TRUE TALL TALES

When Mommie Dark was a young woman she lost her mate in an accident when she was six months pregnant with her second child; her first baby was just nine months old. Less than a year later she was regularly attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall in Tempe, Arizona after being stunned by a love-bomb lobbed at her slow grief by a well-meaning pioneer family.

Mommie's baby boys were adorable, funny, hyperactive little anklebiters who, with no malice whatever, were never able to conform to the rigid requirements of conduct expected of them as Witnesses. In a society of gray cheerless conformity, those boys were red flags of jagged individuality.

It began early. Ike was just five months old, and not thriving. He made a noise like a teakettle whistling when he slept; after the harrowing process of x-raying his chest--a procedure that includes Mom holding baby's arms above his head while he is put on a saddle and encased in a lucite tube from the waist up-- his diagnosis was laryngeal stridor. Translation: he makes noise when he breathes. Mommie explained this ad nauseum to curious 'friends' at the Hall for the first several weeks.

One day Ike fell asleep during the Watchtower study, and Mommie gratefully devoted herself to listening around just the one squirming baby while Ike breathed deeply, whistling, at her feet.

Suddenly, during an answer to a question, the brother reading the Watchtower stepped down from the platform and asked Mommie in a loud stage whisper to take Ike out of the room as he was a major distraction and the brother kept losing his place! She headed for the restroom and the brother stopped her, telling her that he could hear the sound through the walls, would she please take him outside if she couldn't make him quit squeaking.

Mommie moved back to her home state shortly thereafter, and associated with two congregations in Ohio, both of which used the assembly hall in Willoughby. If meetings were a footrace for Mommie, assemblies were the New York Marathon. Dragging cloth diapers (single mom on Welfare doesn't use disposables), bottles, blankets (the Willoughby building is an old movie theater, drafty and cold in February), and food (facing reproach for not using the food service, but too poor to buy the tickets) and carrying Ike in a backpack, Cas secured to Mommie with a stout belt--they ran the assembly marathons every February. Mommie only remembers the winter assemblies there: Willoughby is in the Lake Erie snow belt, and every assembly that she remembers included driving into a blizzard that lay across the road like a wet curtain, and the sight of cars slithering across bridges as their inept drivers braked in panic. After a long day trying to keep two wriggling, bored babies quiet, there would be the ninety-minute ride back through the white blanket, this time in evening rush hour traffic with a symphony of hungry, restive kidsounds for accompaniment.

Mommie's firstborn, Cas, was a cute brown-eyed charmer who made friends wherever he went. His insatiable curiosity and unusual energy led to many odd adventures. He made friends with a visiting wheelchair-bound brother one Sunday, and at the next assembly they spent the entire lunch hour careening up and down the sloping aisles in his electric wheelchair, Cas standing atop the power box behind the seat and screaming "WHEE! WHEE!" while the brother shouted, "Wheelchair coming through!" at the friends scrambling out of their way.

A very nice brother in Mommie's home congregation had lost an eye and wore a natty black patch. Cas admired that patch and one day when the brother was talking to him, Cas asked why he wore it. The brother picked him up and explained about his accident and asked Cas if he would like to see under the patch.

Mommie saw what was coming, clear as if it had already happened, and to her dismay found herself unable to move or speak a warning as he lifted the patch to reveal a puckered scarred hole where an eye should be. Cas said, "Ooh," and his little chubby finger shot out into the scar! The brother took a step backward, nearly dropping the equally-startled kid, and said, "Hey, kid, that's my brain!" Cas, confused, began to cry and the brother handed him to Mommie, laughing.

Every Kingdom Hall Mommie ever attended had the sort of theater seats that fold up when not in use. As every JW parent knows, babies stand up on the seats, causing the seat to fold up and the little feet to slip into the crack between seat and padded seat back. Mommie's hyperactive babies, with their limited attention spans and faulty memory processors, routinely forgot about the flip-up seats and regularly had to be rescued from foot torture, usually mid-meeting, always accompanied by a silent picture of disapproving faces.

One Sunday a kind young sister slid into an empty seat next to Mommie and offered to take Ike so Mommie could pay more attention to the meeting. She scooped Ike into her arms and bent to retrieve his blanket and bottle as Cas watched from his seat. As she stood to return to her family, Cas said, "Don't take my brother away." She didn't stop, and he shouted, "Bring my brother back! Don't take him away!" and as she moved away, his voice got louder and more desperate. He scrambled to his feet, still yelling, and his seat promptly folded up, trapping his feet. He let out a shriek and started to cry, noisily, still hollering for his brother. Defeated, the sister returned as Mommie scrambled to get his little feet loose. Together they took both babies to the bathroom, to the sound of a roomful of tittering and the speaker clearing his throat grumpily. Thereafter any sister offering to help with the boys would sit with Mommie so Cas would stay calm.

After a difficult start, Ike lost the solemnity of sickliness and and began to explore his surroundings vigorously and precociously, following Cas into one misadventure after another. At thirteen months he weighed just thirteen pounds, a tiny, grinning blond imp who scuttled, spiderlike, on palms and soles faster than most babies could toddle. His favorite retreat was beneath the bed, where he would laughingly evade all hands reaching to grab him.

On two different occasions baby Ike managed to sneak onto the stage during a meeting. At eight months, learning to creep, he quietly scooted away while Mommie, believing him asleep, earnestly took her written review in the Theocratic Ministry School. A young aspiring usher tapped Mommie on the shoulder and said, "Is this yours?" holding Ike at arm's length with a faint expression of disgust. While counting attendance the young fellow noticed Ike sitting onstage, trying to plug a microphone into a socket.

The second escape was a little more showy. He was about thirteen months old, and amazingly fast. He faked a convincing nap attack and settled in with a blanket on the floor. A few minutes later Mommie glanced down and saw his feet disappearing under the next row of seats. She tapped the sister sitting there and said, "Catch that baby!" Sister said, "What?" By that time Ike was two rows up. Sister tapped the sister in front of her, whispered. Sister said, "What?" Ike was still scuttling, dodging legs, bumping legs, going sideways once to avoid a sleeping infant. He emerged from beneath the front row and was snatched by a laughing elder, but only after he had evaded the hands long enough to get on the stage and grab the microphone plug.

The brother giving the lecture kept valiantly talking through the whole thing, stoically ignoring the rising frantic whispers and giggling erupting off to his left. Cas, delighted by the excitement and laughter, chortled merrily as Mommie, humiliated, blushed and bumbled her way out of the room with both kids in tow. Mommie gave Ike the requisite whacking with her wooden spoon, and later at the close of the Watchtower study the presiding elder made a gentle joke about the whole business, and everyone had a hearty laugh except the speaker, who frowned.

Shortly after that experience Mommie invested in a couple of toddler harnesses. Although many Witnesses made unkind remarks about putting kids on a leash, especially in regards to Ike, who still crawled, Mommie was determined to keep her children within her sight and reach at meetings and especially at assemblies.

Getting into mischief was the primary pastime for Mommie's babies, at meetings and at home. While Mommie tried to maintain the standards expected of her as a good JW mother, her children were tearing around and getting into nearly unbelievable scrapes.

One day while Mommie was busily cleaning her house she heard laughing coming from the bathroom. She dropped her dustrag and ran to find both babies soaking wet from the waist up and dripping all over the bathroom carpet. When she asked them what they were doing, Cas grinned and said, "Shampoo!" Mommie asked him how he was shampooing and he grinned again and dunked his head into the toilet!

One late summer day Mommie was working to put a bushel of peaches in the freezer for winter consumption. She gave the boys an empty peach box to play with and they settled in to play train. Ike sat in the perforated lid and let Cas push him all over the house. Mommie blanched and peeled and cut peaches to the sound of both boys laughing and Ike yelling, "Whee!" At length she heard a tremendous crash and ran, dripping juice, to investigate.

Ike still sat in the overturned box, covered with potting soil, broken plants, Cheerios, and shards of broken glass. A trail of soil and cereal was left in the wake of the train's last run, and Mommie's carnival glass candy dish lay in shards among the wreckage. Playing train wasn't quite realistic enough without cargo, so Cas had loaded the train with plants and the candy dish, and the Cheerios were an innocent snack gone wrong in the general fun. Mommie spent an hour cleaning up the mess, and both boys spent the rest of peach day squirming in high chairs, protesting and yelling.

One day, for reasons known only to his little mind, Cas decided to open the electric oven door and take a long healthy pee in the oven! Mommie was utterly flabbergasted. She gave in to her JW training and beat the little offender with a paddle until his butt was rosy, then spent an hour scrubbing the oven.

A few days later Mommie was chatting with the pioneer who came to study with her on Tuesdays, and she related the incredible bit of behavior. The pioneer sister laughed out loud and the two sat shaking their heads at this latest exploit when Mommie heard the sound of the oven door opening. Making a dash, she arrived just in time to see Cas peeing in the oven again! He overheard the women talking and decided to repeat his performance.