Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 4 of 4)

Once I was baptized, Idell did not abandon me just because our Bible Study was over. She remained my friend and helped me through all the hurdles to come.

Witnesses do not celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. And I had previously been a big celebrator. I even had a Christmas wedding and always insisted on making all of my Xmas gifts for others myself. This required that I start on those projects by August to have everything complete by mid-December. I had loved Christmas so much that Bill and I held an open house every Christmas Eve for everyone we knew. It took me days to prepare for and often lasted all night and into the next morning. For Bill’s sake, I continued to do this.

The other thing Witnesses do – much to public horror – is go door to door in the ministry work. It is what we are known for. And hated for. And made fun of for. And I did NOT want to do this one bit. Nada, nada, nada.Alligator

Never mind that I myself had become a Witness due to Idell being faithful in this door to door work… I wanted no part of it.

But I was shamed into it for the very same reason. Yes, many will reject us at their doors… but there are also those out there like me who would respond if given the right chance. And that means eternal life – no small thing. So how can you not do it?

Well, I could still certainly not do it – happily – but Idell decided to train me. She would pick me up and we would go “work” a couple streets. This is what we call “going in service.” And I hated every minute of it.

The two of us would be walking up a sidewalk to a front door and I would be looking at the ground with dread. “I’m gonna throw up,” I would say.

Idell would completely ignore me.

Knock… knock came the sound as Idell firmly announced her arrival at the door.

“Please don’t answer,” I would think loudly. “Please, don’t be home!”

Sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t. Never phased Idell a bit. If no one was home we pushed forward. If they were, she would meet their every objection with a kind answer and leave them with a scripture to consider. I was amazed at her prowess in doing this. I was also floored at her consistency in service.

I knew Idell for 40 years. As Witnesses, we turn in our service time to the congregation elders for a record each month. In those 40 years, I’m willing to speculate that Idell never had an inactive month in her life. And I’m sure her active record goes back to when she was a child.

Here’s the thing… I am a “spiritual child” of Idell. But I am not the only one. She had her own three biological children… Jim, Lisa and Laura. And she birthed many a spiritual child in the years after that. I don’t think we could even count how many. I just know she became my real mother 40 years ago and my life – and my children’s lives – have never been the same.

Now I need to digress once more.

When I first met Idell, her youngest child, Laura, was still at home but engaged to be married. Soon Laura was off on her own and I asked Idell how it was to have an empty nest.

“When you have such a joyful child as Laura,” she replied, “the house becomes very quiet. In fact, it is like 10 clowns died and left you alone.” I was touched by this sentiment but immediately my own babes started to howl and I came back to my own reality. Once again, I understood what Idell had just said but I couldn’t really relate. I was too absorbed in my own life but I really grew to love Idell as a mother.

I also became fast friends with Laura. I would ask her the things I was afraid to say to Idell and she would always answer me truthfully. Taking my toddlers and newborn infant to the Kingdom Hall was a challenge. Witnesses don’t stash their kids in a nursery – they are trained from infancy to be a respectful part of the congregation. Laura told me that as a child she would sit beside her mother, Idell, and play with her long, thin fingers. Idell would allow this for just so long until Laura was told to turn her attention back to finding the mentioned scriptures in her own bible and follow along. Like I said, Idell never wavered… even when it came to her own children.

Because of Idell, I found my spiritual home and family. With her help I was able to raise 3 children “in the truth” – which is what we call our faith among ourselves. And so far, I’ve only talked about our spiritual connections, but there was so much more…

And you know what? Now that I’m older I am much like my Aunt Vera. I’m afraid of running out of toilet paper so I stock up. And my hair sometimes takes on a strange shade much like my Aunt Doots. It’s just the way things go, I guess.

Meanwhile, Idell was always a style maven. She was a master interior decorator and extremely accomplished seamstress. She had always sewn beautiful clothing and home accessories. Idell had exquisite taste and educated herself about decorating and fabrics and style. Oh the things she taught me!

I had a natural bent towards the arts but I wasn’t very educated. Idell took me under her wing and opened the world to me. Polyester was all the rage back in the seventies, but Idell would have nothing to do with it. She took me to the fabric store and showed me the difference between real cotton, real linen and even silk. She had me run wool fabrics between my hands to get the feel of them. She showed me how to make Roman Shades before anyone else even knew what they were. I made them for every room in my house and my friends and family were amazed.

One time I was looking at clothing patterns with Idell. She was very fond of Vogue – the most stylish but also the most difficult – and she pointed out to me that women began to lose their figures when A-line dresses were current. She much preferred fitted skirts and belted pants that remind a woman when they are getting a bit tight in the waist. Those A-line garments could hide a lot of sins and that didn’t keep a woman accountable. I remember thinking this theory was a bit “out there” but looking back, I think she was brilliant to point it out. Just the sort of inside knowledge a smart mama passes on to her daughter!

Idell taught me that perennials are the basis of any garden. Get those established and your gardening will be a breeze. She helped me pick out trees that would grow in my back yard as a foundation planting.

When it came to food, Idell was a magician. She despised artificial foods and encouraged me to buy fresh fruits and vegetables – even though I didn’t know what many of them were. She took me to the co-op and introduced me to whole wheat products, raw cheeses, yogurt and more. One time I came home with a bunch of packaged goods and laid them out on the counter. My husband came in, took a look around and said, “What the h*ll are WW Elbows?” Of course that is a whole wheat pasta in traditional elbow shape, but when I relayed that comment to Idell later, she laughed so hard she couldn’t speak. And every time it came up afterwards, we laughed again.

As the years went by, Idell and her husband moved to Florida. I was a bit crushed when she left, but in true Idell style, she had me down to visit. She found out I was depressed and immediately had me book a flight to come and stay with her. This was a rare treat for me and it was very therapeutic. She took me to fabric stores, antique stores, the kingdom hall, out in service and we even went to Ybor City and had wine with lunch! I was so refreshed when I went back home I was almost a different person.

Idell just had a way of opening the whole world to you because she could read you like a book and give advice like the most skilled therapist in the world. She was so interested in people that she had tons of friends. And if you were around, she would say, “Oh, you must meet so-and-so!” And she would make a couple calls and get you together. Soon you were talking intimately with someone you could connect with because you were on the same wavelength. Idell was a “friend-matchmaker” because she not only cared… she did something about it.

Later, when some hard times came in my life, the phone would ring and it would be Idell on the other end. She was comforting and spiritual in the kindest way. And I always felt like I could trust every word she said. This was the woman who had taught me the most important things in my life and now she was reinforcing them. She acknowledged my hard times – without ever mentioning her own – and kicked me in the butt to keep going.

Idell’s devotion to Jehovah and bible principles were non-negotiable. She was what I would call a War Horse – someone who always went forward with conviction, tempered with empathy, but never wavering from the mission at hand. It wasn’t that she was fearless (although she was in many ways) – it was that she did her best to be obedient.

When I visited her in Florida a couple times she drove us everywhere. She knew the kitschiest restaurants, the best shops for everything and no matter how many hours a day we entertained ourselves, when it was meeting time, we went. This often involved her having to cross Dale Mabry Highway at the busiest times. It was a bit scary to me and she noticed. We sat there with headlights careening everywhere and she said, “Don’t worry. They come down this road like bats out of glory, but we’ll make it.” And we did. And I stole that phrase from her… “bats out of glory!” And I get a laugh almost every time I say it!

How do you thank an incomparable friend like that?

You can’t. You simply have to emulate them and be a friend like that to others in your own life. And Idell has left a rich legacy to live up to.

I recognize that Idell’s close family who had to live with her these past few years while her health deteriorated had some challenges to face. I can see the best of Idell because that’s all I ever had to deal with. But we are all annoying to someone and I’m sure even Idell tested the patience of some of her loved ones. But they stood the test until the very end and she was loved for the dear, faithful, generous person she was.

Idell was my true mother. My heart aches for her recent passing. And all I can do is take comfort in what she taught me…

Revelation 21:3, 4 talks about a time in the future when we will all be reunited on this earth. It is my favorite scripture I learned from Idell…

With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”

Idell will be back. Her family will welcome her and then her other children, including me, will get to kiss her with tears of joy, knowing that pain and death will be no more.

Thank you, Idell, my dear mother, for making my life worth living. I love you always.

Idell Boice ~ 9.3.1925 to 6.29.2015

Idell drawing 2a

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 3 of 4)

As young people are wont to do, after a couple years in college, I got a serious boyfriend. However, I did not meet him in pursuit of my studies… I had known him from high school.

Bill and I fell head over heels in love. We were having so much fun that I didn’t know what to do with myself. And I was totally able to ignore what different people we really were. So if you hear that term, “Love is Blind” – you should definitely believe it… because it is.

I had taken every course available at the OU-Lancaster campus and had to transfer to the main campus in Athens. That meant I had to commute 45 minutes each way for classes, which cut into my work hours dramatically. Bill and I had gotten married but I was draining our resources. I worked less, was gone more and needed to do homework when Bill would have rather had us going out with friends. This became a great source of stress for us both.

Finally, in the middle of my junior year of college, I decided to take a break. That way I could work full time, replenish the coffers and not feel so guilty when I went back to school. Bill and I were both happy with this turn of events.

Until…

I became pregnant.

I thought, “oh well, I won’t be the first female student to complete her degree with a baby in tow.” So I sailed along with no worries in the world. I fully intended to go back to school and thought Bill was on board with that.

But our baby – which arrived in June 1973 – was not just A baby…

It was TWINS.

And we fell madly in love with our two new sons. But taking care of them left no time or money for anything else. However, we didn’t care. Those boys were our life and we had a blast enjoying them. I put all thoughts of school out of my mind.

After a year or so I figured if I wanted a girl baby I should just go for it and be done with generating a family. Bill was happy with the way things were, but soon I was pregnant again. I loved my life at home with my babies and just prayed that our new baby would be a girl.

About this time, I was visiting with a friend I had known since high school. D had a son the same age as my boys and we would occasionally get together during the day. We would tend our babies and talk about all manner of things. And to my surprise, D posed the question to me, “do you know anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

I did not.

“I’ve heard that if you tell them you’re Catholic they’ll go away,” I replied.

D laughed and told me that wasn’t true. She then proceeded to tell me she was having a “bible study” with one of her relatives that was a Witness but she wanted to quit and didn’t know how to tell her.

“Oh, just leave that to me,” I replied. “When is your next study?”

D filled me in and I told her that I was pretty much a bible expert from my growing-up years and I would be glad to come to her next study and sit in. And then I would tell them for her that they needed to leave her alone. D was thrilled.

The following week I packed up my babies and went to D’s house. D and I got our little ones situated to play together while her Witness aunt and a friend gathered around the table nearby. We all got out our bibles and began to converse. I don’t remember too much of the conversation except that I was very bossy and gave my “interpretations” of every scripture that came up as I understood it. We spent a couple hours doing this and I finally made the point that D did not want to “study” any more. The Witness ladies seemed to understand.

I was pleased that I had “done my job” and began to pack up my boys to go home. D’s Aunt Carol focused on talking to her while the other lady, Idell, turned her attention to me. “Where do you live?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, I know right where that is,” she said. And I didn’t think any more about it.

But the very next week a knock came at my door and there was Idell.JWs

We chatted briefly and she left. But a week later she was back. And the week after that and the week after that.

Sometimes I would not answer the door because I didn’t want to talk. I not only had twin babies, I was pregnant again and didn’t feel too energetic all the time. I mentioned this to Idell thinking she would lose interest in me. That was not the case.

The fascinating thing was, Idell would make good conversation and always steer it toward spiritual things. She would ask me intriguing questions that I wanted to know about – and then direct me to a scripture that had the answer. After she left I would go get out my own bible and try to make sense of it. This lead to me having more questions when she came back.

Eventually Idell asked me if I wanted to have a free “bible study.” I was tempted, but refused. I loved talking to her but I knew my husband would not be pleased. And if it wasn’t something we could do together, it would probably come between us and I didn’t want that. Idell had me look up 1 Peter 3:1,2 –  In the same way, you wives, be in subjection to your husbands, so that if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.

And so our study began.

At the time we had this small blue book called The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (the Truth Book) and I insisted on using my King James Bible in addition to the “New World Translation” she brought me. I didn’t want to be tricked into anything and I still considered myself very educated on the bible. After all, I had spent years in church and Sunday school – what could I not know by now?

A LOT, as it turns out. (And now I need to give you an ALERT since I am going to make a couple non-PC biblical points here…)

I think the very first thing I learned was that God has a name. And it isn’t Jesus.

I had always had trouble making sense of that Trinity business and Idell went over it with me until I finally understood it. God’s name is Jehovah (Psalm 83:18) and when you put it in perspective, it made perfect sense. Humans have a name – we don’t call each other “man” or “woman” or “boy” or “girl.” We have names, just as our almighty God does. And until we know and recognize that name we can never draw close to him on a personal basis. How do you get to know someone if you don’t even know their name? Simple answer… you don’t.

I think this was one of the most important things I ever learned in my life and it was so elementary… so basic. How do we not all know that?

Then Idell taught me about the Paradise Earth. Which boils down to this… all of us have the desire to live on this beautiful planet forever. It is our home and God created it to be that way. Now there are a few who have a heavenly hope – to be with Jehovah and Jesus in heaven as part of the coming government that will rule mankind – but for the majority of us, we want to stay right here and live forever just like Adam and Eve could have if they hadn’t screwed up. That’s what Jesus and his ransom sacrifice was all about – making sure that Jehovah’s original purpose for the earth still got carried out.

On a sidenote, I need to say that over the years, all of my questions got answered. One Tuesday evening I was sitting in our weekly Bible Study in a private home and the subject of “recognizing Jesus” for who he was came up. I immediately flashed back to that time a few years before when I was laying on my bed, reading an English assignment, and wondering about that very question. And then it dawned on me… my answer was YES. I would have recognized Jesus because the same work that went on in the first century is going on today. Jesus was the center of it then just like he is now. And I recognized him and responded in kind. I lowered my head, smiled to myself, and thanked Jehovah for sending me Idell.

Another sidenote… My new baby WAS a girl and I was ecstatic. For a baby gift, Idell brought me the oversized two-volume encyclopeadic set called “Insight on the Scriptures.” I can’t tell you how I poured over those volumes in the coming years as I continued my spiritual education.

And that was just the beginning. Within a year of studying the Bible with Idell, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and got baptized. But Idell knew I would continue to have problems. Yes, I loved and was committed to my spiritual decision, but all of my family was not. My former church community was not. And things did not go along smoothly…

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 2 of 4)

So as I said, my dear friend Idell passed away a couple days ago and I can feel the loss in my heart.

It didn’t matter that she was almost 90 years old… she was timeless to me and such a long-standing rock in my life that I had the feeling she would always be there. And really, she will be. Just not physically in this world as I was used to.

And at least I now recognize that older people aren’t just on the sidelines of life. They have a rich history to share and we need to treasure them. And if they have a few strange aberrations, wouldn’t it be fun to find out why? I wish I had had this perspective when I was a stupid kid making fun of an old aunt for the color of her hair.

Now, thanks to Idell, I am a better person. But to tell that story I need to back up just a bit…

This blog has always been about adventure and family and sketches from my daily life. I record my stories here and people seem to enjoy reading them. And generally I adhere to the usual rules… stay away from religion, politics and inflammatory subjects. That’s the safest thing to do.

But today, I am breaking that rule because my connection with Idell had a lot to do with religion. A faith that for us, is a way of life.

And to understand that better I have to go back to my childhood… because that’s where it really started for me…

I remember being in fourth grade and liking to go to church. Why? I don’t really know. But there was a church just a few blocks from our house and I would walk there by myself to go to Sunday School. I made friends. I memorized scriptures. I even won a cross necklace in the Bible subjects competition. I wore it everywhere.

Looking back I know it was a mixture of two things…

I liked the spiritual education. And I liked the attention I got for attending on my own. I’m pretty sure I milked it for all I was worth.

Eventually my whole family started attending this church and I was more involved than ever. I was in the choir… I joined the youth groups… I volunteered in the nursery and at summer Bible camp, as a teacher’s aide, when I was old enough.

Then my family began to disintegrate. My mother was ill and she and my dad weren’t getting along. I dealt with this by reading my bible in bed at night before going to sleep. I loved the Psalms and Proverbs and would underline my favorites with a red pencil until pretty much those whole books had red notations.

This lent me a lot of spiritual support but my family still fell apart. It was a painful transition when my mother left and my brother and sister and I remained in the custody of our dad. And I can’t tell you how unusual this was in 1968!

Dad moved us to a different town where we all made new friends. I found a new church but never completely connected. And a few things happened that were disappointing to me and I began to lose interest. I just figured I was growing up and getting a new perspective on life.

I graduated from Lancaster Ohio High School in June 1969 at age 17 (almost the youngest in my class!)

I was also eagerly anticipating going to the local branch of Ohio University in the fall to study Fine Art. I was envious of my high school friends who went off to colleges all over the country, but I needed to work and pay my own way, which meant I had to stay home. But it was still exciting because I would finally get to study art in a serious way. And my ambition to be an artist went waayyy back…

When I was in the second grade – probably about 1957 – our grade school class (Chillicothe Ohio) – took a field trip to a local historic home called Adena. We all got to tour the beautiful mansion, then go to the gift shop to buy rock candy on a stick, and then adjourn to the spacious lawn out front.

ginkgoThe teacher sat us in the shade of one of the Ginkgo trees and had us examine a leaf of that tree. It was so distinctive that I remember its unique shape to this day.

Then the teacher passed out large sheets of drawing paper and asked us to make a rendition of the front view of the Adena Mansion. I was thrilled to do this and dug in with gusto, rock candy on a stick shoved comfortably into the left side of my mouth.

I drew and drew. The mansion took shape on my paper and it was time to add color. I wasn’t familiar with watercolor but was able to make a few light washes with what I had. And then I had a brilliant idea… I would do the bushes in the front of the house by dabbing them on with a sponge dipped in green paint.

Now I have no idea how I thought of that at that age, but it was a tremendous success. When the teacher came by, she gasped out loud at my effort and asked if anyone had helped me.

“Of course not!” I replied. “Who could help me here?”

The teacher looked down at me and patted my shoulder.

Later, my drawing was hung in the hallway outside my classroom and I was forever known in school as “the artist.” I loved it.

So years later, here I was, pretty much grown up, and my two main interests in life were anything connected to art… and spiritual things that I would read in my Bible at bedtime.

For the first time in my life I was getting REAL art lessons – as a student at OU-Lancaster and I would occasionally wonder how I could know more about God. At one point I was reading an assigned story in English literature that talked about the early Christians. I was propped up on a pillow in my bed and I laid the book down on my chest and closed my eyes. I wondered to myself… had I lived in the first century and been exposed to Jesus during his ministry, would I have recognized him for who he was? Or would I have been like the majority of people who thought he was some sort of oddball stirring up trouble. This question weighed heavy on me and stayed in my mind.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church and knew a lot about that history, but all my cousins were Catholic. They seemed to have more rituals and things like beautiful rosaries that you could hold in your hand. Should I go that direction to find a closer relationship with God? I wasn’t sure. How could you ever know what was the right thing to do?

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 1 of 4)

I am going to recount a relationship I had with a very dear friend and I am feeling quite reflective about life.

First, I am observing that life occurs in a cycle for all of us. When I was young it seemed that life was always expanding. I got married… my friends got married… we moved around town (boy did we move!) and everyone helped each other.

Then the babies started coming. Our families grew and grew.

At the same time, some of our older relatives started dying off. But since we were so young, they seemed very far removed from our own daily lives. Yes, my Aunt Doots had the oddest shade of black (almost purple) hair… and yes, Aunt Vera seemed to collect toilet paper for a living… but we were babes and none of this behavior related to us. We went to their memorials as a courtesy and never understood those aunts as real-life human beings who had gone through a very long life on the same path we were currently on.

I find it odd now that the thing I recall most about Doots was her hair color. Something us kids laughed about. I never spent time talking to her to find out anything personal about her. I never knew why she was single but had a daughter. I didn’t know if she liked cats or dogs or green beans or corn. I only know that at family reunions, she and her sisters would laugh a lot and they all doted on my dad. And she had that crazy purple-black hair.

I was two generations younger than Doots and focused on my own life and ones closer to my age. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was just that it was more interesting to be young and starting a family and wondering who was marrying who. The old folks were around but just didn’t seem very relevant.

Which shows how ignorant and wrong we were.

Now it is 40-some years later and my perspective on life has changed. It is part of the inevitable journey.

My kids are currently in the age 40 range. I am 63. And now my life is not so much expanding as shrinking.

Those folks who seemed “so much older” than me in the past are expiring now. And I hate it. I hate it with a passion. But I also realize that this is life as we all know it and it goes forward on a continuum. It happens to all of us and there is no way around it.

We go from young and arrogant… to middle-aged and settled (or fretful)… to older and suffering loss more often than we would like.

And lately, this has been my plight. In the past 5 months I have lost 4 people who were, in one way or another, extremely important in my life. There were 2 additional deaths of people I knew less well. Still… 6 people in 5 months… I’m feeling a bit battered by it. Plus I had my own health scare recently and spent several days in the hospital. All of this is quite sobering to say the least.

The latest loss was a VERY special friend. One of those friends you only get to have one or two of in a lifetime. If you’re fortunate.

Her name was Idell.

I met her 40 years ago.

She changed my life forever.

She was my true mother even though we were not biologically related.

And I want to tell you my story with this amazing woman…

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