by Valerie Graves
I joined Friends with my husband in the 1960s. I had been a rather lukewarm Anglican and he was fleeing from the rigours of a very stern Baptist Church â€“ everything nice was forbidden and there was no rejoicing in anything. We had been much impressed by a publication called Quaker View of Sex, not so much for its sentiments but its being prepared to look into everything without prejudice. If Friends were like that, we thought, they were the people for us, and we were not disappointed.
The meeting that we joined was fairly small and had a good mix of people â€“ one or two rather intimidating older people, a lot more children than you see now, some cheerful parents and quite a lot of activities arranged for the children. Several members of a big Quaker flour-milling family, and a good many retiring quiet people who took quite a while to get to know.
I was much taken with an elderly couple, Terence and Grace. They were very welcoming (as indeed most of them were) and encouraged me to come to educational evening meetings (I had been disappointed by the very elementary nature of similar meetings arranged by the Anglican Church.) These were a real eye-opener: the study of the obscurer prophets and of the â€œearly fathersâ€ of whom I had never heard. About eight of us went along to these meetings, which were hard work: you could not sit in the back and nod your head! But I enjoyed the challenge.
Terence and Grace were very austere, living in a small terrace house with few comforts, vegetarian food and no concessions to fashion. I used to tease them that they were putting tailors, shoe-makers and so forth out of work because they never bought clothes. (But they did buy books and were generous subscribers to charities.) They had a robust sense of humour and did not in the least mind being thought ridiculous.
Terence had had a very hard time in the first world war. As a committed pacifist he refused all war work and ended up in Dartmoor Prison where for instance a hosepipe would be played on him and he had to work on heavy menial jobs outside, in freezing weather, in soaking wet clothes.
I think Grace was too young to have been tormented in that way, but in the second world war, when attitudes to conscientious objectors to military service were more humane, they were both compelled to do â€œsuitableâ€ work.
They were much loved, and never missed an opportunity to help or comfort someone in trouble. But as they became aged, life was not kind to them. Grace had a stroke and remained in hospital for several years, and eventually died. We worried that Terence was not looking after himself. I and others visited him and took food (not easy) and companionship, but in the end he was admitted to hospital with hypothermia and quietly died.
I learned so much from them. How you could be austere and learned without being censorious, like the Baptists of my husband’s youth. How to be friendly, interesting and fun, without relaxing any of your strong Quaker principles. How to be the sort of people who made others’ eyes light up when they came into the room, in spite of wearing heavy shapeless old clothes.