The Divine Victory International Conventions of 1973 were eagerly anticipated events. With 1975 looming large on the horizon, many of us thought that these might be the last large conventions the Society would be able to hold before Armageddon. The convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico was scheduled for September. My girlfriend and I worked hard getting ready for the trip. I made all my clothes, and my parents loaned me a suitcase. I eagerly anticipated my first ever plane ride -- from Miami, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was 20 years old, and this was the most exciting thing that I had ever done.
We were, of course, looking forward to the convention itself and to receiving whatever new books would be released. International conventions were always opportunities for new information to be made available, and this one would be no exception. But twenty-year-old girls have other things on their minds too, and I was a girl ;-). I was not allowed to date anyone who was not a Jehovah's Witness, since dating in the Witnesses is only for the purpose of finding a marriage mate and interfaith marriages are strongly discouraged. Since our congregations in Kentucky were small and young people (of both sexes) were relatively few, conventions always provided an opportunity to meet new friends and "check the brothers out". And this time we were going all the way to exotic Puerto Rico!!
I can't tell you without doing research what books were released at that convention. I can't tell you who the speakers were, besides N. H. Knorr and Fred Franz on the English side and Ray Franz on the Spanish side. But I can tell you this -- I met the love of my life in Puerto Rico in September of 1973.
He was a young fellow from Pennsylvania who had been baptized barely a year. He had come along with his best friend and the best friend's family (just as I had). He was a little shy. He waited until the night before we had to go home before he finally asked me out to dinner!
It took two completely full taxis to take all the people to dinner who accompanied us on our very first date. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in chaperoned dates, but even so this was a little much! The first question he asked me, in the taxi cab, was "What is your nationality?" My answer, of course, was "American, what else?" My date was Italian American. His grandparents had come to the U.S. on a boat; his father had been born in this country. Everyone in his family was Catholic, except him. He had left the Catholic Church to become a Jehovah's Witness.
I was fascinated by my new boyfriend. I was also amused by the irony of the situation -- I had gone all the way to Puerto Rico just to meet and fall in love with an Italian kid from Pennsylvania ;-). He didn't waste any time "following up" after we got back to the States. In December he proposed, in January he moved to Kentucky and I finally accepted. In April we were married in the Kingdom Hall. Most of his large Italian Catholic family came all the way to Kentucky for our wedding, which took place on the night before Easter. Of course, I had absolutely no idea of the significance of the Easter Vigil in April 1974. We planned the wedding for that weekend to allow Fred's family to have plenty of traveling time.
When I finally had time to sit down and think about things, I marveled at the fact that Fred's family was so loving to us both. They traveled almost 400 miles to be present at our wedding, put up with our Eastern Kentucky social graces (much different from their ways of doing things), and showered us with gifts and hugs and kisses. They never complained for a second even though I was later to find that they had never heard of a wedding reception without a dinner or without an opportunity for guests to dance with the Bride.
As the years went by and we all got to know each other much better, I came to truly love these wonderfully accepting folks. At the same time, may the Lord forgive me, I was constantly trying to figure out how I could turn them all into Jehovah's Witnesses. I felt that their genuine love and caring for us somehow had to be "in spite of" their Catholicism, since everything I had ever been taught about the Catholic religion was about how bad it was. I even had a thick notebook of research that my grandfather had put together documenting all the sins and travesties of the Catholic Church. So these wonderful people, I was sure, had to be the exception. I just happened to marry into a family of really nice Catholics, and I was sure it would not be long until all or most of them were Jehovah's Witnesses just like me.
Funny how life turns out sometimes...
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