2/26/2008

Quakertown!

I grew up in central New Jersey. My dad grew up in Bethlehem, Penna. My paternal grandfather, Howard, was an accountant for Bethlehem Steel.

I didn't learn that until my grandfather's funeral, when I was about 12 or so. According to a former neighbor that day, he had also been treasurer for his church -- which was Lutheran, I'm pretty sure. "Howard was so good at it. He knew where every penny was!" the neighbor said.

Also at that funeral, I learned that my dad had played first base -- just like me! I'm not sure I had known that before. What can I say? My male forebears were definitely members of the silent generations.

My grandfather was born on a farm. Some time when he was a boy, he moved to the closest town: Quakertown, Penna. He wrote about it for my cousin Lindy when she had a school assignment to gather some family history. He wrote such a great narrative about moving to town that she copied and mailed it to the rest of the family. (I'll have to ask her for a copy; my mom probably has my dad's copy, in a drawer that's far away.)

I've often wondered what interaction, if any, my grandfather had with Quakers in Quakertown, what he thought of them, and what he would think of me becoming one, which happened well after he died.

As regular readers of this blog will remember, in January I flew back to New Jersey to help my mom pack up and move closer to my oldest sister, in upstate N.Y. I drove the rental truck by myself. My mom and sister followed a day later in her car. I actually flew home before they got there.

En route to upstate New York, I drove on the Penna. Turnpike to the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike (476), past towns like Gwynedd, North Wales (where my grandfather lived most of his retirement), and Plymouth Meeting that recall the Welsh and Quaker and Quaker Welsh history of that area northeast of Philadelphia. And where else would you find a town named Bala Cynwyd?!

So anyway, there it was, listed on a sign on the Turnpike: Quakertown!

I just had to get off and visit. I trundled the 16-footer off the exit, turned left at the Wawa, and drove nine miles to town. I imagined the fields being where my grandfather had grown up. I had no idea how far out of town they had lived before moving.

Then I got to the downtown. It has that look of old, long-settled villages in the Northeast: close-together houses, steep roofs, twisty narrow roads trying to accommodate the modern SUVs and pickups. Strip malls and convenience stores on the state highway at the edge of town.

When I was a child, we didn't visit many relatives besides my cousins and grandfather, usually for Thanksgiving and occasionally at other times. We also used to go to the Kutztown Fair (where my main memory is being held by my dad, probably when I was about three, while he was smoking, and the cigarette touched me briefly and burned me.)

My dad had an uncle and aunt and cousin who still lived in Quakertown, I think. We must have gone to Quakertown at least once, because I had a dim recollection of the Liberty Hall, built in 1772. Seeing that building stirred an old, old memory of going there as a young child, and hearing about how the Liberty Bell was there briefly.

Finally, before turning around and heading back to 476, I stopped at a locally owned bakery and bought a coffee and pastry to give something back to the local economy. That was the extent of the visit. Oh, I also bought gas at the Wawa on the way back to the Turnpike, but that money wasn't going to stay local anyway. So the truck trundled back onto the Turnpike, and that was this Quaker's visit to Quakertwon.

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P.S. The "Quakertown Alive!" website of the Upper Bucks County Chamber of Commerce has a picture of Richland Friends Meeting as part of its webpage masthead. How cool is that?

4 comments:

Allison said...

That's awesome. That's like me when I go to Koreatown. :)

Michael said...

Chris-

I've been an anonymous reader of yours for while now. (I came across your site via Robin's, via Gregg Koskela's... I used to go to Newberg Friends with Gregg).

Anyway, I had to come out of the woodwork on this one. Six months ago I moved to a Philly suburb to go to grad school and I live 10 minutes from Plymouth Meeting and close to all the places you mentioned. I love that you even talked about WaWa.

My family has old Quaker roots in Philadelphia, so it has been great to be out here and take in some of the history.

So, thanks for sharing your journey on that trip, and your family's journey as well.

Blessings

Robin M. said...

Someday, we'll have to take our children there too...

Chris M. said...

@Allison: What a great comparison. Thank you!

@Michael: I've read your blog from time to time, too. Thanks for stepping out of lurkerdom to comment. My cousins grew up in Lansdale, Montgomery County, where we always went for Thanksgiving.

@Robin: Okay! Maybe when we go back for my 20th college reunion this summer? not...