"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Letters reveal what a long, strange trip life can be

By on April 25, 2021 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Clyde Foreman and his bride Frances MacGeary on their honeymoon just before they left by boat for India.

By Dale Foreman

 In 2018 a packet of very old love letters arrived in Wenatchee. Written by a dozen people over 100 years, these shine a light on the ways and means to keep a family, and a nation, together during hard times. Times like these. 

The view from high up in the tree was all shades of green lush jungle, the sounds of birds screeching and monkeys screaming and down below a young goat crying out in fear. 

Clyde Foreman knew he might be up in the tree for hours, waiting for the tiger to come for the goat once darkness fell. He realized he might fall asleep and fall from the tree and be tiger bait himself, so he tied himself to the tree and thought, “How exactly did I wind up in this tree?” 

 It was 1915 and Clyde was in Yeotmal, India. 

But the story began a few years earlier when he jumped onto a moving train in Oil City, Pennsylvania and headed out west. 

He was a young man, no job, no college education, he was “riding the rails” looking for a future. The economy was bad in 1907 and the Standard Oil Trust, had bought up all the independent oil wells in the area and laid off workers. 

His family had been cutting trees from their small woodland to survive. He heard about the vast forests in the Pacific Northwest and decided he could go out there and cut some big trees and earn his living.

Riding the rails was a tough business. The conductors on these trains were often thugs who took great pleasure in pushing riders from the moving trains. One such conductor pushed one of Clyde’s fellow riders from the train and he was cut in half. 

 He roughed it riding with hobos and drunks to the end of the line in Tacoma and got a job in the woods. 

He was young and strong, could wield an ax and a saw and he survived on beans and bread and stories around the campfire. 

But the constant rain and cold weather gnawed on his spirit and after a couple years he jumped a train to go back home. 

There, he met folks at church who encouraged him to volunteer as a missionary to Africa. 

First he had to learn Portuguese and so he went to Lisbon for a year of language school. When he came back to Pennsylvania he met a beautiful young woman, Frances MacGeary. She had gone to Greenville College, she was a talented musician. 

Her father had been a preacher and he blessed the union and encouraged the couple to follow his footsteps as a missionary.

 On July 16, 1912, “Daddy” MacGeary wrote to them from Natal, South Africa:

 “Dear Children, Just four weeks ago we left on our trip to Inhambane… we went from Durban by boat and had all the horrors of seasickness at the time… The coconut groves are very beautiful to look upon. Our mission station stands on one of the eminences overlooking the bay… one could not ask for a finer view…

“The curse of the country is known as ‘Inhambane fever’ an insidious malaria borne by mosquitoes. In time all who go there are overcome by it. We have three missionaries buried in that field who laid down their lives for the people there… Africa is a great mission field. All who go must take their lives in their hands…”

 On Aug. 16, 1912 “Mama” MacGeary wrote to them from Malvern, South Africa:

 “We have travelled about 1,600 miles this past month, by donkey and by a hammock contraption carried by men. The swinging made me seasick. I was in one hammock and Pa in another and 10 men took turns carrying us through the jungle at a trot…” 

And so in 1914 the young married couple, thinking of coconut palms and lovely vistas but not of malaria, or the sick and dying missionaries, boarded a steamship in New York heading east. They were bound for India. 

Shortly after they arrived in Yeotmal, the headman of the village came and asked for help. A vicious tiger had been coming into the village at night, killing goats and frightening the people. No one had a rifle, could the new missionary get a gun and shoot the tiger? Only white people could possess firearms in the British colony at that time. 

Clyde had grown up deer hunting in Pennsylvania but had never shot a tiger. He went to the nearest city and was able to buy a rifle and some bullets. 

He found a tall tree with spreading branches near the main jungle footpath. He tied a young goat as bait at the foot of a nearby tree and waited for the sun to go down. 

As the hours passed he thought of the long strange trip his life had been so far.

 He did not know in the years to come his wife would contract malaria and nearly die, that they would return home from India in 1916 and he would work in the Goodyear Tire and Rubber factory in Akron, Ohio until he was laid off. 

He couldn’t imagine that they would move to Los Angeles in search of a climate where Frances would suffer less from the malaria that would plague her for the rest of her life. He had no idea that he would become a successful home builder to wealthy movie folk in Beverly Hills. 

He could not dream they would have three sons who would all go to college and become successful: Roland who served as the state architect of California under Ronald Reagan; Melvin who earned a Ph.D in sociology from the University of Washington and became dean of Seattle Pacific University; and Kenneth, World War II hero who earned a doctorate in education from USC and became head coach of the US Women’s Olympic Team. 

 All Clyde could think about was the tiger who was silently stalking the terrified sacrificial goat. 

He heard a twig snap, then saw a light glint in the tiger’s eye and he pulled the trigger. Bang, the shot rang out and the tiger thrashed about in the bushes and died. 

As Clyde approached the downed tiger, he caught another glint of light in the jungle and fired his last remaining shot. He approached the bush and found a black panther that had been stalking him. That black panther’s skin with a hole over the left eye adorned his office for years.

The village headman came running, shouting for joy. The villagers all came out of their huts to join in the celebration and thank the young missionary hero. The village had been saved. From that day they called him “Sahib Foreman.”

The letters are a gift. 

Before the telephone, before the internet, before television and before Zoom, people wrote letters. They wrote them slowly, carefully, they wrote them to the ones they loved. And a few people kept the letters, saved them for years to reread and to remember their past. 

 And so the letters from long ago did provide a recipe for the secret sauce that keeps a family and a nation together. 

Courage, hard work, sacrifice, faith, hope and charity. Charity, the old Biblical word for love. And the greatest of these is love. Whole bushels of love. 

Dale Foreman is a lawyer and orchardist in Wenatchee. He served as Majority Leader of the State House of Representatives and Chairman of the Washington Apple Commission and the US Apple Association.

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  1. Larry says:

    Wonderful, Dale! Well written story of love.❤️

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