Home Again

post date: June 7, 2010

The Pritchard-Mayfield clan, at the Mayfield home in 1947.
The Pritchard-Mayfield clan, at the Mayfield home in 2010.
It occurred to me after it was over that I had learned more about my own history in one day than I had known in my whole life. During my growing-up years, we never talked a lot about our family background. I knew that Dad’s family came from Mississippi and Mom’s family came from Iowa. And I knew that they met in Nome, Alaska during World War II. I knew my grandparents and my uncles and aunts and my cousins, but I couldn’t go back beyond one or two generations in any direction. I’m sure that my parents talked about our family history on occasion, but I evidently didn’t pay any attention.

Time has a way of altering your perspective. Now that my brothers and I are standing at the top of the ladder, so to speak, it seems very important to know where we came from. For instance, I knew there was a lot of medicine in our family tree. My father was a surgeon, my three brothers are medical doctors, my mom was a nurse, and two cousins were medical doctors. But I always thought I was the first preacher in the family.

Not hardly.

During the afternoon we visited the cemetery at Philadelphia Baptist Church, about 12 miles outside of Oxford. Next to the well-kept white church building is the Philadelphia cemetery where my grandparents are buried along with many other relatives. Until the reunion I knew nothing about most of them. While walking along the rows of headstones dating back to the mid-1800s, we came upon two Pritchards buried side by side. One was Henry Pritchard who pastored the Philadelphia Baptist Church in the 1840s. The inscription under his name was so eroded that we could not read it. Next to him there was another Pritchard who was a circuit-riding Baptist preacher from the same era. I never knew about either of them. Someone commented that there were preachers scattered throughout the Pritchard family tree. I never knew that either.

When we talked with a local historian, he mentioned that when the Gray family married into the Mayfield family, they brought along another line of preachers. “There are lots of Baptist preachers in the Gray family. Teachers, preachers and doctors. That’s what you find in the Gray line.” And there were other preachers in the Mayfield line.

It was a great revelation to me and a comfort to know that I have roots that go back across the generations. It’s good to know that you didn’t just drop out of the sky. While we were looking at the headstones of the two Pritchard preachers from the 1800s, my cousins Barbara and Susan teased me about it. “It’s in your DNA to be a preacher,” they said. I suppose there is some truth to that even though I never knew about my ancestors until recently. We serve a trans-generational God who works across the centuries to establish his purposes on the earth. I like the idea of being part of a heritage that started long before I arrived on the scene.

Check out the two pictures at the top of this article. The first one was taken in the fall of 1947 at the Mayfield home in the Philadelphia community. I can barely see my father’s face in the back row, directly in front of the third white pillar from the left. That’s my mom on the front row, last one on the right, seated on the ground. They had been married for about five months. We returned to the same house on Saturday afternoon for our 2010 picture. The only two from 1947 who are in this picture are Russ and Ruby Russell, my uncle and aunt, seated in the front.

Poet Robert Frost called home the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. I thought about that on Saturday. It felt good to be home again, among my own people, including some I hadn’t seen in many years. They took me in without any questions, and I was happy to do the same for them. 

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