although destined by God to live in the royal Egyptian palace, was actually raised by his own Hebrew mother. I reasoned that I could be like Miriam and cunningly make sure I would always care for my own child. Few sisters desired to stay in child-care work for long, so I did not foresee a problem keeping a spot. Curiously, I never noticed at that time how I had to work my way around Family policy. The thought of leaving the Family rarely occurred to me in those early years.
Cal and I tried harder to conceive, and as nature would have it, I became pregnant the next month. The nine months of carrying a child was one of the most joyful times of my life. In my idealistic and naive state, I thought that now I would be fulfilled. Being a mother in the COG carried a certain amount of respect at that time, and extra attention was paid to both mothers' and children's needs. I was given a quart of milk a day, as well as extra fruit and vegetables. I could have time to take a nap and could go to bed early. Life was full of comforts now, and I enjoyed it to the fullest, knowing this would not last.
It was planned that I should have the baby in Troy, New York. All COG girls were encouraged to have their babies at home, and midwives were trained among our group to perform the delivery. There were no midwives among us in the Boston area, but Troy had one sister, Sheriah, who had assisted at a birth. That was good enough training for us.
We calculated the birth date, and I was sent to the Troy home about two weeks ahead of time. Cal was supposed to come down when labor started, and before leaving, I married Cal in front of a justice of the peace.
In Troy, I practiced the Lamaze breathing method, as outlined in advice we received from our child-care leaders, to help during labor. The Troy home was kept very clean, and since I had been assigned to work in the kitchen, I needed to mop the floor every night. After mopping one night on my hands and knees, I felt the labor pains start around nine o'clock. I went to bed, knowing that the first labor usually takes awhile, and some labor pains could be a false alarm. At midnight, I was sure this was the real thing, so I woke up Sheriah. She began preparing the labor room, while I called Cal and started my Lamaze exercises. They put me on the table about three in the morning. Sheriah began prepping me by stretching the skin around the opening, but the labor pains were so strong I had to push her away frequently.
"I don't think that Cal will make it," she said. "Your contractions are coming pretty fast and regular. How do they feel?"
"Hard, very hard," I said between puffing.
Another sister who was pregnant came to see my delivery. She was at my side stuffing my mouth with crushed ice in between my contractions. I chewed on the ice and savored the cool, fresh liquid quickly before returning to heavy breathing.
Cal arrived about 6 A.M. By this time, I could tell that Sheriah was worried. Car's first sight when he came in the door of the delivery room was the view of my legs wide open, a gaping, bloody birth canal, and me huffing and puffing in between contractions that were less than a minute apart. Sheriah called him outside.
"I think something is wrong," she said. "I want you to pray about it, but I am going to call for Mary. She is in New York, and she has had more experience than me with complications."
Mary arrived a few hours later and took over for flustered and exhausted Sheriah. Twelve hours had passed since I had first told Sheriah I was in labor, and she had missed a whole night's sleep. Mary continued the job of stretching me with a renewed vigor, but I was so tired, and the pain was so intense that I could not feel the stretching. After each contraction, which now came only a minute apart while I was breathing hard and heavily, I asked for crushed ice. No one told me what time it was, but I noticed the light coming in through the window, so I knew it had been a long time. I also knew that we were not supposed to scream. Childbirth, we were .told, was a natural function of the body and should not cause excess pain. If I screamed, it would be a sign of lack of faith in the Word. The Bible, I had learned, said that it is God who delivers babies, so what was I worried about?
But I could not bear the pain any longer. I took my last rhythmic breath and screamed for as loud and long as I wanted. I no longer cared what Mary or Sheriah or Cal, or anyone, would think. "The head -- it's here. Push! Push," cried Mary!
I took a breath and screamed through another push. "It's a redhead! Push again!"
Were they crazy? I didn't have any strength left to push. I could not do it.
The undeniable urge to push came again, and I pushed while a full body plopped out covered in mucus and blood. Mary held up a baby boy for me to see, and then she cut the umbilical cord and gave him to Sheriah to wash.
I was ecstatic, but the work was not finished. Mary, who was very knowledgeable about childbirth, told me to stand up and squat so the afterbirth could come out. Then she washed me and helped me onto a clean, soft bed that had been prepared. Finally, they brought in the baby.
He was a beautiful nine-pound infant. His perfectly rounded head was covered with bright red hair. Cal had been given a dream in which the baby had red hair and he wanted to name him after the Norse god of thunder. The day he had the dream, he had read a verse in the Bible about James and John being the "sons of thunder." Although only Bible names were the rule in the Family, we named him Thor. As I adored him lying in the softness of my rounded arm and sucking firmly at my nipple, I thought that never again in my life would I be sad. The moment should have been eternal, but it was snatched away all too soon by Sheriah.
"You have to get up and get dressed," she barked. "You ripped pretty badly, and you will have to go to a doctor."
As she said the word "doctor," I shuddered. We all knew that one went to a doctor only because of lack of faith. We had read about the sister who was in labor for three days, and when she finally went to the doctor, Mo said, she developed a spiritual problem. What was my problem? Oh, who cared? My baby was fine and healthy. That was all that mattered.
Cal helped me to get dressed, and one of the brothers drove us to the nearest hospital. I sat in the emergency room for over an hour while Cal talked to the nurse.
"They won't take you," he reported when he finally came back. "They said you arc too much of a risk since you did not have the baby here in the hospital."
I felt weak and was shivering. I was continuing to lose blood, and I had no idea how big was this rip that needed to be sewn.
The brother suggested we try another hospital, which was farther away. By the time we arrived, I was holding on to both of them for support. Cal went to talk to the nurse again, but no one would believe that I had just had a baby until they came and saw me.
"Bring her in here," they said. Within an hour I had been sewn by a kind young intern who later advised us to go to an obstetrician, but I never went to one.
I went back to the Troy home and spent the rest of the night admiring my sleeping baby who lay snuggled in my arms. Early the next morning, I had a message to see Sheriah. She was the colony leader's wife in addition to being midwife.
"My husband has already talked to Cal," she said sharply . "We have prayed about this, and we believe that you two must seek the Lord for an answer."
"An answer to what?" I asked.
"Well, as to why the delivery went so badly," she retorted, looking surprised that I would not know. "I want you to pray about this and write me a report today."
I was left speechless. The absolutely most beautiful memory that a woman can have in her lifetime, that of giving birth to her firstborn, had been splattered with this acid of someone else's cruel reality. Now every time' I recalled that wonderful experience, I would remember that I had somehow failed.
Returning to Boston in a week, I was grateful to be back. The Family life in "regular" home was so disciplined, and the leaders seemed to be very harsh. After my experience in Troy, I appreciated the colony in Boston where musicians could still joke and laugh about the idiosyncrasies of life. Jeremy was always a great one for seeing humor in everything,' and he was an inspiration to me because he had given up fame and riches to follow the Lord. Although he was respected by most leaders with a kind of man-worship attitude, which placed the "great Jeremy Spencer from Fleetwood Mac" slightly above others, he still lived pretty much like the rest of us, with one memorable exception.
One day, some FBI agents showed up at our apartment looking for the English rock musician who probably had visa problems and found Jeremy in the backyard on "kitchen duty" splitting beans for dinner. Everyone acted completely calm, and the FBI seemed perturbed by our lack of anxiety. Little did they realize that we "knew" everything was in God's hands, so we had nothing to fear from man's laws and activities.
I was not aware of the details of this incident. In fact, it was only years later that my husband told me it was the FBI who had come to our home. However, my husband said that this visit from the FBI was why Jeremy and his family left our home to go to a COG colony in Europe.
Jeremy, behaving in his typical ingenuous manner toward these men who seemed to be important in the world, made me laugh, and I realized after my first day back that I had not laughed during my entire four-week stay in Troy. I decided to work harder and never complain again about being in the band home.
However, life in the Boston home had changed since I had been gone. There had been some trouble at Columbia Records involving scandals in their business, which had nothing to do with us, but for some reason, the band took all of the money that was owed them and left Columbia Records. In any case, the album did not become the big hit we expected it to be. We heard that Mo was not happy with the hard rock album that Jeremy and the band recorded. In a letter titled "Conferences, Colonies, Bands, and Buses," dated July 15, 1973, after the album Jeremy and the Children had been released, Mo wrote:
Those poor band groups have been in pretty bad shape for a long time ever since they got this big -- and spirit when the System took them over! But they disobeyed and didn't do what we told them to do .... I think these band people have got what they wanted: They wanted a band and they wanted a record -- But they failed to be a success or hit because they didn't do it God's way .... Maybe we should make such folks an associate colony, if they're not interested in following our authority and obeying only us. [253:10-11]
Since Mo did not mention the name of the band he was talking about, although we were the only ones in the group who made a record at that time, we never were sure whether he meant us. Mo was often vague in naming offenders in his specific judgments, but the result was that none of us wanted to be considered an "associate," which in COG terminology meant a second-rate disciple. We decided to split up and go to homes in Europe -- the new mission field. That would be a big change for everyone, but for me it did not matter, since I believed that the life of a revolutionary was always changing, always growing, and always moving forward. The money we had was used for plane tickets, and anything left over was given to other families who wanted to leave for Europe. Most of the band members decided to go to Italy or France. Because I had a German mother, Cal and I decided to go to Germany with our son Thor.
We planned to fly out of New York in the fall of 1973, when Thor was barely three months old. Again, I never saw any money or even documents, unless I had to sign something. Cal and the leaders took care of the paperwork, and I just followed the instructions like a good soldier. We were asked to obtain as much money and goods as we could from our relatives before leaving. I had stayed in contact with my mother through frequent letters and less frequent phone calls; such communication was being encouraged by our leaders now because Mo had recently advised disciples to write their parents and relatives. I believe it was suggested because of the persecution and investigation that had followed when irate parents and relatives went to the authorities seeking to learn the whereabouts of their children. In my case, until I lived in the band colony, I never opened a letter from my mother without a leader looking over my shoulder. If she sent any money, I was urged to give it to the leader right away, to be put to use in God's work. What good would money do for me anyway -- I could not go out and spend it. I soon learned that most disciples asked their parents for things, like clothes and pens and paper. Cal had learned to increase his few personal belongings with help from his parents, and before we had our baby, they had supplied us with all the baby clothes we needed and a beautiful handmade cradle. Since Cal's parents lived relatively close by, in upstate New York, we visited them before we left for Europe. Having an upper-middleclass income, they could afford to buy us new clothes and camping gear. They also paid for our visits to a dentist; it was my first visit since I had joined the COG. While we were at Cal's parents' house, one of my sisters, Marlene, and her husband and new baby brought my mother to see me before I left. I had not seen my mother since I had "forsaken all" in 1971. It was now 1973, but I was not nostalgic. By now my natural feelings had been buried so deep, I could think only about witnessing to them. My sister asked Jesus into her heart and told me about the difficulties of parenthood and work. I told her, "That's life in the system." Unfortunately, I showed barely any affection to the sister closest to me, less than two years younger in age, and the one who had gone to the peace march in Washington with me. She was only eighteen, and before she reached her twenty-first birthday, she died in a car accident. I never saw her after this day in New York.
Cal told me that we had been given enough money to get through the borders in Europe and three-month visas. We landed in Amsterdam and had to race for a train to Germany, arriving in Essen on a wet, cold evening. No one had come to pick us up as planned, and after hours of waiting and many phone calls, we finally arrived at the Essen colony. Essen, a large industrial city in northern Germany, is not known for its scenic beauty. It is a factory-fueled city, and in the middle of the winter, the gray from the smokestacks was lost in the gray of the skies. What I remember most about the German houses is the stark white lace curtains in every window. I thought there must have been a law in Essen that everyone must have lace curtains, but I later saw them all over Germany. They looked pretty, and for some reason the curtains made the gloomy feeling I felt, living the winter in Essen, a little more bearable.
Our new home turned out to be an old three-story schoolhouse inhabited by over a hundred disciples. Mo had written a letter about letting the nationals take over the leadership of the homes in Europe, since they knew the culture and language of the land. Therefore, power-hungry older brothers were quickly marrying national sisters, usually barely three months in the Family, so they could keep their leadership positions. That seemed to be the case in Germany anyway.
The colony leaders were Samson and Naomi, who together ruled the home with Gestapo-like authority. Naomi was a pretty German girl whose father had helped the Family when the group first arrived in Essen. Wealthy or influential friends of the Family were called "kings," and Naomi's father, a respected Christian businessman, saw our group as dedicated young Christians. He later changed his attitude about us, as most of our kings did. Samson, a suave, clean-cut-looking young man, was one of the early pioneers from America, and he savored his leadership power. Everything ran like clockwork in the large home; the disciples were kept constantly busy cleaning it, begging for food and supplies, or going out onto the streets witnessing.
The nursery was located in one of the larger classrooms on the second floor, near the girls' bathroom, and I was immediately put to work. There were already a dozen small babies in the house and a dozen more on the way. Since we were forbidden to use any form of birth control, and babies were considered God's blessing, they kept coming. Anyone who knew about child care could be sure of a twenty-four-hour job.
Naomi had never been trained properly in child care; in fact she was not trained in anything, which left her with a huge complex to overcome. Most leaders' wives had been in the Family longer than Naomi, and had received some form of training from elder sisters in areas of office work, kitchen supervision, housecleaning, or child care. However, Naomi had joined the home as a sort of "princess," her father being a king of course, and she had received the typical pampered treatment allotted those who were somehow special. That really rubbed my communistic ideals the wrong way, but as always, I knew there was a lesson for me to learn here. Maybe I needed to be more humble. Maybe I would learn to love Cal here in Essen.
Naomi suggested that Cal and I sleep in the nursery, which meant being awakened all through the night. Furthermore, she did not relieve Cal of any work or witnessing responsibilities, and I had to participate in other work duties as well, which contributed to a chronic feeling of tiredness.
The German home existed mainly from the donations it collected on the street and by "litnessing," now the most popular method of raising money in the Family. It involved "selling" our Family News and Mo letters on the streets. I had been out litnessing a few times in the United States, but since we had kept some of the money the band earned playing at clubs, I was never pressured to bring in a certain amount. Here in Germany, I learned that everyone had a quota of literature to hand out, and of donation money they were expected to bring in. The literature was translated into the language of the land, and in this way, these pieces of paper became the witness. Mo had been writing a series of letters on how to witness with his "wonder-working words" and recently he suggested that all the disciples "sell" them to people on the streets, in airports, shopping centers, or wherever else they could get people to stop for a minute, Ideally, the method included witnessing about Jesus to anyone who looked interested, but many times we were so busy trying to get money, we did not have time.
The German leadership had set quotas for literature that had to be sold by each disciple every day. The quotas were determined by the amount of time that the leaders thought a disciple could devote to this method of witnessing. For example, the lowly disciple who worked in the kitchen early morning and late evening supposedly had all day to spend on the streets litnessing, so his quota would be high, maybe a hundred letters a day. However, the leaders, who had to spend many hours reading the Word, praying, and making important decisions about colony life, would usually have a low quota, or no quota at all. Cal and I fell somewhere in the middle.
Since Cal was a musician, he thought he could use his talent in the colony band, but music was not highly valued in the German home, so Cal was given no practice time and a pretty high quota. Since I was a nursing mother, and spent many hours day and night in the nursery, my quota was lower. Still, it was never easy to make.
"What do I say?" I asked a sister as I stepped out the door on my first day carrying a pack of lit, Thor tucked snugly into a Cadillac of a baby buggy, bundled in everything I could find to keep out the cold north German winter.
"Just hand them a pamphlet and say, 'Konnen sie bitte eine spende geben?'" answered the American girl, who had been here for months. "It means, 'Can you give a donation, please?' "
"Won't they ask what this is, and why I want a donation?"
"It's better if you don't know what to say. These German businesspeople will just argue with you anyway. So just say, "Nicht verstehe," and move on if they don't reach for their pocket. Believe me, it's not worth trying to talk with them."
"What if I find someone sheepy? Do you know enough German to witness?"
"No, I never learned much more than to ask for a donation. You don't have to. If they are sheepy, they'll probably know English. All the young people here know English."
She was right in her assessment. Businessmen either gave a donation right away, or started yelling something like "Arbeite, arbeite.''' which meant "Go work!" The young people knew English very well, and they were the only ones who were interested in talking with me. I never learned more German than how to ask for a donation.
Even though it was cold and very difficult to make a quota in that tough and dreary city, I loved to go out litnessing. It meant being away from the nursery, away from the colony, and most of all, away from Naomi. I had the distinct impression that she did not like me, but perhaps everyone felt that way about her. She always had some command for me whenever she abruptly entered the nursery.
"Don't you think the babies should be patted to sleep?" she snapped one day when she found me sitting down reading the Bible while a few babies were stirring before taking their naps.
From then on, we had to pat babies to sleep, which was not a good habit to encourage when there are twelve babies and only two adult patters.
"Why don't you write verses on this big chalkboard," she questioned on another day. "Then you can memorize out loud while you are working with the babies. I am sure it will help them in the Spirit to hear the Word."
After that, we always had verses written across the huge blackboards, which had to be changed daily, of course.
Still, I felt fortunate to be working in the nursery instead of in the kitchen or office, where Naomi made many more demands on the poor workers. Cal would often come up from the kitchen in a rage over the stupid suggestions made by Naomi.
"And it's not like you can talk to her about anything," he complained. "She won't allow anyone to question her suggestions."
It was evident that Cal wanted to leave the country, but it was hard to get out. In the band colony in Boston, Cal always was allowed to keep a little spending money, maybe twenty dollars or so, but here in Germany, every mark was handed in, and if it looked like you did not make enough, you might be accused of holding some money back. The story in the Bible of Ananias and Sapphira, found in Acts, Chapter 5, was constantly held over our heads in the typical Big Brother fashion. I heard this story when I had my first "forsake all" doubts. It seems two of the early disciples did not hand in to Peter all the money they had earned from land they had sold, and they were immediately struck down dead by God as a warning to all. I really doubted that God would do that for a few bucks, but even so, where could we go if we had money to get there? To live at another home anywhere in the world, one needed clearance first, which involved a series of letters to the colony leaders and recommendations from your present colony leader. It was like getting a job. And I suspected that Naomi would not want me going anywhere since I had become her only stable nursery worker. She thought I was dedicated to the work, but actually, I just wanted to stay near my son as much as possible, and my plan worked. As a musician, Cal had no talent to offer the litnessing colony in Germany. To make matters worse, he was used to the musician's life with a less disciplined structure. The tension of hating where he was and being incapable of changing his situation weighed heavily on his mind, body, and spirit.
Our bedroom area in the nursery was situated in a loft overlooking the cribs full of babies. We had a mattress on the floor, but, being in the nursery, it was one of the warmest spots in the cold, drafty building. Interrupted often by the babies' cries, Cal never could sleep very well, and his lack of sleep, combined with the stress he was experiencing, caused him to become physically weak. One day he could not get out of bed. He had developed a terrible case of dysentery, and I began to take care of him, as well as the babies. Sometimes, I had to wash sheets that he had soiled because he could not make it to the bathroom, which was located far down the hall. Caring for Cal brought me closer to him in an emotional way, but I don't think he recognized this at the time. His single-minded intention was to get out of that colony in any way he could. Hardships are said to often bring a family closer, and the unhappiness we both felt living in Essen made me feel a sense of camaraderie with Cal. It was short-lived.
The chance for Cal to escape from his less than joyful situation came when he heard that Jeremy was in Paris starting up another band. Cal sent him a letter, and our leaders received word from Hopie, who was Mo's daughter, that Cal should be sent to Paris immediately. Although there was not room for me and our baby, Cal accepted the invitation and was gone within days. He was told that he might be staying in Paris for a short time only, but that if he stayed longer, he would do what he could to get us there quickly. I was truly happy for Cal, and I did not think much about our separation. Also, I knew that he had a better chance of getting me out of here from Paris than he did in Essen.
Weeks passed, and there seemed to be little he could do to bring his family to France. I received a few letters from Cal saying that Paris was a wonderful place, the home was totally different from any he had been in, and the band was probably going to go into the recording studio soon. I'm sure he missed us, but I think he was so excited about his new start in Paris, he did not spend much time thinking about how his wife and child would get there. We were trained to trust the Lord. Cal wrote that the home in Paris was made up mostly of musicians, singers, and their wives. They lived in a converted stable, and there was no room for children.
It seemed that Cal was incapable of arranging for me to get to Paris, for whatever the reasons, and there was little for me to do but pray. Naomi would be of no help, and without the leader's permission, I would not be accepted in any colony, let alone have the money to get there. A few months after Cal left Germany, a visiting leader came by our colony who gave me a ray of hope.
Bithia, a tall, lanky young woman, was the wife of a top leader from London. She and her husband were not only nationals, they were from high society, which appeared to have status value even in the COG. Having had an elitist upbringing, Bithia was used to doing just what she wanted, and she could not be told by any leader, let alone a domineering Naomi, what to do. Bithia had three small children, who were born before she joined the COG. She was used to buying whatever she wanted for them, and although she was trying to live communally, like others in the Family, she often wrote her parents for extra money to buy the kids something, which she did not turn over to the leaders. Since her youngest child slept in the nursery, Bithia hung around and talked with me. We recognized our kindred rebellious spirits.
"This is really a rigid colony here, isn't it?" she commented one day. She had just set her baby on the rug and lounged back in a way that suggested she had always lived a life of ease.
"What do you mean?" I responded, carefully watching that her baby would not poke my son with the pencil that he had grabbed from Bithia's open bag.
"I mean, Naomi, and her husband; they run this place like a prison. It isn't like this in England. And, boy, you should see Paris!" she said with a smile on her face.
"Were you in the Paris colony?"
"Yeah, I just came from there. It's pretty .... You know Hopie is there, and being Mo's daughter, she gets all Mo's letters before they come to us. The Paris home is practicing what we haven't even heard about yet. "
Bithia studied me for a moment, and decided she could be open.
"Well, have you heard about 'sharing'?"
"In what way?"
She divulged what she knew about "sharing," a new outlook on communal sexuality, but she did not completely reveal what was going on in Paris.
Bithia often took me with her on shopping excursions in Essen, even though Naomi would insist that Bithia take a sister who could speak German.
"No, I want someone who can help me with the kids," she said, and, as always, she did want she wanted.
One day while shopping, she asked about my husband.
"So, are you and Cal breaking up?"
"No, I don't think so. He said he was trying to get me to Paris."
"He did?" she laughed. "Well, I would say he probably is too busy in Paris to worry about a wife and son."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Paris has a lot of men away from their wives, and single girls are ready and willing to serve them."
"Are you saying that Cal shares sexually?"
"I am not saying anything. I don't know what anyone does in the bedroom. I am saying that I would not leave a husband alone in Paris very long."
"Well, what can I do about it? Naomi will never give me permission to go to Paris." Actually, I was more concerned about getting out of Germany than about what my husband might be doing.
"I'll see what I can do for you," said Bithia. "I have a direct contact with Hopie."
The next day, Bithia came excitedly into the nursery.
"I talked to Hopie last night," she exclaimed. "She's such an angel. It seems that they want to start a nursery in Paris, and they need workers, so she is going to send a letter to Naomi about you coming there."
"Oh, Bithia, you are wonderful!" I cried, giving her a hug.
"But, look, Jeshanah, you have to keep on top of this. I will be leaving in a few days, and I will do what I can from London. However, Hopie is a bit spacy, you know, and she might forget."
Bithia did leave in a few days, and she left the Family before our paths ever crossed again. Since I did not have any kind of communication with Hopie, there was little to do but pray. A couple of days later Naomi said that Hopie would be calling me on the phone that night, at eight o'clock sharp.
I waited by the phone anxiously. The call came in around nine-thirty.
"Hello. Is this Jeshanah?" piped a sweet, high voice on the other end of the line.
"Yes, this is me."
"Praise the Lord. It is wonderful to hear you, sweetie. Your husband is such a dear, and he talks of you all the time."
"Well, thank you. I hear so many wonderful things about you too."
"Well, it is only the Lord, sweetie. Anything good about us is only the Lord. Isn't He so loving?"
"Yes, praise the Lord!"
"Hallelujah! So, Bithia tells me you are great with kids. Bithia is a dear, you know, and so discerning. I trust her completely."
"I have been working with babies since Ellenville."
"Well, honey, we don't have a nursery set up here, you know. It is very primitive. The conditions are extremely crowded, and we have only one bathroom for everyone. Sometimes we have over a hundred people here, but we are trying to keep that down now."
"Oh, I could set up a nursery. That would not be a problem."
"Well, we can see about that later. But I want you to know, this is no place for a baby. You might have to sleep on the floor. And we all eat the same food. We don't have a special fridge for moms and babies here."
"Oh, that is fine. I will take care of the food. My son is strong and healthy." By now, I had been living by faith for so long, I believed the Lord would protect me from anything, especially if I was in the presence of Hopie. Mo's youngest daughter was like a role model for me. Youthful, energetic, and spontaneous, she often got in trouble with the more organizational-type leaders, but that just made her seem more saint-like in my eyes. Hopie was only a few years older than I; yet I knew she had already pioneered most of the European homes. Mo sent his singing daughter and a team of musicians into every country first, and after she made a few contacts with established nationals, setting up a base to start with, more of our disciples would stream into the country. I was proud to be part of her team.
"Well, praise the Lord, dear. It seems you have a lot of faith. Okay. I'm going to tell Naomi to send you over. Hallelujah! Does that make you happy, sweetie?"
"Oh, yes," I exclaimed, not knowing how much enthusiasm I should express to leave Essen, with Naomi standing right next to me. I decided to show my true feelings. "Hopie, I want to be there with you and the band and my husband. Bithia told me that the Spirit is really moving in Paris, and I want to be part of it and help in any way I can."
"Praise the Lord, honey, you will. Now give me Naomi and I will talk to her."
Naomi took the phone in her normal stern manner and motioned for me to leave. I walked away on a cloud and went back up to the dirty diapers, warm milk bottles, and crying babies. They were like heaven to me now.
It took about two weeks to arrange for me to leave, and to find a replacement for me in the nursery; then, carrying Thor, and all my possessions in two bags, I took the train to France. The leadership provided me with the necessary paperwork to make the journey.
Paris was another world for me. Not only did what was happening in Paris represent a turning point in COG history, but Paris was the prototype of things to come. Bithia and Hopie had been truthful about the conditions; they were primitive and physically difficult. We lived in what had been an actual stable, when horses were still used in Paris, in a part of the city called Port de Pantin. The stables had been converted quickly and shabbily to provide the basic necessities of living, such as running water and gas for cooking. There was a large all-purpose room where we ate and had our meetings and inspiration. In the back was a small kitchen, and there were a few rooms that had been hastily constructed in various corners so that some of the married couples could have privacy. Cal and I were given one of those rooms, which was large enough for a twin mattress and our suitcases on the side. The mattress covered most of the cement floor, so each morning I arranged our suitcases in such a way that Thor could crawl about without scraping his knees on the rough cement. Actually, he never crawled much; he started to walk at ten months. I have always wondered if it was due to his having had so little crawling space.
Upstairs was a communal bathroom with only a curtain hung up for privacy. Next door was the girls' dorm. The boys all slept downstairs in the main room. Leaders had two rooms built on the side of the girls' dorm. The population of the colony varied daily, as visiting leaders and disciples came and went; the permanent population was around fifty. A married couple who acted as "shepherds" for the home, and Hopie and her husband, Joab, the top leaders, lived somewhere else. Only the leaders in this colony had their wives with them, since the married musicians had left their wives back in London, or wherever they had last been. It was a miracle that they had allowed me to come.
Obviously, taking care of one's daily hygienic needs was a problem. Everyone was advised to use the bathrooms in cafes or restaurants whenever they were out litnessing. All showers were taken at the local public baths.
There was no regular schedule for eating. Breakfast usually consisted of oatmeal soaked in milk overnight, with raisins, nuts, or whatever dried fruit was available. Since this concoction, which we called muesli, was prepared the night before and put in the refrigerator, everyone ate whenever they were ready; however, the table was cleared by noon. I remember developing a tremendous liking for this cereal mixture, and although we ate muesli every morning, I never grew tired of it. Unlike in the Essen home, if people were hungry, they could ask the head cook for food. Since the head cook changed every few days, there was no one to blame if all the food ran out. However, as soon as we had a steady person in charge of the kitchen, free access to the refrigerator stopped. Almost everyone not in the band was supposed to be out on the streets selling literature or collecting donated food by noon. There was only one other mother besides myself, and we could arrange our own schedules. I had learned in Essen not to ask for anything, but to pray for it. So unless the other mother, who was only passing through, requested special privileges for us, I usually just followed along with the normal witnessers. All the band, musicians and singers, had a schedule of their own, led by Hopie and her husband, Joab, and I saw Cal only at night. Despite the harsh living conditions, I was euphoric about being in Paris. The city was a treasure to explore, and I had no leadership keeping tabs on me. After a few days, I understood that whatever one was lacking in physical necessities -- food, clothes, personal items -- could be bought from litnessing money. As long as I showed up for inspiration in the evening, I could do pretty much what I wanted. This schedule created chaos organizationally, but it was a haven for independent-minded disciples like myself. Of course, I didn't have any money with which to buy extra food, but I quickly solved that problem.
After learning how to ask for a donation in French, I began partnering with Elam, whom I had recognized as a good litnesser. Elam had been in Europe ever since Mo first allowed disciples who were not leaders to come over. He already spoke three languages, and with his dashing good looks, he concentrated his witnessing on women. I soon learned that in gay Paris, the relationship between men and women, even complete strangers, quickly takes on a romantic flavor. I watched Elam as he charmed a Parisian beauty, and within five minutes came back with ten francs. The French were typically rather snobby, unless one knew the power of charm. Luckily for me, Elam taught me this without saying a word; I picked it up intuitively, but I think living in Paris had something to do with it.