AND THE DATE SHALL BE ENCIRCLED IN RED. 10-10-11
Jim and Janet Hardy were practicing Christians but they stayed flexible. They liked the Pentecostals best because their services let them participate more. They enjoyed all the jumping around and the exhortations and the rolling on the floor and the laying on of hands and would have joined in using tongues, only, to their vast disappointment, the spirit had never entered them strongly enough though they would have certainly done it anyway if they could have got the hang of doing it well enough to avoid sounding phony. It all adds up.
If they ever heard tell of a more exuberant church than the one that they were attending they would go and check it out even if it was much further away from their home. They liked to go home on Sundays, after the service, knowing that they had really
given Satan a hard time.
Their first son was born just one year after they were married and he got to be ten before his sister came along. They thought that with that kind of spacing they could ignore all forms of birth control, including the Christian-accepted rhythm method, and safely leave it to the Lord to decide how many children they would have overall. Three months after giving birth to her daughter Janet found that she was pregnant again.
At that time they were members of a church that took them more than two hours to drive to and as she got heavier and heavier with their third child she was so uncomfortable during the journey – the fact that their second baby was very demanding didn’t help and neither did knowing that every mile they went had to be retraced later – they decided that this would be a good time to start having a ‘meeting’ in their own house as they had long wanted to do. They weren’t conceited enough nor bold enough to hold it on Sundays but they figured that if they had a rousingly good service on Friday evening at home then they would be satisfied with a mediocre one at a nearby church on the following Sunday.
They invited some friends to come and join them and although none of it went smoothly that first time they were all encouraged enough to try again the following week.
Jim bought some how-to booklets and the second meeting went much better. Also, they had found another family who wanted to come and they brought a guitar and a tambourine with them, which helped the hymns along no end.
By the time her baby was born, it was another boy, they had to set some limits on attendance because their living\dining room was only big enough for about 20 people and then only when all the children were sent to other rooms with teen-aged minders.
Jim got better and better at leading them in prayer and at Bible reading and as everybody got to have all of their favorite hymns sung with satisfying intensity every week, no matter how late it got, and as there were almost unlimited chances to offer “Amen’s” and “Halleluiah’s” and “Praise the Lord’s” – there wasn’t enough room to fling themselves about the place – the meetings pleased everyone immensely and Fridays at the Hardy’s became a fixture in all of their lives and was looked forward to with fervor.
So much so, in fact, that in time the Friday meeting became only the lead into a Saturday get together and then, a little later, they found themselves all going to the same church on Sundays and then sometimes on to a Festival or some other Christian function.
Gradually, having Jim as only their spiritual leader didn’t seem to be enough for the ‘congregation’ and they started praising him to excess and to defer to him somewhat alarmingly. They wanted to do things for him and they showed up earlier and earlier before each meeting to have time to do them.
Some of them would clean and polish his cars, inside and out, and would do it meticulously, spending as much as 2 hours on each car. Others would clean and vacuum the house and do laundry and cook various dishes that were frozen so that Janet could use them in the week ahead and still others would do all the chores in the garden and the front lawn.
Every time that someone walked pass someone else or merely caught someone’s eye, “Praise the Lord,” would ring out and it would be repeated by everyone in hearing which, by relay, meant everyone inside and outside the house. When that happened for the first time all of their neighbors would hasten to close their windows to avoid frightening their children and pets unduly.
There was even talk of fixing up the attic and the basement and the garage so that some of them could move in and live close to their preacher permanently.
Janet was especially grateful for the housework and the cooking they did because her daughter was proving to be a very difficult child to bring up. She’d cried almost nonstop
as a baby and her first word was also her favorite one – “No.” She would scream until she turned purple if she was thwarted in the smallest way and soon no other child would play with her and her own siblings had to be ordered to include her in and then constantly checked to be sure that they hadn’t ‘escaped.’
Just before their eldest son’s 16th birthday a Jewish family moved in a few doors up the road and he, Josh, became infatuated with their 14 year-old daughter. Soon they got to be close to inseparable although that didn’t concern his parents overmuch because they thought that they knew their son well.
Josh spent a lot of time in the girls’ house and regularly ate dinner with her family and had to be called home at around 8 o’clock so that Jim and Janet could be sure that he had done his homework and could do the various chores that were assigned to him.
The girl’s parents were very liberal. So liberal in fact that they allowed their eldest daughter, who was just 17, to have her boyfriend sleep over, in her room, as often as she
wanted. The mother of the girls was a herbalist and she grew many herbs, and the like, in her garden and also she ran, at home, a Natural Child Birth Clinic. During her lectures she showed films of actual births on a 16mm projector and, unbeknownst to his parents, Josh was allowed to watch them if he was around.
One day, Janet needed advice from Josh about something that he’d asked her to prepare for him to take to school the next day and so she went looking for him. She called out loudly for him outside the house but she got no response so she rang the bell and asked the young boy who answered if Josh was there. “Probably upstairs with Janine again,” he told her and he readily agreed to show her where her room was. Janet was instantly suspicious though guiltily so because she trusted her son.
She went upstairs and opened the girl’s door and found the two of them naked on the bed doing something that she never could bring herself to describe to anybody ever, not even to Jim. Indeed, she really didn’t believe that what she’d seen them doing could actually be done by anyone!
Josh was taken home and was talked at constantly for several days straight it seemed to him. He was categorically banned from seeing the girl ever again and he was “grounded for life.” He had to go from his house to school and then from school to the house and was to forget about ever going out at other times except with one of his parents.
So they now had a 16 year old sex-fiend, as they thought of him, for a son who couldn’t be trusted outside the home without his mother and a 6 year old daughter who was nearly impossible to live with and who regularly walked away from home and was returned, via the Police Station, from unthinkably long distances away, and another son, 5 years old and hyper active from morning to night, who they now felt that they’d have to keep an eye on at all times and double their efforts to knock Christian values into, and in the meantime God had blessed them with yet another baby, a daughter, who cried easily as much as her sister had done when she was the same age!
Janet decided to take the decision about having more children out of God’s hands and into her own but she had to fight long and hard before Jim would even consider such a
thing. The Bible clearly told them to go forth and multiply and Jim fervently didn’t want to go against ‘The Word’ seeing that he was promulgating it as being infallible every weekend and was forced to spout the dogma even though he wasn’t all that keen on the literal acceptance of everything that was in The Book. However, he blanched at the now likely prospect of having another baby every year that would probably resemble its siblings who were already driving them all to distraction.
Janet said that they had already gone forth and multiplied hadn’t they but she knew that that rang hollow somehow and neither of them quite bought that argument.
Still, even so, she remained adamant about not bringing any more of his babies into the world and she suggested that they should see if chastity was the answer and he agreed to try it but, because there was no place else in the house he could sleep except next to her, one week was all it took before they both agreed that they’d have to find another way. They agreed, without discussion, that the rhythm method was not for them because they both well knew that, in their case, they had to have 100% reliability. Minimum!
They also agreed, again without discussion, that a diaphragm and, especially, condoms were far too blatantly and obviously ‘in your face’ and had to be ruled out.
That left the Pill. She explained how they worked and promised him that once on them she’d keep everything to do with them, especially the swallowing of them, out of his sight and that swung the argument for her in that at least he could pretend that they were doing nothing to thwart God’s will. Hypocritical? Yes, he admitted that it was of course, but, given their desperate situation, what other way was there?
He had to solve many difficult problems at work every day but when he compared that with what he had to deal with at home then having to go to work, which he tended to do earlier and earlier every morning, was like going on vacation.
Janet had given up all thought of returning to work – all of the baby-sitters that she hired refused to do it more than once and her own mother had limited her visits to once a week, for about one hour, and so asking her to baby sit for her everyday was a non-starter – and because of the considerable expense of raising four children on Jim’s salary alone they were barely able to pay their way.
To cut down on expenses Jim installed a large modern wood burning stove in their living room that would heat the whole house nicely if all the bedroom doors
were left open at night.
Wood was inexpensive in their part of the State and was actually free from various places if you didn’t mind that it was not cut or split and that you had to transport it yourself.
However, his many ‘followers’ understood his predicament so they got into the spirit of the thing and they collected enormous numbers of up to 10 feet long tree trunks and they sawed some of them into suitable lengths for splitting by the hydraulic rig that Jim rented when needed.
Who knows how far his ‘cult’ might have expanded, given time, if three unfortunate occurrences had been avoided:
When Jim was bringing home the log splitting rig one day he got distracted by seeing one of his children hit another one about the head, with a 4′ long piece of two by four, when he was backing in and he ripped out several shingles and badly scraped more of them on the siding on his house and completely crushed one of his rain spouts and also, of course, he damaged his van. There was no way he could afford to repair any of that so he had to live with it.
Then, three months later, a strong wind blew over a half of a split-trunked maple tree in his garden and it fell onto the roof on the other side of his house from where he’d done the damage with the van. It had to be removed but, again, he couldn’t afford to pay a professional to come and take care of it but that night, as he tossed and turned with worry, an idea came to him that would solve both problems.
On the following Friday he asked some of his ‘congregation’ to help him and he directed them in rigging a block and tackle to another tree that was conveniently situated and then they all pulled or lifted or pushed until they succeeded in moving the fallen tree branch, still tenuously attached to the main part of the tree at its bottom, over the peak of the roof and down the other side and onto the driveway. They all thought that he wanted the branch on that side so that it could be cut up for firewood but were mystified, at first, when he told them that, although it was taking up two parking spaces, he didn’t want them to get the chain saws out and that they were to leave it where it was.
It didn’t take one of them long to equate the uninsured damage to the siding, and to the van, with the moving of the branch – fallen by an ‘Act of God’ and thus covered by household insurance – over to that side and when he told the others they were all shocked and dismayed.
There was no more talk of anyone wanting to move into the basement or the attic or the garage.
The third incident, which was the final straw as far as all of his followers were concerned, came about when a woman, who had stayed the night because of car trouble, inadvertently observed Janet swallowing a pill that she had just taken out of a distinctive round dispenser that could be only one thing.
The ‘Hardy Cult’ ended as soon as the overnight guest got home and spread her dreadful news.
Two years have now gone by and the Hardy’s worst fears have all been realized. The youngest one, if it’s possible to believe, behaves even worse than her sister ever did. The youngest son is totally defiant at all times and has to be watched by someone – we know who that is – constantly, however, no one can be there all of the time and consequently the local Police have opened a file on him. Broken windows and damaged plants and hurt pets have cost them a small fortune.
The oldest daughter is still friendless and impossible and, seeing that she’s been forbidden to go out to the street, is given to sitting on a swing at the far end of the garden – much of the time from having been told to get out of the house and from underfoot – and for no discernable reason she calls, “Mommy,” loudly, over and over while swinging.
The oldest son is still ‘grounded’ and is growing distinctly odd because of it. His
school friends won’t come to his home and he is not allowed to go to theirs nor to the movies and especially not to ‘hang’ with them.
The neighbors all around have put up high fences to cut down on the vandalism and on the graffiti writing. Who the authors of the graffiti are is obvious because it is always the same designs that are used and Jim and Janet are by now experts at paint matching, to cover it up, and they keep paint and brushes at the ready and can get on the move a few minutes after the dropping of a dime.
They never get invitations to the annual block party and if one of the children shows up an escort is assigned to him or her until that child gets the message and goes home.
A large part of their garden and a half of their driveway is filled with large tree trunks that are too numerous and too huge, and collectively too daunting, for him to even think
about doing something with them or even to move them somewhere.
Their washing and drying machines have been burned out for a long time so she has to wash their clothes by hand at night when, finally, the last child has collapsed into sleep and she hangs them out at night and hastily takes them down, dry or not, before the kids get up the next morning and get the chance to make them the center of one of their destructive games.
Most of their dinners are ‘ordered in’ because Janet cannot possibly find time to cook full meals for the six of them and their whole house is dirty and badly cluttered for the same reason.
Also, she positively has to be home before any of them get back from school.
All of their neighbors are careful to leave nothing loose on their balconies or in their gardens from long experience and especially since one of them barely saved her house from being burnt to the ground after ‘someone’ put a cushion from a lounge chair on top of an insect repelling candle left burning on the balcony.
If someone anywhere near their house does any painting of fences or balconies or any cementing at all that someone has to guard it until it’s dry or else, because it attracts the Hardy children like a magnet, it will be smeared and scribbled on and totally messed up.
Both Jim and Janet are 50 pounds overweight and look 10 years older than they really are.
Because no one will babysit for them, least of all their relatives, they haven’t been out, not even to a movie, for years.
At one time they wanted to move to be nearer to her parents in the country but they begged them to stay where they were and they backed that up with hints about “calling in” various loans to add strength to their pleas.
The schools refuse to take any of her children on any road trips or outings so when one of those comes up she has to collect them from school and bring them home.
They still go to church every week but only one of the kids can go inside at any one time and always with one of the parents. The others have to stay outside where the other parent rides herd.
Whenever any of her brood asks for a pet, any kind of pet, Janet bursts into hysterical laughter. If they persist she says they can have their pick of a mountain lion or a bunch of tarantulas or a nest of vipers.
They are probably the only family in the Tri-State area in which every member becomes apprehensive as the date that is circled in red on the monthly calendar that hangs in the kitchen approaches. The younger children don’t know what it signifies but the dread in the air is palpable to all.
The only prayer that we hear coming from her house nowadays is a heartfelt paraphrase of Mark 15:34 – “Why me, Oh Lord, why me?”