In Texas – and I turned six in August. Harlingen was right up next to the Rio Grande River near the Gulf of Mexico. All kinds of Mexican people came over. They didn’t mow lawns back then. People mowed their own lawn. Some of the Mexicans swam across the Rio Grande to pick oranges. They were called wetbacks. I think that name was used by our government at first about Mexicans who wouldn’t go through the gate from Matamoros. They swam across ‘cause they didn’t want anyone to know where they were.
Shortly after we got there, Pa Pryor died up in Waco. I think about July of 1943. They called him Pink. He was a rough tough guy, but somewhat small. He had been a heavy drinker and wasn’t noted for having a lot of patience. One day when Daddy and Uncle Claude were little boys somewhere around Center or Abbott, Texas (Daddy was born in Center), Pa got drunk, told the boys to do something and when they didn’t do it right away, he took the shotgun and told them he was gonna kill ‘em. They started to run into the corn field and Pa shot toward their backs, but right before he pulled the trigger they fell and the top of the corn stalks were shot off. The rest is history I guess. Pa became a Christian and when I was just 5 years old, right before I turned 6 in August, I sneaked into his room in Waco, and there he was on his knees. He died that way.
School started in Harlingen. I had never been to school. They didn’t have kindergarten back in those days. Mamas were supposed to teach their kids colors and numbers and things like that before the first grade. That’s why Mama bought me a chemistry set in Louisiana, a map puzzle of the United States and spent time with me learning colors and numbers. So I was enrolled in school. First grade.
Kids made fun of me cuz I had a “thing” in my nose. I didn’t know what it meant to be made fun of and I sure didn’t know what a deviated septum was. It didn’t matter. I was a kid and I was so happy at home. Mama played the piano at church and Daddy preached. Tony was out back and I saddled him up myself and rode him all the time. The Resaca was close by and asparagus grew all along the banks of the Resaca and the Rio Grande. I was thrilled to pick it and bring it to my mama. My folks didn’t worry much about me riding around on Tony because kids weren’t kidnapped back then.
A bunch of us kids, including the Hamm kids, went into the church one day and I started to preach like my daddy. NanthaLee (remember, the names were put together and said real fast in Texas) ran next door to the parsonage and told Mama, “MarshallHall is in the church preaching.” Preaching was supposed to scare the living daylights out of people and make everyone cry and go down to the mourner’s bench – everyone called it the altar. So it scared NanthaLee and the other kids, and they were all down at the altar crying and stuff and leaving snot on the altar.
I don’t know why, but Daddy sold Tony and went across the river into Mexico and bought a Mexican Saddle Horse – a Lusitano. To me, it was a big one. A whole lot bigger than Tony cuz Tony was a Shetland. They were used for bullfighting. I guess Daddy thought I was growing up and needed a grownup’s horse. Daddy always made me saddle my own horse and take care of him. The name of my new horse was Smokey. I was so small I had to stand on a stool Daddy made me. He said if I was gonna have a horse I had to take care of it. Smokey wasn’t fully broken. Daddy made it a requirement and my responsibility to “break” him. So I stood on the stool, put on the bridle, saddled him up, and while Daddy held him still I climbed on. Smokey bucked a little, not much and off we went. We fell in love with each other. Problem was, my rupture truss cut into my guts. I put up with it because that was normal, I guess. I’m not sure that at 6 years of age I knew what normal was and what wasn’t.
Daddy raised love birds (parakeets) in two big cages. Back in those days people could do things and have animals prohibited in this day and age – sing it now – “REG-U-LAAY-SHUUNS!”
I was so happy, but when Daddy whupped NanthaLee because she kissed Bobby, the kid that lived behind us, it scared me to death. I also was scared when I saw that airplane with smoke coming out of the back of it. It was going round and round in the sky. I didn’t know how to read yet so I ran into the house screaming and crying to Mama, “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!” Mama told me it was writing Pepsi Cola in the sky. As I matured, I questioned why the coming of Jesus would be such a bad thing. Actually, almost all preachers were supposed to either scare everyone about the second coming or to make them feel guilty.
By osmosis things settled in my psyche from Daddy’s preaching. He didn’t mean it to be bad; it’s what he was taught to do. So you’ll know, Daddy told me that if he had it to do over, he would do things differently. He was a “corn-field” preacher who listened to upper management (meaning other travelling preachers and big shots) and followed in their paths. He didn’t blame them and neither do I. Jesus understands and He sure does love us!
Even though the war was on, because Daddy was a preacher the “gubbmint” gave us a few extra stamps from time to time. We used them to go to campmeeting where there was singing and O-MY-GOODNESS; some preachers’ wives got up and started running around in the sawdust. They called it shouting. Mama said they did it ‘cause they loved Jesus. I loved Jesus, but I never did that. I was afraid to do it because people would make fun of me like they did that thing in my nose.
A lot of guys were “called” to preach when Daddy was pastor in Cisco. One of them was Harold – Harold McClain. He met Daddy when both of them went to Hamlin. What happened there was Daddy had gotten out of the war and became a barber in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Daddy drank a lot of Bay Rum while he was cutting hair in Wichita. Back in those days, barbers cut out tonsils that were way down deep in someone’s throat and he could pull teeth, too. He gave them Bay Rum til they got all hammered and out the stuff came. I guess that’s why Daddy drank Bay Rum, too. Anyway, he married his first wife, Lois Wilson (according to Poodly ((Joanna Pryor Agerton, my niece, MartinLuther’s daughter)).
One day someone invited Lois to go to a church called Pilgrim Holiness. When rough-tough men moved West travelling preachers put up brush arbors to have church in. They were outside. And they had all kinds of names. Daddy and his wife thought they’d go to Pilgrim Holiness. Daddy smoked a lot (Chesterfields) and drank more Bay Rum after they went to church. But Daddy got to feeling bad about it ‘cause his daddy, Pink, was a big drinker and it was bad. Daddy and his first wife went back to church and started loving Jesus. By that time, they had two boys, HowardPhillip and MartinLuther. Mid to late 1920s I think.
Daddy started thinking he wanted to preach like those other preachers so he went to church one day when his wife was sick. The people sat in a circle and each one was supposed to quote a verse out of the Bible. When it was his turn he said, “I pass.” He went home and told his wife and she said, “Why didn’t you just say, ‘Jesus wept?’” He said, “I didn’t know He wept!”
His wife was sick a lot. They said it was because she had leakage of the heart. She passed away. Daddy didn’t drink Bay Rum or smoke anymore, but he had two little boys to keep. By that time, he wanted to go be a preacher. The Nazarenes were like the Pilgrims in many ways. But they were bigger and had a school in Hamlin. That’s where he met Harold.
The problem was he needed his in-laws to keep the boys for a little while. It wasn’t required to go a long time to school to be a cornfield preacher. Nevertheless, he needed some help with the littleguys. The in-laws took the boys for a few months and then wouldn’t give them back. Plus they told the boys bad things about Daddy – more to Howard than MartinLuther ‘cause Howard was older. Well, I think this was about 1927 or 8 – give or take. Daddy had some rough edges. He got ’em back!
Hamlin had a Nazarene academy, or junior college, or something like that – the one Daddy went to. Mama was also going there with her double cousin Mary Cleveland. Harold introduced Daddy to Mama (Carrie Anna Parmer) and Daddy introduced Harold to Mary. Harold wasn’t a preacher; he was “called” later on. The Cisco Church of the Nazarene wanted Daddy to move there and become their pastor. When he said yes, my Mama said yes to marriage and two little boys to boot. Mary was from Cisco so Harold moved there, married Mary and was called to preach. I guess if someone wanted to be “called to preach” they could move to Cisco.
It was about 1944 when Harold and Mary pastored 7 miles away from Harlingen in San Benito. It seemed that other pastors followed Daddy around. Being just 7 miles away from Harlingen was a blessing because we went places together with Harold and Mary and camped out along the Rio Grande. We always had a tent and an ice chest with Cokes, lunch meat and fresh onions. Mama never brought pinto beans on our camping trips. I was so happy except when I went out into the river bed and got caught in quicksand. Everybody was screaming and the more I moved the more I sank until I was up to my waste. Daddy and Harold got a big limb and laid it on the sand to pull me out. It took about 30 minutes, but I was a little guy so we made it. Harold always called me MAHA jokingly. It was short for MarshallHall (gotta get it right – MarshallHall not Marshall Hall).
Brother and Sister Murphy came down from Lubbock and sang for our church kind of like evangelists. They were great! She played the piano and they sang together. Brother Murphey was called to preach when they attended the Cisco church. When Daddy and Mama moved to Borger the Murphey’s took a little Nazarene church not too far away in Lubbock. Brother Murphey got sideways with the DBS so he became a Salvation Army Captain. When we moved to Lake Charles, they moved, too, and took over the Salvation Army mission. They showed movies of cowboys at the mission and brought them home for us to watch. He was a little man from Ireland and he sang real high notes. Sister Murphey weighed about 300 pounds and the piano jumped up and down when she played. They weren’t Nazarenes anymore. Then they moved back to Lubbock when we moved to Harlingen.
From time to time, I rode Smokey to school and tied him to a tree. Mama or Daddy would come by later on and lead him home. While I was at school, Mama and Daddy worked all around the parsonage fixin’ it up. Parsonages everywhere needed fixin’ up. The parsonage was always “THE” parsonage, not our home. It always belonged to the church so we never had a home of our very own. Even after Daddy and Mama fixed things up real pretty inside and outside, we had to leave it all behind ‘cause nothing ever belonged to us. I don’t remember having any friends.
I was so proud when Mama came to school with me. She sat around with the other mamas and sewed costumes for our little drama-performance. I was a woody-woodpecker. No one made fun of me for being woody-woodpecker, but they still made fun of “that thing” sticking out of my nose. Mama and Daddy and NanthaLee never said anything about it so I guessed it was all right.
The kid down the street had some sores on him. I caught his sores, too. I think they called it infantigo – I wasn’t an infant, but I hurt anyway. Those sores got all infected and ran yellow stuff all over my body. I had to stay at home. I was painted with some purple stuff that took it away. Only later did I learn it was really impetigo.
Every day Daddy studied the Bible, worked around the church and parsonage and took care of the birds. Mama cleaned the house and cooked pinto beans with onions. I took care of Smoky, brushed him down, fed him and cleaned his pen. I learned a lesson taking care of Smokey. At first, I thought if I curred (kind of a metal brush) him down or brushed him, his coat would be pretty and shiney. I soon learned that to make a horse hair look all nice and pretty, make sure they eat well and soon their whole body looked great. Brushing is good, but food is necessary. All of us were happy.
My folks got all upset when we went to visit some kinfolks because their boy took me up the street and had me smoke a cigarette. I will never forget – they were Camels. Not only was I a very young 6 year old, but I was also very small in size. What’s worse, he and some other boys took advantage of me. I didn’t realize it then, but that malignity so traumatized my psyche and soul – along with my size and the “thing” sticking out of my nose – that this toxicity savaged my heart most of my life. I had never had bad feelings before that.
A volcano of grief and anger began to boil deep down where only I lived; I guess it may have been revenge and guilt even though I didn’t know what it meant. This was strange. I had always been happy because Mama and Daddy were happy. I guess little kids have feelings without the ability to intellectualize them. Maybe that’s why for children things are felt more than telt. Most people will live their entire lives never knowing who they really are. Only the glorious power, cleansing and loving friendship with the great God of heaven inspired me to NEVER GIVE UP!
Grandma Parmer up in Cisco, out on the ranch, got real sick. She had skin cancers all over her body. She had ‘em on her nose and arms awfully bad. They said it was because she worked out in the sun. Plus she had old-agers disease. I had barely completed the second grade when it was time to move again. Mama had to go take care of Grandma and Daddy had to travel to preach. Daddy told the people at the church we were moving. They all cried. I did, too. I began to feel like I was sinking in that quicksand in the Rio Grande.
Because Daddy had to go into the evangelistic field (I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant), he was able to get some stamps for gasoline. He couldn’t get any for tires. The trailer was packed with our stuff and Smokey too. The trunk was full, the inside was full and on top of the car. Daddy hitched everything up to our ’40 model Dodge and we took off. We still had the Dodge because no cars were built in the United States from about 1941 to 1945. The first cars after the war were in 1946. Daddy, Mama, NanthaLee, Mickey (our Pekingese dog), me, Smokey (my horse); … we all took off for Cisco. We left the Love Birds (parakeets) with some church folks.
On the way up to Cisco, we had two blowouts on the car, both at the same time. We didn’t have any stamps to buy tires. Rubber was in short supply. We sat along the road for 2 days – waiting! Daddy walked somewhere into town and the Nazarene preacher was able to get us a few stamps to get tires. I was becoming insecure but didn’t know it. That genesis of insecurity, however, became a strong foundation strengthening my determination to overcome.