Just read a story in the Lincoln Journal about disappearing sites in Georgia, such as smokehouses. According to Tom Poland, not many smokehouses left. Indeed another disappearing Southern tradition, one likely unknown by the youth of today.

I do remember a smokehouse, impossible to forget. If I walked from my house on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia, to our mailbox, look across the street about ten yards, between the road and the Leake’s barn, there sat a small building atop rocks. As Mr. Poland described, the building was dark and if by chance close enough, a hint of a sweet smoke lingered in the planks.

That smokehouse (called the meat house by the owner Mrs. Leake) had not be used in years. But when I was about six years old, I made good use of that oversized “doll’s house,” much to my regret.

I was of a runt of a kid with a curious experimental nature whose mind raced from one thing to another.  By today’s standards I would have been labeled ADD simply because I could not sit still. Taking a nap (much more needed by my mother) was low on my list.

One autumn day during nap time, I slipped out of the house (quietly so Mama could not hear) and found my good friend, Ricky Westbrooks, who lived up one house across the street. As it turned out, Ricky had some firecrackers he “found in Jimmy’s room” and I just happened to have a few matches on me. We quickly put our heads together and came up with a plan. We ran around to the back of the Westbrook’s stand-alone garage, the one his older brother, Jimmy, built as a Tucker High shop project. There we set our plan into action.

We knew what to do, but not who was going to do what. I offered to hold the long string of firecrackers and let Ricky strike the match. His freckled face broke out into a sweat while looking at the matches, so I offered to strike the match and he held the firecrackers. When the flame touched the fuse, just ever so slightly, it raced toward Ricky’s hand. He was not prepared. Startled, he threw the flaming firecrackers up against the garage. They bounced off the wooden garage and landed in a pile of dried leaves which took to flames as soon as the loud popping started.

It was time to split.

Where to go?

With all the noise and screaming going on, no one knows at a time like that. As I ran past the William’s house I spotted the smokehouse. I wanted to cross the street and slip back into my house, but it was like a four alarm (actually it was a two alarm) with neighbors pouring out of their houses and that included Mama. I did not want to run into her so I tugged on the smokehouse door as I had seen Jackie Leake do so often. There I stood in the smokehouse. I shut myself in and turned around and around thinking, what to do, what to do?

The smokehouse was empty save a few yard rakes. In the far right corner was a high up cabinet based from the floor. That’d do. I could get up there and pretend to be stuck. I climbed without success numerous times, but when the fire trucks buzzed by with sirens blazing, the adrenaline kicked in and I made it to the top. There I sat for the duration waiting to be found.

I cannot tell you the torture I endured. It seemed forever before Jackie Leake opened the door and yelled, “She’s in here!”

Almost immediately, I was face to face with Mama. She grabbed me and held me tight. Then she sat me down and made me look into her eyes.

“Diane, what are you doing in here? We’ve been looking for you everywhere! Why didn’t you answer when you heard your name? I thought you burned up in that fire!”

Now, I was old enough to know better than to lie to my mother, but this seemed like an exception.

“I heard a bird crying in here and wanted to rescue it, so I forced open the door. I climbed up on the cabinet and then couldn’t get down.”

“Bird crying?”

“Yes, it was crying and …”

“No such thing as a bird crying, Diane!”

About that time, Tom Story showed up. Thank goodness, a gentle soul who looked for the good in his daughters.

“Well, now Helen, she could of heard a bird in distress and came in to …”

“No such thing Tom! Diane,” she focused her attention back to me, “Young lady, I will snatch a knot in your tail if you lie to me! Where is the bird now?”

“When Jackie opened the door, it flew out.”

Tall Jackie Leake shrugged his shoulder. He hadn’t seen a bird.

“How can you hear a bird cry and not the whole neighborhood calling your name?”

“I did answer. I guess you didn’t hear me.”

I tried to change the subject.

“What’s going on out there? I thought I heard a firetruck.”

Mama’s big brown eyes would not let me go.

“You heard two firetrucks! The Westbrook’s garage burnt down to the ground. Do you know anything about it?”

“Well no, I’ve been in here the whole time. I was stuck up there,” pointing to the cabinet, “Jackie got me down.”

“Young lady, do not lie to me …”

“Now Helen, she could be telling the truth. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt until we know what really happened.”

“Tom, look at her face! You know she’s not telling the truth!”

“Now, now Helen, we don’t know. And you know how she loves birds, always drawing them …”

My father was a lovely man who looked upon his three little girls as precious gems born to be admired. But Mama was the realist in the family and the truth and nothing but the truth was all she wanted, especially today.

So here goes.

“Mama, I’m telling you the truth. A bird was crying …”

“What color was that bird, Diane?”

“Uh, well it was a bluish color.”

“Bluish?”

“Yes ma’am bluish, and it was crying so bad, I just had to help it. I know I should’ve gone for help but …”

I could go on and on with this story and tell you all the nonsense I said that day, but the truth caught up to me while standing in the middle of that smokehouse, wishing and a praying for a sign of a bird. I studied the rafters looking for an old nest, a feather – anything.

The truth showed up in the form of Jimmy Westbrooks. Ricky came clean.

Mama was true to her words, that is about snatching a knot. She did her best to cure me of lying, just like they cured hams in that smokehouse; she put the heat to me. It was there, while smelling the lingering scent of hams cured from yesteryear, that I learned the most important lesson of my life: Never lie to Mama.

Note:

To read more about disappearing Southern traditions: Author Tom Poland, journalist for the Lincoln Journal. Latest book, Georgialina A Southland As We Knew It, the University of South Carolina Press.

The Morgan Road smokehouse was built by Mr. Henry, the original property owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fitzpatrick Hotel

Fitzpatrick Hotel

“Hello, anybody here?”

I walked the halls of a three story Victorian hotel looking for any sign of life. No one. Wandering through the lobby, I happened to see a note on the check in counter: If you need help call Carolyn at 706 …

I turned the phone around and dialed. A woman’s voice on the other end had a question for me.

“Are you the lady who was supposed to be here at noon?”

“Yes ma’am, unfortunately I got a late start …”

“It’s two o’clock.”

“I know ma’am …”

“Well, I just got home. I don’t live in downtown Washington-Wilkes, you know. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Twenty minutes later, Carolyn, checked me in and wasted no time telling me about Daniel.

“Now Daniel will be in and out. If the front door is locked use the Lady’s door. I’ll give you the code. That way you can come and go as you please.”

She was right about Daniel. He was in and out, mostly out. If I could pin him down for a moment, I had a question for this young man, a haunting question.

“Hey Daniel, have you ever seen any ghosts in here?”

His eyes widened a bit as he spoke.

“I’ve never seen a ghost here. No ma’am, nor ever spoken to a guest who has seen a ghost here. But a while back, a ghost hunting crew checked in …”

Looking around at the high ceilings, Oriental rugs and Victorian furniture, I pushed.

“What did they find out?”

“Well, not sure ma’am. They kept to themselves, Ghost Brothers, a TV show coming out soon. Yes ma’am, the Fitzpatrick Hotel and all unseen guests will be on that show, so I hear.”

“So, Ghost Brothers found signs of paranormal activity?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. I did overhear ‘em talkin’ though.”

“What did they say?”

“Oh, something like,” in a slightly Shakespearean tone, Daniel, paraphrased the TV spokesperson, “Thick warm smell of history permeates this 1898 hotel. You can feel where ghosts filter through the muted stained-glass windows. The Fitzpatrick is where the mystics meet majestic grandeur …”

Daniel’s voice trailed off as he let himself out the front door. He turned back to the door long enough to key it locked. And he was gone. I was alone in a locked hotel and the only guest checked in today, at least the only one with a body.

The first night I fell asleep staring at the hall light creeping under the door, mindful of expected dark spots to appear in the shape of shoes or feet. I was ready to scream bloody murder, all the while knowing there was no one to hear.

But the Fitzpatrick Hotel is not the only haunting building of “majestic grandeur” in Washington, Georgia. Historical markers dot the square and roads.

The Robert Toombs Home can be found just minutes from the Washington Square. Toombs was a successful planter, lawyer, U.S. Congressman and Senator, the man from Georgia who shouted to his constituents: “Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door …”

I toured Toombs’ 7000 square feet home, a home that was elegant, yet warmed cozy by old creaking hardwood floors. I especially enjoyed the garden even in a light misty rain. While photographing the English ivy at the front porch steps, I bumped into a man who introduced himself.

“Since you are a history professor, you’ll want a picture of this.” I said to him.

He gave me a curious look.“

“According to Marcia inside, this ivy came from the garden of Mary Queen of Scots.”

“Well, my dear, you do know Bob Toombs was full of BS?”

Mary Stuart's English Ivy

Mary Stuart’s English Ivy   at Robert Toombs Home

 

“Oh?”

“Oh yes, said he could drink all the blood spilled fighting the Yankees. Little did he know, blood spilled would be of biblical proportions. Blood up to the bridles of horses, even a bit much for Toombs to swallow. Yes, Bob Toombs was full of shit!” He chuckled. “But that ivy could have come from Mary Stuart’s garden. Who knows? Bob was an influential man.”

“What about the gold? Do you know anything about the lost Confederate gold? That’s why I’m here, to gather information to write a short story …”

“That gold was transferred by railway from a bank in Virginia to pay off Confederate debt. The last of the gold was to go to Europe, but it didn’t make it. Robbery occurred somewhere around the Chennault House between Washington and Lincolnton. Some say the Chennault family was tortured, strung up by the thumbs till they passed out. The lady of the house was separated from her nursing child for an extended period. Union soldiers meant business about getting that gold back. The Chennaults apparently did not know. If so, surely one of them would’ve spilled the beans hearing that hungry baby cry. I understand Lincoln offered the Chennault’s an apology. You know Lincoln revealed his true feelings about the South when he said, ‘with malice toward none.'”

“Yes, he did. Back to the lost gold, professor, I heard Jefferson Davis spent the night at the Chennault house disguised as a woman …”

He laughed.

“Davis was running from Union soldiers, hiding at the Chennault’s house. I’ve heard about the woman disguise thing, but don’t believe it. As far as the gold, I believe that gold was taken about three miles from the Chennault’s. Others will swear the robbery took place at the house. It remains a mystery to this day what happened to that gold. By today’s standards it would be worth over a million dollars.”

A group dressed in graduation caps and gowns approached along with a photographer.

“Professor, we’re ready.”

“Okay, looks like my graduating history club is ready to go. Good luck dear on your hunt for the lost gold, but I believe you’re chasing ghosts. Even Margaret Mitchell wrote about that gold in Gone with the Wind. The Union soldiers thought Rhett had it, threatened to hang him. People have been speculating over a hundred and fifty years. Maybe it was taken out west and melted down, who knows? Well, hope your pictures of Mary’s ivy turnout. And hey, I’ll check out your blog! ”

Chasing ghosts was right in more ways than one. I’m really here to finish a book I’m writing, The Ghosts of Lincoln County. This part of Georgia was home to my ancestors back in the 1700s. I am looking for their old home-places with the use of a map and computer printouts. The only way a map could be of use to me, is if it was to jump on my steering wheel and take control of the car. The roads here are long and give new meaning to the term country mile. And there is little evidence of a place found even looking straight at it.

I would know my ancestors better if I could see where they worked, lived and died. But frankly it is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack, much like searching for the lost Confederate gold. I feel so close yet so far away.

Dunns Chapel Cemetery Photo by Tom Poland

Diane at Dunns Chapel Cemetery
Photo by Tom Poland

I have had some luck finding the disappearing trail of my ancestors thanks to writer, Tom Poland. Thanks to him, I have seen the Chennault House, a monument listing the names of my great grandfathers of old, Clarks Hill where my family home-place is now under water, and Dunn’s Chapel, where many of my ancestors are buried, and Liberty Hill School. He also gave me a tour the Lincoln Journal where I met part of the staff, and last but not least, he introduced me to the best fried chicken in Lincoln County.

Mark Twain would be proud!

Liberty Hill School was most meaningful to me, because it is the schoolhouse where my paternal grandparents met as children. It was the place where they fell in love, a love that blessed them with nine children and twenty-six grandchildren. A little schoolhouse that has survived time in Leathersville – Lincoln County.

As far as the Fitzpatrick Hotel, I returned to stay another night only to find my soap gone. I started to call room service, but why bother? I walked down the yesteryear stairway, feeling strangely alone. I found a note on the counter: If you need help call Daniel 706 …

The voice at the other end asked, “Hello, Diane, is that you? Are you still there?”

“Yes, Daniel, I am here and I don’t have any soap.”

“Sure you do, it’s in the basket on the white chest in your bathroom.”

“No I looked. The basket is empty.”

“Room 204 is where I put soap …”

“That’s the room I’m in, and Daniel, no soap.”

“No way, I … Oh well, never mind. Where are you, in the lobby?”

“Yes, front desk.”

“Okay good. Look behind the desk for a shoe box. There should be some soap there.”

“Oh yes found it. Thanks Daniel.”

“So you are staying another night?”

“Yes I love it here, feel right at home!”

“That’s awesome! Have a good night!”

To tell the truth I do feel at home at the Fitzpatrick Hotel, especially when I ascend the staircase from the lobby to the second floor. It is oddly comforting for my hand to slide down the rail as I descend the same steps as my ancestors did. Could my ancestors have come this way? The Fitzpatrick would have been something spectacular at the turn of the century. Surely my folks walked into this hotel. Did Rad Story put his arms around Sallie and give her a twirl on the worn hardwoods in the ballroom? Did his big brother, Fox Huntin’ Sam, stay over for a social? Did Rad’s father, Buck Story, chew the fat about politics and the price of cotton and sugarcane in the lobby? Did Dennis Bentley make a house call to aid someone with an herbal concoction or stay over while supplying Washington with saddles, bridles, and shoes from Leathersville? I wonder about these things as I make my way about this grand place, a place where the silence of yesteryear is deafening.

Deafening silence? Oh yeah.

The Fitzpatrick Hotel is built on the first cemetery in Washington, Georgia. Only the head stones were removed, and there lies the remains of many, including the first (some say second) woman hanged for murder in the State of Georgia, Polly Barclay. Polly was known as a fast beauty with magnetic charms. It’s said she gave her brother $200 to rid her of a problem. Problem? Young Polly married an old man. All seemed well until the day she set eyes on a young farm hand, Mark Mitchum; she wanted him. And, apparently, she could no longer tolerate her husband.

Hmmm, wonder what he did wrong?

Mr. Barclay’s world was perfect, until about supper time. He was the envy of every man in Wilkes county young or old, until that night, about supper time. Yes, his young Polly was a looker. He had given her everything, wealth, good standing in the community and a handsome home with a barn full of cotton, money in the bank so to speak. Where had he gone wrong? Surely these things ran through his mind as he lay in a pool of blood. And another thing, there had been a noise in the barn. He didn’t want to deal with it, but Polly insisted. Did he see his assailants? Did he put two an two together? The old man was found alive, but died within three hours without one word spoken. Why? The ball from the revolver cut his tongue clean off.

Hmmm, I wonder? Anyway why kill the man? Why else? Love and money.

From an old oak tree, Polly hanged on May 13 (Friday 13th), 1806, at the west end of town. Polly’s brother was tried and found not guilty. Mark Mitchum was classified as nolle prosequi. Polly Barclay was the only one convicted and paid the price, not with a rope, but a chain around her neck, wearing her silk wedding reception gown, a glorious sight until the end no doubt. Does Polly roam the halls of the Fitzpatrick searching for Mr. Mitchum? I’d love to happen up on Polly, see her sashaying down the halls of the Fitzpatrick in her fancy gown. I’d have one question for her.

Do you still want him?

One cannot help but be moved by the strong invisible pull of antiquity and imagination at the Fitzpatrick Hotel. I did not hear Polly’s chain rattle at the Fitz as so many do on a foggy dark night, but did hear some knocking while drawing water for a bath in my claw feet tub. While researching Polly Barclay, I came across a place known as the Washington tavern – a room within a hotel, a place that celebrated politics and public events. The watering hole was also called “Gal in the Fountain.” Many rallied within those walls, elite men such as: George Walton – who signed the Declaration of Independence, Oliver Hilhouse, John Dooly, Samuel Davis, William and Gabriel Toombs, Burnett Pope, Benjamin Taliaferro, Gen. David Meriwether, Gen. John Clark – who shot a hole in a hanging portrait of George Washington while socializing at the “Gal,” Col. N. Long, Job and John Callaway, Silas Mercer, John Appling, Dr. Joel Abbot, John H. Walton, Zechariah Lamar, G. Hay, Sanders Walker, and many more.

My eyes widened at the name, Sanders Walker. My great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story (born 1776), had a son, Sanders Walker Story (killed at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during the Civil War). Samuel would have been thirty-eight at the time of Polly Barclay’s hanging. He was a successful planter in the area and apparently was good friends with Sanders Walker. These men were a testament to the high caliber of people in Wilkes County in 1806 who influenced the community of Washington, and no doubt held great debate about Polly Barclay at the “Gal.” Was it possible that my three times great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story, downed an ale at the “Gal in the Fountain” right here in Washington-Wilkes?

One can only wonder.

Then came my journey’s end. Time to leave room #204. I packed and left historic Washington; time to say goodbye to all ghosts. I drove eastback through Lincoln County to Interstate 20. Left feeling good for coming and knowing I was near to the heart of my ancestors, sad for feeling alone in the fact that I did not find everything I was looking for. After several trips to this area, I decided that it is time to be happy with what I have.

I was in search of answers for my blog, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com. After posting several stories of The Ghosts of Lincoln County, questions and comments poured in from all over, some good, some bad. I am appreciative of all the encouragement received. “Cousin Ann G.’s” email stunned me when stating that I did not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. Just for her, I wrote a chapter entitled, Disclosure. Thank you “Cousin Ann G.” And, I am amazed at the people who allude to the fact that I should have a DNA test to prove that I am related to “those” Bentleys. I have no need for DNA for I know who I am. I know because my father, Tom Story, told me, just as his father and mother told him and so forth and so on.

My life has been made rich with stories of old. I am of the least of the many storytellers in my famly.

Now is time to finish The Ghosts of Lincoln County.

As I see the last glimpse of Lincoln County in the rearview mirror of my Mustang, I say goodbye to looking for that needle in the haystack, a needle that is as elusive as the lost Confederate gold. I say goodbye to Little River, Aunt Donn, and to the love of my father’s life, Lincolnton, Georgia.

I am Westbound to Atlanta! Yes, Daddy, I am going home.

A FIN!

Note:

Tom Poland writes about everything Southern, a columnist for the Lincoln Journal. He has also written numerous books, latest entitled, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, the University of South Carolina Press.

Buck Story’s legal name was Henry Allen Story 1838-1913.

Research of Polly Barclay came from, Miss Eliza A. Bowen, who wrote for the Washington Gazette and Chronicles 1886-1897; her manuscripts about the people of Wilkes County was compiled into a book, The Story of Wilkes County. Information also came from Murderpedia. Mr. Barclay is said to be buried on the spot where he fell, covered by two unhewn stones near the old Elberton and Augusta road, a few miles beyond Sandtown.

“Gal in the Fountain” was run by Micajah Williamson in 1806.

A FIN means “to the end,” Gaelic, Story motto, coat of arms. (Pronounced Aw FIN.)

At the time of this writing, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com, has over 300,000 pages viewed. Thank you!

 

Dear Reader:

This is the ending story for The Ghosts of Lincoln County. Scroll down and you will find The Ghosts of Lincoln County Introduction. There will be thirty stories in between. Book coming soon!

 

Diane Story

Diane Story

When I was a child, about four years old, I visited Clarks Hill Lake with my family. It’s my first true memory of Lincoln County, Georgia. All my life I have heard about Lincoln County, as though it was some magical place of the past, Lincolnton in particular. Not many people live there, not like Atlanta. But Lincolnton is well known with places like the National Register of Historic Places. The county and city are named after General Benjamin Lincoln who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

The lake seemed to have a sacred meaning for my father, Tom Story. He started out in his laid back casual way – taking his wife and three daughters on a little adventure, but by the time we reached Lincoln County, it was apparent the man was on a mission. As soon as he parked the car he made a beeline straight for the Clarks Hill shoreline and there he stood with his hands on hips staring into the blue green water. That day when I was four years old, I noticed he was not just staring into the water, but at an old brick chimney. My older sister and I walked down to the lake and stood beside him. The bottoms of our bare feet burned on hard Georgia red clay as we enjoyed the cool splash of the water.

“That’s where I was born – right there. See that chimney? If you could go under water, you’d see the house that my grandfather, Rad Story, built. It’s there,” he assured us as he pointed, “down there. Yep, that’s where my brothers and sisters were all born, except Robert. He was born at Uncle Ed Gunby’s general store just down the road a piece.” He chuckled at the thought of Robert being born at a general store. And then he continued on about his people. “Aurelius Gunby couldn’t stand the thoughts of his daughter, Sallie, living at Mistletoe Plantation. He reeled her back here by deeding this land over to her husband Rad; lots of Gunbys lived here ‘bouts. The Storys farmed ten thousand acres from here to Thomson, land owned by Buck Story, Rad’s daddy.”

My father,Tom Story, was a quiet man, but could go on and on about the history of Lincoln County, especially when it came to his family.

“We go way back. The Gunbys were akin to the Smalleys, O’Neals – Basil O’Neal, came here during the Revolutionary War. On my mother’s side, we’re akin to the Bentleys, Ramseys, Hardins and Reids. The Hardins are buried at Ft. Gordon, which used to be their farm. Our people were some of the first in Lincoln County.”

“Why did we leave Lincoln County, Daddy?” asked six year old Patricia.

“Life can make you do things you don’t necessarily want to. Yep, life can bring you to your knees. They,” Daddy hesitated and then spoke choosing his words carefully, “Rad – well – he died. And then eventually the government, of all things, flooded our home-place. Sometimes it’s just better to git! That’s all’s that’s left now – that chimney.” Then he grinned and winked at us. “And me, and you and you.”

“And Barbara?” asked Patricia.

“Yes, and Barbara,” he answered with a chuckle. “We’re family, nobody can take that from you. Once family, always family – in life or death.”

Once our lake visits were over, it was off to Aunt Donn’s house. She was a curious though well-educated woman who taught school in Lincolnton. She was of great importance to my father as she was the only living relative of his mother. Donn always dressed up like she was going somewhere important. She lived in an old clapboard home which looked as though it had never been painted – it set atop stacks of rocks. She love rocks; they adorned her porch steps and served as door stops in her home. Not just any old rocks, but ones that came to her through history – something to do with a  Revolutionary War hero – Elijah Clarke. Aunt Donn must have been an excellent school teacher for she had a way of depositing an indelible thought into your memory bank.

“My deahs, if you want to know where to find yoah Aunt Donn, take it upon yoah self to look at a map of Geo’gia. Look no fa’thah then the bo’dah of South Ca’olina. There in Geo’gia, you will find a county in the shape of an Indian ar’ow head pointing nawth. Just remembah, Lincoln is the only county that reminds you to look to the nawth star! Yo’ll neveh be lost if you look to the heavens from whence yoah help cometh. I’ll be heah in Lincoln County with yoah Uncle Waltah, in the same place of mine and yoah fo’fathahs: Dennis Bentley, Dr. John Bentley, Balaam Bentley and William Bentley II. Now keep in mind the very reason we are heah in Geo’gia and not South Ca’olina, is because Captain William Bentley II was awau’ded land heah in exchange for his effo’ts in the American Revolutiona’y war. We call that land Leathasville; it’s neah Lincolnton the county seat. It’s where my fathah and they all – including my grandfathah, Dr. John Bentley, made shoes and saddles – heah in Lincoln County. Now let me make you awa’e of one mo’e thing of impo’tance. Lincoln County was pawt of Wilkes County until 1796. Let’s don’t neglect our Wilkes County histo’y …”

Yes Aunt Donn had an over the top Southern accent which sounded as though she was trying to mimic a sophisticated English lady. My father left Lincoln County at age five, but carried a tad of her accent with him. He had difficulty pronouncing a second “r” in a word, and sometimes his first “r” was neglected. The longer he hung with Aunt Donn, the more he sounded like her.

And on one evening when he asked Mama to please pass the “cawn” at Aunt Donn’s supper table, well, that’s when my mother, Helen Story, said, “Tom, we need to get back to Atlanta.”

I have spoken to quite of few folks from Lincolnton and never heard them speak with an accent like Aunt Donn. But then again, they weren’t born in 1881. You would have thought that Donn was a perfectionist in the area of pronunciation, since she was so particular about her name, Dieudonne Randolph Bentley. She would not tolerate a poor French accent.

“My deahs, if you cannot propa’ly pa’nounce my name, then just call me Donn! I have a lovely name,” she would say with her chin tilted up in righteous indignation. “Dieudonne is French, and it means Gift of God. And of coa’se, Randolph comes from our family in Roanake Island – you know the Randolphs – the ones related to President Thomas Jeffe’son.”

We wisely concealed our eye-ball rolling when Donn did her name dropping, but we honestly tried to sharpen up our French accent just for her. We failed miserably. Even Walter Steed, her husband, called her Donn. And my mother enjoyed calling her the “Gift of God.” You know like, “Tom, go ask the Gift of God . . .” My mother had an attitude toward Aunt Donn because the truth be known, Donn was somewhat of a pot stirrer, a loop hole finder. And she could not be beaten at her game, but never mind about all that, it will suffice to say that my father hung on her every word.

As the years passed, my sisters and I made many memories exploring rural eastern Georgia, and just flat out running wild with our cousins. Even the nights proved to be an adventure. Just how in the world do you keep from sinking to the bottom of a feather mattress? My cousin, Roy, complained that he was about to “smother to death” as he sank deeper and deeper, trapped by the high walls of feathers held together by fine linen. We loved it, because it was the only way to slow him down, and trust me when I say Roy needed slowing down.

But nothing could ever replace my first memory of Lincoln County when I was four years old, not even running the chickens, sabotaging the out-house, nor hollering down the well. That day, my father and Uncle Doc took a boat out to fish near the old brick chimney, while my mother and Aunt Sarah prepared lunch on shore. Mama busy with lunch and my two year old sister had her hands full. I made it my business to take full advantage of the situation and slipped off. I followed the alluring call of gentle splashes. Of course, Mama’s last words to me were, “Don’t go out too far.” And I obeyed her as far as not going too far out into the water, but she said nothing about following the shoreline. In minutes I found myself in a different cove, alone.

And I loved it. The water splashed my feet and legs. A dragonfly teased me, as the wind blew through the trees enticing them to hum an alluring song. I knew I should turn back, but was compelled to stay just a little longer to hear a lone bird sing with the trees. As a four year old, I felt completely satisfied and proud of myself for being independent. Then I got an idea. I could not swim as my older cousins, but I could lie on my stomach and pretend to swim. And that is what I did. And yes, I did go out a little way into the lake.

After a few minutes, I felt a tickle around my ankle. I stopped splashing and was still as could be. The tickling turned into an invisible hand that grabbed my foot and snatched me backwards, back to the shore. When I should have been on the bank, I was under water. I was disoriented, confused, and realized I was in a place that I had to get out of fast. And I knew I was on my own.

I fought hard to get away from the pull, but whatever it was, had me and sucked me deeper into an even darker place. I found myself struggling to free myself from tree roots, some thick and some thin and hairy. When I tried to surface, I hit ground. Somehow I was under ground and surrounded by water. I struggled to free myself and finally, just in time, my head surfaced and I took a big gulp of fresh air, only to be pulled back under the bank again, and again. I knew the third time I went under, I was done for. I was tired and had no strength left to fight the tree roots or the whirlpool. I was dying and I knew it.

And then a miracle happened. The ground above opened up and a bright light shined down into the dark water. Tiny little stars floated down through the light as if to comfort me. Somehow the light allowed the murmuring of the trees to filter into my ears. As the sound of the trees caressed me, I relaxed. I heard many hushed voices whispering things like: “Don’t give up, help is on the way. Don’t give up. You’ll make it.” The voices did not speak in unison, but rather here and there, some far away, some close, some male some female. I did not recognize any of the voices, but somehow believed they were folks who had gone on before me, folks who were pulling for me.

And then a pleasant sensation soothed the top of my head. It floated down through my body in waves to my toes. The feeling can only be described as electric, yet numbing. It melted my will and I surrendered. I felt a swooping feeling of being lifted. I lost consciousness.

When I opened my eyes, I was face to face with my mother. She was stunned. I was told later that one of my older cousins saw me surface for air and go under the bank. He pulled me out.

As I lay stretched out that day on the shore, my mother verbally let me have it. I was dazed and could not concentrate on what she was saying, though I know she was upset. She was angry.

The gentle sound of the water hitting the shore allowed me to escape Mama’s wrath. The more I concentrated on the sound of the water, the less I heard her. As the sun warmed my face, Mama seemed to float away. I looked toward her, but saw the trees behind her instead. The wind blew and the trees murmured, everything else was shut out. I know I was surrounded by many, but do not remember seeing or hearing them.

Three years later I was diagnosed with heart disease and would spend the next five years in and out of hospitals and on strict bedrest for three of those years. My first trip to the hospital when I was seven was most frightful. Unable to draw blood from my small arms, I was strapped to a hard table and the preparation to draw blood from my leg began. I cried, begging my parents to rescue me. Their unwillingness put me in a panic. Just as I was about to scream bloody murder and pull a Houdini, I caught a glimpse of a picture on the wall. It was a colorful rendering of a lake with water lapping the shoreline – just like Clarks Hill. To the left of the lake were tall trees, some cedars – just like Clarks Hill.

I went limp and silent.

I stared at the picture and was taken away – taken to Clarks Hill Lake. I felt the sun on my face and hard Georgia red clay beneath me. I heard the lake water caressing the shore. I felt the breeze and heard the murmuring of the trees. And those hushed whispering voices spoke to me as they did in that watery grave, “Don’t give up, help is on the way. Don’t give up. You’ll make it.”

And who were those hushed whispering voices who stuck with me? I know they are folks who have gone on before me. I know they are folks who are pulling for me. And someday I will return to Lincoln County and learn all about them. Them? The ghosts of Lincoln County.

 

~ Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr.

“Tom Story, why in the world is it, no matter where we’re going, whether it be the beach or the mountains, we always wind up in Lincolnton, Georgia?” Helen Story rolled her intense, big brown eyes (her trademark), then demanded, “Just tell me why!”

“Now Helen, you know, even to get to Heaven, you gotta go through Lincolnton,” Tom Story said with a slow grin (his trademark).

 

 

 

Rock City

Rock City 2015

Tanasi is Cherokee for the river. And a beautiful river it is along with the hills and valleys – especially in October when nature bursts alive with color resembling my Memi’s homemade quilts.

But first things first. Whenever this Georgian makes way for Tennessee, it is by Look Out Mountain. Rock City, a hiker’s dream filled with gnomes and fairies. Seven states can be seen on a clear day. All this while reminiscing about the Cherokee lovers who partook in forbidden love. The man was thrown off the mountain. The woman jumped after her lover, a Cherokee Romeo and Juliet. That site is called Lover’s Leap. But before Lover’s Leap, the swinging bridge will take your breath away suspended two-hundred feet above an eighty foot waterfall. Breathtakingly beautiful – and I am proud to say that part of Look Out Mountain is in Georgia.

As a child it was an annual trip. My interest in real estate surely started there as we drove through Look Out Mountain neighborhood picking out houses my sisters and I wanted to live in. My favorite was Little Red Riding Hood Trail. My sister, Patricia, loved Mother Goose Trail and my sister, Barbara loved all the roads including: Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Elfin and the Fairyland School. If we found a house available, we were certain we could talk our parents into buying one. Nothing was ever for sale.

Ruby Falls next stop, though still on Look Out Mountain, now in Tennessee. And the trees and foliage are just as inviting as on the Georgia side. Now to board an elevator and drop two-hundred sixty feet underground. It’s about an hour hike through the dark shadowy cave to the waterfall. Today they have lights on a timer. Upon entrance into the dark falls room, water is heard as a cool breeze greets you. After a moment the lights come on and music from heaven plays – and there before me is a waterfall located over one-thousand twenty feet underground. Awesome experience.

The real reason for being in Tennessee is the Grand Ole Opry – this year celebrating their ninety years anniversary – so it’s off to Nashville. My father, Tom Story, lived for the Grand Ole Opry and it was a part of our annual trip to Tennessee. We were the first to arrive and the last to leave. While in the Ryman Auditorium, we drank cups of hot chocolate while enjoying the show. My favorites were Minnie Pearl with the price tag hanging from her hat and the square dancers. My father played the guitar (Gibson only!) and was into the pickers.

While at home every Saturday night (very late!) Daddy could be heard fidgeting with the radio in the dark. He tuned in Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. After a while, static took over and the fidgeting started again until he had Little Jimmy Dickens coming in loud and clear, then static returned. But always heard was Flatt and Scruggs singing about Martha White biscuits – ending with “Goodness gracious, its pea pickin’ good!”

Every so often, my mother could be heard saying, “Tom, the girls need their sleep!”

Did that deter him? No.

And here I am at the new Opry where the journey began some fifty (sixty?) years ago. Tom Story would be amazed at how beautiful the new Opry is, but I know my father. He would have his eyes glued to the center stage floor that was cut from the Ryman – the spot where all the greats stood while performing. He’d enjoy the new acts, but he’d hear the talent coming in on his radio.

And tonight, I was thoroughly entertained by the Swan Brothers, Del McCoury Band, Easton Corbin, the Willis Clan, Connie Smith, David Nails – and Rascal Flatts honestly brought the house down! The music was a nice mixture of bluegrass, traditional country and the new guys.

Other than the Opry, Daddy’s favorite Nashville place was the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. When we were not in the shop, we were “camped out” at the restaurant across the street. The front window was the only table he would have and we had to eat slowly while he watched for Ernest Tubb to enter or exit the record shop.

Often Mama coaxed Daddy into giving the table up. “Tom, see all those people? They’re waiting on a table. We’ve been here too long, we need to go.”

“Helen, as long as we’re eating, this table is ours. Girls, have another piece of pie.” He stalked the record shop.

I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but the walls were covered with china plates and they had the best lemon meringue pie, though three pieces in one meal was much for little girls. The restaurant is no longer there, but that giant Ernest Tubb guitar still marks the spot of the record shop.

And if Daddy was here in Nashville today, he would spend an entire day in the Johnny Cash Museum. I can see Mama rolling her eyes.

And it was not a Tennessee vacation until Daddy pumped the car brakes pretending they were “gone” as he drove recklessly down a steep mountain road. We girls had him figured out and laughed between screams though Mama did not find it amusing. Nor did she find it amusing when he stopped to feed a cute little bear.

“Tom Story, look there! Do you see that sign? DO NOT FEED BEARS!”

Did he listen? No. The real reason to be in Tennessee was to find bears. The mother bear joined him and we fed them both from inside the car. When we had no more food – the mother bear paw swiped the door jamming it closed. For the rest of the trip Daddy crawled in and out of the car on Mama’s side. When we returned home, Daddy pried the door open. It made an awful noise. He immediately told us what key the sound was in.

Now today, as I travel with my son, James, we will not stop for any bears, not even the little cute ones. Lesson learned.

Leaving Nashville behind, we headed to Franklin, Tennessee, the cutest town in the world, also the place where the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War was fought – the place six Confederate generals died in one day at the Battle of Franklin.

The Lotz House and Carter House are must sees if you enjoy old homes – especially homes shot full of holes by rifles and cannons. The road from Nashville separated these two homes. As I stood on the Lotz front porch I wondered, “What in the world did Mr.Lotz think as he watched twenty-five thousand Union soldiers pass by his five acre farm?”

I received a mental answer to my question from a ghostly being, my (great) Aunt Donn. She was a school teacher  in Lincolnton, Georgia. Aunt Donn came in loud and clear with her aristocratic Southern accent, “My deah, the end is neah, that is what the po’ man thought.”

Yes the end was near and no one knew that better than little Matilda Lotz. The constant gunfire and cannon booms drove her to the Carter farm where she hid in the cellar, where she turned six years of age. Tough for a child, but the hard part came when she crossed the road to return home. She had to climb over dead soldiers stacked ten deep. Her beautiful home had one side wall splintered off and a cannon ball set in the front room parlor. Bewildered, the child walked the halls and rooms. Just yesterday, she and her nine year old brother played hide and seek there. Today the same rooms were filled with soldiers bleeding out on the hardwood floors. Blood stains remain to this day. This had been a happy place for little Matilda where the most conflict she experienced was the trouble she got into from drawing on the walls with pieces of cooled coal; she could not resist drawing farm animals.

After that dreadful day on December 1, 1864, little Matilda lost herself in paint and coal, drawing her place into the new world. As a single young lady she ignored disapproval of traveling alone to Paris, France, where she studied art. Today her little artistic treasures can be found in the William Randolph Hearst mansion in California, the Lotz House, and museums throughout the world. If you happen up on one of her pictures as someone recently did at a flea market (purchased for five dollars), you will find that it is worth millions.

The best entertainment in Franklin is the Ghost Tour, really a way to get the skinny on what went on behind closed doors back in the day and the result being: souls that cannot find rest and walk the streets of Franklin, Tennessee, streets adorned with Garden Club floral arrangements, pumpkins and scarecrows.

Yes going to Rock City, Georgia, and Tanasi, is always a trip down memory lane with a little history lesson. It’s a place I love to be. And still! No house for sale on Little Red Riding Hood Trail!

Author’s Note:

Robert Blythe, at the Lotz House Museum, is a great historian who brings the Battle of Franklin and the Lotz family to life.

 

 

One summer day in 1955, my father and I went for a ride in his car; just the two of us. Up our Morgan Road and then left onto Chamblee Tucker Road. He turned right near the “Pittsburgh” area and then stopped at a four-way stop which put up across the road from a spooky Confederate cemetery.
I always dreaded this part of the trip, because the cemetery took my breath and my heart stopped until he hit the gas. At night when the car’s headlights flashed across the cemetery it seemed as though the old headstones jumped out at us; not so much during the day.
Still Tom Story said the same thing every time he put on the brakes and we were face to face with the old worn stones of death, “Haunted!” After a moment of being mesmerized, he hit the gas and made a hard right turn onto Tucker Norcross Road, down the road deep into Gwinnett County.
That is where his sister Grace, and his two brother’s Robert and Lawton lived; all within a farm or two of each other. I had seven boy cousins and one girl cousin who lived down that road.
That road is now known as Jimmy Carter Boulevard, a place over populated with people and stores. But back then, it was farmland with a house dotted here and there. At night, it was darker than my home town of Tucker. The only light was from the moon and stars, God’s country to all my Gwinnett County relatives.
Daddy’s sister Sarah lived on our road, Morgan, while Miriam lived on Bancroft and Nancy lived on Henderson Road, all in Tucker. His brother Gene lived at the edge of Tucker on Lawrenceville Highway.
We were a close knit family who looked for opportunities to visit each other, and today was no different.
Today, Daddy and I were on a mission to get my haircut. My sisters had long smooth blonde hair while my hair was short, dark and wiry. I needed a haircut about every six weeks. My father’s sister, Miriam, usually cut my hair, but she was not feeling well.
I loved any excuse to visit with my older cousins, Ann and Ted Graves.
Their brother, Junior, was grown and married to Rena who lived near the Confederate cemetery.
Daddy and I arrived just in time to help Aunt Grace shell butterbeans. She was too busy to stop and cut my hair and insisted that Daddy let me spend the night. He could pick me up tomorrow morning and my hair would be beautiful when she got finished with me. He agreed.
I was disappointed that Rena and Junior did not come by to visit, since Rena allowed my sisters and me to wear her high heeled shoes.
After dinner Ann and Ted had plans with friends and went their way. I was hoping for a chance to catch fire flies with them, but I was left to spend the evening with Uncle Lester and Aunt Grace. They scurried about cleaning up my hair on the floor like we were about to have important company.
It was imperative that we get the kitchen “set to right” and to the front porch by night fall. We sat there; Aunt Grace and Uncle Lester on the porch floor with their feet on the steps. I took my seat on the next step closer to the ground.
The only movement was the fire flies, too bad there was no one to help me catch them. The sound of hot bugs grew louder the longer we sat there. The full moon and stars lent light to the surrounding grounds. All about us were farms; cornfields everywhere.
“Do you hear something?” asked Uncle Lester.
“Listen,” said Aunt Grace in anticipation.
“What? I don’t hear anything,” I replied.
“Shhhh,” they both said to me, “Listen!”
I took a deep breath and wondered what in the world was going on with those two. Maybe this was their way of keeping me quiet. You know, the children should be seen and not heard thing. But then I heard it too.
A voice of a man in the distance began to slowly surround us and give the hot bugs some competition. As the bugs grew louder the man’s voice seemed to grow louder as well, until I realized it was a familiar voice.
“Follow me, I will make you fishers of men,” the man’s voice went in and out, and I could not get all he was saying.
“He’s saying something about goin’ fishing!”
“Shhhh!” snapped Aunt Grace.
Again I quieted down and strained my ears to hear.
Uncle Lester quietly laughed and whispered, “Diane, if you will listen, you will know what Preacher Johnson is going to preach on this Sunday.”
“Shhhh, Lester!” Aunt Grace was having none of this conversation. “How can a child learn to be quiet if you, a grown man, can’t be quiet?”
Again, we sat there on the porch of my relatives’ farm, all quiet. Then I heard a different sound that made me jump up and into Uncle Lester’s lap. It was their cow mooing in the pasture just behind the house.
Uncle Lester could not help but burst into laughter.
“Lester!”
“I’m sorry Grace, but did you see how fast Diane jumped into my lap?” he whispered through his laughter. “She’s not used to life on a farm.”
“Shhhh, Lester, shhhh! We’re gonna miss the whole sermon!”
When I realized it was the cow, I returned to my seat on the steps. We listened and heard the fading in and out of Preacher Johnson’s voice.
“Why is he preaching what we are going to hear Sunday?” I could not help but wonder out loud.
“He’s practicing,” answered Uncle Lester.
“Lester! Diane!” Aunt Grace reminded us both to quiet down again.
And then Preacher Johnson’s voice faded completely away, and I thought the show was over.
“Okay, can we go inside now? When will Ann and Ted get home? I don’t know why I couldn’t go with them.”
“Diane, they’ll be in before long. They’re out with some friends,” explained Uncle Lester. “They’re nearly grown, you know. You’ll understand that way of thinking when you’re a big girl. I know it’s tough being five.”
“Alright you two, quiet down,” Aunt Grace reminded us.
What? Will Preacher Johnson come back with an encore? And then I heard it, a man’s voice swirling through the ethers. It was out there somewhere, but where? I listened hard and studied the sound.
From our hill top view, we sat on the steps looking down across the road at a gigantic cornfield. I strained my eyes and tried extra hard to adjust my sight to night vision. All the full moon would allow me to see was the shadows of the cornfield. I did not know the voice, but I knew it was not Preacher Johnson.
Uncle Lester chuckled and whispered, “I knew we’d hear from him tonight, I just knew it!”
“Yes,” replied Aunt Grace in a whisper.
“Who?” I asked.
“He’s gonna make a good preacher,” said Uncle Lester.
“Yes, he is, pretty good one already,” whispered Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again.
The mystery man began to bemoan the fact that he had lost his sheep.
“Oh no, he’s lost his sheep! Who has sheep out here? I’ve never seen any sheep,” I was puzzled. “I know about the haunted cemetery, cows and corn and walnut trees, but I never knew about any sheep!”
“Diane, will you please be quiet and listen? And no one has any sheep out here,” explained Aunt Grace who was getting a little testy with me. “And there is no such thing as a haunted cemetery.”
“Yes there is! Just down the road…”
“Shhhh, Diane!” Aunt Grace meant it this time.
“He’s on the lost sheep tonight, Grace,” whispered Uncle Lester.
“Sounds like it,” replied Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again, this time a little more defiantly, “And somebody does have sheep out here! Why don’t you want me to know who?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb!” Aunt Grace snapped back.
What? Really? I had never heard Grace Graves speak broken English and was not used to her disciplinarian side.
“I wish I knew what that meant!” I answered back a little sharply. “I just want to know who you are talking about. Who is that man?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb,” was her reply for the second time.
Okay, if that’s the way you want it. I turned my back on the both of them.
Uncle Lester joined me on my step and put his arm around me.
“Diane,” he whispered, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb, means, you are not a hoot owl, so stop saying – who. Grace wants us to be quiet so we can hear a new preacher make his mark on the world.”
“Okay, but who is he?” I asked, saying the “who” word again.
Of course Aunt Grace said, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb.”
Uncle Lester tried to squelch his laughter as he whispered, “Tilman Singleton.”
“Alright, you two, quiet down over there. He’s about to really get into it now,” replied Grace in anticipation.
Yes he did get into it. When he finished, I knew all about the lost sheep and how to be found. Mr. Tilman Singleton attended our church, and had a lovely wife and a bunch of kids. They all sounded like a flock of little song birds.
As Tilman Singleton’s voice faded away deep into the hot night’s summer air, the sound of a piano took over. The music was beautiful and went on for some time. It was very peaceful and comforting, and then again it was fast, up and away.
Aunt Grace did not have to call me or Uncle Lester down again, because we listened intently as we leaned forward trying to be as near to the music as possible. None of us wanted to miss a beat. The music had a way of capturing the mind and not letting it go. It was beautiful.
Then the piano music slowed down as though it was a train waiting for someone to get aboard. And that’s when an incredible thing happened. The cornfield sang.
I sat there with my aunt and uncle for a long time that night. At five years of age, I learned a lot about my family. Grace Graves was a hard working woman who refused to miss an opportunity to hear the Word. Lester Graves was a kind man; the kind everyone wanted to be near. And for sure, the cornfields in Gwinnett County were the gittin’ place for praise and worship for our Pleasant Hill.
Author’s Notes:
The Confederate cemetery was replaced by Wendy’s, a fast food restaurant.

Polly Voyles

Helen “Polly” Voyles

When I was a small child, I was bedridden with heart disease. This aggravation took three active years out of my life. Those years were eased greatly by a mother who loved to read and she read to me often, so often in fact, she regularly lost her voice. My two sisters knew our mother saved her voice for me and understood when she did not always answer them verbally. Looking back on my childhood, I realize that is how my mother, Helen Voyles-Story, demonstrated her love for me.
But it was when she put the book down and got that gleam in her big brown eyes that I longed for. And it happened just like that one winter day as I watched the snow fall outside my bedroom window, all the while listening to a tale about Tom Kitten.

Mama put the book down.

Together we watched snowflakes fall from the sky, snow that began to stick to the trees in our woodsy backyard.
It had already been a busy morning. She fed me my breakfast because I could not hold a fork. She carried me piggyback to the restroom because I could not walk. She sponged bathed me and dressed me in clean pajamas. Mama wrapped me warmly with one of her grandmother’s homemade quilts as I lied in a small bed in the back bedroom. She read to me in hopes I would drift back to sleep, because she had a lot to do. Breakfast dishes needed to be washed and the laundry folded while my two sisters were at school, but not today. Today Mama would sit with me and talk most of the day away – just the two of us. Putting the “beans on” for supper time would have to wait.
Mama chuckled as she rolled me over to rub my back.
“Diane, let me tell you about a rascal of a little cat I had when I was a little girl about your age. That silly cat followed me around from pillar to post. That was back when I was called Polly.” She couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she brought up the memories.
I turned back over and smiled at her; I was all ears.
“Yes, Tom Kitten reminds me of that cat. Of course, I was not allowed to own a cat. Ya PawPaw would not allow a cat in the house. And believe you me, that cat knew to stay outta his way.” She could not hold her laughter back. “Well, I don’t know why, but that cat just took up with me and followed me around everywhere I went.”
“Is it the same cat that followed you to the cotton field?”
“Yes, the very one, he’d follow me down the cotton rows and crawl in my cotton bag for a ride; that made my bag look heavy like I had picked a lot of cotton. When I held the bag up for my parents to see, they’d say, ‘Polly, that’s enough, you can read now.’ Then I’d empty my cotton-slash-cat bag into the wagon, sit down and read a book. Yes, ol’ Cat and I were a team.”
“What was his name?”
“I called him ol’ Cat. I couldn’t name him, because that would be claiming it. Ol’ Cat slipped into the house one night. It was Christmas Eve and I let him hide in my bedroom. Daddy was out late – working. My sister, Mary Frances and I had the Christmas tree decorated. Back then we used real candles to light the tree. We worked for days making decoration and couldn’t wait for Daddy to come home so we could light those candles.”
“PawPaw worked on Christmas Eve?”
“Yes, that’s when we lived on Old Norcross in Tucker. He worked any time someone’s well ran dry; water’s a necessity you know. Wade Voyles could walk a place over and study the lay of the land and dig, always found water. Not everybody could do that. You know he studied at Georgia Tech; in the forties he studied War Training, got a foreman and supervisor degree, and that man knew how to find water. Yes, when someone needed water, they called on Wade Voyles.”
“Anyway, he came home late that Christmas Eve – tired and dirty. We got the matches out and he told us to go ahead and light the candles. Mama put his supper plate on a little table in the living room; that way he could watch us. Frances lit the candles high up and I lit the ones near the bottom.”
“What’s so funny?” I asked as Mama laughed out loud.
“Well, I’m gonna tell you what’s funny, Diane. That ol’ Cat slipped into the living room and for some reason, ran and jumped into the middle of that Christmas tree!”
“Did he catch on fire?”
“No, by some miracle he did not catch fire, but he let out a loud squall that was terrifying! He clung on for dear life and that tree wobbled to and fro! Frances ran and opened the front door. When she did, ol’ Cat darted out! The wind blew in and poof! Instantly, that tree was engulfed in flames – from top to bottom.”
I was shocked.
“Daddy stood up, walked over to the blazing Christmas tree and put his big foot into it – and – out the door it went – a ball of fire sailing through the night air!”
“Oh no, Mama, did you get another tree?”
“No, it was late Christmas Eve; there was no time to go to Aunt Mae’s for another tree. And there I stood, within seconds, no cat and no Christmas tree. I wondered: Will Santa come tonight? What if I never see ol’ Cat again – no tellin’ how many hours I’d have to spend in the cotton field, I’d probably never have time to read another book.”
“What did PawPaw say? Were you in trouble for having the cat in the house?”
“Wade Voyles never said a word. He walked back to the little table, sat down and finished eating his supper. Mama didn’t say anything either except, ‘Wade, do you want some more oyster stew?’”
“What a night.” Mama looked a tad dreamy eyed as she continued her story. “The next morning I woke up and there was that little table Daddy was eating on – in the middle of the living room floor. On that little table was a cedar tree limb stuck in Mama’s lemonade pitcher. It was decorated with a little this and that – looked like Frances’ handiwork,” Mama said with an all knowing eye.” And there were a few gifts for me under that limb.”
“What? What did you get, Mama?”
“I got a new dress, and a book, Little Women, and a funny looking little brush.” Mama smiled big at the thought. “I looked at the little brush with puzzlement. Frances whispered to me, ‘Polly, it’s a cat brush.’ I quickly slipped that little brush in my pocket and opened the front door to check on the weather; and when I opened the door, ol’ Cat slipped into the house, just as pretty as you please.”
My mother took my temperature again and made a note on her medical chart. I had to think fast to keep her in my room. As soon as the thermometer was out of my mouth I asked, “Did you buy all of your Christmas trees from Aunt Mae?”
“Buy nothing! Aunt Mae wouldn’t take a penny from us. And it wasn’t Christmas until I’d gone to her tree farm, and that was well after I married ya Daddy.”
It worked, she sat back down.
“As soon as Tucker School broke for Christmas, I packed my little suitcase and waited on Uncle Tom Moon. I never knew when he was coming, didn’t have a phone back then you know. I just knew he was coming to Tucker sooner or later for supplies and would swing by Old Norcross and pick me up. No matter how cold it was, I sat on the front porch steps listening for the wagon wheels and the clip clop sound of the horses.”
“Horses! They didn’t have a car?”
“No, they did not have a car. It was in the thirties and folks were trying to survive the Depression. Most roads back then were dirt roads, old logging trails widen to accommodate cars and horses. Yes, some had cars, but there was still plenty room for the horse and buggy. Anyway, every year I went to Aunt Mae and Uncle Tom Moon’s to select my Christmas tree.”
I was surprised to know my mother knew anything about horses.
“Mama, tell me about the horses . . .”
“I loved those old horses. I petted them and hugged on ’em, but wasted no time climbing onto the wagon. We left Old Norcross and eased out of Tucker down a dirt road through the woods; trees thick on both sides, every tree imaginable. I passed time by identifying trees. Recognizing trees was easy during summer when the leaves gave their identity away, but not so easy in winter. If I got one wrong, Uncle Tom Moon grunted.”
“What kind of trees did you see?”
“Georgia trees: poplar, sycamore, sugar maple, silver maple, hickory, holly, black walnut, sweet gum and dogwood – all stripped down bare except for the pines, cedars and magnolias. The oaks were easy to spot, ‘cause the dead leaves clung on until spring. And of course, acorns marked the spot of the great oaks. The horse trots made a sound like two coconut shells keeping time to a tune. We passed by dried up cotton fields with a hint of white – cotton overlooked by the pickers, looked a little like snow. And there were homes here and there and about. I was excited and could hardly wait to see Aunt Mae and the mountain.”
“The mountain?”
“Yes, Diane, the mountain – Stone Mountain – that’s where we were headed, and I knew we were almost there when I could see the granite dome. I have to admit it was a little spooky while deep in the woods. The clip clop of the horse hooves was mesmerizing; with each sound I was going deeper into an enchanted forest, not to mention Santa was on the way. And when Santa arrived, I, Polly Voyles, would have the most beautiful Christmas tree in all of Tucker.”
“Why was it spooky?”
“Spooky because back then, there weren’t that many houses around – just a few farms here and there. And the woods made unexplainable noises at times. It didn’t bother Uncle Tom Moon a bit nor was he much of a talker; he was a curious sort. Once we saw smoke rising through the trees in the distance. He said, ‘Look there, Polly, smoke rise. The Indians made smoke rising a common sight back in the day, but not now.’ Of course, I had to ask why and he said, ‘White man.’”
“What did the white man have to do with the Indians? When did they leave? Where did they go to school? I asked a million questions as any small child would. He clicked to the horses and turned left near what was the Rosser farm and went down a ways from the mountain. In a while, he clicked again and turned right back toward the mountain. We passed the place where they made sorghum syrup before he spoke.”
“The Cherokee Indians used to hunt these woods – smoke rise was the only way you’d know they were here. They used the mountain top as a look-out post. They’d see you, but you never saw them. All’s left now’s . . . their spirit.”
“Mama, did you ever see any Indians when you were out with Uncle Tom Moon?”
“Not a one, Diane, and believe you me, when we went through those roads in an open wagon, my eyes were peeled and my ears were listening hard. Once in a while I’d hear rustling in the woods; sometimes I got a glimpse of a rabbit or deer, sometimes a fox. And then again, I’d hear the call of a crow or a bird singing. I saw shadows in the woods, probably just the sun light filtering through. I felt edgy about maybe seeing an Indian, but not really afraid, because Uncle Tom Moon liked them, I could tell he did. And he seemed a little miffed that they were gone. And then in no time at all, I saw Christmas trees – white pines – bluish green trees, all in perfectly straight rows. Uncle Tom Moon then handed the reins to me.”
“You drove the horses?”
“Well, at that point, the horses knew where we were and they took themselves home. And there standing waiting for me was Mae Moon. She was a tall thin woman who most always balled her hair up. She never had children, for some reason she sorta claimed me.”
“I remember her. She was very old.”
“As long as I can remember, Aunt Mae seemed on up in years, even when her hair was black.” Mama shook her head, and got back to her story. “I could not wait to pick out my Christmas tree, but she insisted on order – first things first. I was to go into the farmhouse to warm and have something to eat. And then there were Christmas cookies to make; Gingerbread-men and Gingerbread-women, not to mention the Snowball family made of popcorn balls, and everyone of them had to be decorated just so.”
“I was anxious to pick out my tree. On about the third day, Aunt Mae wrapped her head in a woolen scarf and I knew it was the moment I’d been waiting for, walking the Christmas tree farm. She had already looked over the trees and tied a long white ribbon on about five likely candidates. I always wanted a bigger tree, but she would laugh and say – ‘that tree will not fit inside your house! Wade and Lois will have to cut a hole in the roof!’ Oh how I loved spending my few days with Aunt Mae. I examined each tree closely. I do recall one special day when I made my decision.”
Mama looked out the window at the snow coming down, deep in thought.
“While examining one marked tree, I happened to look beyond the tree and saw the mountain. Now mind you, I had seen that mountain countless times, but that day, it was like seeing it for the first time. I felt like I was dreaming. Then I felt something cold hit my face; to my surprise, it was snowing.”
“Like it is today, Mama?”
“Yes, Diane, snowing just like it is today.” Mama reached for my hand and held it, then turned her attention back to the window.
“Aunt Mae held my hand as we watched the snowflakes fall from the sky. Neither of us spoke as we stood there admiring my tree; neither caring about the cold. I knew then that I would always remember that moment. After a while, Aunt Mae let go of my hand and stepped forward. She took a long white ribbon – a remnant of an old sheet – and tied it into a big bow – that way Uncle Tom Moon would know which tree to cut for me. Though Aunt Mae was standing near, the snow buffered her voice, and she seemed far away when she spoke, ‘Polly, would you look at that? An abandoned nest with a robin egg blue, no prettier color in the entire world.’ Our eyes focused on the robin egg that would never hatch. A bit of sadness crept upon me, thinking of what would never be, and then strangely enough, I felt someone watching from afar. I gazed up at the mountain top, but saw no movement. The feeling did not leave me and I hoped it was a Cherokee admiring my Christmas tree, my tree, finely decorated with a genuine bird’s nest, robin egg blue and a fancy white bow, all topped off with new fallen snow.”

Mama paused for a moment. Her eyes were far from my sick bed, yes, she was a million miles away. A slow smile gave her heart and mind away as she spoke.

“Yes, that day I sensed the great spirit of the Cherokee. I wished the spirit of the Cherokee children could see me, me and my Aunt Mae.”

 

On November 17, 1931, my mother was born in Nicholson, Georgia, but lived her whole life in Tucker, Georgia, in the shadow of Stone Mountain. Her name was Annie Helen Voyles-Story, but was “Polly” to near and dear ones who knew her as a cotton-top child. Later she was affectionately called Nanny, by her grandchildren. She loved a good book and we all enjoyed story time with her. In time, I would learn that the dirt road from Tucker to Stone Mountain was named after an Atlanta attorney, Hugh Howell. The Christmas tree farm was located on Old Tucker Road. The Moon’s farm became a part of a development called Smoke Rise, and of course, the mountain is Stone Mountain.
Each and every time I drive down Hugh Howell Road or hike the Cherokee Trail or find myself atop the granite mountain, I too feel the presence of a great spirit: little Polly Voyles.

Rufus_Cooper_1“James let’s walk down that street today.”

“Really, Jill, we never go down there?”

“I know; that’s why we should try it – you know – do something different.”

James laughed and agreed, “Yes we could do something different, let’s go for it.”

After walking down the street near the horse park, they happened up on a big homemade sign in the front yard. The sign had a photo of two dogs attached to the sign. The sign read: Our owner died. We need a new home.

“Jillian, is this why we are walking down here?”

“Well…”

“Two dogs? One dog is all we can handle.”

“James, what if we died and Ally had been left alone?”

“I’m sure a relative would have adopted her. In fact, they woulda fought over her.”

“Well, they need a home and we have a home and no dog.”

“Jillian, someone will adopt them. I know it. We agreed to wait a year or so. Ally hasn’t been gone that long and we decided to travel for awhile, remember?”

“I suppose. I just miss having a dog in the house.”

“We’ll get another dog one day and he’ll come the way Ally came to us. But not now, we need the time to grieve for our Ally.”

Then there was the time when a friend of Jillian’s house burnt down. The family had to relocate out of state until their house was rebuilt, and they needed to place the  dogs until the project was finished and they could move back.

“Two dogs?”

“James, what if our house burned down and we had to board Ally in a kennel? Wouldn’t you want someone to foster care for her?”

“Yes, of course. Go ahead and call her. We’ll take ‘em – just temporarily.”

When Jillian called, her friend had already placed the two dogs in a caring home. Jillian was happy for her friend yet disappointed that her home remained without a pet.

“What’s wrong Jill? You seem sad today.”

“Well, James, for the last couple of years, a lot has happened. My grandmother was sick. I stayed busy with her after work and on the weekends. And then she died. And then Ally got sick and I was busy with her, then she died. Then Mother was sick and in the nursing home. I stayed busy with her and then she died. Now, I come home from work and I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Well, Jill, why don’t we get another dog?”

And so the hunt was on. Jillian immediately opened her laptop and introduced James to dozens of applicants.

“There’s Lucky, how do you like him? And here’s Dutchess, what about her? And look, there is Bullet and this one is King….”

“Looks like you’ve been looking for quite a while Jill,” laughed James.

Every weekend they traveled to towns all over Georgia in a search of a new dog, a new family member. After much looking they decided they were partial to labs and retrievers. And that’s when they heard of an elderly lady looking for a home for a young golden retriever. She had three other dogs and the fourth one was too much. That is when they drove to Newnan, Georgia, and met Rufus.

At first sight, Rufus was everything they wanted. He was a beauty with a golden coat with white under frost. He had been to obedience school, but not yet neutered. They paid the lady, promising to have Rufus fixed as soon as possible. As they walked Rufus to the car the dog looked back at the elderly lady and curiously turned his head. She tried to give back part of the money to buy him a new toy. They refused the money and assured her they would buy Rufus many new toys. Rufus barked at the lady. Again he had her attention. He sat obediently and extended his paw. She squatted down and shook his hand as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Mam, do you want us to leave him with you and pick him up in a couple days?” James asked. “That way you have plenty of time to say good-bye.”

“Oh no, if you do I will not be able to give him up.” The elderly lady looked sweetly at the couple and said, “Whoever said grief was the price for love, was right. Now take him before I change my mind.” With that the lady turned and walked away not looking back.

Rufus went to his new home.

Neither really cared for the name Rufus. Jillian thought Cooper was a good name for him. When Rufus ignored them, they tried Rufus-Cooper.

Rufus-Cooper could have won a beauty contest with that face and those big brown eyes. Those eyes were to die for and they let you in on a secret about Rufus-Cooper; he was somewhat manipulative. He had a way of turning his pretty little head and gazing at you. In an instant,  you wanted to give the world to him. James and Jillian soon learned that his obedience school instructions needed reinforcement, as well as the backyard fence.

When Rufus-Cooper takes to the yard, he rounds the trees until he becomes a centrifugal force. There’s no slowing him down. That dog has energy!

James and Jillian are amazed! In fact, they could not believe their eyes. They were accustomed to Ally who came to them as an adult. She was as laid back as a queen upon her throne and adored the love they bestowed upon her. Rufus-Cooper was a young upstart with keen sight and hearing. He was ready for anything in an instant. It took two nights in a cage before he remembered the meaning of the word, settle. Jillian thought it unkind to place him in the cage, but also realized Rufus-Cooper could not bounce around in the house during the night. Apparently, Rufus-Cooper thought he was a tennis ball.

The two nights of restriction helped, but James thought the young dog needed some rough housing to release some of that energy. Out in the backyard they played tug-a-war with a toy. They went round and round. Jillian watched and wanted in on the fun, after all, that was her dog too.

“James, let me rough house with him.”

James laughed, “Jillian you don’t know anything about this rough housing. You’d better not.”

“Nonsense, I want to rough house with Cooper, too.”

With that James handed the toy over to Jillian. In just moments Jillian screamed and twirled around in circles. She protected her face with her hands and cried. James went after her as she ran into the house. James was afraid to look at Jillian’s face fearing the whole side of her face destroyed.

“He clawed me! That Rufus-Cooper! Oh my gosh; it hurts so much. I know he didn’t mean to, but oh my gosh; it hurts! It’s burning like fire!”

“Let me take a look Jill!”

Jillian bravely revealed her face and there it was: a wound at the base of her nose. It was clearly visible – with a magnifying glass. Yes, James was right; Jillian did not know anything about this rough housing stuff.

“Maybe we need to get him a playmate…”

“Jillian, we don’t need two dogs. If we get another one like Rufus-Cooper, we’ll have to move out of the house and let them have it.”

“I know. I just don’t think you can do all that rough housing alone.”

They persevered with reinforcement and Rufus-Cooper settles – from time to time. He has had two successful neighborhood play-dates. He has earned a “good boy” but not a single “good boy.”

Rufus-Cooper is well behaved at the Varsity as he anticipates his Frosty Orange with a wagging tail. He is also on his best behavior when Jillian takes him to PetSmart where he gets a new toy – if he walks with her. But playing on the Stone Mountain Park is still in the future.

“James, let’s take Cooper to play Frisbee at the Stone Mountain Park today; he’ll love the grassy Mall.”

 “Are you kiddin’? Jillian if that dog takes off, he will not stop until he hits the Atlantic Ocean. He’s not ready for free range yet. Stone Mountain will have to wait, maybe next year.”

“Oh, Cooper will love the mountain! I’ll be glad when that day comes!”

James laughed, “Yes, me too!”

Until that day, Rufus-Cooper will stay busy playing in the backyard and taking his walks. It is just a matter of time before Rufus-Cooper is a well trained good boy! James and Jillian look forward to many happy years with Wild Thang, excuse me I mean, Rufus-Cooper.

AllyPillow2 I was sunning in a cage on the sidewalk when I heard the voice of a young lady in the distance.

“What’ll this puppy look like when he grows up?”

“Well, his mother is over there if you want to take a look at her.”

The lady walked over to me and knelt down. I was on. I sat up straight and crossed my two front paws. I tried to look as dignified as possible. This could be my only chance. Most shoppers overlook me and go straight for the puppies and who could blame them? I lifted my head. And boy was she impressed.

“Well, what’d you think ‘mam? Do you want that puppy?”

“Now why in the world would I want that puppy when I can have her?”

“Yes, she is pretty and good natured too.”

The lady looked deep into my eyes and talked to me.

“My goodness you are a pretty girl! Savannah, you’re mine – I hope you know that. Oh how I wish James was here to see you!”

As a couple moved in closer to take a look at me the lady became defensive.

“She’s mine; I just need to finish the paper work.”

They moved on and the sweet lady smiled and winked at me.

“You are mine, you beautiful girl!”

The lady’s voice was sweet and her touch sweeter. Who was she? And why did she pick me? I don’t know, but I sure was happy! I am going to have a home, a real home. I had lived most of my life as a guard dog – whatever that’s supposed to be. Apparently I was not a very good one. My master tried to teach me words like:

“Get ‘em girl! Sic ‘em!  Come on! Bite it, bite my arm girl!“

I wondered…what kind of language did that man speak? And why in the world would I want to bite a blue thing on a man’s arm?

 I stayed at home in an apartment all day guarding it, and then all night in a bicycle shop guarding it. I rarely had human contact and that made me sad. My heart told me that I was a people dog not a fierce guard dog. I tried hard to please my owner, but even he knew I was a mistake and that is how I wound up here at PetSmart, along with a few of my puppies.

“So it’s the mother you want! Good choice. I was worried about her; it’s the puppies most people want. I’ll get the paper work so you can take Savannah with you!”

But it was not to be and the lady left in tears. She promised me she would return because I belonged to her. She said she would not give up until she had me. The lady ran away crying.

I thought of her for the next few weeks. I dreamed of her sweet voice. Who was she? I know, she must have been an angel sent to rescue me; yes, my angel. I looked for her to return, but soon gave up when I was moved to another store for more exposure, and then another and another. She would never find me now.

On the weekends I was placed in a cage alongside many other four legged creatures, much like me. Many were “adopted” but I was left unnoticed, that is until that young lady bent down to speak to me. She was a pretty gal with blonde hair, and oh what a sweet voice she had. I had never in all my life felt such kindness. I will never forget her words that day.

“They won’t let me have you. I live in an apartment and don’t have a fenced in yard. Oh, Savannah, I hate to leave you,” she said to me as she fought back tears. And so away she went. I called out for her to return, after all I was used to apartment living. But she kept running. I was so close to having a real home.

Then one Sunday afternoon, I heard a familiar voice.

“James! There she is!”

Yes, it was the pretty blonde – my angel – and she found me!

“Look at her James. Yes, this is my dog! I told you! Just look at her! Oh my goodness! I can’t believe we found her!”

The big guy laughed as he opened the door to my cage and let me out. The two bent down and loved on me.

“So you’re the one I’ve been driving all over Georgia looking for? Do you have any idea how hard it was to find you, Savannah? Jillian, she is perfect, except for that name. She doesn’t look like a Savannah. Let’s call her Ally.”

With that “Jillian” snapped a leash to my collar and said, “Let’s keep Ally with us. I don’t want to lose her again.”

They took me inside PetSmart and gave the manager a notarized statement from J.B., Jillian’s father, stating that Jillian a responsible person and that he would see that I got plenty of exercise. The manager looked skeptical and was about to say something when the assistant manager walked by.

“Are you that woman who has been calling every PetSmart in Georgia looking for a black lab?”

“Yes, I’m the one and here she is! I found her!”

With that the manager smiled.

“So, you’re the one? In that case, I will accept your father’s recommendation. Savannah is yours!”

I went home to a small apartment and lots of walks through the woods and a special place called Stone Mountain Park. We eventually moved to a house in the Tucker-Decatur area. The house had gigantic trees in the yard and a creek in the back and a fenced in yard. Best of all, there were squirrels in those trees just waiting to be chased. We spent many years together in that home. I even learned how to open closed doors. That James and Jillian could not lock me out of a room. And when I found them we laughed and laughed.

And J.B. made good his promise of seeing that I got exercise. I ran around in his tennis court playing ball with Charlotte; Charlotte and I became best friends. His parents up in North Carolina, made me a special running place. Papa Roy used to smile at me and say, “Whenever something happens to you, they’d better dig two holes. My granddaughter’s not likely to ever give you up.”

I got to know Gramma-Di by spending the weekend with her, and boy was she a basket case trying to “baby-sit” me. She just knew I was going to disappear into thin air. She figured her son would forgive her, but what about Jillian? She kept me on a tight leash when we went for a walk. One day I spotted the handsome border collie who lived next door. I took off running; just wanted to say “Hello.” Gramma-Di screamed and held on for dear life. Unfortunately she fell down and could not get up. A moving company man drove by and asked her if she needed some help. She said, “Just get that dog! The black one!” The nice man put me in the house and allowed Gramma-Di to use him as a crutch. From that day forward, Gramma-Di allowed me to go outside alone while she stayed behind the closed door holding the leash.

At Christmas time, we decorated the house. I liked all that, but I could not help but be a little jealous of the attention they gave to that tree. When I could not take it any longer, I moved in and pushed them away from the tree. Hey, it’s me you dote on, remember?

James traveled and left me sometimes for days. When he returned, the big guy looked stressed and worn out. I greeted him each and every time. I was so glad to see him. He smiled and loved on me and spoke tenderly to me, actually he talked baby talk to me and I loved it. I noticed that after a few minutes of playing ball with him, he loosened up and was his old self again. James really needed me to keep him healthy.

Jillian spent every night with me, though she left me regularly during the day to teach the kids at school. I always came first, but the kids came in at a close second. We did spend every weekend together grading papers, clipping coupons and drinking coffee. Well, Jillian drank the coffee and I enjoyed my “good girl”snacks.

One night, Jillian dressed up in a fancy dress and James wore a suit, tie and all. They celebrated that night at an award dinner; DeKalb County honored Jillian as Teacher of the Year for her school.

James went through a time of non-stop traveling; seeing twenty-two states. Twenty-two states! That was too much!  

I could not help myself; I sank into a depression and could not eat; my hair fell out. I could only look for James, until one day I could not lift my head. I heard her on the telephone.

“I think she is pining for you. I think she is dying. I’m going to take her to the hospital.”

The very next day, James walked in. I was so happy to see him, but could not make myself stand to greet him. He knelt down before me and spoke.

“What’s the matter with my good girl? My Ally girl, what’s wrong baby?”

I weighed close to eighty pounds, but the big guy scooped me up in his arms as though I was light as a feather. They took me to the hospital where the doctors gave me fluids. I stayed for a few days and then I perked up. James and Jillian took me home and he carried me around like a baby for days. They were both attentive and best of all, James stayed; he quit that foolish job. He never left again, except for short business trips now and then. And then there was the day I really got sick and had to have surgery; my old pancreas was acting up. The doctor discussed my options. Yes, I was gonna be a goner without that surgery. No one spoke for a moment. Then James asked, “Do you take Visa?”

One day while alone at home, someone broke a window in the basement and walked up the stairs and broke open the door. The intruder entered our home. It frightened me and I was reminded of my training as a guard dog. I was lying on the sofa in the living-room when the crime took place. So, what was I to do? I started to bark and put up a fuss when I realized it was an older woman who seemed harmless. And anyway, it was nap time.

The woman went into the kitchen and made herself a sandwich with James and Jillian’s ham and pickles.  She did take some things including family jewelry and a computer. She left and later we found out that she was a homeless person.

James and Jillian were not upset at all, because the woman did not harm me.

“Yes, my Ally-good-baby, you’re all right now girl. We won’t let anybody get you! You’re our good girl!”

I was not good at being a guard dog, but I had that “good girl” nailed down.

They both loved on me overtime that night and they thanked God for keeping me safe. They never mentioned the family jewelry or the computer to God, just me.

The years passed and there was another celebration. Yes, they both dressed up in their fancy clothes and Jillian was again DeKalb County Teacher of the Year for her school. I know that if she cared for her students half as much as she did for me, she was the best teacher in the whole wide world. But she did more than teach them, she cared for them.

Jillian and her sister camps out all night for “black Friday.” Jillian says they can buy more on that big sale day and they had to be first to get the best bargains; gifts for needy children. Jillian wanted all children to have a “good Christmas.”

The three of us were happy for so many years. They were good years of walking in our Decatur neighborhood saying hello to other neighbors walking their loved ones; lots of nurses, teachers, Cocker spaniels and boxers there. When we approached a neighbor, I tried to lift my head a little higher so that James and Jillian would be proud of me. I also tried to be on my best behavior, but that was not always easy. It was the squirrels I tell you; always taunting me. When I got the chance, I chased those rascals!

I could run for hours on end. My black coat was thick and shiny. I was bathed and brushed. They even cleaned my teeth and slipped meds in little pieces of cheese to me. Yes, we enjoyed each other’s company. But the day came when I wanted to chase those squirrels and my legs did not want to cooperate. When we went for a drive, I had a hard time climbing into the car. James gave me a little push and I was able to get by with that little bit of help for a while, until finally he had to pick me up and put me in the car. James never complained.

“That’s okay Ally, I don’t mind helping you. You deserve it! Ally-good-baby!”

Yes, I slowed down with my old legs giving out. Then a strange thing happened; everything was getting dark. It got darker and darker until one day I could not see at all. I sometimes managed to hobble across the living-room only to get stuck in the corner. My old legs could not back up and I could not see a thing. I stood there patiently until I was noticed. No need to bark. I was not abandoned, just stuck in the corner. And yes, James or Jillian always came to my rescue and gently guided me out of the corner.

“That’s alright my Ally girl! That’s all right. You’re a good girl, my Ally-good-baby!”

Home alone, I tried to wait as I always do, but I could not hold it. I did a “no-no.” For sure, they would be mad at me today. But when James and Jillian found my “no-no,” it was cleaned up without a word of admonishment.

“What’s the matter Ally? Are you sick or tired? That’s all right. You couldn’t help it. It’s okay girl, it’s okay.”

I tried hard to please, but from then on, I could not control myself. They took me to the doctor again and they got more pills to hide in little pieces of cheese. That helped for a while, but to tell you the truth, I could not control myself. I was so ashamed and tried to hide, but the big guy always found me.

“It’s okay my Ally-good-baby. It’s okay, you are a good girl!”

He loved on me and Jillian loved on me. As time went on, they gave me most all of their attention. I was thankful because I really needed care now. I could not see. I could barely walk and my hearing was leaving me.

Oh how I enjoyed going to Gramma-Di’s home where I could survey her backyard secret garden. But now when at the bottom of the sloping yard, I can no longer make it back up to her house. I waited until James missed me and then as always, he came to my rescue. He picked me up in his arms and carried me back to the house.

“That’s okay my Ally-good-baby. You are a good girl! I can carry you. You deserve it!”

Keeping watch over Jillian as we traveled to North Carolina to visit with her grandparents was becoming a faraway memory. I can still occasionally remember how the air felt on my face as we drove down the highways.

Not too long ago, I stayed with Pop for a week so James and Jillian could go on a much needed vacation. I’m afraid I was too much for Pop, though he never complained. The truth of the matter is – I have become old and sickly. And my hair is falling out all over the place. And forget going to Jillian’s father’s home; too many steps. I wish I could tell them how tired I am, but I don’t want to complain, nor do I want to worry them. I know they all love me.

A day came when I sensed sadness in James and Jillian, although they kept their voices happy when speaking to me. I knew when they entered the room although I could not see them. I tried my best to hide the tiredness I felt inside. I really tried to lift my head and smile at them, but that was getting harder and harder to accomplish.

One day I did not realize James was in the room. Unfortunately I allowed him to see how I really felt. I know he saw me because his voice was different. When he tried to speak to me, his words were cut short.

I heard Jillian say, “It’s time.”

“I’m going to see if we have any mail. Jill, please stay with Ally.”

James walked to the mailbox and when he returned he spoke to Jillian.

“Tonight at seven, it will be over.”

They loved on me as they laid down beside me and rubbed my coat. James carried me in his arms to the car. Jillian sat with me in the backseat. That car ride to the vet’s office was of great comfort to me, eventhough I was so sick. I cannot explain it, but I knew things were going to be okay.

When we arrived, straight away they took me to a room and put me on a table. James and Jillian told me how much they loved me and that I had made them the happiest two people in the world. Then there was a long silence until James finally spoke.

“Jill, do you mind if I step out for a minute?”

“No go ahead James. I’m with her.”

With that, Jillian and I were alone. I could not see her, but I could feel her hands gently touching me. My heart beat slowed down and I could feel myself slipping away.

 I felt a face next to mine.

Who was it? I don’t have to have eyes to know – she’s the angel who found and rescued me. I wish I could say to her: “I’m ever yours.”

I was left that night lifeless on that table.

“I don’t want to go home yet, James. I can’t bear the thought of going into an empty house — without Ally.”

“I don’t want to go home either. I have an idea. Let’s drive around to our favorite places for a while. We could both use a drink.”

“Yes,” said Jillian as she wiped away the endless stream of tears from her face. “Let’s get a drink.”

James and Jillian drove straight away to the Varsity and got their usual: Diet Coke and Frosty Orange. They then drove by the Fox Theater to see what was playing. For a brief moment their grief was relieved as their attention went to the marquee and rush of theatre goers.

 And then it was on to Ponce de Leon where they took their short cut to Stone Mountain.

James and Jillian first noticed the fire flies as they drove through the West Gate of Stone Mountain Park. They turned right and drove slowly around the mountain all the while admiring the trees and lake through the moonlight. The steadfast solidarity of the mountain hiding in the dark shadows somehow comforted them. They pulled over and stopped at the Covered Bridge where they rolled the windows down and listened to the croaking of the frogs. Occasionally they heard a quiet plop in the water; no doubt a turtle in search of a better resting place. They slowed to an almost stop at the Grist Mill to hear the water gently splashing over the big mill wheel; they slowly left the park.

And then it was on to Hugh Howell where James parked the car at their church, Mountain West, another place where Jillian teaches the children. After checking out the building progress of the new sanctuary, they continued up Hugh Howell and found themselves on Main Street – Tucker. As they drove past Matthew’s Cafeteria, they acknowledged it as the place of the best fried chicken in Georgia.

 From Main Street they took a left and drove down LaVista past the Browning Courthouse and made a right which took them to Morgan Road; Nanny’s house. James stopped and admired his grandmother’s house for a moment, watching a squirrel run across the yard. He tried to ignore the squirrel as it made him think of Ally.

“Helen Story lived here for sixty years.”

James spoke of his grandmother in order to ignore his painful thoughts, only to burst into tears. Jillian rubbed his shoulder to comfort him.

“I think I’m ready to go home now; how about you, Jill?”

“Yes, I’m ready James. Let’s go home.”

They drove across the Tucker train tracks near Lawrenceville Highway where James slowed down at Sherry’s Produce Market.

“Nanny used to buy her vegetables there when her legs hurt too bad to walk. Sherry handed whatever Nanny wanted through the car window so she didn’t have to get out of her car.”

“That was kind of Miss Sherry to care for your grandmother like that.”

“Yes, it was.”

They drove past the school where Jillian taught.They looked at each other and smiled. He drove onto Highway 78 as they finished their Diet Coke and Frosty Orange.

Yes, it was time to go home. Tonight would be the first time in fifteen years that Ally would not be home to greet them. Though James and Jillian could never again embrace their good girl, she remained in their hearts – ever yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up in Tucker Georgia is where I learned to socialize and compromise. And take the consequences for my actions – realized at the tender age of 6.

“I’m wearing that skirt today!”

“Oh no you’re not! Mary Ann is,” said my older sister, Patricia.

“You and Mary Ann always wear it,” I argued.

“Diane is right, Pat,” argued Becky Leake in my defense.

And that’s the way it was in our playhouse behind Tom Story’s workshop. The playhouse walls were made of thick rows of pine-straw fetched from the Tucker Woods just a few feet away. Furniture consisted of bricks and boards discarded from the workshop. It was fun to play dress up and “manage” our own home, but more fun to wear the long skirt which designated “Mother.” Becky and I were always on the losing end. We were the “guests,” and no vintage clothes for visitors. One day, Becky had enough. She crossed Morgan Road in a huff, but returned moments later all smiles. She was carrying a mink coat.

“You’d better put that back, Rebecca!” Mary Ann Leake advised.

“Nannie won’t care. She won’t need it until Christmas. We can play with it today.”

With reluctance, Mary Ann conceded to her (slightly) older sister. All four of us were intrigued by the beauty of such a jacket. After we all tried on the mink coat, Pat and Mary Ann decided to continue wearing the brown and white checked long skirt. Wanted no part of the mink. We had no problem with that, since Becky and I had a turn at trying on the long skirt. It was a tad too small for Becky and too big for me. Becky had no problem wearing the gorgeous coat. She pretended to be an “important guest” from New York City. As she stood there in her mink coat, she described the Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall and Broadway.

Then it was my turn. The jacket length coat was to my ankles. Even with open toed sandals and shorts – it was too hot to wear the mink for long. Georgia summers too hot and humid for such attire. Soon after my grand entrance, the mink coat was hung on a pine tree limb which doubled as the “hall-tree.” As I sat there enjoying my invisible cup of tea, I told stories of the North Pole and how I run into Santa. I played a guessing game so that they could guess what awaited them Christmas morning, all the while stroking my mink coat as it dangled from the limb. Mary Ann enjoyed guessing until it came to her turn. She did not want to know what she was getting for Christmas, even a pretend game. But summertime was more than playing house. Warm days gave way to soft ball games, swimming, and rainy day games of Parcheesi and Clue. Then came the fall. Seeing the Leake girls at school and walking to and from was the only time we saw them.

One weekend Becky and Mary Ann joined us playing in the red and gold leaves that covered our woodsy yard. An odd thing happened while playing in the leaves. Patricia’s kitty, Precious, ran wild in circles. It was apparent that something was seriously wrong. Mama called the animal control center. They could not catch Precious. The frightened cat climbed up on top of Daddy’s workshop out of reach. Afraid the cat would disappear into the woods asked for help.

“If anybody can, my daughter can get that cat for you. That cat will do anything for her,” Daddy said as he looked at Patricia.

Patricia hesitated. She did not want to turn her cat over to the animal control. Eight year old Patricia tried to control her sobs as she asked for a baby blanket.

Four year old little sister, Barbara, courageously gave up her long time baby blanket. Pat took the blanket and ascended the ladder while Daddy held it secure. When atop the roof, Patricia flattened the blanket and called out, “Here Precious, here Precious.”

Precious heeded her master. Pat wrapped her Precious then climbed down the ladder where she bravely handed the poor cat over to animal control. They put Precious in a cage. One man said the poor cat had a bad case of the wolf-worm (caused by green flies). As soon as they drove away with Precious, Daddy looked for the “fly infestation” while Mama consoled Patricia. Daddy did not have to look far. Just behind his workshop was Nannie Leake’s forgotten mink coat on the ground infested with flies. The tree limb “hall-tree” broke under the weight of the coat. Apparently the soft furry coat was a napping place for Precious.

The playhouse story came out as all four girls told how the mink coat got behind the workshop. With a long board, Daddy scooped up the coat, placed it on a big pile of red and gold leaves. He drenched the coat in gasoline and threw a lit match on it. With a matter of fact voice, he said, “Diane, go with Becky and Mary Ann and tell Nannie Leake what I just did to her mink coat.”

Whoa! Are you kidding me? Those were my thoughts, though I remained silent with my feet frozen to the ground. I think Daddy must have read my mind.

“Did you wear the coat, Donnie?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then go with them,” gently urged my father.

As I slowly walked away, Helen Story added,  “Diane, you made your bed, now you must lie in it. Now, get a move on.”

The three of us walked across Morgan Road to the Leake’s house. Becky was distraught. Mary Ann wept. I walked in silence wishing Tom Story believed in corporal punishment. I would gladly take a spanking rather than face Nannie Leake today. When face to face with her grandmother, all Becky could do was blurt out, “Nannie, I am so sorry.” She collapsed to the floor with grief. Mary Ann was the one who did the talking.

I whispered, “I’m sorry Nannie Leake.” My throat tightened making it unable to speak.

Nannie Leake was still and silent, finally she spoke in a strained voice.

“Girls, we will speak of this another day.” It was as though she did not see us as she made way out of the house and into the front yard. There she stopped and watched the dark smoke billowing from behind our house. And though she was distraught, this elderly lady stood there looking grand as though she was a queen watching her castle burn from a far. After all, the mink coat had been a Christmas gift from her late husband. She wore the coat during the Christmas season, whether it was cold in Georgia or not, and now it was gone.

After a while, she spoke urgently, “Mary Ann, go inside and cut a generous piece of your mother’s pineapple cake and wrap it pretty with pink ribbon. You’ll find the ribbon in my top dresser drawer. Bring it to me.”

Mary Ann returned and her grandmother examined the beautifully wrapped plate of cake. She nodded her head in approval and said, “Give it to Diane. Diane, please give this cake to Patricia, with my love.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I took the cake and when I was about to cross Morgan Road, Nannie Leake again called my name, “Diane, please tell Mr. Story, that I send my apologies.”

Nannie Leake was a gracious lady even when the world did not go her way. Often I do not meet the standards demonstrated so eloquently on that day of the mink coat burning. But with each and every failure, my memory bank offers up an image of a mink coat to correct me. These are just a few of the things that I learned while growing up on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia.

Tom BaptismSeveral years back I had the pleasure of sharing my old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church pew with my cousins, Ted Graves, Elizabeth Graves-Dickens and Curtis Sexton. We sat two pews from the front on the right side, near the side entrance door.

After the choir finished singing, Pastor Buster Dockins took over, “I want to welcome each and every one of you to our annual Homecoming. I am anxious to meet the new faces I see today. Please stay for lunch after the service. We have enough food to feed an army, and as you may well know, we have some excellent cooks here. It is my prayer that you will receive a blessing today.”

With that he read a verse from the Bible and started preaching. Just as the congregation was getting into what he was saying, the side entrance door blew open with great force. It startled everyone.

Pastor Dockins did not miss a beat, as he spoke to thin air while walking to the door.

“Come on in, we were expecting you! All is welcome!”

The congregation laughed. As he shut the door, he looked about and said, “I don’t know whodunit, but I will close the door for them.”

We laughed again and Pastor Dockins returned to his message.

Curtis leaned into me and whispered, “Yeah, I wonder whodunit?” Curtis laughed as he teased me. He goosed me and tried to scare me, “Woooooo, wonder where they’re sitting?”

I punched him with my elbow and tried to hide my smile.

I sat there looking at the preacher, not hearing a word he said. My mind left the message as I kicked around a thought. Knowing what I know about my family, based on their personalities, who would have been the invisible guest? My investigation to unravel this puzzle was afoot.

Whodunit?

What do I know about the Story family history at this church?

Before this church building, Pleasant Hill Baptist met in a log cabin, where my grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story, joined the congregation in 1928. Before Pleasant Hill she belonged to Salem Baptist in Lincolnton, Georgia.

While she occupied this Baptist church, her husband, Horace “Lawton” Story, Sr., sat on a pew at the Tucker Methodist. Tucker Methodist had been his church since 1928 when he left Arimathea Methodist in Lincolnton.

They had nine children who were decidedly Baptist or Methodist.

So, whodunit?Frances and Helen Baptism

Could it have been my father, Tom Story?  Tom was a timid man who expressed himself best while playing his Gibson guitar. Back in the early fifties, he volunteered his finely tuned carpenter skills to help build this church as it stands today. Tom was baptized in a cold spring pond used by Pleasant Hill Baptist when he was fourteen years of age. Though he loved to join in singing hymns, he would have quietly eased in whether he arrived at church late or on time.  No, it was not Daddy.

Could it have been my father’s baby sister, Nancy Story-Goss? Nancy was a fun loving person who was always ready for a Rook game, badminton or horse shoes. She was an avid camper. Nancy especially loved church socials where she participated by bringing picnic baskets full of good food. Nancy knew every short cut to Pleasant Hill Baptist. She was our cheerleader at the annual Easter Egg Hunt. As fun loving as she was, when singled out in a crowd, she quieted down much like her brother, Tom. No, it was not Aunt Nancy.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Eugene Story? Gene was a people person. He was well spoken and presented himself well, especially on the golf course or fishing competition. Gene never met a stranger. Everyone was a potential golf buddy. He could very well be the robust spirit who blew that door open, but there was only one thing, when he married, he became a Presbyterian.  No, it was not Uncle Gene.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Caleb Story? Caleb could run faster, swim faster and out play all his siblings in a game of football. He went to Heaven when I was but three years old, and my earthly eyes are limited. I cannot see Uncle Cabe as he was in his youth or how he is now in spirit. I can only see him in my mind’s eye as a young man being pushed up the handicapped ramp and through the double front doors of this church in his wheelchair. I sadly conclude, it was not Uncle Cabe.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Miriam Story-Sexton? Miriam worked in this very church providing cookies and juice at Vacation Bible School. She contributed to every picnic on the grounds. She worked diligently to have perfect attendance, especially during summer revival when she would put away her gardening to praise the Lord.

As she lied confined to her sick bed she spoke to her son Curtis, “Son, don’t worry about me. My brothers are here, and they’ll look after me.”

Looking about the room and seeing no one, Curtis asked, “Where Mama, where are your brothers?”

Miriam pointed to her father’s rocking chair at the foot of her bed, “There, Cabe is sitting in PaPa’s chair, and Tom is sitting on the arm.” Though she suffered with crumbling bones that could not support her body, her smile could not be removed, and soon thereafter, she left this world for the next. And though Miriam spoke with conviction at home, in the church house, her small voice became tiny as a mouse. No, it was not Miriam.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Robert Story? Now that is very likely, since Robert was the spokesman for his brothers and sisters. During the Great Depression , the Story children could not afford to go to the theater. They pooled their money together and sent their brother, Robert. When Robert returned, he gave a fully detailed account of the movie down to the clothes worn. The other children could talk about the movie with friends as though they had seen the movie.

Robert was Gwinnett County’s Man of the Year twice for his committed community service. Yes, it could be Robert. But no, it was not him. Uncle Robert was a staunch Methodist.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Sarah Story-Graves? Very likely it was her. She worked in this church doing whatever needed. She encouraged the congregation to study shape note singing. She cooked meals for the preachers and sent food from her garden to the congregation, and those in need. Sarah was an overachiever, yet she remained quiet as though she did not want to be noticed. When it came to a line, she would step back and let others go first. No, it was not Aunt Sarah.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Lawton Story, Jr.? Lawton rode the horse drawn buggy to Tucker Methodist with his father and brothers. Perhaps being the first son, Lawton had a soft spot for his mother. He occasionally attended her church, always sitting near the back. His sisters teased him by calling him a “back row Baptist.” But “Mother” didn’t care where he sat, as long as he was in the house of the Lord come Sunday morning. It must have warmed her heart to look about and see her son there.

Lawton was a quiet congenial man who was happy to take the spotlight when showing off his little animals when they performed the little tricks he taught them. But he would shy away from a crowd of people when the focus was on him. No, it was not Uncle Lawton.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Grace Story-Graves?  Grace was the first born and most definitely rode in the horse drawn buggy with her mother to this Baptist church as did all the girls, and baby brother, Tom.

Cecil Johnson was her neighbor, friend, and longest serving pastor at Pleasant Hill. When Grace was elderly and unwell, she tied herself to the kitchen cabinet with a rope so that she could stand long enough to prepare a meal to send to the church. She always wanted to do her part.

Grace did have a hard time getting out of the house in a timely manner on Sunday mornings.

Once in the car, Grace would have her husband go back in the house and make sure the radio was unplugged; lightning might strike it and set the house on fire.  When he returned, she asked him to check the tires. He would get out of the car, walk around and kick the tires. When she was satisfied all was well, they headed to Pleasant Hill.

Sometimes service had already started. Did that stop Grace? Being a front row Baptist, Grace opened that door and made her way down the aisle, making no bones about it. She was delighted to be here!

I glanced over at the pew occupied by Aunt Grace all my growing up years. Yes, oh yes, it could have been her!

As the pastor wrapped up his message, he asks young Ted Graves to “get a song.” Tina Graves warms up the organ while Rita Singleton-Young hits the down beat on the baby grand. We stand and sing:

Pre-cious mem-‘ries, un-seen angels, Sent from somewhere to my soul; How they lin-ger, e-ver near me, And the sa-cred past un-fold. Pre-cious fa-ther, lov-ing moth-er, Fly a-cross the lone-ly years; And old home scenes of my child-hood, In fond mem-o- r-y ap-pears. Pre-cious mem-‘ries, how they lin-ger, How they ev-er flood my soul . . .

As we sing, I stand in reverence this Homecoming day, at the very Baptist church my grandmother drove her horse drawn buggy to every Sunday, a buggy filled with the daughters and baby son. I smile as I recall how my grandfather drove his horse drawn buggy to Tucker Methodist, filled with the sons.

I honor her literal view of baptism while I respect my grandfather’s philosophical view of baptism. I am thankful to both of them for paving the way for us, the Story family.

Grandmother Nancy passed away first and PaPa Story honored her wishes by burying her in the Pleasant Hill Baptist Cemetery. He concluded that tombstone which bore her name should bear his name as well. That is how my staunch Methodist grandfather got buried amongst the Baptist, buried just a short walk on the other side of the door that blew open on this Homecoming day.

I regret to say I did not hear the Homecoming message prepared by Pastor Dockins.

But I did receive an awesome Homecoming blessing at his suggestion:

Whodunit?

Author’s Notes:

Helen Voyles was a member of Tucker Methodist when she married Tom Story. She became Baptist when she was baptized at Pleasant Hill Baptist during summer revival. Also baptized with Helen was Tom’s niece, Frances Sexton.

Many volunteered labor for Pleasant Hill’s new building in the early 1950s, including Lawton (Jr.), Robert, Gene, and Tom Story. Caleb Story was an invalid and died in 1952. Story brothers-in-law who volunteered labor for the new building were Lester Graves, Dorsey Graves, Chester Sexton and Carl Goss. Along with many others, the Story sisters, Grace, Sarah, Miriam and Nancy provided food and drinks for the workers. Also providing food and drinks for the workers, sisters-in-law Bonnie Cofer-Story, Marie Burruss-Story, Mary Bramblett-Story and Helen Voyles-Story.

Pleasant Hill Baptist is located at the edge of Tucker in Dekalb County, Georgia.

First photo is of Thomas Jonathan Story being baptized in the pond at age fourteen, 1937. He is surrounded by family and congregation of Pleasant Hill Baptist. Right to Left: Grace, Miriam, Sarah in hat. Man? Man? Grandmother Nancy Bentley-Story behind Caleb in wheelchair. Boys R to L: Horace, Gene Graves, Ted, standing behind boys: R to L: Chester, H. Lawton Story (PaPa Story), Robert, Bonnie. Man with two children? Two in background of pool? Tom in pool. Minister? Man in jacket? Man in background? Daniel Singleton? Lawton, Jr., Gene Story. Man? Boy? Man? Man? (Where is twelve year old Nancy Story?) Second photo is of Helen Voyles-Story and Frances Sexton being baptized in the new building; Preacher Cecil Johnson officiating.

If you have a story that you would like to share about Pleasant Hill Baptist, please mail them to the church historian, Vicki Graves-Watkins. She is compiling a book of memoirs about the church of her grandmother, Grace Story-Graves, and great-grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story.

Pleasant Hill Baptist

4278 Chamblee Tucker Road

Doraville, Georgia 30340

“Precious Memories” Stamps and Baxter, owners/ J. B. F. Wright, author

“All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia” Copyright © 2012 by H. D. Story

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