The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 8 of 12

By Ernest Markwood Pritchard © 1987
Edited By Emily P. Cary

Issue: January, 1987

We bought a Wheeling paper from the newsboy as soon as it was thrown off the train and scanned the appointment list as fast as our eyes could travel. Sure enough! We found Father's name opposite a new church at Wallace, a town unknown to us, but which we soon learned was adjoining Harrison County, yet over one hundred miles away by railroad. This was the last time we had to learn our destiny in the morning paper. In later years, Father was able to get the important word to us by telephone, breaking away from the conference at the earliest possible moment.

Father went to Wallace the following Saturday, returning home after he had preached sermons on Sunday morning and evening. Everybody, of course, came out to see and hear their new preacher, he reported. The Wallace charge was different from Father's other appointments, as it constituted a station instead of a circuit. That is, instead of having several churches, he had only the one at Wallace. At least it appeared that way...until we actually moved to Wallace and Father discovered that there was a very small church three miles away in the village of Brown where the former pastor had been in the habit of giving an occasional afternoon sermon.

Upon Father's return, we were "all ears" for information about our new home town. The story he told intrigued us. The town was about a mile and a half long, with walks all the way, from one end of town to the other. Helen, who was sixteen, could hardly wait to get there to enjoy a Sunday stroll over the Wallace streets. What an improvement that would be over Hundred, which was confined to a much smaller area. How pleased we would be to broaden out in more spacious surroundings!

The new church building was of brick, with a gallery and a pastor's study, innovations that Father had never before enjoyed. The parsonage was large, with an enormous lot, on which there was an old barn that could be used for housing chickens; it was situated by a creek where I could fish and ride a raft in the summer and skate in the winter. In describing our future location, Father "let out all stops" without using one discouraging word. We felt very fortunate to be going to a town with so many advantages.

Packing had begun soon after Father had returned from Conference, and within less than two weeks, we were on our way to a new home. With train changes at Moundsville and New Martinsville, it was a journey of several hours, but we reached Wallace shortly after noon, and were met at the train by the Robey family, with whom we were to stay until we were, at least, partially settled in our new home.

Our first sight of town was not favorable. It was a rainy day, and all one could see was red clay. A precarious boardwalk bordered the side of the red clay road, weaving back and forth under the elevated rail road tracks four times in the length of the town. We could see oil derricks everywhere, even beside dwellings. By the time we had managed to reach the parsonage late in the afternoon, Helen had seen all that she could stand for one day, and she burst into tears at the dismal picture Wallace presented.

She had previously formed in her mind a much too rosy picture of the oil town in which we were to dwell. Mother, as usual, was stoical, for she remembered a place with almost as little beauty as we saw here. Mildred and I were interested in meeting new youngsters, so we did not take the change at all seriously.

Our household goods had already arrived, so on the next day we started to unpack and set up the furniture. With the sun shining and our house in a way, made livable, our spirits rose. Even though our surrounds looked somewhat better, Father was forced to admit that Wallace was not a "thing of joy and beauty forever," but he felt sure that we would learn to like it after we became used to its unique layout.

Enoch had stayed at Hundred to carry on the small grocery business which he had established there, but Father sensed that Enoch planned to join us at Wallace as soon as he could dispose of his store. It did not surprise him that a boy only twenty years old would prefer being with his family when there were no strong financial strings to hold him in another town. In other words, the business was not very lucrative.

Helen soon met Pearl Cunningham, who lived just across the street from us, and in a remarkably short time, they were discussing the young man situation in Wallace with enthusiasm and laughter. We knew that the ice was broken and Helen had cheerfully accepted her new situation.

At Sunday School, Mildred and I were placed in a class in which we were half the enrollment, Arden Hall and Mable Lambert being the other two members. I became very self-conscious on that first day when the teacher Mr. Girard, kept gazing at the badge I wore on my coat lapel. It portrayed a large wheel with the letters "ing" in the middle, representing the largest city in West Virginia. When Mr. Girard glanced away for a moment, I quickly removed the conspicuous badge and placed it in my pocket, believing I had prevented a reprimand for my boldness in displaying so worldly a design at Sunday School.

On the next day, we started to the school located in the center of town, not far from the church, but nearly a mile from the parsonage. Helen and I were placed in the same room, she apparently being in the eight grade and I in the sixth. The uncertainty of our standing was caused by the lack of a standard graded system in the Wallace School.

That day, I walked home from school with Fay Gribble, who lived within a city block (if Wallace had been a city) of the parsonage. He became my closest pal and accompanied me on my many (mostly imaginary) adventures.

I soon learned that Mr. Redes, the former owner of the famous merry-go-round at Hundred, was the manager of the little Waldo Hotel in Wallace, and that his granddaughter, Edna Arton, my merry-go-round riding idol, was living with her grandparents. This made me realize that "the world was very small," after all, a fact that we learn to accept, but, as far as I could see, Edna never realized that I had moved to Wallace. In fact, I doubt that she ever knew I had lived in Hundred. That did not prevent me from admiring her from a distance.

Soon after we moved to Wallace, I wrote to my old friend Norval Throckmorton at Hundred, painting a picture which combined an enormous amount of imagination with few facts about the importance and attractions of Wallace. In the letter, I sent a picture of the Wallace Methodist Church, one of the few brick buildings of which our town could boast.

Norval soon wrote back, remarking that Wallace couldn't be much of a town because there were only vacant fields around the church building. I immediately dispatched another letter to Norval, explaining that, had the picture been taken from another angle, he would have seen a house next door to the church.

Father soon bought thirteen hens and a rooster which were quartered on the lower floor of the barn. We soon had plenty of eggs for home consumption, the number occasionally being as high as twelve, but more likely from eight to ten. Most of the hens "set" the next spring, increasing their population by leaps and bounds.

One bad feature of keeping chickens was that we children became attached to them and wanted to make pets of many. If a newly hatched chick was weaker than the rest of the brood, Mother would sometimes keep it in a basket covered with a woolen cloth. It was in this way that "Topsy" became so attached to us that he would not go back to his mother. Instead, he would run to Mildred and me, pleasing us greatly.

I filled a box with straw for Topsy to sleep in during the night, placing this shelter on our back porch. The entrance to the box was at one end, rather than from above, and our pet chicken roosted in this box until he could hardly crawl in or out, he had become so large. Topsy grew faster and larger than the other chickens, perhaps because he was better fed by us, and also on account of more grass at his disposal. Our pet wanted to be around us at all times, and he sat by my mother's chair as she sewed in the shade of the back yard.

Enoch came to Wallace for the Christmas holidays, bringing with him an orphan girl of about fifteen, Edna Lehew, who we had known at Hundred while her parents were still living. Enoch was happy to be home again. He confessed that he was selling his store. As soon as he could dispose of it, he would return to Wallace and perhaps teach a summer school there. The Girards, the parents of my Sunday School teacher, liked Edna and asked her to live with them. She gladly accepted their hospitality, and thus became a resident of our new town and a frequent visitor to our home, for she and Helen were great friends.