The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 10 of 12

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

Issue: March, 1987

We children were always glad to have Enoch home and regarded his business failures as our profit. He was always involved in many projects to make our lives more enjoyable, such as making a merry go round.

Taking a big plank about twelve to sixteen feet long, Enoch drilled a hole through the middle for a thick, round, iron rod which he drove into a big post sunk firmly into the ground. This allowed the plank to rotate at speeds which two children about ten to twelve years of age could produce by standing near the supporting post. Boards were placed at each end of the plank to prevent riders from flying off. Once these precautions were taken I discovered that we did not need to worry about a speed limit.

Children came from all around Wallace to ride on our merry go round. Although we did not think about it at the time, I now know that we were very fortunate in having no accidents at such speeds as we traveled. There were a few bumps suffered by one or two of my friends, but these, luckily, occurred while the merry go round was moving rather slowly, so no real injury resulted.

In recalling those dare devil rides, I realized that Father allowed us to indulge in "speed demon" tactics because of his characteristic belief in our common sense. He taught us to use care and good judgment in any venture we undertook, keeping his "hands off" in our endeavors as long as we seemed to be keeping things under control.

Early each September, the big Harrison County Fair at Clarksburg [West Virginia] attracted many Wallace residents. At least a week before this great event, Helen informed Mother that she and Seth, with several other Wallace young people, were planning to visit the Fair. At length, she overcame Mother's objections, convincing her that such a trip would be perfectly proper and well chaperoned, as Seth's older sister was to be among the group in attendance.

As the train passed our house on the morning of the fair, on its way to Clarksburg, Mildred and I sat in our second story widow to wave at Helen, Mildred with her feet on the porch roof. Helen says she has always remembered that scene, for she was so ashamed to have her friends see her younger sister in such an unladylike posture. Mildred, who was only ten years old, was not in the least embarrassed or worried about the train passengers' opinion of her appearance.

Mildred was not only excited about waving at Helen on her way to the big city, she was also thinking of her own departure on the very next morning to visit her Grandmother Nestor, and all her uncles, aunts, and cousins at Nestorville. Father was planning to attend the annual Methodist Conference while we were away. Because of these arrangements, Mother was especially busy that day, preparing our clothes for the trip, cleaning the house, and doing all the other final details that one must accomplish before setting out on such an important journey as we were to make.

Mother was still in the midst of her work when Father came home that evening after a trip to the store, looking very solemn. Sensing at once Father's worry, she did not question him, but waited for him to speak.

"They say Helen and Seth are on their way to Cumberland or Oakland to get married," said Father, without further delay or ceremony.

Mother didn't speak for a moment, but just stood there, trying to realize what she had heard. "Why did she do that?" she finally asked, of no one in particular. "She's too young to get married. She's not seventeen yet."

Perhaps she remembered that she herself was just sixteen when she took the solemn marriage vow. "Can't you stop them before they get married?" Mother finally asked.

Father said that he had thought it all over, and wasn't going to interfere with Helen's marriage, even though he believed that she should have waited longer to decide. He could telegraph ahead for the Oakland and Cumberland police to stop them and have them held until he could bring Helen home, but that would only cause resentment, and perhaps a repetition of the elopement at a later date.

Mother finally admitted, reluctantly, that it was probably for the best, but she insisted that Father find out for certain if someone had actually seen Helen and Seth board the Cumberland train. Father called up Seth's older sister, who readily admitted that the entire story was true. She had been a confidant of her brother in his wedding plans, and she had not dared divulge any of the details beforehand. She also insisted, however, that it was "all for the best," that her brother and Helen were very much in love, and that her whole family was glad that Helen was Seth's choice.

Mother slept little that night, but, stoical and practical as she was, she did not let Helen's sudden marriage change her plans for departing early the next morning on the train to Clarksburg for the first leg of our journey to Nestorville.

We remained in Clarksburg until four o'clock when we boarded another train for Grafton. Father had accompanied us to Clarksburg, but he planned to go home to Wallace that evening and see Helen and Seth, after their return as newlyweds.

Just as our train was pulling out of the Clarksburg station, Helen and Seth appeared around the corner of the station building, Helen waving at us happily as the train picked up speed. They had returned to Clarksburg that day, and knowing of our plans, Helen took that opportunity to see us, knowing that there would be no time for the expected reprimand that she wished to delay.

There was a pall on our Nestorville vacation that year. The principal thing I remember is Mother's opening sentence at the home of each relative whom we visited, "My girl has left me."

I actually dreaded meeting my relatives that year because of having to listen to that same, oft repeated statement. Sometimes I tried to get in the first word of the conversation, hoping that Mother would forget to convey her doleful message in a forlorn voice that was giving us the shivers. But Mother never forgot. Sooner or later, usually at first sight of a new captive listener, came that sad refrain to remind one more of a dirge than of wedding bells.

We were all relieved to receive a letter from Father. He always looked at life's problems with optimism, so I knew that his letter, if anything could, would help to break the gloom that surrounded us. In his letter, Father informed us that he had given Helen and Seth his blessings, and had invited them to our home. Even as he wrote the letter, Helen was doing her first solo housekeeping for Seth and Father.

As soon as she read the letter, Mother became more cheerful. Of course, she really wanted to forgive and make up right away. Now that Father had given the couple his blessing, she had an opening wedge for her own reconciliation with her daughter and new son in law. At once, she sat down and composed a letter to Helen which carried both forgiveness and advice. The rest of our vacation was much more pleasant after that letter had been posted.

Although Mother's letter to Helen closed the breach in family relations, it did surmount one more problem. Up until now, she had been ready to move at the reading of the Conference appointment list; this time, it was a little different. A move to a new church calling was sure to take us away from Helen, perhaps meaning a family separation forever afterwards.

Mother's fears were confirmed a few days later when Father telephoned to report his appointment to the Richwood Church, about one hundred forty five miles from Wallace in the southern part of West Virginia.

The day after Father's report, we returned home. There Helen awaited us with a big dinner, and both she and Seth went out of their way in the greeting and attention to all of us, as if to atone for their deception.

In relating the story of their elopement, Helen pointed out that her age had been the only point of difference with Father and Mother because she knew that they both liked Seth. She was also careful to remind Mother that she had been even younger when she married Father. Still, she remembered Mother's frequent lectures while she was growing up on the benefits of marrying at an older age, so she decided to avoid family controversy by heading for the nearby state of Maryland, where a girl Helen's age could marry without her parents consent.

The town of Oakland was the first Maryland county seat they could reach by train, so that is where they stopped and asked directions to the Methodist pastor in that locality. To Helen's amazement, and chagrin, the preacher turned out to be Reverend J. B. Workman, whom Father knew well. Having met him before, Helen was very doubtful if he would conduct the ceremony, but Reverend Workman soon dispelled her fears. He said that he would marry them because, if he didn't, he knew they could get some other preacher of another denomination in that town to "tie the knot," and he felt sure that Father would prefer that his daughter be married by a Methodist minister, especially one whom he knew so well.

Helen often wondered if Reverend Workman would have been so willing to marry them had he foreseen the future. A few years later, while he was holding a pastorate in West Virginia, his seventeen year old daughter eloped to Maryland and was also married by a Methodist minister in Oakland.

On the train to Oakland, Helen had some misgivings, for seated near them was Dr. Clifford Johnson, a young physician from Nestorville, with whom she had had several dates while visiting her grandmother the year before. In fact, Dr. Johnson had been so interested in her that he had continued to correspond with her, even though her responses were infrequent due to seeing so much of Seth. She pretended not to recognize Dr. Johnson, hoping that he would not be able to identify her because of the strange surroundings in which they were placed. His many glances in her direction, however, seemed to indicate his suspicions of the true situation.

Seth was only twenty three years of age when they were married, but he had already bought, and entirely paid for, a little four room cottage, which was about a quarter of a mile from the Methodist parsonage in which we had spent that year at Wallace. When we arrived home from our vacation, Helen and Seth had already started furnishing their new home in order that they might be able to live there by the time we left for Richwood.