The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 12 of 12

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

Issue: May, 1987

Editor's Note... This is the 12th and last installment of New Preacher in Town. We wish to thank Emily P. Carry for sharing her father's story with us.

As we pulled into the station, we saw a friendly looking man waving at us. He turned out to be Mr. W.W. Landacre, the Sunday School superintendent, who had come to meet us and tell us that we would stay at his home until our goods had arrived and our home was ready.

Walking through the (to us) dazzling business section of Richwood, West Virginia we could hardly believe that such a town could exist so many miles beyond the tiny station stops that we had passed by on the train earlier that day. On our way up the main street, we at times could look between the houses and see lumber being hauled by hand trucks along the brilliantly lighted docks of the "Big Mill" yards, and, in turn, being loaded into cars on the nearby siding.

The "cocks" were long, high platforms over which lumber was hauled from the "Big Mill" to waiting cars on the sidings. The "Big Mill" was the Cherry River Boom and Lumber Mill which sawed the logs that were brought up by log train, sometimes 17 to 20 miles, and dumped into the big "Boom," or pond, to be hauled in turn by the endless chain up to the waiting carriage, which dashed back and forth, in response to the lever which the sawyer manipulated in order to get the most economical board cut.

To turn the log when needed, two men, called the setter and the dogger, rode the carriage. From practiced routine and the message conveyed by the sawyer's gestures, they carried out the latter's plans for making the proper "cuts." Of course, I didn't know what went on inside the mill until we made a visit there a few days later. (I learned even more about the mill when I worked there one summer for 50 cents a day.)

We found Mrs. Landacre to be a quiet, friendly woman who, although not robust in health, was adored by Mr. Landacre. She made us feel quite welcome to stay with them until we were completely settled in the parsonage. The Landacres had no children, but they had two big pointer dogs that were treated like members of the family, being bedded and dined as such inside the home.

We enjoyed out stay at the Landacres for a few days until our furniture arrived. On the same day the movers placed our furniture in the parsonage, beds were prepared for sleeping in our new home that night. We "roughed it" for a few days, enjoying watching our new home gradually become comfortable and homey as the unpacking was accomplished.

On our first Sunday, Mildred and I were placed in a Sunday School class comprised of three other members. One was John Arnette, a boy about one year older than I. It was not long before we discovered that he was the son of a former Methodist preacher. After the death of his parents, he moved in with his sister, Mrs. Ruby Graham, wife of one of the highly paid men of the town, a sawyer in the "Big Mill."

The other two class members were Pearl and Herman Grose, who were near our ages (I was 13 and Mildred was 11). They were the children of the grade school principal, Walter R. Grose, who had just moved to Richwood to begin his new job. This was also the first attendance at the Richwood Methodist Sunday School for Pearl and Herman. When we met their parents later that morning, we saw that Herman looked just like his dark haired father (the later appearing more like Herman's brother), and Pearl bore a striking resemblance to her red headed mother. Mildred and I had viewed the Grose children as typical Richwoodites, while they, no doubt, were considering us in the same light. John Arnette, the only one of the five who, at first, was aware of the real situation, saw a true population boom in Sunday School that morning.

When we entered school the next day, Mildred and I were glad that we had already met Principal Grose, for it made us feel right at home. However, Mr. Grose was placed in an awkward position in trying to place us in the proper grades, since we were transferring from the Wallace ungraded school. I was finally assigned to the fifth grade, where I found Herman already seated. By a little explanation on my part, I could have probably just as easily been established in the seventh grade, for over a year before, when I left Hundred, I carried a certificate from that school promoting me to the sixth grade.

Maybe I kept quiet about this because such enlightenment would have heaped more difficult work upon me. I was hoping to quit school in a couple of years, anyhow, and go to work. To me, it made no difference what grades I should have covered in the meantime. Mildred was placed in the fourth grade.

After I had been in the Richwood School for three or four weeks, it was decided that Herman Grose and I should be advanced to the sixth grade, where Mr. Grose, himself, was the teacher of both the sixth and seventh grades. In that class were pupils from 10 to 16 years of age, most of them older than my 13 years. John Arnett, my fellow Sunday School class member; Montie Gallette, a merry, sociable fat boy; and Paul Haley, son of a saw mill employee, who had just moved to Richwood from Olean, New York, were some of my new classmates.

John Arnette sometimes took me out after school or on Sunday for hikes up the North or South forks of the Cherry River, or up on one of the hills around Richwood. I was invited by the Grose family for Sunday dinner on several occasions (but I couldn't convince Herman to dine with us; he was a bit shy of eating with the preacher); and Paul Haley and his sisters visited back and forth with Mildred and me. As in all the places we had lived, Richwood was a good place for a preacher's family to know and be known by all residents of the town.

We had lived in Richwood less than a month when Mother, coming home from prayer meting one Wednesday evening, confided to my sister and me that we could expect a "donation" from our church members soon. She had seen whispering and knowing nods from several of those in attendance at the prayer meeting services. When Father came in a little later, he agreed that the "donation" would probably take place on the following evening.

By this time, Father and Mother knew all the signs that preceded a shower of gifts from Father's congregations. They had seen so many "donation" parties take shape that they seldom missed the exact night, even the hour, or the affair. As usual, Mother was nervous because she was too straightforward to pretend, but she did not think it sporting to tell her guests, or even hint, that she "knew it all the time."

Shortly after dusk the next evening, we awaited signs of our unexpected visitors. Earlier, we had seen a few suspected "donators" passing by our house, some with packages, evidently on the way to their rendezvous. We did not have to wait long. Heavy steps were soon heard advancing the full length of our porch leading to the living room where we awaited them. All the while, Mother was planning how she could look surprised, and what she could tell her visitors without lying to them. Perhaps we all should have rushed out at the first sound to find the cause of the commotion, but it had never occurred to us to act that natural.

We waited until a knock was heard, accompanied by whispers and giggles. Then Father opened the door, asking, "What's going on here?" (Just as if he didn't know.)

The rest of the family assumed such attitudes as each individual member thought appropriate. We saw Mr. Landacre, the Sunday School superintendent, heading the parade, with a big grin on his face and a sack of flour in his fists. The others, carrying packages, bags, or baskets, followed closely behind in order to get the full benefit of our dumbfounded expressions.

Mother always thought she had a surprised and happy "donation" smile, but to us children, she looked more as if she had lost her last friend, and would like to lose some more that she had recently met.

"Donation" visitors usually didn't say anything for awhile, but simply grinned, evidently too busy secretly commending themselves for the smooth way they had "taken us in." The fact that Mother didn't speak for awhile usually made the "surprisers" feel that the suddenness of the whole affair had left her speechless,

Finally Mother spoke up and said, "Well, we didn't expect anything like this," (thinking to herself, I'm not telling a falsehood, for I thought Mr. Landacre might have brought a bag of potatoes instead of a sack of flour").

Father remarked, "From the look of things, we'll be able to eat for quite a while."

Everybody laughed. And Mother's worst five minutes were over.

An hour later, after the last visitor had left, Mother studied the tables and the floor groaning with food sufficient for days to come, and she decided that the compensation was worth every bit of the nervous anticipation.

At Richwood, as in all of our other previous and succeeding parsonages, Father was convinced that he had become heir to the finest, most loyal congregation on earth, and he listened patiently to their woes and confidently advised them how they could trod the road to Heaven. Mildred and I were convinced that we had already arrived there the evening we rode into the golden city of Richwood. How blessed we are that these scenes of our childhood remain vivid and untarnished in our minds, the gift of a father who perceived and spread joy wherever he went.