By RIcky Pack
The elderly are not to be discounted but revered. Such a man is Mr. Elbert Preast. He is soft spoken until he speaks of our Lord. Mr. Preast is 92 years old and still gets along like he was much younger. He had six brothers and six sisters, with three sisters and one brother still living. The eldest is a sister who is 100 years old.
I first met Mr. Preast when I was 15 years old. He and his wife, Bernice, had 14 children: seven girls and seven boys, now ages 70 to 47. Today the extended family count is 147 which included Mama and Papa Preast, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with two more on the way. A small nation, wouldn’t you say?
Everyone in these parts knows the Preast girls are the prettiest back here in these mountains. As a matter of fact, Mr. Preast ran me off for hanging around too much and Mrs. Preast ran me off because I threw creek water on one of their daughters who had a cold. All the girls grew up and became excellent mothers and professional workers. All their hearts as pure and soft as any mortal could have. You can see God working through each one.
They have seven boys, all of whom are making their way in life and are very successful. When the boys walk into a room they command attention. They speak softly as Jesus did. You can tell that all the children were raised properly, an honor that Mr. and Mrs. Preast can claim. Both are Christians and made sure that each of their children was raised “under the Word of God.” Not one of them ever got into serious trouble in their youth. To this day their family is known county to county by many people who admire their good name, friendliness and Christian love. As they were growing up, the whole family worked together helping wherever they were needed. They are still like that today. They define neighbors as anyone else and treat them like family they haven’t seen in awhile.
Elbert Preast was born in 1921 in Summersville. He was born in the Roaring ’20s. The gangster, prohibition and such was something his family didn’t dwell on. They had something else way more important to be concerned with, that was being a loving family.
He was a hard working man all his life and kept two jobs, or most times three, to provide for his family. He even worked on the Watergate Hotel. Mama Preast told me that he was gone so much that he didn’t have time to know his family was growing. Nonetheless he always had time to love each child that to this day is still the apple of his eye.
Back in the old days in order to be a school bus driver, a man had to buy a bus of his own and bid on the route he wanted. Mr. Preast did just that. He had many of those 14 children in school and about filled up that bus. When you ask him what his favorite job was, he will tell you that driving that old school bus was. He never wanted silver and gold; he just wanted to take care of his family. They were a treasure worth more than all the gold in Ft. Knox.
His first car was a Model A. He still thinks fondly of that car. Bernice never did get her license. She never worked outside the house, spending her time on bringing up the children properly. Elbert, when he was home, or one of the boys would take her into town to shop or wherever she wanted to go.
The draft board called him to join up for World War II. Unfortunately working in the coal mines damaged his lungs so he wasn’t accepted.
When they moved to Chimney Corner, there was an unfinished Baptist church for sale. Elbert and Bernice bought the building. With his family and friends they managed to finish the three-story house and made it livable. Before long they had a cozy home. If you were to walk into it today, that warm feeling that you get when you’ve been away from home for a long time envelopes you like you are finally where you belong.
The acres they lived on were cleared and they raised corn, chickens, pigs, beef and a milk cow with a calf. He had even built a barn to keep the hay dry and to give the animals some protection.
He once bought a big moving truck and worked it by himself. To hear him tell you, he would say that he only made one mistake and paid restitution for it. He took great pride in doing a job well. He still says, “If you’re going to do something it’s better that you do it right the first time.”
Mama and Papa Preast are funny to sit and listen to. You would think they were a couple of newlyweds the way they pick at each other. One will remember one way and the other will remember it differently.
Mr. Preast became a Christian in 1954 and it wasn’t long before he was called to preach. God says for us not to waste words and that is something that Papa Preast doesn’t do. He speaks on the glory of God, the promises He has made, the blessings He gives us, and how close the day is that Jesus will be coming back. He often speaks on salvation. He cares for everyone, often telling perfect strangers that he “loves them.” To hug him is to feel one of God’s anointed, a feeling most people never get to feel in their entire life.
Being 92 years old, he often says that he is ready to go home to see his mother and that it won’t be long.
(Pack may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the editor regarding his column may be e-mailed to email@example.com.)