Chinese place names are spelled in the transcript in the old or new transliteration form according to how the speaker pronounced them. Thus, "Peking" is used instead of "Beijing," if that is how the interviewee pronounced it. Chinese terms and phrases which would be understood were spelled as they were pronounced with some attempt made to identify the accepted transliteration form to which it corresponds.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Bob Shuster and Kirk Haywood and was completed in September 2007.
Collection 299, tape T2. Interview of Ruth Margaret (Hatcher) Thomas by Paul Ericksen on March 6, 1985. Her husband Howard was also in the room and occasionally spoke.
[Note: Throughout this interview there are references to Howard Thomas’ interviews in Collection 298.]
ERICKSEN: When I was talking with your husband earlier, I got a feel for the programs that were set up in the area. How did the two of you work together? Did you divide responsibilities, did you work together on things?
THOMAS: When Tom went touring to the other villages, I went with him always, and any medical work that needed to be done at those particular times, I did. But if I needed an assistant, he was my (what we used to call in the hospital) my “dirty” nurse, against “sterile” nurse. And he would help in setting up equipment, and getting patients in, and so on. He was particularly helpful when we were doing the anti-opium campaigns (or taking the people off opium), as well as the anti-malarial campaigns. And he would get the people all primed, all hyped as it were, for the treatment. Particularly in the treatment of...of...taking people off the opium habit. It was a very crude treatment. We put what they call a Consardi’s [sp?] plaster on the chest. First.... I must back up on this. To get the patient ready, we would give them a large dose of magnesium sulphate. That’s Epsom salts. Somehow or other, this seemed to facilitate the treatment. And he would get this all mixed up, and then sell the patient to how [chuckles] how good this was going to be. And they would sip it, you know, and you don’t sip mag salts, you drink it down in a gulp, but they did, and they’d say “Oh, this is such good medicine.” And drink it. Then he would clean the place on the chest where I was going to do this, and then I’d put the plaster on. Then this raises a blister underneath this plaster, and I would go in antiseptically, and remove the fluid. Then he’d get the patient turned over, and I would inject this in the buttocks. But you do it, you know, with a big, long needle. And he had to, again, talk them up, and get them all hyped to take this, and he’d say, “Now, don’t cry, don’t yell out, because if you do, it’s only going to...you’re only going to feel this prick.” Well, it’s a little bit more than that, because it’s like...rather caustic. But if you got it so that the first one didn’t yell, nobody else dared, because he’d lose face, the community members would lose face. So Tom would get these...help me in this respect. And we had a...quite a high rate of success on this. But my theory was “No sense in taking them off if you don’t cure or help them with what caused them to take it in the first place.” And many of them had...I really believe they were ulcers, stomach ulcers, because of the very hot, hot food they ate. And if they took it for pain for that, unless you cured the ulcers, taking them off the habit isn’t going to keep them off the habit very long. And so it was a rather complicated procedure, in its totality, not the individual steps, but in what you were trying to accomplish, was rather complex.
ERICKSEN: How widespread was the opium use in the area?
THOMAS: Well, it depended on how much the people could pay for, but they got to the place where they would even use the residue, the ashes, from the smoking of the opium, which made it more potent, I think. And, now, in our immediate village, nobody smoked opium. I think maybe down where the congregation of the Chinese were, it was used a little bit more. But, out of the villages, you know, everybody could grow poppies, they knew how to extract the liquid from that, or the moisture, so that they could have opium, and our...our new leader, called the [Chinesephrase] (means “Lord of the Heavens,”) smoked it. And he came to the hospital...when he’d come to the hospital for treatment, we wouldn’t allow him to stay in the new hospital. He had to stay in the old hospital, which was a rather run down place, and not appropriate for his stature, but he realized that he smoked opium, that’s where he had to be. But he had a...brother, was it? The [Chinese]...
HOWARD THOMAS: [faint, unclear response]
HOWARD THOMAS: [Chinese]
THOMAS: Yes. Was he a brother?
HOWARD THOMAS: I don’t know. I guess he was.
THOMAS: He had...had some... I don’t know, but this happened before we got there. And he’d been in the hospital and operated on. They took him off the opium, he never went back to it, and he was cured of whatever he had had wrong with him, and he was a great testimony for the effectiveness of being taken off opium. I would say, depending on where they grew it, and there would be a certain number of people who would use opium, yes.
HOWARD THOMAS: Sometimes they’d use it to put the baby to sleep, take them out in the field and work.
THOMAS: Yes, keep the baby quiet, you know. But...but on the other division of labor, anything that had to do with the women, I always did, because this was appropriate. If....
THOMAS: Culturally. Yes. But I wouldn’t work much with the men, because, again, that wasn’t appropriate. But the women and children, and...but I could have language classes for both men and women, that was perfectly alright, but anything physical, I didn’t attempt to do with the men.
HOWARD THOMAS: They asked us [unclear] about the vaccinating procedures yet?
THOMAS: No, they haven’t yet. When we went back, after the war, and went to travel into our station, we took a lot of relief supplies with us. Church World Services sent many things, thirty tons of stuff, in fact, we took with us when we left the States. And we wanted to take some things back...we left some in Thailand, we left some in Burma, and then the rest we took in. One thing I wanted to take in was vaccines for smallpox. This is supposedly to be refrigerated, but how can you travel ten days on horseback, and have it refrigerated? So we had taken joints of bamboo, and had bored holes in on the sides, and filled a lot of moss in the bottom, which we kept wet, and put the vaccine in that, then more moss, and then, the man who was carrying it carried it on a bamboo pole. We called it a “hop.” You could carry a load on each end of it, but only a certain number of pounds. And this, waving back and forth on the end of his pole, aerated it and kept it cool, and word would leak out, or get ahead of us, that we’re coming with the vaccine. And we’d stop at night, and before we had the horses unloaded, the loads off the horse and camp made, people came and wanted the injection. And I would give...I would vaccinate up until it was dark, and we had to put our lights on, and then they wanted to go back home. In the morning, before we left the camp, and were ready to start again, they were there, and we would...we would...we vaccinated, all the way those ten days into our station.
HOWARD THOMAS: How many times did I help you?
THOMAS: I don’t know. But during the war, some...when the army had come through, they had asked for vaccine, and the people still got smallpox, so we don’t know what these other people had given them. But it certainly wasn’t smallpox vaccine, and...but they trusted us. And we just inoculated right and left. We had a system up at our station, too, that someone from the hospital or someone who had a little medical training, would go out in the villages, or in the mountains, he’d be gone, oh, maybe a month at a time, and he would vaccinate, and take the person’s name, but he didn’t get any money. He would go back in six months time, that was about the period of interval, and if this person had a scar, he paid, but if there was no scar, he might have been immune, you know, wouldn’t leave a scar, then the person didn’t pay anything. But we called these inoculators, and they would buy the vaccine from us. And anything they made on the...from it, then, that was all...that was theirs. And oh, they were so grateful for this. They...they were eager to have their children vaccinated, and we thought it was a very worthwhile thing.
ERICKSEN: You mentioned, in talking about vaccinating, that the people trusted you.
ERICKSEN: How long did you find that it took for that trust to be built by the individuals?
THOMAS: We can’t take all the credit for that, because, you see, they had had missionaries there.
THOMAS: And, although we were new, we had a senior missionary at the station who was [unclear]. [The missionary was Marie Park.] And she sort of certified us. And Mi-ling [sp?] Park (Mi-ling [sp?] means doctor) if Mi-Ling [sp?]...I mean woman doctor, although she wasn’t, her husband was the doctor. If Mi-Ling [sp?] certified us, it was all right. [pauses] I ought to tell you about the cooperatives too.
ERICKSEN: Please do.
THOMAS: Thomas told you about our work with leprosy patients, and this one colony (they don’t call them colonies anymore, because they don’t isolate them like we did in those days) but this one colony was about three kilometers from our house. They had fairly good land there, but it was a large concentration of people, and they were...really didn’t have enough land to support the population they had there. But anyway, they were getting along pretty well with a little subsidy, but we wanted to make them a little more self-sustaining, self-supporting, so we made this suggestion to the superintendent of the colony, that if they raised the cotton and wanted to sell it to us, we would buy it, and then we would give it back to them, give it back to them to work. And when it was woven into cloth, they gave us half of what they got out of this quantity of cotton. Then they could do whatever they wanted with theirs. We were repaid, and they had...they could make some money on what they had to sell, and they liked this very much. And so the...the container was...was thirty pounds, we called it a [Chinese term] and it would already have the...still have the seeds in it. They would...we would weigh this out, and give them the basket of cotton to take home to work. The little machine they had for removing the seeds was called an “Eeet”, and it was called that because the sound it made when they turned the handle here, to take out the seeds, went “Eeet, eeet, eeet, eeet,” (which I think was awfully cute). Then they refined the cotton until they made...sort of made it into cloth. And out of these thirty pounds, this [Chinese term], they got four pieces of cloth. Now, they’re not a bale.... Not a bale, what do you call it?
HOWARD THOMAS: [unclear]
THOMAS: It was about a yard and a half in each one. It was called a [Chinese term, sounds like “hum”] but there’s another...there’s an English word, which I’m stymied for right now. They.... A bolt. It wouldn’t be a bolt of cloth, but it...relatively speaking, it was. And we had many Chinese caravans that came down through our station in the wintertime, going into Burma, and carried all kinds of produce, and they were crazy to buy this cloth, because it was good homespun, you know, and they would buy all they could get, and take it back up north. So there was a ready market for this, and the people were eager to be on our list to get the cloth. Now, we would examine it to make sure that they weren’t doing slipshod work. But those that did the good work, we continued to re-subsidize them again. We did this...what else did we do this with? Cotton was the....
HOWARD THOMAS: Tobacco.
HOWARD THOMAS: Tobacco.
THOMAS: Oh, tobacco. And there was one colony Tom got started, of land that was very good for growing tobacco. People came from all around to buy the tobacco, so this colony, in no time at all, was self-sustaining. This one nearest us grew marvelous pineapple, but they had to have a little something to feed the kiddies that were...and we were the ones that furnished the money for them to get started, and then did this on peanuts, they grew very good peanuts.
ERICKSEN: Was this something...system something you suggested to them, or how did it fit in with their previously existing economic system?
THOMAS: They had so little to go on, they could never get enough ahead to get started on it. And when they found that they really couldn’t lose on this, they were very eager to be in on it. They knew what.... Oftentimes, they grew extra rice, and would sell it, or they’d grow vegetables and sell them, but it would just be a little handful of things they would take into market. But very often, people in market would not buy from people with leprosy. They were afraid. So we were the sort of middleman there that took away the stigma. Oh, I can still see these people coming in and...and how excited they were to be doing this.
HOWARD THOMAS: Well, we had...we had them making farm instruments, we gave them the basic things to build with, making tiles for their roads....
THOMAS: Making the bricks for their houses.
HOWARD THOMAS: The bricks for their houses, and then mats.
HOWARD THOMAS: Baskets. We let them...this is all what came out of a need, a identifed need in this culture which I have described for you and these people.... When you see a need, once an identification of that nature was made, we would [unclear].
ERICKSEN: How long, in these programs...? You suggested it. How long would it take for you to turn the administration of it over to the people?
THOMAS: I never wanted to work alone, even from the very beginning. I would get somebody [coughs] who would identify with me, and sell that person on the idea, then the two of us would work together. We got them starting on different kinds of vegetables, with me working with my cook, and he was the head man in the village, so he had great prestige. And he was eager to do things like we did. So, carrots (which they didn’t know anything at all about), cabbage they knew, and a form of celery they knew, but...and onions, and red peppers, they had, but that was about the extent of the vegetables, and green beans. But we would try all different kinds of things. We would get the seeds from Burma, which were in the same zone, as it were, so that we knew the seeds were tested for our kind of climate. And then, we would work with Poi Lee [sp?] the cook, and he’d see how we’d fix it, and we’d say “Well, don’t you want to take some of these home?” Now, we had to be very careful in this, because if you’re only working with one person, the other people in your house will get jealous. And so, he would take them home and try them with his family, and they thought it was prestige thing because, here, you know, Poi Lee [sp?] worked for the [Chinese term] and they eat these, and they’re really not bad. But they had to make adjustments, sometimes, put a little more red pepper in with them, can you imagine red pepper with carrots? Not too bad. And, work on recipes which they could adapt, and use...using the material that they had. And I would say some things took longer than others. That they saw...could see immediate results, which just working in the cotton was almost the...you know, they worked way into the evening with getting this cotton ready for cloth. That was almost...there was almost an immediate result. Changing a person’s palate or taste buds could go a little slower, course, he loved any pie that we made, and he’d take some of that home, if we didn’t want any...if we didn’t eat the crust or.... Tom doesn’t eat the pie...the bottom crust ever. He’d take that home, I’d say to Poi, “You know, don’t say that.”[?] He’d say “Oh, I’m only taking it home for Chai,” which was his little boy, so I could never say no. “Take it home.”
ERICKSEN: It sounds like the teamwork that you...you tried to establish worked very well. Were there ever incidents where it didn’t work?
THOMAS: One never likes to dwell on failures. I’m trying to think of an instance where....
HOWARD THOMAS: One of the things that the programs that we developed, and that we were cooperating on were always the recommendation of this committee, so it would be very difficult for her to go in one direction and me in another. The only place where this could have happened was when we were on tours, and judgement might... I remember the time that you and I had this argument about whether you should straighten that woman’s broken arm or not.
THOMAS: Oh, yeah.
HOWARD THOMAS: So in a case like that, there might be disagreement, but that was never very often. [pauses] She was a typical professional nurse, you didn’t tell unless you were a doctor, [laughs, unclear].
THOMAS: I think we thought very carefully before we started anything. We almost felt we had success before we started, but I’m awfully glad the things that didn’t work have faded into insignificance, I’d much rather dwell on the successful things. [laughs]
THOMAS: I’d like to tell you how we got our supplies in there, if...do we have time for that?
THOMAS: As we told you, we had to travel all this distance on horseback, so then our supplies went in on horseback too. And we would order supplies once a year. The missionaries in Bangkok had told us when we go in, when we’re in the first year, that we should not plan on living off the land the first year. We had other adjustments to make, and we should do those, concentrate on the things which we needed to for the work, so to take in everything we were going to use the first year. This meant cinnamon, and clothes, and...and they said we might be able to get salt, but they weren’t sure. Flour, butter, we took in the margarine, and one missionary said, well she took in...she always got the green coffee beans, and roasted them, and then ground them, so we got a coffee grinder, we were out of coffee the first month, we didn’t take in enough, and we bought by cases, and here I had been keeping house with the little refrigerator under the stove...under the sink, and I bought a quarter of a pound of butter at a time when I was here in the states, and to go over there and buy supplies for a year, I...well, I was aghast. First, the amount of money it was going to take, and then what to do. But the missionaries were very helpful, and we only missed the mark on a few things. Every year, there were some things we had to re-order. We always re-ordered flour and refined sugar and coffee. We didn’t need to do tea, because we were in the tea...tea plantation area. But a few little things that supplemented what we could buy locally. So one year, then we’d either send the order to Bangkok or to Rangoon. We always ordered three hundred pounds of flour, and it came in six fifty-pound tins. They would solder the lids on, and they would fit very nicely on the horses. So I said to Tom, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get one can of whole wheat flour?” Because we had to make our own bread and so on. And he said, “Yes.” And the order came, and of course, by the time you opened up the last can to use, the weevils had been at it, and the top layer was just bugs, so we’d have to sift this, and sun it, and so on, but I think a lot of the nutrients were gone, I’m sure they were. So the new order came in, and I was ready for a new can of flour, I opened it up, and it was whole wheat, and I said, “Oh, goody, he sent us some whole wheat.” But I needed white flour, so I opened the next one, and it was whole wheat. And it turned out the three hundred pounds of flour were whole wheat flour. I was making my own yeast out of hops that I had sent in, and I didn’t have potatoes to make...use potato water to use with the hops, so I used rice water, which was not really the best substitute, but that’s all I had. And then whole wheat flour. It’s a wonder Tom didn’t pack up and go home, because my bread would be about two inches...an inch-and-a-half high, and heavy, and hard, but it made wonderful pie crusts, this whole wheat flour, so we did have a few things that were not quite as agreeable as we’d like them to be. Then we had ordered, of course, the first time a course of...can of...sorry, a case of peaches and a case of pears and a case of this, and a case of that. And I got so chintzy [thrifty], I wouldn’t use them very often, because by this time, we were loving what we could get up there, although it’d be very seasonal. And by the time we went out for that last mission meeting, I still had some of the original case of some of this...this fruit. But we thought it would be kind of nice to take in some raspberries. I’d see all these things on the shelf in the store in Bangkok, you know, so I thought, “Yes, I’ll take in some raspberries.” But the constant jiggling on the horses, we had seeds, and we had juice. [laughs] no...no berries at all. [laughs] So that would be a little disappointment. The merchants would always include a [Chinese term, sounds like “kamshaw’] and that’s...it would be ordered for the dry season, because that’s the only time the horses could bring it in. But he always included a little extra present for us. And there’d be a fig pudding, something like that, you know, which was a treat, and we always eagerly looked for these little presents. Course, it was a big order, several hundred dollars in those...at a time in those days, plus the shipping in, which was expensive. [pauses, tape recorder turned off and on]
ERICKSEN: Having worked with a denominational mission, I...I know, your husband mentioned that you weren’t...there weren’t other missionaries in close to where you were. What was the perception of the missionaries in the Presbyterian church, of let’s say, other denominational missions, or non-denominational missions?
THOMAS: You mean in our particular area? Because there was a....
ERICKSEN: Over in China.
THOMAS: The only other people we had any contact with were some Pentecostal missionaries who lived in [Chinese name, sounds like “Zumao”] which was six day’s travel by horse, or being carried, pardon me, north of us, and I think when they came down and passed through our place, they were quite surprised that we had things as plush as they were. I think they lived much more simply, although, the one single missionary up there had a wonderful set of dental tools. She could extract teeth, and have the best tools to do it with, because.... Well, she didn’t do any fillings. I don’t think she did. Just something temporary. But I think on the whole, they lived much more simply than we did. We certainly didn’t live lavishly. We did have our pressure lamps, and we had the food that we could have sent in, and that sort of thing, but some of the missionaries in Thailand said to me, “We really don’t think you should have any differential in allowance for being up there, because you have no place to spend it.”
ERICKSEN: What’s the differential?
THOMAS: Well, we got a little bit more in salary. But...yes, we couldn’t spend it there, but we were so devoid of things while we were there that when we did come out (they always said “come out”)....
HOWARD THOMAS: We had a master.... Woody was the cabinet maker. He made a lot of furniture.
THOMAS: Yes. And we had to bring in all our gas...oil for our lamps and things like that, which was of course, our own expense. But we felt so deprived when we’d go out and see so many things that we could get, that we spent quite lavishly, and what we had saved up during the time we were there went very quickly.
HOWARD THOMAS: I think I sense the question you’re after is how did they perceive the Baptist versus the Presbyterian versus the Roman Catholic.
HOWARD THOMAS: That sort of thing. That existed in Burma. The Bukers [perhaps the Raymond Bukers, see Billy Graham Center Archives Collection 262] would know. [unclear]
THOMAS: I think our...the people up our way, that stayed there, didn’t think of this, but we always had a group of people that had to travel with us. They had to be the cook, always two horse boys, well, there was a horse boy for every five horses, and the carriers, things that you couldn’t put on an animal, like your cooking utensils, you know, they just don’t fit on the side of an animal. And so these people would...would walk too, and, oh, there might be eight or ten people walking. We called them carriers or helpers. And then we get down into Burma, and they see some things that are different, for instance, immersion...immersion, and the Buker twins, these very wonderful people, Baptist missionaries down there, would have a joke every once in a while, and after we’d come back from Bangkok, one of them would say, “Well, we took your men to...your men went to church with us Sunday, and we had a baptism.” And we’d say, “We don’t do that up in [name unclear]. How come?” And then the Bukers would say to us, “Well, of course, this is the right way you know.” And he wouldn’t have said this at all, but they would see there was a difference, and I don’t think anyone ever asked us for immersion. Do you remember that, Tom? But they would be baptized in church when they became Christians.
HOWARD THOMAS: In the Roman Catholic church, they did.
THOMAS: Yes, but I don’t think our men really got....
HOWARD THOMAS: [unclear]
THOMAS: Yes, but I...the men that traveled down with us, I don’t think would get that close to the Catholics to wonder about. They...it’s like being in a place where there’s only one...one church. But only the went out, traveled with us would...would notice any difference. And then in an ordinary preaching service, I don’t think they noticed any difference.
HOWARD THOMAS: Do you know Ray Buker, who...well...?
ERICKSEN: Yes. We’ve interviewed him. [BGC Archives Collection 262]
HOWARD THOMAS: Oh, well....
THOMAS: This would be his father.
HOWARD THOMAS: We’re talking about his father. He’s the one that worked at the Baptist headquarters there, alright. Well, his dad was a twin brother, he was a little before me and he was the first man to [unclear]. His brother was a doctor before he was a minister.
THOMAS: They both would have been doctors.
HOWARD THOMAS: But those two guys were really big. They were really good.
THOMAS: We always felt they held a lifeline up for us up in our station. When we had a cholera epidemic, and our doctor didn’t have anything with which to treat them, except [unclear] I mean, as a preventive, and he...we sent a runner down. Now, our runner would go in about half the time that a car...that we would travel, because he’d have no load, you see, and he could go very fast, where we might travel ten to fifteen miles a day, he’d travel fifteen to twenty. And they cleaned out everything they had down there that they thought would help us. They said, “We can get it again, but you need it now.” And sent things back to us.
HOWARD THOMAS: [unclear]
THOMAS: Yes. They...they were magnificent people, and we had a great warmth for them. We loved going visiting them.
ERICKSEN: As you look back on your years in China, was there anything from your...your education at Nyack or at Wheaton that you found especially helpful?
THOMAS: Well, I think, primarily, all my Bible training was helpful. I’m trying to think of...if it’s helped me to be simplistic in my methods, and I think it all had...they all had a bearing....
HOWARD THOMAS: Mason must have helped you.
THOMAS: David Mason. I’ve already spoken about him. I think the Nyack training, probably more so than the Wheaton, because at Nyack, it was practically all geared to religion, or Biblical studies, some things that weren’t specifically, like my French, and so on, but I think there was that great emphasis on spiritual things, and I think they...that emphasis was very helpful. And I think in the C&MA [Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination] there was in those days, a tendency to be less elaborate in presentation, I think you had a very simple way of presenting things, which would be more effective than...coming down to their level, in other words. I had some courses at Nyack which I think were very helpful in...like giving chart talks, and demonstrations, but always with a Biblical emphasis. [pause] And yet, certainly Wheaton had an influence on me. As you can see, I’m a loyal Wheatonite.
ERICKSEN: Well, I’m not sure that’s the...the note to end on, but...
ERICKSEN: ...I think we’ve covered our material, so thank you very much for the interview.
THOMAS: Well, thank you for coming, Mr. Ericksen.
END OF TAPE