I am writing this during October 2015, and my present address is in South-Central Washington State, USA, in a small town called Toppenish, which is surrounded by the Yakama Indian Reservation, but my story begins in Devon, England.
I was one of those many thousands of children who were known as ‘war-babies’. Yes, I was born during the Second World War, in a house called Rowantrees, in Paignton, Devon. My father was engaged in war work, and nine months before my arrival, had been given some home-leave for his birthday!
Before the war my father had been the verger of Paignton Parish Church, but in 1946 took a similar post in the much larger cathedral-sized abbey at Sherborne, Dorset. His job defined me as the ‘The Verger’s Daughter’.
I had two older brothers. John was nearly 10 years my senior, and Graham, nearly four years older than me. John trained to be a printer, which he worked at for many years until the industry was displaced by technological advancements, and Graham joined the Wiltshire Constabulary, where he remained until retirement. I can say that I was never made to feel like a ‘girl’, the difference in our gender not figuring very highly in our family, for which I am very grateful. I remember when the ‘Women’s Lib.’ movement was developing, how I didn’t feel the need to be liberated, as I hadn’t felt incarcerated in my femininity.
Our mother had a strong artistic streak – she was an accomplished painter, played the piano, and had a superb contralto voice. Father was a tenor.
Those were the days before television. However a local lady organised pantomimes every Christmas, and mother was soon involved in playing the piano, and father the drums, and we children were also roped in, but we did enjoy it. The shows were popular with the townsfolk who attended in their hundreds.
Our home, owned by the Abbey, was in its shadow. We attended the Sunday morning service and Sunday school. My primary school was ‘The Abbey School’, and we attended services in the Abbey on the various Holy Days, so I became very familiar with the Christian stories, services and hymns. Sherborne was an idyllic town for us children, but mother always longed to return to Devon, and the opportunity came in 1958, when I was fifteen.
This move became very significant to me, as it was in Torquay, Devon, in 1962, that I was to meet up with some Bahá’ís. Torquay was one of the first five communities in the UK; its Assembly was established in 1939 and it had maintained an ongoing community since those early days.
I was having a coffee one evening with a male friend, in a harbourside café, when two people walked in and sat elsewhere, but acknowledged my friend on their way past our table. He explained he had met them earlier that day. They invited us to join them. These were two Bahá’ís, Naomi Long and Bryan Huxtable.
I soon discovered that this particular café, Macaris, was a favourite meeting place for the local Bahá’ís, one reason being that several were working in the hotel industry and would gather after serving dinner to the guests. Some evenings there would be a dozen or so sitting around having animated conversations. There was a good mix of Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís, so there was plenty of teaching about the Bahá’í Faith.
My Christian background made me rather suspicious of the claims being made, but I did not ignore these conversations, instead I would go home and share some of them with my father, as I respected his Christian knowledge. I would then repeat some of this to the café gathering, who then came up with further explanations. This to-ing and fro-ing went on for a few months.
I did enjoy the company of the Bahá’ís, and travelled with them to Exeter on a Friday for a fireside at Jimmy and Topsy Bennett’s home. I was also reading about the Faith, in particular William Sears’ book Thief in the Night.
The friend I had been having coffee with that first evening, Michael Sposito, had by then become a Bahá’í, so after several months of talking and reading, he made the observation that I seemed to be ‘sitting on the fence’. This gave me the prod to make a decision so I declared my belief in the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in the Torquay Bahá’í Centre, July 1962, at the age of 19.
At that time, there was someone coming into the Faith every month, for about 12 months. They were truly happy days, and I greatly value the reservoir of knowledge and faith that I was able to accumulate. Declaration was more formal in those days. You were expected not only to accept the stations of the three central figures, but also agree to abide by each clause of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and accept the spirit, as well as the form of the Administrative Order. For me, this created a really strong foundation for my service in the Cause, a kind of certitude.
Although this had all happened in Torquay, I was living with my parents in Paignton. The towns are conjoined and both a part of Torbay, but they were separate communities. In Paignton there was just one family, fairly recently arrived from Persia, the Mokhtari’s, consisting of the mother and five fairly young children. The father was still in Persia. They were extremely hospitable and made me feel a part of the family. I was not much older than the oldest children, and I can remember us having a love of Roy Orbison, and playing ‘Mean Woman Blues’ on their record player! It was in their home that I first met Ann (Corvin) from Ireland. We have been friends ever since, meeting either in her home in Dublin, or in Torquay.
The year following my declaration, 1963, became very special. Firstly I had the opportunity to attend the First Bahá’í World Congress in London, travelling up in the back of a van owned by the Lee family. Joe and Elsie Lee had pioneered to Torquay with their children. I had visited London only once before, at the age of 11, with my school, to see the coronation decorations, so this was a great adventure, and especially being with thousands of Bahá’ís. We were only able to stay for the weekend, but the memory is indelibly printed in my soul!
During the summer of ’64 I attended my first Summer School, at Colleg Harlech in Wales. I travelled there by bus with Mick Coombe, who at that time was still going back and forth between the UK and Australia as a chef on the P & O Line. What an experience the Summer School was! I arrived not knowing a soul and came away feeling I was leaving a whole new family.
One of the attendees was a young Malaysian man who had won a prize on a Radio Show – a trip to England. His name was Ho-San Leong. As he didn’t have a definite itinerary, I suggested that he come to visit Devon. One week later I received a telegram from him, saying he would be arriving in a few days time. I went over to see Mrs Mokhtari, certain she would be delighted to host him, only to discover that she already had visitors. Wow! I had a bit of a panic. There was only one thing for it. I had to ask my parents if he could stay with us. My mother was a lovely person, but, like many at that time, was rather wary of ‘foreigners’. However, because of the difficulty of the situation (we had no way of contacting Ho-San), she did agree.
I believe he stayed a couple of weeks, and my mother just fell in love with him. He gave her a little picture when he was leaving, and she would talk about him with warmth when she looked at it. I remember the first time Ho-San went into Torquay, he came home saying everyone was white! It was during those weeks that we went around with Mick Coombe and Pam Mallet, who fell in love and decided to marry in the October.
In 1965, at Christmas, I received a marriage proposal from Bryan Huxtable which I accepted. At the time, he was pioneering in Salisbury, Wiltshire. During our correspondence we agreed that we would like to start our married life in a pioneer post. The neighbouring county, Cornwall, was in need of pioneers, so with the blessing of the Pioneer Committee, following our July wedding we set up home in the St Austell area, chosen as the goal town, in a village called Tywardreath (made famous in the book ‘House on the Strand’ by Daphne Du Maurier, who had lived a couple of miles away).
There were a handful of Bahá’ís scattered around Cornwall, the most well-known being the famous and respected potter Bernard Leach, who lived in St. Ives. Also in that town was Trudi Scott, who acted as housekeeper for Bernard. We attended many wonderful firesides in his apartment, right on the beach. He was a very humble gentleman.
There were also three Bahá’ís from Torquay who had been in Cornwall a few years. Pauline Potter got a job as a nanny on a farm on the Lizard before moving to a farm at Goonvrea. Later she moved to Delabole when she became Mrs Bray. Naomi Long and Alan Carter were in St. Agnes. I remember Naomi advising us not to rush into the teaching work, but allow our fellow villagers to get to know us first.
My husband Bryan was a builder, and got a job with the local council. I was employed in the Data Processing Department of ECLP (English Clays Lovering Pochin), the headquarters of the China Clay Industry. There were just two computers in the whole of Cornwall at that time; one was in the County Council offices, and the other at ECLP!
Within a month or so of starting in my job, a conversation with my work colleagues led to me being asked what my religion was. Now I could hear Naomi’s advice ringing in my ears, but I had no other choice but to answer that I was a Bahá’í. Imagine my surprise and delight when one of my colleagues said “My brother is a Bahá’í too!” His name was Kit Forrest, and he was in Switzerland with his wife and family. During our years in Cornwall, Kit and his family visited us regularly while on holiday with their parents. When we started public meetings in St Austell, his mother and sister were regular supporters.
We felt well-supported in Cornwall, and friends would come from Exeter or Plymouth from time to time. In 1968 we were informed that three young ladies were coming down to carry out a survey on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly, to ascertain education and job opportunities for future possible pioneers. They were sisters Iréne and Hélène Momtaz, and May Khadem. They stayed with us for about three weeks and were a delight.
One day when they were travelling on the bus to St. Austell, they got into conversation with a lady who wanted to know where they were from, and why they were there. The girls had no hesitation in presenting the Bahá’í teachings, and everything they said was met with “that is what I believe” so imagine the excitement. The lady, Anita Lee, invited them to call at her home so we all went there and met her and her husband Colin and their young children. I think within a week she had declared, and Colin shortly after. These were our first new Bahá’ís in our Goal Area. Then Anita immediately started teaching her next-door neighbor, Noreen Billings, who also became a Bahá’í, so now we had three new Bahá’ís, and between them seven children. Wow! Bryan and I were put in the role of children’s class teachers, and we had no material back then. It was certainly a challenge, more for Bryan as he had the teenagers. I had the younger ones.
The following year we organised a weekend school, held in a building on Par Beach. Two of the people who attended were Barbara and Terry Smith from Chippenham. Terry was very taken with all these kids around, and suggested that it would be wonderful if a youth gathering could be held in the area. He was quite a visionary, explaining he could ‘see’ youth coming from all corners of the UK. I used to call him a Canadian Bill Sears! he was great.
His suggestion was followed through and presented to the National Youth Committee, who responded by organising a six week youth project the following summer, two weeks at Par, two weeks in St. Austell, and two weeks in Mevagissey. Greetings to all those young people who came and made it such a success! There was an American, Johnny Polgreen, who had been teaching in the South of the US – he managed the ‘shows’ that were presented, and taught us many Bahá’í songs. There was also a lady, Alaf, from Baghdad. This project created much excitement throughout the UK community. We were visited by Auxiliary Board members and NSA members, all wondering what was ‘happening’ in St. Austell. In all there were about 70 declarations.
This was a new phenomenon, years before we had the Ruhi courses. We didn’t have a good follow-up programme, we didn’t know we would need one, but we all learned much, and as a result, were able to form the first Spiritual Assembly of St. Austell with Fowey the following Riḍván, the Bahá’í Administration being established in Cornwall.
By this time others had moved into Cornwall. Alan Bell was doing secretarial work with Bernard Leach, Barbara Anderson (Lee) had moved into St. Agnes, and Paul Profaska had become a Bahá’í, also in St. Agnes. Richard Matty was in Truro.
With the goal achieved, Bryan and I started to think about moving back to Devon. By then we had two small children, Simon and Shirin. Our parents were aging. We decided to make another pioneer move, this time to Teignbridge, which is centred in Newton Abbot. It was now 1973.
Teignbridge had a few Bahá’ís, but they were scattered in the rural community. Arthur and Dorothy Hambling were in Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor, and just outside the area in West Devon were Robert and Nora Scrutton, and Pat Lovett in Mid Devon. Also in Teignbridge was Muriel Matthews, a member of the first Torquay Assembly in 1939, and Ann Hole in Chudleigh. Then Mrs. Dowlatshahi pioneered from Exeter, and Fereydoon Taheri, who had recently arrived from Iran. Fereshte Best, also from Iran, had married a local man. So it was not long before an Assembly was formed in Teignbridge.
After 22 years together, Bryan and I decided to live separately. I moved to Paignton, to my parents old home, and then to Torquay. To this day, we have remained very good friends, and have always thought of ourselves as a family, but not living together.
Whilst living in Torquay I changed my job focus, and went to work in the care industry, in a retirement home. I remained there for ten years, and achieved my NVQ Grade 3 qualification. Then I was invited to work for a domiciliary care franchise, Carewatch, as the Co-ordinator. This I did for a couple of years, then had the opportunity to work as an Assistant Manager in another care home. I stayed there for eight years, then retired.
It was during this time the Ruhi Programme was launched. This interested me very much. Because of our experiences in Cornwall with the Youth Project, I realised that this would address the missing dimension of the follow-up. I was excited, so much so that I threw myself into the training, including doing two week-long intensive sessions in Liverpool, Book 4 and Book 7, and one, Book 6, in Cranmore. In all it took me a year to complete the sequence. I then had the great bounty of being able to tutor the whole sequence the following year. A busy two years!
In 2006 I decided to join the Bahá’í singles website ‘Two-Doves’. I had been on my own for fifteen years and hoped that I might find a companion for the rest of my life. I was lucky: I found George. We conversed via Skype for several months, and studied together online the book ‘Marriage Can be Forever, Preparation Counts’. Then in the September I visited his home town in America, staying with a Bahá’í couple who lived in the same road. During my second week there George proposed and I accepted. Of course being residents of different countries did add to the complications of getting married.
Eventually, George arrived in England in January 2007 and we were married in the March. We had decided that it would be better if we lived in the States. The dollar-exchange rate was terrible for George at that time, and he had a young granddaughter who was really missing him. However, it took a year to get my visa, so we took advantage of this time and did a fair amount of travelling in the UK and on the Continent, including two three-day visits to the Bahá’í World Center and a delayed honeymoon cruise on the Nile. George had never been outside of America before so he wanted to see as much as possible.
One weekend trip was rather special for him. His father had been killed during the Second World War, at the Battle of the Bulge, so I arranged for us to visit his dad’s grave at the St. Avold American War Cemetery in France. We took the Eurostar to Brussels, then continued to Luxembourg, where we stayed overnight. The next morning we picked up a hire car (George driving as it was a left-hand drive car of course!). We motored down into France for a couple of hours, arriving at the Cemetery mid-morning. It is beautifully arranged, with pure white crosses in straight rows, both head-on and diagonally, 10,000 in all. They were a silent reminder of the terrible consequences of war, and all so young! We had the number of the grave we were seeking, and George at last had the opportunity to pay his respects to his father, who had been killed while George was still a baby. We also prayed for all those dear souls buried there. We then drove for 1 1⁄2 hours into Germany, and visited the Mother Temple of Europe near Frankfurt. We were given a great welcome in the reception centre, and entered the Temple to pray. Then it was back to Luxembourg, and home the next morning.
I should mention here that my daughter had also met someone through the ‘Two- Doves’ website, a Canadian, Charles, so not only did we get married in 2007, we then arranged their wedding for November of the same year. They set up home in Canada.
I eventually got my visa for America in March 2008, a whole year to process! My son Simon bought my home, so that simplified the move. So it was that we arrived in Toppenish, Washington State, on 20th April 2008, just in time to be elected to their Spiritual Assembly!
I had never ever dreamt that I would live out my retirement in the United States. However, being a Bahá’í meant that I was able to fit into the activities of the local community and the cluster. They valued the fact that I was Ruhi trained and was immediately invited to be a children’s class teacher on the Yakama Indian Reservation. This was a service that George and I did for seven years, and we still help with the local class. Boy, I had some fast learning to do to familiarise myself with Indian culture but it has been a real privilege to serve in this way. I was also invited to be the Cluster Co-ordinator for Study Circles, which involved being part of the Core Team for the Cluster. Thankfully our Auxiliary Board member appointed George as his Assistant, primarily to help me with the coordinating work. We really wanted to serve together.
Fortunately we have been able to make regular visits to the UK. In 2009 we met up with Shirin and Charles to go on a 9 Day Pilgrimage together. Shirin and I had already put in our applications, and were able to add our husbands when our dates arrived. This was my first full Pilgrimage, nearly 50 years after becoming a Bahá’í. Treasured memories.
The last time we visited Haifa, which was on a three-day visit in 2012, Bryan was able to accompany us on his first visit to the Bahá’í World Centre, and … we met up with Iréne Momtaz, one of the young ladies who had stayed with us in Cornwall in 1968!
I can’t leave my Bahá’í story without mentioning briefly some other experiences that had an uplifting effect on my soul.
- In the 1970s, dear Raymond Peter, a mature student from Malaysia, did a course in Plymouth. His teaching methods were an inspiration. He brought into the Faith six or seven fellow Malaysian students. We had their company for a couple of years. Friendships were forged that have lasted. In 1999, Arezoo Farahzad and I accepted an invitation to go to Kuala Lumpur, a wonderful experience.
- In 2001, this time also accompanied by Shirin, we were hosted in Beijing by two of these Malaysians, Eng Kee Ngion and his wife Grace, who were pioneering in China with their young family. They are still there.
- Friendships were also forged with the dear Welsh Community, initially by participating in the Teaching Projects in the Welsh Valleys. These were renewed by our attending the Welsh Easter and Summer Schools, after which Shirin did her year of service in Carmarthen, at the farm of Richard and Sheila Swan at Fellin Gelli.
- The opportunity to attend the Second Bahá’í World Congress in New York in November 1992.
- Since the 1960s, friendship with Ann and Brian Corvin, then living in Torquay, now in Dublin, in their home country.
- Meeting Siva Kalappadi at the Sidcot Summer School, and jointly researching the visits of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Bristol, which I hope will be published in time for the opening of the apartment in Bristol where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed on two occasions, 1911 and 1913.
Today I am so grateful and thank Bahá’u’lláh daily, for the present bounty of my good health, a marvellous life with George, and the blessing of all the spiritual experiences and friendships received throughout my life. YA BAHÁ’U’L-ABHÁ!
Carole Huxtable Lulham