”What We Have Lost

My morning walks along Main Street in Moorestown, New Jersey, take me past former workcamp director David Richie’s place where Harley Armstrong used to live, then past Bob and Lenore Haines’ old house, and finally past Parry Cottage where M.C. and Libby Morris lived. Sometimes I arrive at the Friends School at Chester Avenue when parents are delivering their children. I pause at the traffic light and watch the cars emerging from the school grounds. One SUV has a bumper-sticker that reads, "We Support Our Troops in Iraq." Years ago, at that very spot M.C. Morris would distribute peace literature and he would solicit signatures for antiwar petitions. M.C. is gone, so is the message on the school’s outdoor bulletin board, just behind where M.C. used to sit. It said, "There is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the Way."

Harley Armstrong taught English at the Friends School for more than 30 years. She wrote an excellent sentence and she despised humbug. Her tartness was tempered by Quaker forbearance, denying casual onlookers a bit of fun. In Harley’s time, low-income persons eligible for food stamps collected their stamps at the Burlington County Trust Bank. The bank had a teller’s window that faced the sidewalk where pedestrians, if they chose, could conduct their bank business alfresco. However, food stamps could be retrieved only at that outdoor window, in fair or foul weather. Harley put an end to that practice with a crisp letter to the bank manager. In the fall, Harley, Bob, and Lenore would buy a large sack of unshelled pecans. They, and anyone who came to call, would sit in the kitchen making civilized conversation while they shelled the nuts and filled small bags with kernels, gifts destined for relatives and friends.

Following Quaker tradition, the Haineses, Harley, and the Morrisses worked to improve the well-being of American Indians, and in the course of their activities they attended the annual meetings of the Iroquois Nation in upstate New York. In my mind’s eye, playfully, I see them standing serenely among a group of equally serene Indians, as in Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom. They are under a stately tree on the banks of a luminous river, with animals, wild and domesticated, lying at their feet.

Bob’s vegetable garden was also a peaceable kingdom, with crooked rows and winding paths. He caressed the soil, respecting its contours, treating it as his Indian friends treated it, reverently. Of course there was constant battle with the insects, which Bob picked off one at a time because he rejected chemical warfare. He said there always seemed to be enough vegetables for his family, for his friends, and for the insects that escaped his fingers.

One spring morning I came upon Bob in his garden, on his knees, tenderly transplanting some lettuces. Weeks before, in the battered greenhouse, Bob had started these plants from seeds descended from the lettuces his father had planted there 80 years before. Bob sent some of these seeds to his daughter in Kansas every year, and now she passes seeds on to her daughter. Why does that recollection give me such pleasure?

The Haineses, the Morrisses, and Harley were of those Moorestown Quakers who vied only in their goodness, anonymously. They would have been amused by Moorestown’s recent apotheosis, conferred by a magazine that celebrates greed.

They are gone, sadly, but in their quiet way, undetected, they planted a bit of their peaceable kingdom in those who were privileged to have known them.

Charles Perrone

Charles Perrone served as acquisitions librarian for Burlington County College, New Jersey, where he started an annual John Woolman program.