My sister Jane and I bumped our suitcases down the stairs from our bedrooms on the second floor and headed for the front porch. From there we went down the steps to the walkway bordered by peony bushes, and we arrived at the green Rambler station wagon at the curb, ready to load our gear. Hugs and kisses all around and we were off on the greatest adventure of our young lives.
It was July 1967, and I had just graduated from high school in Spearfish, South Dakota. In the fall, Jane would be a senior and I would head for Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Meanwhile, we embarked on the first on-our-own road trip to the Friends World Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina. We were signed up as part of the youth staff who would help grease the wheels of this remarkable assembly. Our older sister, Franna, who had just finished her first year at Earlham College and was teaching as part of Freedom Summer in Alabama, would join us at the conference.
Our mother often used to say that after long lives of public service she and Dad would have little to leave us except their friends. This journey was planned to include overnight visits with many of them. Our first night we stayed with one of Dad’s colleagues in Sioux Falls, about 425 miles from our hometown. This was before the interstate cut across the state, so we were quite exhausted when we arrived, and glad for the warm welcome.
Without air conditioning we continued the next day through Iowa and into Indiana, where a motel served as our abode for the night. I recall that Jane, 16 years old and newly licensed, was stopped for speeding in that small town. Abashed and nervous, we waited for our punishment—and the kind officer let us go with a warning!
A stop in Ohio with friends; a delightful visit with our aunt in Bluefield, West Virginia; and finally we arrived in North Carolina. Mama was a Tarheel, a native of Mt. Holly, and many of her relatives were still there. So we met cousins, aunts, and uncles and consumed numerous "ham biscuits" served at Mama’s request, as they were a Southern delicacy we didn’t get at home.
Mama had graduated from Greensboro College (in her day a women’s school that required hats, stockings, and gloves if you went off campus!) and then studied at Duke University Divinity School. That’s where she met the friend who was on the staff of Guilford College where the World Conference would be held. Again, Friendly connections were important as he arranged for the three of us to participate.
The World Conference was a significant event for us in many ways, not the least of which was the exposure to Quakers. In our little town there were no others, although we held an occasional meeting for worship with two families from Rapid City. At Guilford we encountered a stimulating range of people, both on the youth staff and, of course, among the delegates.
As for our "jobs," I worked in the cafeteria and in the very busy office that produced a daily newsletter and handled the "worldly" press. And we no doubt were pushed and pulled in other directions I can’t recall. There were prayer groups, plenary sessions in the auditorium, and workshops of all sorts. I confess to enjoying the singing and folk dancing in the evenings the most! Who knew there was a "George Fox Song"? Not the Ruddells!
Towards the end of the conference a photographer came to shoot the whole group—quite an experience since the camera traveled from left to right, panning the whole assembly, and we had to stay very still for what seemed a long time. At least one of the more impish youth started on the left and then ran behind the crowd to the opposite end so he could be in the picture twice!
After we left North Carolina, the Rambler faithfully took us north to New York City (where I drove the wrong way on a one-way street and had numerous Brooklyn stoop-sitters yelling at me), Boston, and the World’s Fair in Montreal. We ate hot dogs to save money, discovered French fries with vinegar, and learned that we could survive in huge crowds and long lines. Mama and Dad were glad when we arrived home safely. Were they crazy to send us on such a jaunt or what?!
For my sisters and me, that summer experience so long ago showed us both the possibilities beyond a small South Dakota town and the diversity and richness of world Quakerism. My sisters duly graduated from Earlham, and Franna was married in the meetinghouse there. Jane’s sons went to Friends School Haverford. And I have spent my entire work life so far at American Friends Service Committee. I like to think that in part these pieces of our lives had roots in the 1967 Friends World Conference.