John Corson's Blog

for November 9, 2020

Grace Braley - Memory of a Graceful Woman in Maryland

While washing the supper dishes last night, I got to reminiscing about my days in Severna Park/Arnold, Maryland. And while thinking back on those three years (1980-1983) my mind started calling up the names and faces of the people who attended my church.

Severna Park Christian Church was the smallest of all the churches I pastored, but it was the most active of them all. We had a church full of workers, leaders and for our size we had a lot of children.

We also had a few elderly persons, two in particular stood out in my mind: Ruth Harrington and Grace Braley. Ruth was a quiet unassuming soul who only wanted to attend church and be with her friends there. She would always host one of the stops for our annual Christmas Progressive Dinners and her specialty was the soup. Hers was the third stop following the appetizer and the salad. Her soups (always potato, vegetable and a surprise third one) made you want to try them all and forget the main course, which was the next stop in the Progressive Dinner.

The other kind lady was a retired missionary and Bible teacher who had this gentle way about her, in essence, making her incapable of yelling or talking over top of people. Grace was an intellectual. She also possessed an open, inviting spirit that I started thinking about during the dish washing time. Here is what I remember about Grace ...

She was born Grace Madden in the Midwestern region of the United States to parents who were missionaries in Osaka, Japan from 1919 to 1941 and were founders of the Osaka Bible Seminary in 1937. This was before World War II. She grew up and was schooled in Japan and later became a teacher at the Osaka Christian Church Kindergarten. Just prior to the outbreak of the war, Grace married her husband of nearly fifty years, Gerald Braley. He was employed by The Mainichi newspaper, speaking very fluent Japanese and translated English into that language for their readers. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor she and Gerald were teaching English to Japanese children and their parents.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Grace, Gerald and her parents had to leave quickly and left a lot of their belongings behind as they made their way first to Korea and then back to the states to sit out the rest of the war. During that short stint in Korea, grace fell in love with the people and their culture and made it her mission to return there following the war.

After the Japanese surrender, her parents started formulating plans to return to Japan to help with the clean up and teach and preach the Bible to the people there. Due to unforeseen circumstances they could not get back. Grace, on the other hand, decided to go to Korea. Grace and Gerald had two sons, born during the war while in the United States. They accompanied their parents to Korea but in 1950, when the Korean War broke out, Grace and the family went back to Japan for a time and once again taught English to grade school children.

Grace and Gerald would go back and forth between South Korea and Japan until their children went off to college in the United States. They moved to Annapolis, Maryland where their oldest son attended the Naval Academy. Gerald wrote journal articles and books on the Far East and Grace settled in as a homemaker. With their children grown and out of the nest, Grace looked all over Anne Arundal and Prince Georges County for an Independent Christian Church with which to affiliate and discovered Severna Park Christian, then meeting in a YWCA building in Severna Park.

Grace played the piano and a small donated organ and when the church relocated to a house located on a long stretch of property in Arnold, MD she became a fill-in Sunday School teacher, the church organist and a Deacon. She, of course, would chair the Missions and Evangelism Committee and served on the Budget Committee.

When I was called to preach at Severna Park in 1980, Grace was among the first to bring prepared meals to my family when we first moved into the parsonage, the construction of which was not complete. I think she brought by at least three main courses, all of which were oriental cuisine. One such dish was called bulgogi, pronounced pull-GO-gee. It was a Korean dish made with thin beef strips marinated in a hot-sweet and salty sauce which, upon first taste, made me think I found a food gold mine. I loved that meat!

A few months later came the Progressive Christmas Dinner and Grace signed up for the main course. That meant, after leaving Ruth's house we headed over to Grace and Gerald's and sure enough, she made bulgogi! Of course, I begged her to do it and she gave in. I had to ask for the recipe, just the way she made it. She told my wife and I that we should go to the local Korean shop up in Glen Burnie and purchase the soy sauce that was already packaged with the hot-sweet and salty ingredients. I still have that recipe from December, 1980 and, in case you are interested, here it is:

  • 1 lb. of flank steak, thinly sliced;
  • 5 tablespoons of the mixed Korean soy sauce mentioned above;
  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar;
  • 1/4 cup of chopped green onions (I usually add another 1/4 cup just because I love green onions;
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic;
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil; you can also add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to it, but I usually don't;
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper.

You can add some grated pear, a little grated garlic clove and a tablespoon of grated peeled ginger, but according to Grace this would make it "Americanized."

I apologize to my readers if you were not interested in this great meal, but I can tell you this: I can't get enough of it and most of the time, since I have no Korean supplier near me here in Hampton Roads, Virginia, I relish the times I can sit down and eat a plate full. Chinese food doesn't quite cut it up against bulgogi.

Back to Grace, simply put, she lived up to her name; she had grace and charm. She was very cultured, her house and yards covered with Japanese trees, maples, and Bamboo. Her three story house, complete with a pipe organ, was adorned with oriental statues, paintings, carpets and potted plants. Her radio was consistently tuned to one of three classical music stations in the area, mostly the college owned one in Tacoma Park - WGTS. She supported school and college arts programs financially and by joining support organizations within them.

I don't know why my mind fell on to her last night. It was just for about two minutes. I was doing dishes, not cooking Bulgogi. Maybe I thought of her as part of the bigger picture I usually get about my three years in Severna Park. I miss that place. The church is no longer. It merged with another group on the other side of the county back in 2002. It had never really grown and without the capability of supporting a pastor and his family, it started to flounder. They had three pastors who followed me. The first spent more time in his upstairs office playing on his ham radio than with the people - his wife with the gift for gab made it impossible for others to feel their lives and communications were in confidence. The second was quite conservative and living in the 1950 with his dress, culture and theories - which were not anywhere in keeping with the people in Severna Park. The third and last pastor just couldn't move the church along and ended up leaving, pushing the few members left to look toward a merger.

It was during the later part of my immediate successor's nine years there that Grace fell ill and passed away. I didn't find out about that for several years later. I just didn't keep up with what was going on there, but one thing was for sure, had my successor left that church anytime and I found out about it, I would have swiftly called and begged to be allowed to return. I didn't know just how blessed I was to be there and I got ahead of myself and left way too soon. The last thing Grace said to me and my wife on our last Sunday with the church (January 16, 1983) was "I sure am going to miss you both. You are truly a blessing and you will be a blessing to your new church as well. I know it. I feel it!"

That was the only time I think Grace was ever wrong in my presence. I was never a blessing to First Christian Church, Bluff City. But I have already ranted about that two weeks ago. Grace was right about everything else and it made her, in essence, my mom when my real mom wasn't around.

Thank you for a blessing last night Grace, and thank God for the blessing of knowing you.

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Blogs are about the blogger. It's as if he or she merely toots their own horns about the things they do, say and love.

My life is boring. I read, I watch Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. I listen to Andrew Wilkow. I engage in some conversation with those who are willing to listen (they being masochistic and enjoy killing themselves with my banter).

I plan on just laying out the things that bother me and the things I love. Nothing in-between. I hope you find whatever I put here amusing.