Finding My Mother: The Red Box

Chapter Six: Unzen – “What’s Next?”


Having honeymooned in Unzen during the summer of 1926, my mother and father were refugees in Unzen during the summer of 1927. Their refuge was the same bungalow they had occupied after their wedding, #7 Kazunoko Yama. No wonder they were asking themselves: “What’s next?” My mother, who had been able to focus on the violets in bloom as she was evacuated from Wuhu, was able to enjoy the pine groves once again in Unzen. B.W., Carolyn’s husband of a year, had learned from her to see the marvels of nature no matter the circumstances. He wrote that “Japan is lovely now. We have just had the cherry blossom season and now the azaleas are coming out.”

In the mid-seventeenth-century, Matsukura Shigemasa, who was posted to the Shimabara domain, tortured St. Thomas Nishi and fifteen of his fellow Christians by having them flung into the boiling waters of the hot springs. Not surprisingly, the Christians won martyrdom.

Carolyn and B.W. had been flung into a torment of anxiety. Would they be able to return to Wuhu? Would they be sent on furlough? Would they be transferred to the Philippines? Would they be sent to Korea?

Within days, if not hours, B.W., with Carolyn beside him, wrote thoughtful strategic answers to each question. He used the plural noun “we” more than the singular “I”. He was at his most persuasive in writing to the Department of Missions in New York on May 4. China’s efforts to subdue its grasping warlords were failing, he wrote. Undisciplined Nationalist armies were surging north and foreign governments inserting themselves everywhere.

B.W. wrote that he was “very much out of sympathy with the idea of allowing the present Cantonese Educational authorities to direct our educational policies. What is the use of trying to accept regulations put out by a group (notice I do not use the word government) which may be entirely out of power before you can draw up final agreements about accepting regulations? I do feel that when China has a real and stable government, we should do our best to meet their reasonable requirements. As a matter of fact, our course of study at St. James was far nearer the government (existing last fall) requirements than the course provided by any government middle school in Wuhu. Of course, there is no question but that compulsory chapel and Religious instruction is over. I don’t get the logic of their arguments for I do feel that students who are not willing to accept these should go to schools which don’t have them. They want our schools, our foreign teachers, and our funds to run ordinary government-type schools.

“According to present plans, we shall probably remain here until about the first of September. Then we shall return to Shanghai to get orders for the future. We shall do whatever is ready for us to do. It is even possible that we might go to the Philippines if we cannot be used in China and can be used there. Quite a few have already gone there, but I see no use in going down to Manila for about four months and upsetting the work there. Then if China needs us, we would have to leave whatever had just started. I feel that Manila would be worse off than ever under those conditions. If neither of these plans seems wise, then we shall make our plans to start back for the U.S.A. If we cannot get back to some work in China this Fall, I cannot but feel that it will be some months, even two years, before we get back there.

“If we do have to go home, I am hoping we can plan to go back by way of Suez. We are not sure we can finance the trip, but if the Board allows us full expenses across the Pacific and the States, that sum will nearly take us home the other way if we go 2nd or 3rd class. If the question of our return to China is very indefinite, we do want to make the trip while we have the chance as we may never have the chance again and may not be able to afford it. The experience will be a great help in my history teaching no matter where I might be. Am hoping to go on with some sort of Mission work, even if I have to remain in the States.

“No matter what you read about China, do not get the idea that missionaries will not be needed in China. This whole thing is due to a minority of radicals and not to the Chinese people as a whole, who should not be blamed. We shall be needed more than ever some day in the future. But all missionaries coming to China will have to come with the definite idea that they are to be Helpers and not Leaders. We have all been through some very keen disappointments and have had some of our ideals badly broken. But it has been awful what so many of our Chinese friends are going through. Many have lost everything and are having such a hard time. We could leave, but they cannot. They must stay and face it all. The majority of the Chinese do need your sympathy and real interest in them and their future.”

It took my mother until the end of August to voice any thought about what their future might hold. She wrote friends that they “may be able to return to Shanghai, but the latest reports don’t assure us at all that the American Consul will permit us to return to our Wuhu home.”

In her letter, she wishes that “you all might be here with us on this shady big veranda and visit with us in our spacious bungalow. We are only a family of five grown-ups now though there were 14 who slept here last night. The Haskells (of Christian Mission, Wuhu) left here this morning to begin their work at Osaka, near Kobe, Japan. Since it was decided that Wuhu schools can’t open this fall, the Haskells, who have just returned from the U.S., have consented to fill some of their Mission vacancies here in Japan.

“The other four who left this morning were the Rev. and Mrs. Robert S. Spencer and their two eldest daughters from Fukuoka, Japan. They motored here, nearly a hundred miles, and spent four nights with us – it was the only vacation they felt they could afford because they have to save every penny to let their eldest daughter, Maryanna, have her second year in the Canadian Academy at Kobe. Mrs. Spencer has to teach the other three at home. The Spencers are under the Methodist Board. Bob was valedictorian of my class at Syracuse University. It was such fun for me to have B.W. meet him after I had studied four years with this truly remarkable missionary during our college days. Both Bob and Evelyn Spencer were born in Japan and are the children of veteran missionary families.”

In this letter Carolyn does not mention any culinary skill mastered in a Rochester kitchen. I assume that she had not cooked in Tientsin or Chengtu. However, in his Unzen letter, B.W. steps in to praise Carolyn’s brown bread and first custard pie. Nor was he averse to the praise he won for his cottage pudding. I find it amusing that during that same summer, in the same nest of bungalows, amidst the same pine trees, another missionary refugee, Pearl Buck took her two children, Janice and Carrie, on picnics with sandwiches made from bread she baked herself.

Pearl Buck, her father, her husband John Lossing Buck, and their two children had fled Nanking on that same harrowing March 24 when the Nationalist Army took over that city. Mr. Buck was an agricultural economist missionary at Nanking University. In Unzen, I think Mrs. Buck was too immersed in family problems to worry about tomorrow. Her days were filled with a failing marriage and a seven-year-old daughter with phenylketonuria, or mental retardation, not yet treatable in those years.

Pearl Buck’s drive to write had started shortly after she entered into marriage, a good 21 years before she won her Nobel Prize. She was tormented over the loss of her beloved mother, Carie, who herself had lost three of her first four children in China. And then there was her father, Absalom Sydenstricker, an ultraconservative missionary, hell-bent on converting every possible person he encountered. He had fled from safety in Unzen to Korea for “there was work for him to do.” Pearl Buck’s biographies of her mother, The Exile, and of her father, Fighting Angel, were both published in 1936. An Editor of these two books wrote that “together they form a work to be entitled The Spirit and The Flesh.” Pearl Buck was trying to balance the two.

Professor Conn, in his biography of Buck notes that she truly believed missionaries were serving both as agents and symbols of Imperialism. Worrying about her family’s tomorrow was difficult enough without having to worry about China’s struggle to find a stable government.

Another friend who was worrying about an uncertain future was Dr. Hyla Watters. Although she was a desperately needed doctor, Bishop Birney of the Methodist Episcopal Church had heard enough about the treatment of foreign women in Nanking to urge her to leave immediately. Accepting that she had to, off she “refugeed” to Nagasaki, and then to Shimonoseki, and then to Seoul , noting that she was “wanting to get back to China and all our friends who bravely ate so much bitterness as ‘running dogs of the foreigners.’”

Joseph Wharton was one of the few foreigners who was not evacuated from Wuhu. In an August 3 letter to B.W., he said that the Red Cross Unit of the Seventh Army was stationed in every building in the St. James compound. Ru-I, B.W.’s faithful cook whom he had left in charge, went to Wharton to ask him to come see what was happening to my parents’ bungalow. Wharton went immediately and found their home occupied. Wharton tried to get the troops to leave, but they told him they literally had no other place to go. Troops were stationed over at St. Lioba’s as well. They were even quartered in the Chapel.

Hyla also heard about the chaotic 50,000 troops’ dispersal throughout Wuhu from Dr. Brown, another American who had not been evacuated. Overcrowding was bad, but apparently sanitary conditions were deplorable. Flies were a plague, and dysentery, typhoid, smallpox, and cholera broke out in the most severe epidemic in years.

Already somewhat aware from Wharton and Dr. Brown of what was happening at home in Wuhu, B.W and Carolyn received permission to return to Shanghai at the end of October. B.W.’s arguments for their return to China had won out. He was permitted to leave for Wuhu on November 9. As a female, Carolyn would have to wait. In her letter of November 20 to Florence Bachman, her dear college roommate, she explained her situation: “Happy without B.W.? That is just what has happened since our return from Unzen. He is in Wuhu and I’m still in Shanghai. The American Consul won’t yet permit women to return there. ‘Tisn’t easy but I am glad we are both well. I don’t have him here to take care of me.

“And can you guess the other reason why we are both so very happy these days? Our longed-for desire is at last being realized and guess !!!!! Lanphears are expecting a wee little babe early in April … B.W. is so good to me and is just as excited as I am. He tells my YWCA friends about babe before I can, if sees them first and they ask about me. Really you’d enjoy seeing how thrilled we both are. That is why I don’t dare take any risks if war is suddenly to be raging near Wuhu. Of course, I do miss B.W. so much, but one must be brave for only those who are willing to be brave enough to meet any situation with patience and love are needed in China these days …”