The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 6 of 12

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

Issue: November, 1986

I spoke my first public recitation in the Parsons church at Christmas time. My piece was entitled "The Four Seasons" or "Don't You Think That Winter Is Pleasanter Than All?" Enoch said that when he first recited (at a church in Illinois); he seemed to go heels over head, over and over. It was difficult in my case. I just whirled around and around, as if at the center of a merry-go-round. The audience seemed to fade away for a while as I was speaking, and then returned just as I finished. After that, until I was fifteen, I never missed a year reciting at Christmas, sometimes by myself, other times in plays and dialogs. The minister's children were supposed to be shining examples to all the others in this respect, and although I showed no oratorical brilliance in my appearance before the public, I knew that I had to try harder to uphold my family's reputation.

Following the Christmas program, candy, contributed by the Sunday school, and presents from our parents were taken from the Christmas tree and distributed by Santa Claus in his usual costume and good humor. Sometimes parents left their children's presents for the church Christmas tree at our house a day or two before Christmas, and Father saw to it that they reached their proper destination.

At that time, most children six or seven years old believed that the gentleman distributing their presents was a real "Santa," but Father had told us the truth concerning Saint Nick when I was about five years of age. He said that, at Christmas time, parents like to be especially generous and make their children and others happy in the manner demonstrated by stories and representations of Santa Claus.

"The birthday of Christ on Christmas Day," said Father, "is a joyous event, to be celebrated with happiness and helpfulness to others, as an indication that we are, at least, in our limited capacity, appreciative of our greatest gift of all."

Helen never seemed to welcome the true story of Santa Claus and even to the age of ten she sometimes expressed a belief in the tradition of Old Saint Nick, at least during the Christmas season. Her theory apparently was that more presents were received by true believers than by those who had lost their faith in a personal Santa.

On the Christmas Eve when Helen was ten, she suddenly decided to hang up her stocking with Mildred. However, she didn't receive in it the usual allotment, for Father was nearly ready for bed when she put her plan into action, and sufficient goodies for an extra stocking had not been previously provided. After that, Helen accepted the fact the she was "a big girl now," and Santa would no longer come down the chimney to fill her stocking. She decided to accept her "big girl" presents without the trimmings.

Whenever I think of Parsons, I remember running into Father bringing home a big watermelon, bright red apples or delicious peaches, along with other groceries for which he usually shopped personally. Mother agreed that Father was an exceptionally good judge of food, especially meats, as well as an expert cook, when occasion demanded.

Mother was not often indisposed enough to stop her work, but on those rare occasions when she took to her bed for a short time, Father always stepped in to prepare a deliciously fried T-bone steak, big mealy baked potatoes, fresh green beans, apple halves cooked in syrup, rich custards or some concoction equally as good. Mother used to jokingly say that anyone could cook well when he didn't stint himself on anything, but used big generous lumps of butter, rich cream, expensive cuts of meat, and fruits fresh from the orchard. Nevertheless, Mother was proud of her husband's knowledge of the culinary art and greatly appreciated it on those needed occasions, for she was an excellent cook herself and did not fear competition.

Father liked to shop, also, just for the joy of meeting people. He did not seek out acquaintances and engage in conversation just because it was "good policy." "Policy be hanged," he would laugh. He appreciated the friendship of merchants and would spend several hours a week in their company collecting their sage advice about new products on the market or modern methods for accomplishing unwelcome chores. This information he would pass along to Mother, neighbors, and congregation members, managing to astound them with his familiarity with matters both worldly and ecclesiastical.

We had been in Parsons for only one year when Father was sent to take over a charge in the northern part of the state which included four churches: Littleton, Hundred, Campbell's Run, and Glover's Gap. We first lived in a house in Littleton which we rented, but it was small and unpleasant. The next year, we moved to a nice eight-room house, the newly built parsonage in Hundred, four miles away where we stayed for the next three years. There I met my friend, Norval Throckmorton, who was to be a close friend and correspondent for eighty years, even though we were separated most of that time by an entire continent, he in California, I in Pennsylvania.

Norval achieved his greatest esteem in my mind when he treated me and a group of our friends to a Fourth of July fireworks display. Norval, only eight years old, purchased the fireworks with money he earned in a local tobacco shop smoothing out the tobacco before it was rolled into cigarettes.

In Hundred, Enoch finished school, then bought a small grocery store. He thought this a fine opportunity to go into business for himself and he exerted great effort into his new enterprise. My parents were happy that Enoch was so industrious and encouraged all of our friends to patronize his establishment. They were happy to do so, since there were few stores in town. Because most of the local people had farms or small plots in their yards, there was not a great volume of business, but at least it served those who had to rely on local stores for their needs.

Enoch's unusual artistic ability served him well in his advertising placards and signs pasted in the window. They attracted customers passing by on the street interested in knowing who had drawn the cartoon characters so closely resembling those which appeared in the popular newspaper comic strips.