Rajamundry

Rajahmundry Hospital was staffed by Dr. Betty Nielson, and on
February 1 a son was born to Rev. Henry Harrison and Ethel Moyer
from Bhimavaram, a city 20 miles away in the canal network of the
Godivari River, built by the British, and rich with rice fields,
coconut groves, bananas and the white sails of the canal boats.

This son was stuck with the names of his grandfathers, Rev.
Harrison Moyer and Augustus Rauch, who in turn were obviously
named for Presidents and Emperors.

Rajahmundry itself was a major city and a center of Lutheran
missionary activity.

Built by Maharajahs lone gone, there was an entrance to an underground tunnel one
hundred yards away from the
missionary house, Riverdale, built on the north bank of the Godivari River a
little bit out of town.

Story had it that this was the escape route for the Maharajahs
from their city palace, and one trusts they never had to use it.

Exploring parties penetrated its depths a few hundred feet from
time to time, and were always turned back by the hundreds of
cobras living in the tunnel, and thousands of bats.

Why these denisons of the tunnel never travelled the one hundred
yards to pester the missionaries and their servants in their
homes is a puzzlement.

At dusk, a pasttime of the missionaries – Rev. Fred Coleman and
his son Bill among others – was to sit on the porch and watch the
endless exit of the bats from the mouth of the tunnel as they
made their nightly flight towards the city.

We have a 2 1/2 year memory lapse as Master Harrison toured Rome,
Paris, London and New York as an infant, presumably, living in
Philadelphia near his maternal grandparents, August Rauch and
Anna Webster, as his father pursued his Masters at the University
of Pennsylvania; and making many side-trips to the Pennsylvania
Dutch counties of Lehigh, which were rich with relatives on the
Moyer side, as well as visits to the paternal grandparents, the
Rev. Harrison Erb and Amanda Lefevre Moyer living in Palmerton,
PA and serving two small country churches.

Much to his chagrin, he was nicknamed “chunky boy” by his Aunt
Evelyn.

Returning to Bhimavaram in ‘xx, his earliest recollection is of
being in the middle of a storm-tossed body of water in a small
sailboat, dark clouds scudding overhead, with low hills silouetted
in the distance. His mother identified this scene as being in
the delta of the Godivari River, and his age as 3.

Bhimavaram in many ways was a shangri la from ages 3-9. Father
Moyer turned the mission compound into a tropical paradise,
planting alternative coconut/banana trees on both sides of the
long entrance road, mango trees, cassarina groves, raising prize
pigs to upgrade the native stock, and unprize chickens for the
dinner table.

The mission house had a wrap-around, 40 foot wide porch 80%
around the house, very useful in monsoon weather for riding a
tricycle or bicycle in later years, much to the doting tolerance
of the office workers, or church workers gathered for meetings on
the self-same porch.

A garden of Bouganvillia, lily pond with trumpeting elephant
fountain, and paths was created, and was an excellent playground
for construction of model cities complete with model cars.

Cobras were somewhat common visitors, and two incidents might be
of interest.

The first concerns my younger brother Paul. The ayah (nurse)
wheeled his baby carriage out of the storeroom in preparation for
use, and happened to notice a little movement under the blanket.

Upon investigation, a king cobra was discovered, and duly
disposed of by the servants in a little flurry of excitement.

The second occasion was prompted by our servant Davidou reporting
that there was a cobra beyond the garden mango tree.

Dad dutifully brought his 22-calibre rifle, placed the barrel
helf way down the hole and pulled the trigger. This is not
recommended procedure.

Dust flew everywhere, the rifle was damaged, and a very angry
cobra chased everyone back to the house.

Thereupon, a snake-charmer was called, he did his thing with his
flute, and a docile cobra slid out of his hole and into the
charmer’s wicker basket.

Speaking of rifles reminds me of the time my mother
unintentionally built a hindu temple to the monkey god.

It was mango season, and a tribe of monkeys was enjoying the
fruit one afternoon in the mango tree alongside the bedroom side
of the house. Dad was away, the frisky monkeys were on the porch
roof and upstairs patio, and mom panicked, with only a screen
separating her from 30 or so hyperactive monkeys.

Rather than being sensible, and going downstairs and reading a
good book in the livingroom, she shouldered dad’s rifle and shot
a monkey.

This accomplished her objective of dispersing the monkey tribe,
and the serrvants disposed of the body in the nearby canal.

There is was discovered by Hindus several miles downstream, and a
temple was built to rever the memory of the monkey god which was
shot by the white missionary woman.

The moral of this story is that Rudyard Kipling was right that
nothing transpires in India without witnesses.

My bedroom was on the second floor, a room roughly 40 by 100,
with mounted tiger and deer heads on its walls. Put to bed
nightly long before I was sleepy, I dreaded the moving shadows on
the walls caused by the flickering kerosene lamp flame, imagining
tigers about to pounce on me in my bed. Somehow, I took solace
in snuggling under the sheet, and felt safe.

This was my dad’s building phase, and he built his dream house in
Kotagiri, a hill station 6,000 feet up in the Nilgiris. Terraces
of roses and guava bushes, cedars, boulders, and a great red clay
tennis court-like front yard ideal for playing children, and
frequent games of croquet. I summered there between the ages of
3-5.

Again, the fauna of India impacted our lives, mine in particular.

The Mysore jungles were below us, and on occasion tigers or
panthers would ascend to the hilltop settlements, kill a cow or
goat ot two, and themselves be killed by the mighty hunters.

One summer a black panther was abroad in the town, and one
beautiful full moon lit night, decided to place his paws upon my
open bedroom window sill, and stare at me – 15 feet away.

I in turn somehow was awake – about 2:30 am – and saw this
gorgeous, black silouette filling the window frame, haloed by
bright, silver moonlight, and intelligent, intent greenish-yellow
eyes.

The panther looked at me, I looked at the panther, and after 10
seconds or so, he dropped from view and went on his way.

I in turn climbed out of bed and summoned mom to shut the window.

“Mmmom, mmmom, tttthere’s a ppppanther oooutside”, and I have
been stuttering ever since.

Of course, this has been a blessing for the people of the world.
We have enough preachers like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.

During the years at Bhimavaram we were also blessed with sveral
mild earthquakes, setting the diningroom chandalier asway, and
several routine cyclones off the Bay of Bengal.

Out of these experiences developed a love of storm and
hurricanes, and I will drive miles to be in the thick of the
action of the wind and the waves. Of course, I almost swamped my
boat in Shinnicock inlet after a hurricane had gone through, but
if I had, I would have been the happier for the struggle in the
water.

Yeleswaram Tales.

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