The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A New Preacher In Town - My Father

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

Issue: April, 1986

Left to Right: Millard Fillmore Pritchard, Ernest Markwood Pritchard, at the Parsonage, Winifred, West Virginia 1898.Left to Right: Millard Fillmore Pritchard, Ernest Markwood Pritchard, at the Parsonage, Winifred, West Virginia 1898.A strong father figure is the most essential ingredient of a happy childhood. When a boy has a father who stands in the pulpit each Sunday and tells his congregation how to lead helpful and happy lives and plan for a perfect hereafter, and the people sit and listen without talking back call him "Reverend," invite him to Sunday dinner, seek his companionship on all occasions, and ask him for advice, that boy knows that his father is a wise and good leader, and he swells with pride because his father is a man of infinite importance.

"Papa, what makes the telephone poles move?" This is one of the first questions I remember asking my father.

"The telephone poles aren't moving," said Father. "They just appear to move. We're passing them so fast they look as though they're running away from us." I believe Father added, "Things aren't always as they seem."

I studied the posts again, and though it still appeared as if they were traveling past us, I was satisfied that they were not, for my father knew all the right answers. He would not deceive me in anything.

My mother was every bit as reliable as my father. In a family group picture, taken when I was about four years old, she looks as though she carried the weight of all the world upon her shoulders. Only about twenty-five at the time, Mother appeared much older than she did after all her family had grown up.

In her youth, she had great difficulty caring for my father and their four children. My father's income was meager at best, and Mother had to do all of her own work - cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, and sewing; often until very late at night.

In contrast, my father in that old picture has the poise of one placed upon this earth to succeed in performing a great deed. His determination and courage to achieve his destiny shines through with unmistakable kindliness.

People often remarked about Father's resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. This resemblance became more pronounced as Father grew older. He always beamed with pride when this comparison was made, and proceeded to crack new jokes to further the illusion.

My father, however did not often exhibit the sadness that Lincoln's pictures capture. Not quite as tall as Lincoln, he was just six feet in height and thin as the proverbial rail. Until I was ten or twelve years of age, Father wore burnsides. These gave him the professional look which men of his day preferred.

In the family group picture is a baby carriage containing my younger sister, Mildred, then between one and two years of age. My older sister, Helen, about seven at the time, and my half-brother, Enoch, about twelve, are standing alongside. I, in a long dress-such as small boys wore in those days, am leaning against my father's knee, quite content. Our yellow dog, "Poodle," is by my feet.

The picture was taken in Illinois. My parents had moved there from West Virginia, the birthplace of both, when Father was about thirty-two and Mom only seventeen. Left an orphan at the age of seventeen and being the eldest of eight children, Father set out to shift for himself, while his sister and six brothers were taken, into the homes of relatives.

Father worked as a farm laborer and carpenter's helper until he was able, by self-education, to pass the examination which admitted him as a preacher in the United Brethren Church. His first appointments were to country circuits, consisting of from nine to twelve churches. To reach them he traveled occasionally on horseback, but mostly on foot, as a horse was rarely available.

Father never said much about his past history, but Mother told me that she first knew my father when she was a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl, Rosa Nestor. He was her pastor at the Nestorville church in the small town named for her ancestors. Often he visited her family with his wife and baby son, Enoch. When Enoch was two, he was presented with a baby sister, Gay; at the same time, his mother died. Enoch then went to live with his Grandfather and Grandmother Kelly, and the baby girl was taken into the home of her great aunt, also on the Kelly side of the family.

More than a year, after his first wife's death, my Father began showing some attention to my mother, then a young lady scarcely over sixteen. The courting time was brief. My mother remembered my father telling her that when he started keeping company with a young lady, he was serious. Shortly after making this statement of policy, he married her.

Soon after their marriage, Father was appointed to the Hessville circuit, about seventy-five miles from my mother's childhood home. She had never been away from her own community before. The move was a momentous and an alarming experience for her, one which carried responsibilities she could not fathom.

Besides being a preacher's wife, she was a brand new mother, for Father took Enoch with him, in spite of the pleas of his grandparents who wanted Enoch to remain with them. He had wished to reclaim Gay, but the great aunt who had cared for her finally persuaded him that it would be cruel and inhuman for him to take Gay because they had cared for her for two years, since she had been a tiny infant. Giving up his daughter was almost to much of a sacrifice for my father to make. After praying over it for many days, he agreed that this was God's will.

And so, my mother, only sixteen years old, was settled in the Hessville circuit parsonage, eight miles from the nearest railroad station, with the responsibility of her four-year-old stepson. Although she was used to living in the country, she became extremely homesick because she was so far from her childhood community and the large clans of Nestors, Lohrs, Englands, and Polands.