Book Review: “Healing, Romance, and Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China” by Carolyn & Dennis Buckmaster

This review was written for Amazon.com: Healing, Romance, and Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China (Kindle Edition)

I would have liked to have seen an Introduction, which would provide some concise Chinese history for context, as well as more biographical information on Harriet’s life, before and after her trips to China. However…

“Healing, Romance & Revolution” is a delightful collection of letters, written by Seattleite Harriet “Hat” Smith. They were sent to her mother and others during her adventures as a young, single, and very independent nurse in China in the 1920′s. This was Hat’s second long-term stay in Changsha, Hunan Province. She was paid to educate nursing students and care for patients in the hospital, with the Yale-in-China program; a foreign missionary association, based out of Newhaven, Connecticut. Yale-in-China eventually evolved its function and focus from an evangelical mission to medical education, creating a prep school, middle school, and college; and it provided the most advanced Western medical training in China at the time, running a nursing school and hospital, funded mainly through foreign aid.

During this time in history, China was in civil war of varying degrees – the Chinese National political party was the Kuomintang, led by Sun Yat-Sen until his death – and then led by military strong-arm Chiang Kai-Shek before eventually being taken over by the Communist Party. The trickle-down effect on the community and hospital where Smith worked is illustrated in her letters as the Chinese struggled in constant flux to determine what the new character of China would become after each governmental and ideological change. Disruptions by newly-formed unions, worker’s rights demonstrations, military actions, egos or “face”, and the ever-changing demands of students and workers led to conflict with and frustrations for the American and other foreign educators.

Now quite a contrast to the abbreviated current day emails, Twitters, and phone texts, Harriet Smith’s letters are a wonderful example of old-fashioned letter writing: long, descriptive, personal, witty, and of literate merit – in other words, a joy to read. Keeping in touch with friends and relatives half-way around the world, during a time when the boat and mail service wasn’t guaranteed due to weather and war, was an exercise in commitment and patience. Harriet had the forethought to ask that her letters be kept as a running documentary of political and military unrest in China at the time, and so we have this collection today, painstakingly compiled by her grand-neice, Carolyn Buckmaster and Carolyn’s husband, Dennis. Even without any prior knowledge of Chinese history or medicine, the reader will enjoy her letters, for the mere pleasure of her droll wit, 1920′s style hipster lingo, and positive, worldly outlook on life.

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RUN, don’t walk, to see “The Wizard of Oz” in 3-D IMAX

If you are a classic movie buff, just the thought of “The Wizard of Oz” being released once again to be viewed ON THE BIG SCREEN(!!!!) for its 75th anniversary should excite you no end.  To top that off, it’s playing in 3-D and IMAX, but only for a very short run – I’ve heard differing stories that it will be in theatres one month or just one week, and we’re already a few days into the release.  So, go see it NOW!

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably seen “The Wizard of Oz” at least fifty times, and you can probably recite the script word-for-word, at least most of the time.  Every time you view it, you catch another line that stands out as especially clever.  This time for me, it was during the Cowardly Lion’s solo on Courage after arriving at the Emerald City; getting a new hairdo, and plumping up his self-esteem: “What makes the Hottentots so hot?  What puts the Ape in Apricot!?  Courage.”  Priceless. 

“The Wizard of Oz” was made in 1939 – an amazing year.  If you hadn’t been born yet… Oz was the first movie ever made in Technicolor; it lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Gone with the Wind”; FDR had established Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated evermore on the fourth Thursday in November; my parents were 2 and 3 years old; my Grandfather set sail with Admiral Byrd to the South Pole as a radioman aboard the USS Bear; and World War II began in Europe.  For those of you very young – there was a time before Cable, when, if you lived in a big enough town, you had THREE channels – imagine that!  ABC, NBC, and CBS.  If you were really lucky, you had a PBS station, and maybe a local independent station.  When I first saw “The Wizard of Oz” as a child in the late 1960s, it was aired on network television, usually once a year, around the holidays.  It was an EVENT.  Something to look forward to with anticipation and glee for the whole family, but especially the kids.  We gathered around the TV in our PJs, cross-legged on the floor, as close to the TV as our parents would allow. I remember the scary parts mostly, which aren’t quite so scary after the 50th viewing, but they still have a punch.  The storm as the twister was approaching – that giant, undulating, wild cyclone of impending doom!  Miss Gulch, who seems to turn into a broom-riding wicked witch, seen by Dorothy through her bedroom window while up in the cyclone.  The way the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet curl up and shrink under the house when her Ruby Slippers were removed.  Shudder!  Cringe!   I still get goose-bumps.  Did I mention that the TVs in most homes in the late 1960s to early 1970s were still black-and-white?  Since I wasn’t around to see the film in the theatres, can you imagine the wonder and excitement I felt when we finally got a COLOR TV (I think I was in Junior High) and watched “The Wizard of Oz” in TECHNICOLOR!? 

That astonishment at seeing the transition after Dorothy travels via cyclone from black-and-white Kansas to a vivid and colorful Munchkin Land was MIND-BLOWING!  Not to mention seeing the “horse of a different color you’ve heard tell about” -  and FINALLY understanding that line!  (The horse “changed” colors – White, Red, Yellow, and Purple – four different horses were used in the picture, colored with gelatin).  Now here we are in 2013, with this beloved classic in 3-D.  I have to admit that until today, I had never seen a movie in 3-D.  I’d heard it was just a schlocky effect from the 1950s and likely to cause migraines with those funny glasses you have to wear.  Well – I felt today much like I felt when I first saw the film in Color.  I was astonished.  Tears came to my eyes.  “Oh Joy!  Rapture!”  It was great.  The depth of field, the backdrops, the DETAIL that can now be seen on that giant theatre screen AND in 3-D.  It was truly remarkable – I am a convert.  It was like seeing the picture all over again for the first time.  Totally worth the $18.50.  Do yourselves a favor and go enjoy seeing it again.  Maybe even bring your kids.

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Harry Elmo Beasley – December 9, 1922 – July 28, 2013

March 6, 2014 – Addendum to the below article -

Please be informed that Harry’s wife, Edith Beasley, passed away in her sleep last night. Obituary notice link will be included when it is available – look for it in the Sunday Seattle Times, March 23rd. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?n=edith-beasley&pid=170282624

Edith had moved down to California to live near her daughter, Ginger, and had actually been doing fairly well in her assisted living/nursing facility arrangement. In her working life, Edith was one of the first female supervisors at Boeing and worked there for 40 years. Harry and Edith met at a dance, and when they married, Harry worked at the school district; and together they bought a home on top of West Seattle, with a sweeping view of Puget Sound. Edith was an inspiration to me – always gracious, always well-dressed, always up for a party, very outgoing, caring, and friendly. In her retirement, she volunteered in the office every week at Seattle First Covenant Church. Among myriad other things, she kept track of guests that signed in during Sunday Services and sent them “welcome” cards; she helped send out the monthly newsletter to the congregation, and sent most everyone a birthday card at some time or another. She served on the Deacon Board, and sent weekly bulletins to those members who were shut-in or had moved away, just so her little chicks would be thought of and would be kept abreast of what was going on with their Church Family. Edith helped shut-ins, and  involved herself to the degree that she would take care of their checking accounts and financial papers. She made it a point to be in touch with as many people as possible, and even in her last year, she amazed me at the DETAILS she kept in her head about each person’s life. If there were any skeletons, you know she was the one who would know where they were buried! She was positive, matter-of-fact, and a take-the-bull-by-the-horns type of woman – and I loved her for it. What a great lady. Oh, and she put up with Harry, too. That’s some accomplishment. Memorial services are being planned for the end of March:

Committal service at Tahoma Military Cemetery  March 27th…11:30am

Edith’s memorial service at Seattle First Covenant  400 E. Pike  March 29th.. 11am

+++++++++++++++++++++

I wrote this tribute to my 90-year-old friend Harry Beasley, who attended First Covenant Church in Seattle. His obituary can be found at:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?pid=166137826#sthash.HenVol0A.dpbs

It is with great sadness and gratitude that I write this at Harry Beasley’s passing. The memorial on August 3rd, 2013 was beautiful and very well-attended. The always smiling Harry was a very special and thoughtful man who cared about people – especially Edith, whom he worried over a great deal in recent months.

I am a fan of Harry and Edith Beasley – they were one of the most friendly, loving, and welcoming couples I have ever met. They had an amazing capacity and interest in remembering people and their individual life stories, including their connections and their families. They are examples we can only hope to emulate.

I met Edith early on when I began attending First Covenant Church in Seattle around 1990, not only because she made it her personal business to know EVERYONE at church, but because she was one of the very few others with Finnish roots in an otherwise mainly Swedish congregation; the others being myself, Victor Eklund, Karin Sellin, and Paul Bjorklund. She remembered my grandparents and great-grandfather when they attended First Covenant in the 1970’s. I was quickly and naturally drawn to this stand-out group of friendly, and perhaps, genetic smart-alecks.

Harry and I hit it off immediately, being fellow ‘creatives’ in artistic fields. Some people do not understand creative types and find us a bit ‘difficult’, but really, we’re just trying to make the world a more beautiful place…and that requires a bit of thought, discussion, and a lot of work behind the scenes. One thing about both Harry and Edith is that they cared so very much about the people they know, and of First Covenant Church, that even if someone might rankle them – someone who was just being an ‘obstacle’ perhaps from spite or short-sightedness, or who didn’t understand artistic types…they would continue their own personal brand of ministry ANYWAY – never discouraged. Edith was a major part of Congregational Care and volunteered in the church office weekly for years, and Harry – it was found out during the memorial – would come in every Saturday night at five, just to make sure the sanctuary was looking ‘just right’ for the Sunday morning service. Edith is always a lady and Harry was always a gentleman, and they actually took some glee in fighting the good fight with a twinkle in their eyes.

Harry could talk about his artistic work of interior decorating, and articulate the reasons for his decisions. These reasons would include not only aesthetic considerations, but also whether something would be appropriate, and how it might HONOR those who use the space, as well as those who came before. He was an Expert – and therefore, most worthy of deepest RESPECT. He was responsible for decades of interior design at the historic, 100+ year old First Covenant Church – and he specialized in the decoration of other local churches – very recently including Mt. Zion Baptist. Imagine being NINETY…still being sought after, and enjoying and working at one’s profession! He has left a legacy that will last for decades to come.

At First Covenant, he curated the Marie Petersen art collection – the watercolors, pencil, charcoal, and pastels hanging in the Narthex. He changed them out seasonally, even if no one noticed. He honored not only Marie Peterson’s work, but the church, and the liturgical season. He also undertook the maintenance of the dozens of stained-glass windows and had them repaired as necessary. I wonder, who now will fill his shoes and take on these duties?

Harry was also responsible for redecorating when it came to the major remodel of the sanctuary several years ago. He chose the paint scheme and did much of the hand-painted artwork himself, including the little bird in the Trompe l’oeil sky mural at the top of the dome. This style of painting, by the way, is a Swedish architectural tradition, thus showing the research and care Harry exhibited in his work.

When it came to designing and installing the new sound system several years ago when I still attended and served on the Sound Committee, I insisted that Harry be consulted when it became clear that the audio engineers would need to hang a central speaker cluster from the chandelier. That chandelier can be lowered to the ground, by the way – it doesn’t happen very often, so it’s a sight to see and must be done very carefully. Harry stepped up to create that shroud around the upper edge of the chandelier to hide what would otherwise be a set of very ugly speakers. He kept the original chandelier’s design in mind; and made the shroud of a material that is acoustically “see-through” so it would not adversely affect the sound; and even with these additions, the collaboration still allowed the chandelier to do its main job, which is to illuminate the domed ceiling.

Harry exhibited great care, love, and detail in his volunteer consultations here at church – even down to the Sanctuary and Narthex flower arrangements; and where the cross and Bible are placed on the altar. Recently, he provided a flower arrangement on Father’s Day, with five American Flags – one for each branch of the US Military Armed Services – to honor fathers who are away at war.

Some thought it was for Flag Day. It wasn’t.

I am quite certain, without having been in on the conversations, that when the Rogue’s Gallery – the framed portraits of former First Covenant Pastors – was removed from their old home on the wall in Fellowship Hall where they had hung for years… that it was Harry who chose their new home – lining the back wall of the upper balcony. I chuckled when I noticed this placement – it effectually provides a supportive (or perhaps intimidating) audience of historic peers staring down at any new incoming pastor. That’s just the sort of thoughtfulness Harry would bring to his artistic treatment of a sacred space. And of course, the portraits were spaced and hung perfectly, as for an art gallery. That’s Harry.

Everywhere you look, Harry likely had a hand in making decisions on decorative details. I hope those at the church who listened to his instruction or know of his deeds will remember and take it upon themselves to continue his tradition of CARE – HONOR – and DETAIL. I am hoping that the interior dome will be repaired of its water damage and falling plaster, and yet maintain the beautiful decorative embellishment work that Harry did. I remember before the last time this job was done, if the music was too loud, pieces of plaster would fall down on the worshippers in the first few rows. As we see such things really start to fall apart around there, we know he is missed, but if you help keep things up, he will be remembered.

Carolann Driver

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