by Nelda Rachels
Sometimes an immigrant can be your next-door neighbor, and you might not even know it. Like everyone else in a small town, that person from far, far away is just going about her business, feeding the cows, putting her children through school, volunteering, and hanging out at the local restaurant or library, putting down roots as quietly as the poplar or oak in your own backyard. One such immigrant is Laurie Pritchett from Reykjavik, Iceland.
Laurie and I met for this interview at the Weakley County Library where we used to attend Friends of the Library meetings. We were “co-conspirators” in fundraising efforts for the library—putting together a Friends cookbook and voting on various projects. This is when I found out about her volunteer spirit.
Laurie has been active in a variety of organizations—from her thirty years in the now-defunct Dresden Pilot Club to her current membership in the American Legion Auxiliary. However, her main work these days is as secretary of the Weakley County Historical and Genealogical Society, teacher of an adult Sunday School at Dresden’s Methodist church, holiday helper for Meals on Wheels, and full timer with Santa’s Helpers.
At Santa’s Helpers in Dresden, she usually works 5-6 hours every weekday along with manager Lou Ann Powers. Laurie performs a variety of tasks: sorting clothes, answering the phone, and juggling paperwork. She also interviews, trains, and manages the volunteers who help the organization meet the urgent needs of the community year-round.
What some of those volunteers may not know is that Laurie was reared in the largest city in Iceland and didn’t come to this country until she was a young bride, marrying US Merchant Marine Carmon Pritchett on the day after Kennedy was assassinated. It’s a date, she says, that makes their anniversary easily remembered. They had met in Iceland since his ship would sometimes dock there. They later wrote letters, and then married in 1963. She moved to the states in 1964.
Laurie has adjusted well to life in America despite swapping a large town for a smaller one and Iceland’s more noted diet of lamb and seafood for “our” pork and beef. She also found herself in a place where few of us learn more than one foreign language. “Europeans,” she says, “learn multiple languages at school.” She knows Icelandic, of course, and then learned English, Danish, and German in a Catholic primary and then a public high school.
Having a solid background in English helped Laurie overcome the usual language barrier that most immigrants must face. She last visited Iceland in 1993, where she still has several relatives. Her roots definitely run deep there as she can trace her genealogy back to the 700s and those well-known travelers, the Vikings.
As the wife of a U.S. Merchant Marine, she herself has visited about 15 countries, maybe more, and has visited 37 of these United States.
As a young mother of three sons born in ’67, ’69, and ’71, Laurie began attending UTM in 1973, majoring in Business Administration and getting her diploma in 1978. Now, she helps Carmon feed the cows on their small Dresden farm, a chore that once kept their children busy. They have seven granddaughters, four of them in college, two at UTM.
Kailee Pritchett is one of the granddaughters attending UTM and gets special mention by your interviewer here simply because she went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a summer program—to learn the Icelandic language! She found the grammar aspect especially difficult. She then travelled for three weeks in Iceland with a group of 13 students from all over the United States. She seems to have her grandmother’s Viking spirit, loving to travel and try the local foods.
Perhaps Laurie’s husband Carmon, whose own story was in the April/May 2016 Hometown, could reveal other information about his wife’s background—from her former ballroom dancing to the adventures of her stewardess mother. However, those would best be left for Laurie to tell another day.
When asked about her future goals, Laurie simply says, “to take it day by day.” To continue her lifelong love of reading would probably be another. But, who knows where her Viking spirit will take her next!
Note from the author: Since this interview, Laurie Pritchett fell and broke her hip. She has undergone successful surgery and is now undergoing rehab. We wish her a speedy and full recovery!