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The Plain Language of Love and Loss

A Quaker Memoir

Beth Taylor

Publication Year: 2009

On November 16, 1965, Beth Taylor’s idyllic childhood was shattered at age twelve by the suicide of her older brother Geoff. Raised in an “intentional community” north of Philadelphia—a mix of farm village, hippie commune, and suburb—she and her siblings were instilled with nonconformist values and respect for the Quaker tradition. With the loss of her beloved brother, Taylor began her complicated journey to understand family, loss, and faith.  
Written after years of contemplation, The Plain Language of Love and Loss reflects on the meaning of death and loss for three generations of Taylor’s family and their friends. Her compelling portrait of Geoff reveals a boy whose understanding of who he was came under increasing attack. He was harassed by schoolmates for being a “commie pinko coward” and he tried to appease fellow Boy Scouts after he abstained from a support-the-troops rally. Touching on the timely issues of bullying, child rearing, and nonconformity, Taylor offers a rare look at growing up Quaker in the tumultuous 1960s.
Taylor tells how each stage of her life exposed clues to the subtle damage wrought by tragedy, even while it revealed varieties of solace found in friendships, marriage, and parenting. As she struggles to understand the complexities of religious heritage, patriotism, and pacifism, she weaves the story of her own family together with the larger history of Quakers in the Northeast, showing the importance of family values and the impact of religious education.
            Beth Taylor says that she learned many things from her childhood, in particular that history is alive—and shapes how we judge ourselves and choose to live our lives. She comes to see that grief can be a mask, a lover, and a teacher.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Many people lived through the early events of this story and I am grateful to all of them for their generosity and frankness, but mostly for their willingness to revisit a difficult time in all of our lives. Everything in this memoir is as true as I, or others, can remember it. All names are real, although I have used one person’s chosen name. ...

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The Note

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pp. 1-3

When I turned fifty, I stood at the kitchen counter looking out the window at our small backyard in Providence, Rhode Island, studying our one towering tree and old carriage house, and suddenly I saw my mother, alone at her kitchen table in Pennsylvania, looking out at her flower garden, the sloping lawn, the pear tree and woods beyond. ...

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Hill of Vision

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pp. 4-31

This is how they met. My mother was cleaning house, her hair tied up in a bandanna, when she greeted my father at the door as he came to pick up her roommate for a date. The next visit he took all three roommates to an alumni picnic at Haverford College, and decided right there he liked my mother’s “milkmaid beauty” and her down-to-earth intelligence. ...

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Into the Valley

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pp. 32-52

In Bryn Gweled, we lived on Woods Road and our best friends were the Polsters, who had four kids, just three houses down, past the “High Woods.” Geoff, Daphne, and I would walk through the dark of the looming trees each Sunday night for the Walt Disney movie on their TV, or occasionally on Saturday night for Leave It to Beaver. ...

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Gentle Boy?

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pp. 53-59

Why did he do it? Anyone who knew Geoff wrestled with that question. He didn’t fit the stereotype of a troubled teen, or a loner with no support or dreams. He liked people, he slipped easily into leadership roles at school, in the Boy Scouts, and in our Quaker First Day School. ...

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The Shadow of Death

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pp. 60-68

Iknew, even as a twelve-year-old, that my mother changed the night Geoff died. Once or twice, after Daphne and I had gone to bed, I heard her weep–harsh, wrenching sobs, bursting up from the kitchen or living room, as she tried to keep us from hearing. Then, I think, something deep inside her just went dead, turned off forever. ...

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Sister

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pp. 69-79

For my first real date—on my sixteenth birthday in 1969, dressed up in tight bell-bottoms and an almost see-through blouse—a neighbor boy drove me to arty New Hope, where he bought me ice cream and a lead sculpture of the Trojan horse that held incense sticks. ...

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Personas

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pp. 80-94

During high school vacations, my father began to take me on jaunts—to courthouses, to visit shut-in clients. As we traveled together in his new Volvo–”Quaker gray with sexy red interior,” he’d wink—I began to realize there was an unspoken assumption that in the absence of Geoff, I would carry the intellectual mantle of the Taylor legacy, maybe even be a lawyer. ...

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Unpeaceable Kingdom

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pp. 95-107

Providence in 1975 was a dying city, its downtown dark and windy. But up on the hill, I felt a biblical sense of destiny. I settled into my first classroom and began to enjoy the freedom of a paycheck and my own apartment, car, and schedule. I felt optimistic, confident that my life was on track, that I was ready to become the teacher and independent adult I had imagined. ...

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Family

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pp. 108-123

Bill Collins was a tough, “hard” news reporter at the Providence Journal where I was writing “soft” features on subjects like disco queens, women in rock and roll, alternative schools, and radical Rhode Islanders. On Memorial Day in 1979, he put his wife on the train as she left him for good to find her dream in New York City, ...

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Faith

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pp. 124-146

As I watched my mother’s slow-burn death, battled off and on with my father, negotiated differences with Bill, and helped my sons face the trials of life, I began to understand I was no longer a Quaker. There came a day when I woke up in the pit again, with children needing me, classes to attend, and I felt as empty and alone as I had ever been. ...

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About the Author

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p. 160-160

Beth Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department’s Nonfiction Writing Program at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.


E-ISBN-13: 9780826271822
E-ISBN-10: 0826271820
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218452
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218458

Page Count: 159
Illustrations: 15
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth

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