by Greta Browne, Victor Hart’s mother
Victor’s grandfather, George Chalmers Browne, would have loved to see Victor and Camila singing in Mandarin.
Chalmers, my father, was born in China in 1915, of Presbyterian missionaries who had met there as single missionaries a few years earlier. They raised three children, Chalmers, Beatrice and Francis, who all grew up speaking Chinese. Eventually my father, his sister and his brother left China to go to college in the United States, and my grandparents also left for good, in the mid-thirties, when the Japanese invasion threatened to engulf them in violence.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Chalmers went to the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Princeton, and became an ordained minister. He married my mother, Pauline, and they started a family while he served in a rural church in Ohio for three years. In 1946 they traveled to China with three small children, including me, to serve as missionaries in Chiensien, in the province of Hunan.
Their fourth child was born in June of 1948; some time after that we began seeing soldiers marching past on the dirt road in front of our mission compound and also riding the trains that went by a short distance behind our house—we could wave to them from the jungle gym. Near the end of that year my parents received notice from the US government that Americans in China, especially those with children, would be evacuated in six weeks. Their luggage allowance was minimal. My father, thinking he would be a career missionary in China, had brought all his books from the States, and my mother had brought special furnishings to make a home for the family, including their weddings gifts. They left the books and most of the furnishings, thinking they would go back some day—all they took with them was the silverware and the chiming table clock, both of which accompanied us the rest of our childhood.
In December of 1948, we were flown with other Americans in a two-engine military airplane to Korea. Passenger seats lined the sides of the plane and I remember playing cars with my brothers in the open space in the middle. From Korea we sailed in a military ship to California. In my memory I see a large hold in the ship where families were bunched together in small groups.
My father never returned to China. He died in 1988 before China became a leader in the world economy, and Mandarin an important world language. If he’d lived to be 100 Chalmers would certainly delight in following Victor’s Mandarin experiment.