Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mother's Quaker Ancestors

My Mother spent many days – months, years – in the genealogy section of the Fort Worth Public Library looking on the computer for documents naming ancestors who fought for America in our War for Independence.  She proudly made additions to the pin which she wore on her dresses when she attended D.A.R. functions. 

After my family moved to the Philadelphia area, my Mother wrote to me (those were the days before computers and e.mail)  that she found the names of some ancestors who lived in Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately these ancestors were Quakers. That did not add to her D.A.R. standing.  The Quakers – or more properly Society of Friends – are pacifists.  They never fought in any wars. 

Mother came to visit in our big house in Drexel Hill.  We did the usual tourists things, going to Independence Hall and seeing the Liberty Bell.  Then I decided to help her look for those Quaker ancestors. 

I took her to New Hope, PA, where she searched documents in the court house.  I stood beside her at the counter as she opened a faded brown paper, being careful not to damage the fragile 18th Century document, which seemed ready to crumble each time it was touched.  We read a contract by which an ancestor had signed an agreement to become an indentured servant and be a slave to another man for seven years.  We do not come from an important family.

On the same trip I urged Mother to let me take her to a Quaker meeting.  For those who say all the Founding Fathers were Christians, the Society of Friends avoid all association with Christian churches.  The Quakers do not have churches.  They have a “meeting houses” where they gather on the “first day” (Sunday).  I had been to a meeting at Radnor in a plain room with golden wood paneling where the Society of Friends have met since 1709.  I had found it profoundly moving to sit with others waiting for “the inner light” to show me the way I should go. But when I asked Mother to go with me on Sunday morning, she refused She said, “I don’t want to attend one of their services.” 

“But your ancestors were Quakers,” I said.  “Don’t you want to share their experience?”

“No,” she said softly but firmly, “I won’t go.”. 

At noon – too late to drive from Drexel Hill to Radnor – Mother sat with my family at lunch at the mahogany table in our formal dining room.  While I served the ham and potato salad, I said to Mother, “It is too bad that you would not go to the Quaker meeting” 

“Frankly,” Mother said, “I felt I could not keep my head bowed for that long.”

Only then did I realize that Mother had heard that Quakers did not speak during their services.  As a Baptist she assumed that they were silently praying the whole time, and Baptists pray with their heads bowed

“Mother!” I said, “During a meeting they do not bow their heads.  They just sit quietly.  I think you would have found it a lovely experience.  Not like listening to some Baptist preacher ranting for 45 minutes about the evils of playing cards and drinking alcohol”. 

Mother sat up straight and glared at me across the dining table.  She was a Baptist.  She set great store on what her pastor preached each Sunday.  She was unhappy with what I said, but she did not say anything.  She would not enter into an argument with me.  Mother always avoided conflict.  When it came to refusing to argue, my Mother was a Quaker.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baptists and Quakers

The other day at lunch, as we dug into the tortilla shells of our taco salads, I looked across the table.  The  old lady facing me was telling about a wonderful sermon she heard on Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  She has been a member of that church – one of the largest Baptist churches in the U.S. – for more than 50 years.  Now it is a long drive from our retirement home in the northeast corner of Dallas.  She still drives herself there every Sunday morning, negotiating heavy traffic on the freeway in order to hear the much-admired pastor’s harangues.  .

When I was a child the pastor of College Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth preached against drinking alcohol, dancing, and playing cards.  “A deck of cards is the Devil’s prayer book.”  By the time I was in junior high I realized those prohibitions were just plain silly.  I loved to dance.  I enjoyed bridge games with my friends; I still do.  Margaritas are delicious. I regret that the medication I take prevents me from drinking any alcohol.  But I do not think a person who relaxes with Scotch in the evening is committing a mortal sin.

The lady who sat across from me at lunch never learned to play bridge.  But I noticed that she had a small glass of wine with supper.  I did not ask this Bible-quoting Christian if her excuse was that Jesus passed around the cup of wine at the Last Supper. When the Baptists celebrate the Last Supper, these people, who claim to base everything on the Bible, pass around trays of tiny glasses filled with grape juice.  

I did not dispute any of her beliefs.  She is too old.  I did not want to upset her, although I sat there thinking that her pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas is an evil man.  His pronouncements are much worse than my childhood’s experience. 

Every Sunday he preaches against a number of things.  He is against gay marriage: “Marriage should be between one man and one woman.”  Abortion kills babies.  Every word of the Bible is true.  The World was created by God in six days in 6,000 B.C.  Evolution is something that some silly “philosophers” dreamed up. Texas schools must teach “creationism”. All scientists are to be distrusted.  Global warming is not happening; it is something Al Gore promotes to make money.

Isn’t it surprising that in the year 2014 some people still believe such nonsense?

Another of their dangerous beliefs is that “The Founding Fathers established our country as a Christian nation.”

Many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians.  Thomas Jefferson made a thorough study of the Bible and then rejected all the myths and fables he found there.  He deliberately made sure that the word “God” is not anywhere in the Declaration of Independence.  Instead, our rights come from a vague “Creator.” 

Some of the Founding Fathers were Quakers.  They refuse to be called a religion.  They are the Society of Friends.  They are Pacifists, who refuse to fight in our wars.  But they are always there to help people in need – and they never ask others about religious affiliation when dispensing charity.  I first heard about them after World War II, when the American Friends Service Committee did heroic work aiding people displaced by the war.  The Quakers and the Mennonites were the first to rush to help the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.   

I will have a lot more to say about the Quakers.  More than I can publish in one blog.  Look for it in the weeks ahead.  They are not Christians, but they are admirable people.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The D.A.R.lings

My Mother and grandmother were proud members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  My grandmother (we called her “Nonna”) was “regent” (president) of the Fort Worth Chapter of the D.A.R. 

My grandmother assembled the genealogy which, as a descendent of a man who fought for our independence in the American Revolution, enabled her to become a member of the D.A.R.  I wondered how much was accurate and how much was manufactured by some “expert” who collected a fee for providing the “proof” Nonna needed. 

To me these were merely lines on a piece of paper.  I knew nothing about these people.

After Nonna died, Mother became regent of the D.A.R.’s Fort Worth Chapter and expanded her role in the organization by becoming an officer in state D.A.R. in Texas.  She enjoyed going to conventions, where to attend banquets she dressed up in long gowns like a girl in a beauty contest. She looked pretty in her fancy dress and with a youthful face beneath a halo of curls.  Her strawberry blond hair never turned gray, even in her 80's. 

There were two other D.A.R. chapters in Fort Worth.  The Mary Isham Keith Chapter was the largest and more fashionable.  Mother and Nonna did not have much to do with them.  They had friends in the Six Flags Chapter which, as the name indicates, had close affiliation with Texas history.  Mother and Nonna were also members of the D.R.T. (Daughters of the Republic of Texas), although not officers.  Nonna was especially proud to be a member of U.D.C.  (United Daughters of the Confederacy), since her father fought for the Glorious South in the Civil War.

After Wally was transferred to Dallas in 1966, I joined the Dallas chapter of the D.A.R. but dropped out after the ladies listened with rapt approval to a guest lecturer who spouted conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination.  She vilified Ruth Payne.  “She had a Russian typewriter.” the woman said, as if that were a crime.  The D.A.R.lings applauded her talk enthusiastically, believing every word.  I left the D.A.R. that day and never returned.

The media described Ruth as “Marina Oswald’s landlady.”  I guess they did not know how to categorize her.  I knew Ruth as a Quaker who opposed all violence.  The last thing Ruth would have wanted was a rifle hidden in her garage.

Not much older than Marina, from the goodness of her heart Ruth had taken Marina in and provided a home for Marina and her babies.  Instead of taking money, as a “landlady” would have done, Ruth provided everything for Lee Oswald’s wife and children.  Ruth had compassion for this young woman who was stranded in a foreign country with an abusive husband.  

How did I know Ruth Payne?  We both lived in Irving, and we were both members of the League of Women Voters, an organization I preferred to the D.A.R.  I never joined the D.R.T. or the U.D.C. 

Mother also did not join the U.D.C.   She never forgave the Yankees who burned houses in their march across Geogia.  I guess that can be called “Gone With the Wind Syndrome.”  When Mother learned that her great-grandfather was one of those Damned Yankees, she conveniently forgot that ancestor.  Why didn’t she join the U.D.C.?   I will never know.  

My brother, George Preston Pattie, remained an unreconstructed Southerner like our grandmother.  He even said he wanted to be buried with a Confederate flag on his coffin.  This in spite of serving in the U.S. Air Force.  During his two tours in Vietnam he serviced planes returning from missions spraying poison on the forests.  He was exposed to agent orange, which probably caused leukemia.  He died at age 65 -- without the Confederate flag.