Thursday, April 24, 2008

Description of Marjorie Bly from 1959

Earlier I mentioned a letter I had read that included a description of Marjorie Bly. Judy Manwell (Moore), an Oberlin "rep" to Taiwan in the late 1950s, had the opportunity to meet Marjorie Bly during a trip to Penghu in 1959. Judy wrote a letter to the Oberlin community on January 30, 1959 about her trip. She has given me permission to post the part of a letter about her visit with Bly:
Marjorie Bly: A name, it seemed to be last year, which went well among Protestant pioneers and saints--rhythmical, forthright, pronounceable. Many times in Taiwan and even in Hong Kong I had heard the name and how its owner, an American nurse, had dedicated herself to helping the lepers out there on the lonely little Pescadores [Penghu]--"and how she can stand it I don't know...really admirable!" It happened that while we were sitting in the little airlines office poring over their map and thinking how we might get hold of her, our Saint walked in to ask the genial airlines fellow if his kids were still coming over for checkers that night. About 35, she had chosen those classic clothes missionaries buy to stay in style for five years with more verve than most; she was too femininely plump for the traditional Saint, her gaze too direct and unclogged with surplus love of humanity for the modern Peale Saint. She took us to the General Hospital, explaining that it was her goal to incorporate treatment of lepers with that of the other sick people. She had come out six years before with a few glowing letters from Pescadores patients treated by her in a Taipei leprosarium, which made her welcome in their families and talked about in others. Her visits to to other homes, however, had at first brought terror that the dread disease lurked there. Gradually they saw that in most homes she found no leprosy; where she did find it she could relieve the age-old horror. They began to bring their symptoms into the little laboratory marked "dermatology." Here a fat solemn-looking Taiwanese nurse works Miss Bly's struggling Chinese into the patients' language. After a few minutes' chatting she got us off on an excursion to another island and went back to work. Several hours later we staggered off a grimy little boat. It had been a rough trip, especially because everybody crowded to one side to avoid spray, putting us, if no one else, in constant fear of capsizing. With soggy but dogged conscientiousness, we had huddled alone on the spray-beaten side. We were weary of living, though glad to be alive. And there was Marjorie to take us to a cup of coffee. There had been no cozy cordial invitation before we left--there was just this moment of bliss on returning. We sat for a long time in her bare shop-like room which she loved for its privacy, and we drank hoarded coffee and ate the little bean cakes which are the eternal reward for making friends in China and the eternal acid--or sickenly sweet--test of one's inter-cultural adapt[a]bility. We talked about her Christmas tree of green paper on white artfully festooned with Christmas-card cut-outs ("I made that for the hospital a couple years ago. I got disgusted with this place. No Christmas. I brought back that white cellophane one you saw in the lab from a dime store in the States.") Thinking of her brave efficient single-handed Christmas, somebody asked, "Are there many other Westerners around?" "Twenty or thirty military advisers." "See much of them?" "They very kindly included me in their Thanksgiving dinner." We talked about America--"I was a case for Freud this last furlough at home. I went around speaking and speaking and no one could ever understand me. I was so glad to come they never thought I would return. I guess I really surprised them. I'm glad they know somebody really cares enough about this little place."
Thanks again to Judy Manwell Moore for allowing me to quote from her letter!

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