J: It’s All about Mary/#a-t-z challenge/ Journey to Japan and Back

JMary Scott Gash Thornton spent 77 years on this earth.  She came into the world not long after the 20th century began and she left it twenty years before the 21st dawned.


Mom was born in an age when few people, other than the very rich, traveled outside their state, much less their country.

And the Gash family was certainly not rich.

However, a wealthy St. Louisan couple (Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Wurdack) befriended mama and invited her  to visit their mountain home near Sheridan, Wyoming. Mama wrote of her first trip:

Friday, Undated, 1927

Dearest Mother:

Didn’t think that you’d ever get a letter from me from out West, did you? As you see I am in Sheridan—and have been here since Wednesday afternoon at 3:30. We left St. L. on the 11:55 Burlington Monday night. Had a lovely trip out—cool and it rained all day Tuesday. We’re staying at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Barrett —leaving at 5 in the morning for the mountains. Of course we can see the Big Horn Mts. From here—but it will take us four hours to get up to the cabin (in Mr. Wurd’s machine). Our horses are up there already—as the Darraghs have been up there for a long time already.  Jane is going up with us though, as she just came up last Monday from New Mexico, where she’s been visiting Blanche.

…By the way, did you know that Watson and I are quite serious and that we may go back to Japan together.  Now don’t get excited —it may only be a pipe dream—but then we are quite in love with each other…

When are you going home? Don’t forget that papa’s birthday is the 20th.  Send him a card of something if you aren’t home by then. I’m so glad that Alice and Ralph are staying at the house. I didn’t like the idea of leaving him and Harold there to cook, etc. (You know how dirty the house was last Christmas just the few days you were up in Chicago. Of course, that’s only a part of the work).

You’ll write to me often I hope. Mail is very welcome up here.Tell all my relatives hello and give them my love. Have a good time and be sure to be home when I get there!

Much love to you,

She was a bossy little thing. Direct and to the point.

Within two years of this letter, mama had married dad and they were on their way to Japan.  We’ve preserved most of the letters mama wrote to her mother and my dad’s parents. They describe a life of tremendous adjustment, daily struggles, joy and plenty of surprises. She details most everything they ate.

She birthed her first five children, learned a difficult language, assisted dad in his church work, entertained guests and maintained correspondence with friends and family.

She was bothered by mosquitoes, endured heat and humidity followed by the bitter cold. She struggled with overseeing house help, how to be a good wife and mother, and grow in her faith. Her letters reveal a woman full of life struggling to be everything she thought she ought to be. She shows a side of mama I never knew–young and free, delighting in discovering a new country with her husband without the passel and hassle of all the kids she would soon bring into the world.

The woman I knew most of my life as sedentary describes walking miles over the mountains with dad, enjoying the heights and sights of their new home.  They spent weeks at the shore with my great Aunt Effe, whiling away the hours in conversation, sewing, reading and walking.

She and dad’s sister Helen watched their husbands play tennis by the hours. Mama described shopping with yen, not dollars, and all her terrific finds. She detailed every bit of food they shared with new Japanese friends. Between the lines of the many letters she wrote and that were saved, Mary showed herself to be a person well-loved and admired by friends and strangers.

Road-and-BarnAfter returning to the States in the early 40’s, mom and dad settled in the Missouri Ozarks. They ran a church camp for awhile and oh, the tales the family has from these years!  Later they moved to the big white house in Wesco while dad taught school and preached in a country church.

In 1955 they moved to Greenfield Illinois and remained there until 1970 when they returned to Japan. They sent me away to university then packed up and left. Dad had always wanted to return. Mom was happy to oblige.

In Japan, they quickly found their places. Dad preached in a small church. Mom taught English to Japanese businessmen. Both entertained guests in their small, snug home, offering good food, conversation, laughter and friendship. Their lives remained full and interesting but mom grew lonely. She missed her children. Dad graciously conceded and they returned to Illinois in 1973 where, once again, dad preached and mom found Japanese students to love and instruct.

Mom died in 1986. Dad, 10 years after her.

Their funerals were filled to capacity with friends, students and family — both their natural children and grandchildren and the many Japanese students who had adopted mom and dad as their own.

With her passing, Mary embarked on yet another amazing journey. The one she had been preparing for her entire life. The one she firmly believed will have no end.


Mama flew around the world on her own, making friends with people along the way. She never knew a stranger.







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