A Rare Christian Heritage
AS TOLD BY BLOSSOM BRANDT
There was a snowfall in San Antonio, Texas, on January 17, 1923, the day I was born. It was cold outside, but I was welcomed into the warm arms of loving Christian parents, Judge and Helen Norris. From my earliest memories, everything my parents did centered on their worship of Jehovah God.
IN 1910 when Mother was eight, her parents moved from near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a farm outside Alvin, Texas. There they rejoiced to learn Bible truths from a neighbor. Mom spent the remainder of her life seeking to interest people in the Kingdom hope. She was baptized in 1912 after the family had moved to Houston, Texas.
Mother and her parents first met Charles T. Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, when he visited their congregation in Houston. The family often entertained in their home traveling representatives of the Society, who were then called pilgrims. A few years later, Mom moved with her parents to Chicago, Illinois, and Brother Russell would also visit the congregation there.
In 1918, Grandmother got the Spanish flu, and because of its weakening effect on her health, doctors recommended that she live in a warmer climate. Since Grandfather worked for the Pullman train company, in 1919 he obtained a transfer back to Texas. There, in San Antonio, Mom met a young, zealous member of the congregation named Judge Norris. They were attracted to each other right away, and in time they married, and Judge became my father.
Father Learns Bible Truth
Judge was given his unusual name at birth. When his dad first saw him, he said: “That baby is as sober as a judge,” and that became his name. In 1917, when Dad was 16, he was given the tracts Where Are the Dead? and What Is the Soul? printed by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Dad’s father had died two years earlier, and the tracts provided him answers that he had been looking for about the condition of the dead. Shortly afterward he began attending meetings of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known.
Dad immediately wanted to share in congregation activities. He obtained a territory where he could preach, and after school he would ride there on his bike to distribute tracts. He became totally absorbed in sharing the Kingdom hope, and on March 24, 1918, he symbolized his dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
The following year when Mom moved to San Antonio, Dad was immediately attracted to what he said was “the sweetest smile and the bluest eyes” he had ever seen. They soon let it be known that they wanted to marry, but they had a hard time convincing Mother’s parents. Yet, on April 15, 1921, the wedding took place. Both had as their goal the full-time ministry.
Early Start in the Ministry
When Mom and Dad were busy planning to attend the Cedar Point, Ohio, convention in 1922, they discovered that Mom was expecting me. Shortly after my birth, when Dad was only 22, he was appointed congregation service director. This meant that he made all the field service arrangements. In just a matter of weeks, Mom had me out in the door-to-door ministry. The fact is, my grandparents also liked to have me in the ministry with them.
When I was only two, my folks moved to Dallas, Texas, and they began the full-time ministry as pioneers three years later. At night they slept on a cot by the road and put me in the backseat of the car. Of course, I thought this was fun, but it soon became evident that they were not prepared for pioneer life just yet. So Dad started a business. In time, he built a small trailer in preparation to start pioneering again.
Before I began school, Mother taught me to read and write, and I knew up to the fourth multiplication table. Her focus was always on helping me learn. She would stand me on a chair next to her so I could dry dishes as she washed them, and she would teach me to memorize scriptures and sing the Kingdom songs, or hymns as we called them then.
Serving God With My Parents
In 1931 all of us attended the thrilling convention in Columbus, Ohio, where we received the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although I was only eight, I thought it was the prettiest name I had ever heard. Shortly after we returned home, Dad’s business burned to the ground, and Dad and Mom took this as “the Lord’s will” that they start pioneering again. Thus, beginning in the summer of 1932, we enjoyed many years in the full-time ministry.
My folks pioneered in central Texas to stay near Mom’s parents, who were still in San Antonio. Moving from assignment to assignment meant that I changed schools quite often. At times thoughtless friends would say, “Why don’t you settle down and have a home for that child,” as though I wasn’t properly cared for. But I thought our life was exciting and that I was helping Dad and Mom in their ministry. Actually, I was being trained and prepared for what was later to become my own life-style.
For months I kept telling Dad and Mom that I wanted to be baptized, and they often talked to me about it. They wanted to make sure I knew how serious my decision was. On December 31, 1934, the day came for this momentous event in my life. However, the night before, Dad made sure I had gone to Jehovah in prayer. Then he did a beautiful thing. He had all of us get on our knees, and he offered a prayer. He told Jehovah that he was so happy about his little girl’s decision to dedicate her life to Him. You can be sure, in all the ages to come, I’ll never forget that night!
Training From My Grandparents
Between 1928 and 1938, I spent much time visiting my grandparents in San Antonio. The routine with them was much the same as with my folks. Grandmother had been a colporteur, as they used to call pioneers, and then she became a part-time pioneer. Grandfather was appointed a pioneer in December 1929, so field service was always the rule of the day.
Grandfather would hold me in his arms at night and teach me the names of the stars. He would recite poetry to me from memory. I made many trips with him on the Pullmans when he worked for the railroad. He was always one I could turn to when I had trouble; he comforted me and wiped my tears away. Yet, when I was disciplined for misbehaving and went to him seeking consolation, he would simply say (words that I didn’t understand at the time, but their tone was very clear): “Honey, the way of the transgressor is mighty hard.”
Years of Persecution
In 1939, World War II began, and Jehovah’s people suffered persecution and mob violence. By the end of 1939, Mom was very ill and eventually needed surgery, so we moved back to San Antonio.
Mobs would form as we did magazine work on the streets of San Antonio. But each week, as a family, we were there, each on our assigned corner. I often watched as they hauled Dad away to the police station.
Dad tried to continue pioneering even though Mom had to stop. However, he couldn’t earn enough working part-time, so he had to stop also. I completed school in 1939, and I too went to work.
Dad’s name Judge came in handy during those years. For example, a group of friends went to witness in a town just north of San Antonio, and the sheriff started putting all of them in jail. He had arrested about 35, including my grandparents. They got word to Dad, and he drove up there. He walked into the sheriff’s office and said: “I’m Judge Norris from San Antonio.”
“Yes Sir, Judge, what can I do for you?” the sheriff asked.
“I’ve come to see about getting these people out of jail,” Dad replied. With that the sheriff let them go without bail—and no further questions!
Dad loved to work the downtown office buildings, and he especially liked to call on judges and lawyers. He would tell the receptionist: “I’m Judge Norris, and I’ve come to see Judge So-and-So.”
Then, when he met the judge, he always said first: “Now, before I talk about the purpose of my visit, I want to explain that I’ve been a Judge longer than you have. I’ve been one all my life.” And then he would explain how he got his name. This got them off to a friendly start, and he cultivated many good relationships with the judges in those days.
Grateful for Parental Direction
I was in those tumultuous teenage years, and I know Dad and Mom held their breath many times as they watched and wondered what I would do next. As all children do, I tested Dad and Mom many times, asking to do something or to go somewhere knowing ahead of time that their answer would be no. Sometimes there were tears. Actually, I would have been devastated if they had ever said: “Go ahead, do what you want. We don’t care.”
Knowing I couldn’t push them into changing their standards gave me a feeling of security. In fact, this made it easier for me when other young ones suggested unwise entertainment, for I could say: “My dad won’t let me.” When I was 16, Dad made sure I learned to drive and that I got my driver’s license. Also, about this time he gave me a key to the house. I was so impressed that he trusted me. I felt so grown-up, and it gave me a sense of responsibility and a desire not to betray their trust.
In those days not much counsel was given about marriage, but Dad knew the Bible and what it said about marrying “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) He made it clear to me that if I ever brought home a worldly boy, or even looked at one, his disappointment would be overwhelming. I knew he was right, for I had seen the happiness and unity in their marriage because they did marry “in the Lord.”
In 1941, when I was 18, I thought I was in love with a young man in the congregation. He was a pioneer and studying to be a lawyer. I was excited. When we told my parents we wanted to get married, instead of showing disapproval or being discouraging, they simply said: “We would like to make one request of you, Blossom. We feel that you are too young, and we would like to ask you to wait one year. If you are really in love, one year won’t make a difference.”
I am so thankful that I listened to that wise advice. Within the year, I matured some and began to see that this young man did not have the qualities that would make for a good marriage mate. He eventually left the organization, and I escaped what would have been a disaster in my life. How wonderful to have wise parents whose judgment can be relied on!
Marriage and Traveling Work
In the winter of 1946, after I had spent six years pioneering and working part-time, the finest young man I had ever met walked into our Kingdom Hall. Gene Brandt had been assigned as a companion to our traveling servant to the brethren, as the circuit overseer was then called. It was mutual attraction, and on August 5, 1947, we were married.
Shortly, Dad and Gene opened an accounting office. But Dad told Gene: “The day this office keeps us from a meeting or a theocratic assignment, I’m going to lock the door and throw away the key.” Jehovah blessed this spiritual outlook, and the office provided sufficiently for our material needs and allowed time to pioneer. Dad and Gene were good businessmen, and we could easily have been wealthy, but this was never their goal.
In 1954, Gene was invited into the circuit work, which meant a big change in our lives. How would my parents react? Once again, their concern was not for themselves but for the interests of God’s Kingdom and for the spiritual well-being of their children. They never said to us: “Why don’t you give us grandchildren?” Instead, it was always: “What can we do to help you in the full-time service?”
So when the day came for us to leave, there were only words of encouragement and rejoicing at our grand privilege. They never made us feel that we were abandoning them but were always 100 percent behind us. After we left, they kept themselves busy in the pioneer work for another ten years. Dad was appointed city overseer of San Antonio, which position he held for 30 years. He rejoiced to see the growth from one congregation in the city in the 1920’s to 71 before he died in 1991.
For Gene and me, life was filled with excitement. We had the rich joy of serving dear brothers and sisters in over 31 states and, probably the highlight of all, the privilege of attending the 29th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in 1957. Afterward we returned to the traveling work. In 1984, after 30 years in the circuit and district work, the Society kindly granted Gene a circuit assignment in San Antonio, since the folks were in their 80’s and in poor health.
Caring for Parents
It was only a year and a half after we had returned to San Antonio that Mom slipped into a semicoma and died. It happened so quickly that I didn’t get to say some of the things I wanted to say to her. This taught me to talk a lot with Dad. After 65 years of marriage, he missed Mom very much, but we were there to give love and support.
Dad’s lifelong example of Christian meeting attendance, study, and service continued right up to his death. He loved to read. As he had to be alone while we were in service, I would come home and ask, “Were you lonely?” He had been so busy reading and studying, the thought had not even occurred to him.
There was another lifelong habit that we maintained. Dad had always insisted that the family eat together, especially at breakfast time, when the daily Scripture text was considered. I was never allowed to leave home without doing it. Sometimes I would say: “But Dad, I’m going to be late for school (or for work).”
“It’s not the text that’s making you late; you didn’t get up in time,” he would say. And I had to stay and hear it. He made sure this good example existed right up to his last days of life. This is another inheritance he left me.
Dad stayed mentally alert right up to the end. What made caring for him easier was that he never got fussy or complained. Oh, sometimes he’d mention his arthritis, but I would remind him that what he really had was “Adamitis,” and he would laugh. As Gene and I sat beside him, Dad quietly went to sleep on the morning of November 30, 1991.
I am now over 70 years of age and am still benefiting from the good example of my loving Christian parents. And it is my earnest prayer that I will prove my full appreciation for this heritage by properly using it through all the ages to come.—Psalm 71:17, 18.
[Picture on page 5]
Mom with me
[Pictures on page 7]
1. My first convention: San Marcos, Texas, September 1923
2. Dad’s last convention: Fort Worth, Texas, June 1991 (Dad seated)
[Picture on page 9]
Gene and Blossom Brandt