Pioneer. The word evokes images of forging a way through the wilderness. And each summer that's what my brother and I did.

From the time I was about 8 and Larry was 11 or so, we spent part of just about every day in the summertime going from door to door offering the Watchtower and Awake!, magazines, forging a way through the wilderness of unbelievers in far Northeast D.C. That's right. We were Jehovah's Witnesses -- those folks who knock on your door and ring your bell at 9:30 a.m.

We and our JW friends were taught that summer should be viewed as more than simply freedom from school and a chance to go swimming. It was, we were told, an opportunity to devote more time to "spreading the good news" -- "pioneering" was the inside term for it. We summer folks were called "vacation pioneers."

The households that included children tried fighting fire with fire when they saw us approaching, briefcases in tow. A kid about my age would answer the door. "Is your mother or father in?" I'd ask, pulling myself up to my full 47 inches. "Wait a minute," my counterpart would answer as he scurried into the darkness that loomed behind the front door. The response a few moments later was uttered with the innocence that only children can display: "My mother says she ain't here."

Actually, it was kind of fun -- walking around in the sunshine with my friends, talking to all kinds of characters, many of whom offered us candy and cold drinks. In fact, it only became difficult when summer ended.

Then I had to try to explain "vacation pioneering" to the kids at school.