Priscilla Smith Botti
By Sheila Mason Gale
I'm sure many of you have seen the photo of Priscilla Smith Botti and her sister Portia on the cover of "Canterbury 300th Anniversary" book. Priscilla has held several political positions in Canterbury including Judge of Probate. She is also a talented author. The story to follow was published in the Christian Herald in 1953. It takes place in the 1920's and describes her wagon rides to church that begin in the area of Campbell Drive on Route 169, traveling south and ending at the Newent Congregational Church. Miss Lucy was Dr. Helen Baldwin's sister.
God Turned the Wheels
by Priscilla Smith Botti
Dolly, the kind and patient bay horse, stood at the hitching post. The old two-seated wagon held several children impatiently waiting for Miss Lucy. "Will we need umbrellas today?" we called, watching her hold a handkerchief over her head as she hastened toward us. "No," she answered. "The wind is in the west. We'll have a beautiful day." Unhitching the horse she climbed nimbly into the wagon. With an affectionate command to Dolly, the weekly, and always wonderful, going-to-church expedition started. Church was four miles away. Sometimes the trip was wet and cold, sometimes hot and dusty. But it was never tiresome.
Miss Lucy was a fifty-five years old and I was six when I started going to church with her. She looked much older. Her ideas were old-fashioned and so were her clothes, but her heart was young and she made the Primary Department an exciting adventure. Hers was a heart at peace with God and her fellowmen. That was the secret of her greatness. It drew us to her, and brought her influence into our lives to stay.
As we rode together to church, she taught us to recognize the beauty in everything around us. When she reined Dolly into the brook for her morning drink, she made sure we noticed the clean washed stones, the seasonal changes of the trees and ferns, the flowers from first buds to last blooms.
As we wound along the dirt road, she taught us the books of the Bible, the twelve sons of Jacob, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes. We sang hymns to varied accompaniment. Sometimes it was the sweet notes of spring peep-frogs, the drone of a summer locust, the rustle of fall leaves, the crunch of early snow, Each served in turn, but always there was the melody of the turning of the wheels.
In the wooded section, black birch grew by the roadside. Miss Lucy would reach out and break off a branch and give each of us a small piece. How we loved to nibble the bark!
She picked up so many passengers enroute that the bigger boys and girls took turns running on ahead and riding. As we rounded the last bend, the church bells were always ringing. "Come, come, come," was the message Miss Lucy said they were ringing. "Go, go, go," the boys laughingly echoed, but Miss Lucy only smiled.
Coming home, she tossed out Sunday-school papers to every house. If there were any sick people or shut-ins, she sent one of us to the door with church flowers.
Once a year we went at night, and that was the grandest experience of all. On Christmas Eve we had a big tree in church. We spoke pieces, sang songs and received presents. But even the presents were nothing compared with that exciting Christmas ride. Lanterns hung from each side of the wagon. Our feet wandered from warm soapstones to mysterious packages. There were last-minute rehearsals from some of us, carols from all of us. Overhead, Miss Lucy pointed out the North Star, the Great Dipper, the Milky Way. As we passed each house she led us in calling out, "Merry Christmas!"
For many years, Miss Lucy took us to church every Sunday, ruts, mud or ice often made traveling difficult and hazardous-but we always got through. Nothing seemed too much for the bay horse and the old lady. Each depended on the other, and neither ever let the other down. I took it for granted then, but looking back; I realize there were more than the two of them.
Dolly pulled the wagon, Miss Lucy held the reins, but surely God turned the wheels.