The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 1 of 12

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

Issue: May, 1986

Father used to spend a great part of the winter holding revival meetings at his various churches, often finding it impossible to get home for a week or two at a time. On one of those cold winter nights while Father was away, Enoch began crying and calling for his "Papa." Suddenly, Mother heard someone answer him. "Stop crying!" a man's voice outside commanded.

This strange, unexpected reprimand scared Enoch so much that he became quiet immediately, and my frightened mother hurriedly led him upstairs to her bedroom and locked the door after them. There she lay awake most of the night, expecting at any moment to hear someone breaking into the house. She never learned who had answered my brother on that cold wintry night. It may have been a tramp passing along the road, or perhaps some mischievous youths of the community on their way home.

Before Mother turned eighteen, Father decided that the West offered greater opportunities in the ministry, so he obtained a transfer to the Rock Island United Brethren Conference in Illinois. All of my mother's three children were born in that state during the nine years my father preached there. That he did not prosper financially as he had hoped can be deduced from incidents which Mother later related.

She told me of the time the sheriff took Father's horse from the barn and led the animal away because he had not been able to keep up his payments. Consequently, my father traveled to his churches on "Shank's mare," as people in that community quaintly expressed traveling by foot.

How he managed to reach his appointed meetings after that, I have no idea, for he had met with many difficulties even while he still possessed his horse. On one occasion, while driving home late at night, a man stepped out into the road in front of his horse and seized its reins. Father's quick wit saved him.

Realizing that it was so dark the holdup man could not be sure there was only one man in the buggy, my father cried out in a loud voice, "Hand me that gun."

Thinking that he was meeting with more opposition than he had counted upon, the bandit fled into the nearby woods. During the time we lived in Illinois and in later years, too, the churches collected articles of clothing for the "Missionaries." I am sure that this clothing was given to those to whom the missionaries preached, rather than to the missionaries themselves, but as a child I always envisioned the missionaries wearing all the curious varieties of clothing that we sent to them.

A barrel of "missionary" clothing collected by the church members and local citizens and stored in one of our Illinois parsonages proved to be a true gift from God. My mother told me that she once had a dip into the barrel herself in order to supply the needs of her children. She did not have the courage to embarrass the church members (or herself) by telling them that assistance was needed much closer home than China, but she felt that she was putting the few needed articles of clothing to the exact purpose for which they were intended even if they were not used in a foreign country by "heathens."

It was while we were still in Illinois that I began to wonder why some grownups were so silly and ignorant, and why they repeated certain little "jokes" and "smart sayings" over and over again. The one about the groundhog really did seem clever the first time I heard it.

We were invited out to dinner by one of the members of my father's congregation. At the table, they passed me a platter, saying, "Have some of the groundhog."

My interest was immediately aroused. "Is it really groundhog?" I asked.

Both the husband and wife insisted that it was, so I began eating enthusiastically, thinking that it actually did taste different from any meat I had ever tried, quite pleased with the anticipation of telling my friends of the new dish I had sampled at dinner. Before the meal was over, however, they had a hearty laugh at my expense, confessing that the delicacy was merely sausage. I was not amused by their explanation that they called the meat "groundhog" because they had ground a hog to make the sausage.

That first encounter with "groundhog" was not my last by any means. From year to year, other grown-ups delighted in springing the joke on us. My parents always laughed as if they were greatly amused, but I never did.