‘My Cup Has Been Full’
As told by Tarissa P. Gott
“WHY did this have to happen?” My husband and I asked this question as we sat in a horse-drawn hack holding a little casket in our arms. My baby boy had suffered colic and died in a matter of weeks. Back in 1914, not much was known as to what to do with that illness. It was such a terrible thing to love a baby for six months, to see him smile at you, and then have death snatch him out of your arms. My heart was broken.
My mother visited us at this sad time and started comforting us with the Bible’s message of the resurrection. It meant so much to us. What a relief for my husband Walter and me to learn that it would be possible to see little Stanley again.
That was not my first contact with Bible truth. Some time before, my grandfather had obtained the first three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, by Charles Taze Russell. What Grandpa had read in them, along with his study of the Bible, moved him to go out and preach. This infuriated the local clergy, who put him out of the churches in Providence, Rhode Island. Mother never went to church after that either. She and Grandpa now attended the meetings of the Bible Students, but I did not do much with the truth at that time.
At age 16, I married a young man, Walter Skillings, and settled in Providence. We were both anxious to associate with people who loved God’s Word. Although by 1914 we had a six-year-old daughter, Lillian, it was not until our baby boy died that what my mother had told us about the truth sank in. The next year, 1915, my husband and I were baptized by the Bible Students. Our baptism took place in the summertime at a nearby beach. I donned a long, black robe with high neck and long sleeves, quite different from the bathing suits worn now. Of course, this was not standard beachwear of those days but was specially provided for the baptism.
After our baptism, our lives were changed. Walter worked for the Lynn Gas and Electric Company, and on cold winter days, he was sometimes sent into various churches to thaw out their frozen water systems. He used to take advantage of the opportunity to write Scripture texts on the church’s blackboard, scriptures that showed what the Bible had to say on immortality, Trinity, hell, and so forth.—Ezekiel 18:4; John 14:28; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
Where Were We to Go?
In 1916 Brother Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, died, and it seemed that everything fell apart. Now many of those who had seemed so strong, so devoted to the Lord, began to turn away. It became evident that some had been following a man rather than Jehovah and Christ Jesus.
Two elders who presided over our congregation went with an opposition group and thus became members of the “evil slave” class. (Matthew 24:48) All of this just did not seem right, yet it was happening and it upset us. But I said to myself: ‘Was not this organization the one that Jehovah used to free us from the bonds of false religion? Have we not tasted of his goodness? If we were to leave now, where would we go? Would we not wind up following some man?’ We could not see why we should go with the apostates, so we stayed.—John 6:68; Hebrews 6:4-6.
Tragedy Strikes Again
My husband contracted Spanish influenza, and on the 9th of January, 1919, he died while I, too, was confined to bed with the disease. I recovered from my illness, but I missed Walter very much.
With Walter gone, I had to go to work, so I sold my home and moved in with a spiritual sister. I put my furniture in storage at another sister’s home in Saugus, Massachusetts. Her son, Fred A. Gott, later became my second husband. We were married in 1921, and within the next three years, we became parents to Fred and Shirley.
The Flag-Salute Issue
Later, when Fred and Shirley were in public school, the flag-salute issue arose. The issue centered on the Bible’s teaching to “flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14) A young brother in the Lynn Congregation had refused to salute and pledge allegiance to the flag. Within a month seven children in the congregation were expelled from school, among them Fred and Shirley.
I must confess that it came somewhat as a surprise to us that our children took a stand in school as they did. Of course, we had taught them respect for the country and the flag, and we had also taught them God’s commandments about not bowing down to images and idols. As parents, we did not want our children expelled from school. Yet now that the issue had been forced, it seemed only proper that they take a stand for God’s Kingdom. So in weighing things up, we appreciated that our children were doing the right thing and that if we trusted in Jehovah all would work out for a witness to his name.
Kingdom School Organized
The question now was, How will the children get their education? For a time we attempted to teach them at home with whatever textbooks we could muster. But my husband and I had a difficult time that first school year as we tried to educate our two children. My husband was working full-time, and I was taking in washing and ironing to supplement the weekly paycheck. In addition to that, I had a five-year-old son, Robert, to look after.
Just about then, in the spring of 1936, Cora Foster, a sister in the congregation and a teacher in the public schools of Lynn for 40 years, was dismissed from her job for not saluting the flag and not taking a teacher’s oath that was in vogue at the time. It was therefore arranged that Cora would teach the children who had been expelled from school and that our home would be used as a Kingdom School. Cora had her piano shipped to our home along with some textbooks for the children to use, and some of the older boys fashioned desks out of orange crates and plywood. We started the school the following fall with ten children in attendance.
My younger son, Robert, commenced his education by attending the first grade at the Kingdom School. “Before we began our regular class work,” recalls Robert, “Kingdom School opened with a Kingdom song every day, and then for a half hour we would study the Watchtower lesson for the coming week.” In those days the Society did not print the questions for the paragraphs of the study article, so it became the responsibility of the children to come up with the questions for the paragraphs to be used at the congregation meeting.
Cora was a devoted teacher. “When I had whooping cough,” reminisces Robert, and the school was closed till the contagious disease subsided, “Sister Foster visited the house of each student and gave homework.” Despite her devotion, she must have felt frustrated at times, for she had to teach the students in all 12 grades in one room. At the end of the five-year period that we had the Kingdom School in our home, there were 22 children attending the school.
Prejudice and Kindness
The flag-salute issue brought not only a time of test and stress but also much publicity by newspaper and radio. It was quite a common thing to see photographers in front of our home taking pictures of the children as they arrived at the Kingdom School. Many of our neighbors, who had been quite friendly before, now became antagonistic. They thought it was a terrible thing for our children to refuse to salute the American flag. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘isn’t this the country that gives you your bread and butter?’ They did not appreciate that without Jehovah’s watchcare, there would be neither bread nor butter.
On the other hand, there were others who understood the issues involved and gave us support. When people in the neighborhood boycotted a grocery store where our congregation’s presiding overseer worked as manager, a well-to-do person interested in civil liberty bought up most of the groceries in the store and distributed them free to the brothers in the congregation.
It was not until 1943, when the United States Supreme Court reversed its position on the flag-salute issue, that my son Robert was allowed to attend public school.
‘My Cup Has Been Full’
How happy I was to see Robert dedicate his life to Jehovah and get baptized at the convention in St. Louis in 1941. It was at that convention, too, that all three of my youngsters were privileged to be among the many children who received a free personal copy of the book Children from Brother Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society.
In 1943 my older son Fred took up the full-time pioneer ministry. This only lasted a few months, however, for World War II was being fought, and he was of draft age. When the local draft board refused to recognize his claims to ministerial exemption, he was subsequently sentenced to three years in the federal penitentiary at Danbury, Connecticut. In 1946 he was released, and by the end of that year, he was a full-time worker at the world headquarters of the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn, New York, where he enjoyed several years of service. Now he is an overseer, serving with his family in Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1951 Robert, too, was invited to Bethel, and he remains there to this day with his wife Alice. He, too, is an overseer, in a New York City congregation.
Then there is my beloved daughter Shirley, who has remained at home. She looked after my husband and me until my husband died in 1972; since then she has been a great comfort to me. I really do not know how things would have gone without her, but I am grateful to Jehovah for her love and devotion.
I am 95 years old now, and yet the hope of Jehovah’s new system is brighter than ever. At times I find myself saying, “If only I had the strength I had years ago.” I can no longer go from house to house, but as long as I have a tongue, I will continue to praise Jehovah. I appreciate this privilege more today than I ever did in all my life. Yes, ‘my cup has been full.’—Psalm 23:5.
[Picture on page 21]
Kingdom School being conducted in our home during the 1930’s
[Picture on page 23]
Tarissa Gott with Robert, Shirley, and Fred