The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 4 of 12

By Ernest Markwood Pritchard © 1986
Edited By Emily P. Cary

Issue: August, 1986

Impractical as it often was, Father liked to have his family accompany him on his various trips, when possible. This was sometimes accompanied by special invitations from members of his various churches. On many occasions, he took me with him, and I always was overjoyed to go, even if most of the journeys were only to Winifred Junction.

It was at Winifred Junction [WV] that our entire family walked into the mouth of a whale - a carpeted one. The whale was exhibited on a boat that went from town to town along the Great Kanawha River. We walked onto the boat and down a flight of stairs to the platform covering the whale's lower jaw. The mouth, propped open with huge timbers, was so well camouflaged that Father said one could hardly realize that this was "a place similar to the entrance of Jonah's troubles." It was not until I had climbed back out and walked along the side of the monstrous mammal that I realized where I had been.

I remember our family taking at least two excursion boat rides on the Great Kanawha, my father enjoying the outings as much as the youngest of the family, knowing almost everybody on the boat before we docked because strangers soon became acquaintances and friends.

On a trip to "Brown Town," ten or twelve miles away, my father showed me one of his churches under construction. Father was not only building it as the "pastor-in-charge," but he also actually assisted in the work at times, handling bricks, painting, and even helping with the carpentry. Father extremely enjoyed every phase of the work. He was very ambitious about working for the glory of God, and the material progress, so evident and rapid, was exhilarating and satisfying to him.

My first recollection of a revival meeting is of one I attended with my father at Winifred Junction. I remember a young lady there who was praising God as she moved among the congregation, shaking hands with all present, and crying loudly, at times, for joy. Her behavior frightened me somewhat at first, but when I saw that my father approved of her actions, I became more at ease. Such public displays of worship became familiar to me in later years, and I discovered that my mother - ordinarily rather timid - often expressed her religious emotions quite fervently. Although my father no doubt felt equally moved, he never expressed his feelings so dramatically.

While we were at Winifred, I first heard of "Walking Joe" Bedford, Father's presiding elder. This affectionate and complimentary nickname was given to him by the pastors under his jurisdiction because of his ability to reach all appointments, rain or shine, whether or not a horse was available. In fact, some parts of his district not easily reached by horses were readily accessible to "Walking Joe" on foot.

Reverend Bedford had been in the "Lower Regions" of West Virginia long enough to endear himself to all who knew him. He was a brilliant speaker, a militant worker for the Church, and a true friend and champion of the ministers of his district. His territory was called the "Lower Regions" by members of the West Virginia Conference, not only because it was in the southern (or lower) portion of the state, but also as an implied comparison with the "lower regions" of Biblical disrepute.

Some preachers thought that "Walking Joe" Bedford was the only good feature of the whole Southern West Virginia setup, a feeling perhaps caused by the fact that this part of the state was not then as highly developed as was northern West Virginia and appointments there required more work and travel, with much less remuneration.

It was while fondly speaking of "Walking Joe" and his many accomplishments that Father first indicated that he hoped someday to become a presiding elder after the pattern of his own superior officer. Of course, at that early age, I didn't understand very much about Father's ambition, but as I grew older all the combined evidence very clearly established the fact that he would accept - without a struggle - if the presiding eldership were thrust upon him.

After our two years at Winifred, which included about one year each in "Red Town" and "White Town," Father came home from the annual conference, held during the latter part of September, with the announcement that he had been assigned to the Parsons circuit. He was quite jubilant over the new appointment, which consisted of churches at Parsons, Hambleton, Hedricks, and St. George. All but St. George, which was eight miles from Parsons, were on the railroad, Hambleton and Hendricks being only two and three miles, respectively distant. We were to live in Parsons, the county seat of Tucker County. To hear Father tell about it, I knew it must be the most wonderful town in the whole world.

He said that the parsonage was on a level, elevated lot that was covered with beautiful shrubbery and shade trees. It was next door to the church (much larger and more attractive than the one at Winifred), and overlooked the business section of town. Down near the railroad station was a delightful park, carpeted with thick green grass, and abounding with gorgeous flowers; and through the main part of this fair little city coursed the Cheat River, its crystal-clear waters flowing directly beneath the bridge crossing it on Main Street.

Father had already met some of the members of his new churches and told us that he was very favorably impressed. He said that he was sure he would enjoy working with them. In addition, he was to receive an increase in salary. As a whole, he believed that his prospects for advancement would be much better in Parsons. Mother, likewise, was elated when he pointed out to her that she would be only sixty miles from her old home at Nestorville by train and only twenty miles by dirt road (though we had no conveyance for traveling that way). Best of all, we would be in the northern part of the state, which was more familiar territory to both Father and Mother.

About a month before we moved to Parsons, Enoch, then sixteen years old, decided that he should get away from childish things by a change to long trousers, in those days a very momentous transition for any boy. One of our neighbors heard Mom speak to Enoch's plans and she, at once, offered him a suit, "still almost as good as new," which her husband had outgrown. She felt sure it "would just fit Enoch."

Enoch was so pleased to get the suit that he strutted with pride when he wore it. Father and Mother knew that the trousers were too large, and that when Enoch put his hands in his pockets he - in some manner - stretched the trousers sideways until he had the appearance of a sack race entry, yet they said nothing to lessen my brother's pride, for alteration charges were expensive. In no time, Enoch should grow into the suit.

About the same time, just before we moved to Parsons, Helen met with her misfortune. Shortly after school reopened in the Fall, my mother suddenly discovered, to her horror, that her elder daughter had lice. No doubt some child had carried them to school, but Mother was mortified.

She kept Helen home to work on her hair with a fine-toothed comb, but after she thought they were all gone, the insect life reappeared. Mother became so desperate that she decided upon extreme measures. Ignoring Helen's tears and entreaties, Mother cut her hair off close to her head. The battle with the lice was quickly won, but Helen was embarrassed beyond words.

In that day, long hair was a woman's pride and glory," and her beauty and femininity were judged greatly by its length. Children who knew Helen's middle name now called her "Willie" all the time. "Willie" stopped appearing in public, keeping in hiding as much as possible. When she learned about our move to Parsons, Helen begged to be allowed to stay out of school, giving the excuse that she could help with the packing. Sympathy for my sister's chagrin at her boyish bob (which many girls later wore from choice) prompted my parents to agree to her wishes.

Father brought home as many wooden boxes and barrels as he was able to obtain from church members and local shopkeepers, and we were soon in the midst of packing. With all his years of moving experience, Father had become quite adept at preparing furniture and dishes for the trying ordeal by freight train which they must undergo.

After a hectic week of disorder, we were on the way to northern West Virginia, our first lengthy stop scheduled for Nestorville, where we would visit until our household goods had arrived at Parsons. Upon checking the railroad schedule, Father discovered that we could make the best train connections by going by way of Athens, Ohio. That little college town forms the background of a humorous mental picture of our family in its most ridiculous state as we later remembered it with chuckles.

Just as out train was crossing a bridge into Athens, my hat blew off into the river. I felt as if I had been completely ruined in that one unlucky moment, for - in those days - a boy would almost as soon travel around without his pants as to be caught in public without his cap. For lack of something else to do, I began scratching my bare head.

I was still scratching my head as we stood on the Athens train station platform. Father, tall and erect, with his distinguished-looking burnsides, appeared a man of dignity. Mother, however, could not take her eyes off of Enoch, who stretched his trousers until he began to resemble a circus clown, rotund below, a slender, beardless youth on top.

Helen, with her short-cropped hair, not only stood out as physically different from the long-haired feminine girls in the crowd, but she also was uneasy and ashamed at having lost her "token of girlhood." Her awkward self consciousness attracted the attention of several casual observers who seemed to be amused, in addition, by my appearance.

Standing next to Helen, I scratched my head furiously, as if all the insects which had been Helen's downfall had suddenly attacked me with a vengeance. Mother, who always sought to avoid all publicity and attention, held Mildred's hand trying to act as if there were nothing unusual about any of us. She hoped that we appeared to the others as responsible, experienced travelers very much at home in railroad stations.

After a pleasant two-weeks' visit with our many relatives in Nestorville, we learned that our moving had arrived at Parsons. In the meantime, Father had preached his first sermon at each of his new churches (a momentous occasion for a preacher), and had visited with some of his members, so that when we arrived at our new home, he was able to introduce us around with some degree of familiarity.

While we were getting our house in order, we spent the first two days and nights with the Lipscomb and Feathers families, who lived near the parsonage. They thought they would have to "hang Ernest on a nail," as usual, but didn't - as usual.