Posted by on Jan 22, 2013 in Blog, Life Stories | 4 comments

Shortly after my father began studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1971, my family’s life changed radically. Within the span of a single year we completely immersed ourselves in local congregation activities. Dad sold our rural house and moved us into town to be closer to the Kingdom Hall. We started attending all of the meetings and participating in field service.

Convinced that the end of the system would arrive in 1975, my father quit his job, started pioneering, and took on cleaning jobs. As you can imagine, this odd new lifestyle required some accommodating measures, so we began what Dad called an “austerity program.” We had to make do – or do without.

In an effort to economize, my parents joined a local food co-op in 1972. They bought 50-pound bags of whole-wheat flour, large bags of whole-wheat pasta, and 40 pounds of natural peanut butter. The idea was that we could avoid paying the exorbitant prices charged by the baking industry (I believe it was less than a dollar a loaf for bread at that time) by having my mother make sandwich rolls. Unfortunately, she had a recipe that only the bitterest of ascetics could love. The resulting rolls were dense and very dry, and would likely have worked quite well cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez.

The peanut butter came in a large bucket, much the way that drywall mud is packaged today. As anyone who has bought a jar of natural peanut butter knows, the oil separates from the peanut mass and rises to the top. It’s always a messy business to stir the jar, but it is manageable. However, these enormous buckets of peanut mass, topped with about 3 inches of oil, were another matter entirely. What we really needed to stir this mess was an industrial auger or some sort of mixer powered by hydraulics. Instead, we attacked it with wooden spoons that ultimately proved to be no match for the solidity of the peanut mass.

After many broken wooden tools and hours of sweating, grunting effort later, we managed to mix the oil only into the top couple of inches of peanut mass. The peanut butter was then scooped into smaller containers which would be frozen for later use. What remained was a top layer so full of oil that it formed a sort of “peanut soup” and a bottom layer that was nothing but a dry peanut brick.

Mom would slice open a roll and spread jam or jelly on one side which was quickly absorbed by the thirsty bread until only a faint red stain remained to indicate where the jam had been. The other side of the roll was spread with peanut butter. Depending on which box of peanut butter Mom was currently using, by lunchtime the peanut butter had either leaked completely out of the sandwich onto the plastic wrap, in which case you had a mess on your hands and very little peanut butter to eat, or you were in for a struggle.

If Mom had selected a box of peanut brick, your lunch would be considerably less cheerful. The peanut brick defied all of our attempts to spread it. You could only cut it into little chunks and try to press them flat so as to resemble a spreadable substance. The result was a sandwich so painfully lacking in moisture that it took two cartons of milk to get it down.

It was no use complaining about it. Mom had grown up during the Great Depression, and Dad’s family had been poor, so by their standards my brother and I were living the “high life.”

Meanwhile, my lunchtime companions brought normal sandwiches or ate the hot lunch at the school cafeteria. One day a girl, whose father was a neurosurgeon, pulled out a sandwich made on bread marbled in pink, green and yellow – apparently for Easter.

It literally took years for us to eat our way through that 40 pounds of peanut butter (Dad and Mom ate it too). These sandwiches were featured in my lunch every day throughout my high school career.

One day, in an apparent fit of whimsy, my mother packed me a tuna sandwich instead of peanut butter. I didn’t even look at it as I unwrapped it, my palate inured to the endless tedium. I took a bite and couldn’t imagine what I had in my mouth. I had to examine the sandwich in order to ascertain that it was actually tuna! That happened only once, and I didn’t expect it to happen again.

At one point during our peanut butter years, Dad found and purchased a sign for our kitchen: “Try Our Famous Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.” At least we were not without a sense of humor about it.

Surprisingly, the “Peanut Butter Interlude” did not put me completely off peanut butter. It’s okay, but not my first choice when picking a lunch menu. In fact, after all this talk of peanut butter, I think I’ll get myself . . . an Italian cold cut sub.


  1. 1-22-2013

    Thanks for sharing your story!
    I was ‘born in’ 1957 to hard-core Jehovah’s Witnesses missionary parents.
    My family started out broken by the Watchtower cult and stayed poor,we lived hand to mouth while the authoritarian Watchtower cult ruled us. I had a brutal time going to school during the ‘better dead than red’ super nationalism of the early 1960’s.
    I got beat up in the school yard for being a Jehovah Witness while the Watchtower leaders who ran my show and made my rules had their own personal bodyguards at New York Bethel.
    They made us all dysfunctional with their 1975 end of the world fiasco failure.

    Danny Haszard Bangor Maine FMI DannyHaszard(dot)com

  2. Robert Crompton

    Susan, what a story! It really is amazing what people can believe and do. Are the rest of your family still in? Look forward to reading your book when it’s published.

  3. Richard E. Kelly

    Susan, thank you so much for sharing a semi-delicious, a tad greasy chapter in your life. It pleases me so much when I see ex-JWs take the time to tell their story. It’s good for you and it’s good for the many people, especially women, who are trapped in that terrible cult. For them to know and see what you have done to stand up for what is right and just. Keep up the good work and I look forward to hearing more from you. I trust that “writing” is that happy place you can go to be the kind of person you can become without the shackles of a high-control religion.

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