The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 9 of 12

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

Issue: February, 1987

During the winter, Father conducted a series of revival meetings in our church. All of our family attended every night, as did most of the residents of Wallace. As the nights were very dark, with few gas jet street lights, we carried a lantern with us. Often, however, we youngsters became separated from the grown folk and traveled home alone.

On one such occasion, Chalmers Ruster and I happened to step off the narrow boardwalk and fall into the creek which ran alongside. Chalmers had hold of my arm at the time, and I always said that he stepped off and pulled me in after him. I scrambled out of the creek immediately and ran all the way home to dry out, leaving Chalmers far behind.

Winter was also the time when crowds often gathered to skate on the creek near our house, building great fires at night for light and warmth. My friends and I were usually there, participating in all the activity. In the spring, building and riding a raft on the same creek took up a great deal of our time. By this method, we could travel back and forth between Fay's house and mine. Traveling over the very crooked route taken by the stream wasn't efficient, but it was fun, to boys.

We had left our pet cat, Tom, in Hundred with some friends, but Father soon decided that life was not the same without him, and he instructed Enoch to ship him to us. It was a happy family event when Tom arrived in a slatted box after a long day's journey by train. Understandably, he was very upset by his experiences en route, but by the next day, he had settled down and begun to appreciate his new home with his own family.

By March, Enoch had sold his store in Hundred and had arrived at Wallace. His first move was to begin taking subscriptions for a summer school. Since the regular school season closed near the end of March, Enoch planned to begin his session in early April. The town was enthusiastic. A large enrollment was obtained, including Mildred and me, and the summer school started out as planned.

Among the summer school students were Larney and Mabel Allen, whose family had just moved to Wallace from a nearby farm. Helen soon made us all aware of this family's arrival in town for she had become very friendly with Seth, the older brother of Larney and Mabel who had come to town to work in the surrounding oil fields.

We heard about Seth all day long, and Helen never missed sight of him on his way to and from work. He also seemed to make many other trips past our house on real or imaginary errands. It was uncanny how Helen always happened to find reasons for being in the yard at the time of Seth's passing to and from town, and how cheerfully she endured the tasks that took her there. We could all see that it was becoming quite a "case."

During the winter, youngsters near Mildred's and my age got together occasionally at informal parties in church or homes and it wasn't long before we were paired off two by two. Without realizing how or why, Mildred and Fay were usually partners in various games, and I found myself lined up very often with Pauline Talkington, a pretty little brunette whose mother was, herself, very good looking. Sometimes we even came to church in this boy girl twosome, we boys gallantly (so we thought) ushering the girls ahead of us into their seats. We probably looked more like a group of children who had become lost from their parents.

On Enoch's birthday, March 11th, my parents (probably at Helen's suggestion) arranged a birthday party for Enoch, inviting all the younger people of our church. We wondered which girl would interest Enoch the most, for he had never lacked the companionship of young ladies at Hundred. He showed attention to all the girls indiscriminately, but surprised us all after the party by escorting the widow Talkington, Pauline's mother to her home.

Since we had enjoyed the lyceum courses Father had at times arranged in the Hundred Church, he decided to bring some of his favorite speakers to the Wallace Church. He wrote to Spillman Riggs, a humorous lecturer, inviting him for an engagement in Wallace. It was at this time that Father made a trip to Hundred, partly with the idea of seeing an old friend Reverend Robey, a local preacher who had filled Father's pulpit at times when he had to be away.

In order to be sure he would not miss seeing his friend, Father sent a note to Reverend Robey asking that he meet us (for I had coaxed Father to take me along) at the Hundred railroad station. When we arrived at Hundred, however, Reverend Robey was not there to meet us. Father waited around awhile, certain that his friend would soon appear, but nobody came.

Finally, Father gave up, and we walked to the Hundred parsonage to see Reverend Smith, Father's successor to that charge. Reverend Smith grinned like the "cat that swallowed the bird." Father sensed that he undoubtedly had something funny to share, and he did, immediately. He reported that Reverend Robey had received the following letter from Father.

Mr. Spillman Riggs
Akron, Ohio

Dear Mr. Riggs:

We enjoyed your very humorous lecture in Hundred so much that I am writing to ask if you can give us an engagement at my new charge in Wallace. Let me know if you can accommodate us and, if so, on what date you can be at our church.

Yours truly,
Millard Fillmore Pritchard

Father had reversed the two letters in the two envelopes which he had addressed to Messrs. Riggs and Robey. Reverend Robey read Father's letter with a heavy heart. Immediately he sat down and answered it saying that he had never thought that Father would wait until this late date to make fun of a serious sermon he had attempted to preach in Father's church. He had always thought that my father was his best friend and he was deeply hurt to be called such a name as "Spillman," as if he had "spilled the beans," and to learn that Father had only been making fun of him all those years.

When Reverend Robey told his sad story to Reverend Smith and showed him Father's letter, Reverend Smith had recognized the case of the mixed up letters for what it was at once, for he had also met Spillman Riggs. He thus quickly cleared up "the case of the mistaken identify," and witnessed the embarrassment of Reverend Robey when he received the true explanation of the apparently insulting note. Father got in touch with Reverend Robey right away, ending the trying episode with hearty laughs all around.

We soon learned that Enoch's birthday party had been doubly profitable for him, for he had admired Fay Gribble's sister, Cecil, a young lady about nineteen years old and managed to meet her quite often on his way to and from "town."

Cecil worked in the telephone office, a room over the drug store, and Fay would usually meet his sister after work and escort her home over the dark Wallace streets.

One night, I accompanied Fay to his nightly trip to meet his sister, starting early so we would have more time in town. Near the telephone office, we ran into Enoch, who asked us where we were going. When we told him that we were meeting Cecil, Enoch gave Fay and me a dime a piece, telling us to get ourselves some ice cream and not bother waiting around for Cecil, for he would see that she got home safely. That was the beginning of another romance, which lasted while Enoch remained in Wallace.

However, Enoch's appreciation of young ladies was so broad that he also showed some interest in Cecil's older sister, Nell, so much so that the new song, "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie," which came out that year, inspired him to such a degree that he called Nellie by telephone and sang the song to her. I suspect that Cecil put through the connection.

After his summer school closed, Enoch got a job as salesman for the "Jersey Corn Flakes Company." He was to go from house to house taking orders for as many packages of corn flakes as he could induce his prospects to buy, thus helping retailers in the vicinity of his sales to advertise and dispose of the initial stocks which they had been induced to purchase. Early one morning, filled with enthusiasm, Enoch left to conduct his campaign in the sales territory he had selected, Mannington, Farimont and the surrounding towns.

His first letter home was encouraging. It seemed that his convincing arguments about the virtues of Jersey Corn Flakes truly produced the desired results. Two other letters, perhaps not quite so optimistic, followed. Then came an urgent telephone call to Father advising him where to send a check. There had been some delay in the arrival of the profits Enoch had earned thus far, and he needed money to get home.

The requested check was dispatched by Father forthwith, and Enoch soon arrived home with the information that his commission, when it arrived, would be quite large. In time, he actually did receive his commission in full, but we heard little more about the healthful benefits of Jersey Corn Flakes, for the figures on his share were much smaller than he had been led to anticipate.