Meetinghouse, Flushing, Long Island
We got our stuff together in time for Alan to drive us (swiftly) over the winding, empty, narrow roads to the little town of Brewster for our train to the city. Alan pointed to a turn where he had totaled his previous jeep. A sobering thought. We made the train just on time. This was Max's first train ride. He liked the sounds and movement of it and we could hear the train whistle. We saw the most enormous graveyard yet. It must have gone on for the better part of a mile to our right. After a long trip, we were back in New York at Grand Central Station. Much of the Station was shrouded in canvas and scaffolding so we couldn't show Max how lofty and European it looked. Oh well. It certainly is big. No transients were visible. I bought and ate an onion bagel. We used the facilities and went down two levels to the number seven train to Flushing, Queens, Long Island. Thanks to Cheshire Frager of AFSC, we had directions to the Meetinghouse.
We walked through a Chinatown/Koreatown area of Flushing to Northern Boulevard and turned right. There were two stone pillars and a sign for "Old Flushing". The Meetinghouse was just there with big trees in front. It was the dark shingled house shape I had seen in Rufus Jones book. We were in plenty of time. A woman, (the Clerk) greeted us at the door and took us inside for coffee and cookies before Meeting. I loved the old place. The wood was obviously hand hewn. The floors were all a bit slanty and the boards gave in a sort of sea-like motion. The attenders were elderly.One man was inside the Meeting room meditating silently with a cat on his lap. The women served up coffee and tea and cookies and we put down our bags and enjoyed talking to them and looking at the books and displays of pictures and information. I got to meet young Cheshire Frager. Then it was eleven o'clock and time to make my family comfortable while I did what I came for. Max enjoyed staying in the Meeting briefly. Then a woman Friend with a young child took him back out into the fellowship hall where I could hear him distantly enjoy his game. I learned later it was the one I bought him in Portland called "Killer Instinct". Sigh.
Marc had forgotten to bring in his book. I told him it was fine to go get it. Every Meeting has someone who is accompanying a family member and is not skilled in joining the life of the centered group.
The wall to the left was paneled with large pieces of dark wood which was stained but not varnished. The other walls were white painted plaster with dark wood trim. The ceiling was plaster. The floor was the wide, dark plank kind. On the walls were original tall oval candlestick holders with unburned red candles. (Cheshire Frager told me later that they would occasionally have candlelight Meeting in the evening.)There was a projecting shelf at the bottom for the candle and a projecting top to stop the smoke. They are original to the earliest part of the Meetinghouse and are still used for candlelight Meetings.
The benches are not original. The British burned the original ones when they requisitioned the building for a hospital and than a storehouse and stable. But the benches are very old rough, handmade ones with carvings by generations of Friends kids on the backs. The one in front of us had a carving of a boat. The benches face each other in a square. The facing bench is raised in the front and has a sort of railing in front of it. The clerk sat in the first row to the right rather than on the facing bench. There were maybe fifteen people in the Meeting.
The Meeting House cat, Daisy, jumped up on the bench beside me and raised her left paw and gently reached out to greet me. She had a very calm look and stared intently into my eyes in a very human way. That tender paw touch and salute was quite affecting. She seemed to be looking meaningfully and directly at me. This is unusual in a cat. Marc saw it too.
I settled in to begin to center down in the place where generations of my ancestors had lived some of the most significant moments of their lives. As the silence deepened, outside the rising and falling song of the cicadas made a spiral of crescendo and decline and repeating in a whirring cycle. It gave me a vision of a widening and narrowing spiral of golden flecks expanding and decreasing with the hum. A real aid to centering! I found the journey inward and down to be filled with visions I had never seen before. A simpler version of a kaleidoscope with a lovely heart opening in the middle. Not being in practice, I had trouble staying. Had to go and come several times. I heard the words and recognized them from the portion I had copied for Gabriel: "And then she broke Meeting" referring to Margaret Fell shaking hands with the staff on the platform after the execution of a child. She could not save the child but she turned the scene into a Meeting. "And then she broke Meeting" Tears came down my face. I know the meaning of this. Take no thought for being in control of a concern. The goal and vision are beyond your imagination. Take no thought, merely proceed. I used this phrase "And then she broke meeting." to bring my thoughts quickly back to center. After a peaceful while I had another feeling.It was a welcoming one of many spirits drawing me into the flow of the family life which was and is and is ongoing. My very identity was deepened and enriched. I even felt a lightening of my chronic pain as though this too had been known and shared in times past and was to be shared and incorporated as part of the understandng of life. It lessened after that. Or maybe I am just able to carry it more lightly. Of course this vision brought a renewed flow of tears as the golden spiral of insect song surrounded us in the old building. I knew that my Friends had experience of what I was feeling and it was comfortable to share it without words.
The above picture (slightly distorted in processing) shows flowers on the table in front of the "facing bench" on which sits the Clerk of the Meeting, the person in charge of opening and closing the period of silent worship.
At the close of Meeting, we were asked to introduce ourselves. I mentioned a little about my quest and visit. The clerk asked if I had felt the presence of my ancestors. I confessed that I had been very moved by it. She said that others had recounted the same experience. Now I see the virtue of a pilgrimage.
I spoke to the Friends in the Meeting hall and enjoyed the history display. Cheshire Frager gave us a tour. Marc liked the upstairs. The walls and ceiling were all covered with a dark wainscoting paneling. Kept the feeling of age and space. The timbers were the old oak ones, like in Swarthmore. A piece on the corner was a one piece shaped one of solid oak. Like Swarthmore in their great age they had achieved a hardness that would not even take a nail.
The big room was sometimes used for gatherings. There was not much ventilation. There were cabinets and dishes, a big table and chairs and a cat box. They had taken out the 1950's kitchen the year before. There was a piece cut from the wall and behind was visible the lath and wattle construction.
Outside, I talked to the Clerk. I will send her a copy of my research so far. She is a local historian and dreams of a Quaker Williamsburg. I took her card. Max took one of the catkins from a maple and split the end and stuck it on his nose. It looked like a little green horn. The clerk did the same and showed me how to do it. She said the children had always done this. The pioneer kids called it a "polly nose". She said:"Isn't it remarkable how children will all start to do something like that with no contact to spread the fad?" Blowing through blades of grass to make a whistle would be another example.
I read all the tombstones in the graveyard. There were Tituses Lawrences, Kings, Wrights, Bownes and others. Pearsalls are buried at Hempstead and at the graveyard in the park. There may be some in the oldest, unmarked. portion though. The oldest graves are unmarked. Some of the older ones with stones have only initials. The graveyard is in the protected back area of the Meetinghouse, as is the main entrance.
The Grafe Family
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