Christmas in Rainelle, West Virginia
I remember growing up there and Main Street would be draped in Christmas lights, back and forth, criss crossing the 13 blocks that make up downtown. Throngs of people parading up and down with “oohs and aahs” in front of all the windows. I remember the first mechanical Santa Claus I ever saw. It was in the window of Flint’s Hardware store. I was totally fascinated. Roy Orbison singing Pretty Paper coming though the loud speaker right there in front of the store. The Rainelle Methodist Church choir singing carols at one end of the street, and the competing church, Rainelle Baptist Church at the other end of the street with their carolers. I remember a young woman named Lilly McFarland, the prettiest one in the Baptist choir who couldn’t sing very well, but because she was so pretty, it didn’t matter. Reverend Loving, the pastor, always put her up in front. The Methodist Church may have had a better choir, after all they also had Harold Johnson as their leader, and Mrs. Halsey, the piano teacher, who seemed to have taught all us kids how to play piano.
In my case, she tried to teach me. To this day I can barely find Middle C. I used to give my mother a headache with Song of the Volga Boatmen … “ho heave ho … ho heave ho”. When I practiced, the house would suddenly take on a distinct Vicks Vap-o-Rub aroma. My Dad would come home, take one whiff, and say, “Well, it seems Colin has been practicing. At least I am getting something out of the money I am spending on those piano lessons. If he isn’t going to play ball, at least he will play piano.”
Where was I? Aah, yes, Lilly McFarland. Lilly was from Possum Holler, not exactly a great address, and she worked as a cashier in Bailey’s General Store. I don’t remember when or why, a certain bachelor decided he would move to Rainelle. As Hildamae told the story, he had made a fortune in making bread and dinner rolls for restaurants all around West Virginia and neighboring states, and he had retired and chose Rainelle as his retirement home..Rumors flew through town like a tornado……..A MILLIONAIRE HAS MOVED TO RAINELLE, and he is a BACHELOR! His name Bernie Parker. He wasn’t necessarily easy on the eye, being a rather short man with a very round round belly. My mother said he measured 60 inches high and 80 inches around. She also said a lot of money is the best aphrodisiac, even better than Spanish Fly.
It certainly wasn’t long before he had his eye on Lilly McFarland, the pretty, but screeching singer from the Rainelle Baptist Church. He became a devout churchgoer. It also wasn’t long before the long stemmed Lilly was sitting there, very close to Bernie, going back and forth through town in his big black Cadillac so that the other single girls could eat their hearts out.
Before you could blink an eye, Lilly had become Mrs. Bernie Parker, whose name was quickly changed to Bernard (pronounced the French way, Burr-Nahrd, with a very strong dipthong to the Nahrd).
Within a year, the young Mrs. Parker had become the mother to a darling baby girl, and she named her Lilly McFarland Parker, and shortly after Little Lilly, as she is called to this day, although her build is more like Bernie’s (I mean Bernard’s), while Big Lilly is still, in her 80s, tall and statuesque, making Big Lilly actually little Lilly and Little Lilly actually big Lilly.
Little Lilly was raised in the mansion that sits high on top of Parker Mountain, overlooking the Meadow River and the Greenbrier Valley. It sits majestically, not traditional white, but Sunflower yellow, with Mrs. Parker reigning as Queen of Parker House, and Parker Mountain and the Dowager Empress of Rainelle.
This weekend the absolute social event of the year, known to the locals as The Party, but to Big Lilly, is her Christmas Fete, where the creme de la creme of Rainelle will be in their finery and dining, dancing, into the wee hours.
Mrs. Parker has agreed to talk with me, her first time ever doing any thing public about her party. She has invited us at HereWomenTalk to her home as she prepares for the big event later Friday evening. Hildamae would be thrilled that her baby boy would be the one to get her on the radio. I hope momma is looking down from her heavenly perch, because there is no where she would rather be than at this party.
As a footnote, when Lilly was barely 21 years old, Bernard died unexpectedly by falling into a well on the property, and she became a widow with a whole lot of dough from dough, and one eensy teensy coal mine as an unexpected bonus. There was just a momentary ripple of gossip that ran through Rainelle, but Hildamae never believed for a moment that he had been pushed into the well. Rainelle doesn’t allow bad talk about any goings on at Parker House, on Parker Mountain, about Lilly Parker. No sirree, we aren’t having any of that.
You are invited to join us online Friday, December 16, 2-3 pm EST.