The day after Thanksgiving, we had a service for my mom who died October 20, 2010, a week after she turned 85. Daughter Emily and I were asked to speak about Mom’s Quaker heritage, followed by a minute of silence and a Quaker hymn. Here is what I said and the gist of what Emily said. For those who knew Joy, I hope it resonates with you. For those who didn’t know my mom and Emily’s grandmom, here’s a glimpse of her and her ancestral roots.
My mother, Joy Wolf, was committed to spiritual exploration and also to the written word. (She was a librarian.) These two priorities are apparent in her ancestors as well and, at one point, led to profound conflict for her great-grandfather Zaccheus Test. Before Emily explains about that, I want to share a couple anecdotes about Mom that are special to me and that, I think, help introduce the subject.
Mom spoke fondly of her Episcopalian upbringing and particularly Emmanual Episcopal Church in the St. Louis area where she and Dad were married. Later, she and Dad became Unitarian-Universalists and were happy to be part of the UU Fellowship of Northfield. Like many Unitarians, she and Dad were eclectic and open-minded to many different paths, reading omnivorously and always learning. When I became Buddhist 34 years ago, I often found them reading my Buddhist publications before I got to them myself. To them, it was all very interesting.
In 2001, a year after Dad died, Mom and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for some Native American-related events and workshops. During a presentation about the three clans of the Bear, Wolf, and Turtle, we learned that the Bear Clan tends to have the R & D folks, the ones with new ideas. Like the curious, omnivorous bear, they explore widely—and from multiple perspectives, the way Bear can stand on 4 legs or 2.
Now, I know that Mom married into the Wolf family, and loved it, but on this day she felt connected to the ways of the bears. When we broke into three groups, I went with the Wolves (the planners who put Bear’s ideas into action) and Mom went off with the boisterous Bears, feeling quite at home, and I didn’t see her for a while.
The only sticking point came the next day when it was time for a closing circle, a Talking Stick. Before we sat down under the azure New Mexico sky, I told Mom that people take turns speaking and only the person holding the stick gets to talk; everyone else sits quietly. Mom told me, “Oh! I don’t know if I can do that.” She so relished dialogue with people that she didn’t know if she could keep from commenting and making relevant points! I’m here to tell you she did fine and was an excellent listener.
Because Mom enjoyed dialogue so much and was sometimes uncomfortable with silence, it might come as a surprise to hear how much she valued her Quaker heritage, since the Quakers traditionally sit in silence at their meetings until moved by spirit to speak. Mom would sometimes point to a painted portrait she had of her great-grandfather, Zaccheus Test, saying that he was a patriarch of the family and that he had once been Quaker, but for some reason that she did not know, he left the Society of Friends.
When my daughter Emily went to Earlham, a Quaker college in Richmond, Indiana, we had an opportunity to solve this mystery.
Emily will continue the story from here.
Actually, I chose Earlham for its science program and the horse barn right on campus, not because of family history. It wasn’t until I walked in the Earlham Cemetery with my parents and saw more than a dozen graves of Tests and Giffords, including my great-great-great grandfather Zaccheus Test, that I realized that Grandmom used to have a lot of family in Richmond, most of them Quaker.
After that, we found more links to our ancestors such as Test Road that goes by the stables and over to the remains of the Test family woolen mill. When I studied birds in Peru one May Term, I noticed that my program was partly funded by the Test family, my relatives. When Grandmom visited me in 2008, we were able to take her to many family history sites around town. She especially enjoyed seeing a stained glass window dedicated to the daughter of Zaccheus Test and Sarah Anthony Test. (Sarah was Susan B. Anthony’s cousin.)
The biggest surprise came when the library archivist told us that Zaccheus Test was not only a professor at my school, he was a founder of it and was the one to name it “Earlham” after a Quaker estate in England.
Zaccheus left Earlham in 1866 and started going to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is how Grandmom’s family became Episcopal. The archivist solved the mystery for us when he explained that Zaccheus got in trouble with the Friends by “writing his remarks” and reading from them at the Sunday meeting. This was not the usual practice; even readings of the Bible were not permitted in meetings. His fellow Quakers tolerated this only under protest and did not approve of his reliance on the written word.
That is why he left the Quakers. Zaccheus, like Grandmom, had great affection for both the spoken and the written word, and was not willing to give up either.
I’ll be thinking of Grandmom when I graduate in May. I have a feeling she’ll join all those ancestors in the Cemetery to keep an eye on me.