Posts Tagged ‘Stone Mountain’


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engagement photo of Tom Story and Helen Voyles at the Henderson Mill

In 1946 I was made by the hands of Mr. Woodall. I was not the only one. Mr. Woodall built several of us on Morgan Road in Tucker Georgia. I liked Mr. Woodall, although I really never bonded with him. I knew our relationship was a temporary one. And all the while we were together, it was because he was busy making me complete. No, I was not the only one, but I was the last one on Morgan Road.

Mr. Woodall lived within my walls until October 1948. I remember that day clearly, because the leaves were unusually beautiful in their glow of red and gold. The trees were really showing off that year; I felt in my heart that something special was about to happen to me, and I was right.

Mr. Woodall packed and left me alone and empty. But I was alone just for a day or so. One morning, a nice young couple pulled up and parked their car in my horseshoe shaped driveway. The man and woman along with a pretty little girl, got out of the car and stood there looking at me as though I was the most beautiful thing they had ever laid eyes on. They slowly made their way toward my front porch. Suddenly the man stopped and looked back at the road.

“Now which house on Morgan did your mother’s mother live in?”
“You have to go to the dead end down there, and turn right. In 1884 my Grandma, Cora Maddox, was born in a log house back up in those woods,” the lady replied.

“Maddox? I thought her name’s Jenkins.”

“She’s a Jenkins because she married Grandpa – William Darling Jenkins.”

“And here we are – after nearly sixty-five years – back in her neck of the woods,” he smiled and was truly amazed. He wrapped his arm around the lady and continued their approach to my front porch.

Then the man stopped again and seemed star struck as he looked up at my gallery of painted leaves. The young lady walked on holding the hand of their fifteen month old daughter. The man was frozen in awe.

“Wow – Helen – look at these trees,” said the tall handsome dark haired man, “The leaves are beautiful. Looks like gold and rubies.” He smiled with a faraway look, “I’m a rich man.”

“It is beautiful, Tom,” laughed the pretty blonde lady, “and right over there is a perfect place for a daffodil bed near that tree. Come on, let’s go into the house. I’ve only seen it once.”

“Seen it once?” Yes, I remember them now. They’re the couple who rented from the Johnson’s on LaVista – directly behind me. When the little girl was a tiny baby, they walked from the Johnson house through the cow pasture and through the woods to visit Mr. Woodall. They were quite excited when they arrived. Oh not because of me, but because the young man had walked up on a calf in the near dark, and it reared up and took him and the baby girl for a ride. Luckily, they were not hurt, but rattled just the same.

They talked to Mr. Woodall about purchasing me. Since they did not return, I thought they had chosen another. But no, here they are today about a year later and looks like they are moving in. I ease dropped on the couple and heard them discussing their need for a new home. They wanted me now, because another baby was on the way, due in April. Now that was something for me to look forward to: a toddler, a baby and a daffodil bed in the springtime.

Display cabinets for Cofer Bros. made by Tom Story

My new owners were the Storys: Tom, Helen and Patricia Anne. I soon realized that Mr. Story was a family man. He built a workshop out back to build cabinets and take on carpenter jobs. He liked being home near his family.

Truly, Mr. Story was in love with my trees; he called me “the little house in the woods.”  Mrs. Story loved my screened in front porch, although my porch was not yet screened when the Story’s moved in that day. But it was the first thing that Mr. Story did to me. Mr. Story took a lot of time and pain to make diamonds on the open wainscoted portion of my porch; then he tacked up the screen.

When Mrs. Story brought him a cup of coffee, she laughed, “Tom Story, you are making diamonds around our porch.”

“What else but diamonds? We have the gold and rubies in the yard; may as well have diamonds in the house. Helen, I tell ya, we live in a treasure chest.”

“A treasure chest?” laughed Mrs. Story, “Tom, this is good enough for us, but I don’t know about it being a treasure chest.”

Mr. Story took a moment to look about at the grandeur of my leaves as he had done so many times, and said, “Gold, rubies and diamonds; I’m a rich man.” He sipped his hot coffee as Mrs. Story rubbed his head, “It’s a treasure chest to me, Helen.  I have a lot of projects around here to get to. And I’d better get busy before that new baby gets here, and I won’t have time to do another darned thing!”

But before that baby came, we had Thanksgiving. Mr. and Mrs. Story roasted a large turkey with a pan of cornbread dressing with gravy. Mr. Story liked everything his wife cooked, and was very pleased about the Thanksgiving leftovers.

And then Christmas came. Mr. and Mr. Story cut a live Christmas tree on Mae Moon’s farm near the Tucker – Stone Mountain area. Cutting a tree at Aunt Mae’s was a Jenkins-Voyles family tradition. It wasn’t Christmas until Mrs. Story visited with her Aunt Mae Moon; a trip she made in a horse pulled wagon every Christmas Advent as a child.

But it was Mr. Story who made sure their tree was decorated to perfection. And if a tree’s limbs were not balanced just right, he’d cut off a limb and nail it to the part of the tree that was lacking. He loved Christmas lights and strung the bright lights all about my roof line and gables. It made me feel special – and beautiful. He made the air within my walls smell festive with boxes of oranges, apples, peppermint, chocolate and lemon drops. Mr. Story hammered a big fat nail into a hairy coconut and drained the milk into a glass. Mrs. Story took the coconut and milk and made a Japanese fruit cake. The Story Christmas traditions were formed in the very first Christmas while living on Morgan Road.

I became close to this little family. Mr. Story was ever so soft spoken; a man of very few words. He looked upon his family as pure gold. I especially loved being with Mr. Story in the evening hours when he picked up his Gibson guitar, and played music. He played bluegrass and sometimes hymns from an old Baptist Church Hymnal. It was quiet time and all seemed well with the world. I loved my new family and they loved me. I especially loved it when they called me “Home.”

And that was the beginning of a long relationship with the Story family. The baby came April 3, 1949 – another little girl – Helen Diane.

Mr. Story teased Mrs. Story, “Now Helen, you know I want a son,” he grinned and winked at her, “On second thought, I have two boys right here; I’ll call ‘em Pat and Donnie.”

“Tom Story you’ll do no such thing, it’s Patricia and Diane.”

They were still having that conversation when two years rolled around and another April baby was born – another girl – Barbara Gail. Mr. Story called her “Bob” and sometimes “Bobtail.”

Mrs. Story bought dolls and tea sets for the girls, while Mr. Story bought cowboy outfits, cap guns and farm sets. Mr. Story built his three little girls a sand box to play in – right out my back door.

Patricia, Barbara and Diane Story

On a cold snowy winter day in 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Story brought home another baby; this time in a blue blanket – a son – Tommy. And Mr. Story never let up with his dry sense of humor, “Now, I have four boys,” he laughed.

And his girls, now fourteen, twelve and ten still played the game, “Daddy, we’re not boys! We’re girls!”

Mr. Story laughed with his girls as though it was the first time he’d ever heard that story. He so loved to tease his girls.

Little Tommy loved kicking footballs around and spent hours playing with cars and a fast racetrack. Mr. Story got busy flooring in part of my attic, so Tommy could have a good place for his racetrack town. Mr. Story found ways to use every inch of my space. Even before the little boy came, Mr. Story found all kind of ways to change me.

Mr. Story eventually enclosed my open back-porch and made it a laundry-room, then added a little porch to the new laundry-room. He also built another screened back-porch off the middle bedroom. The knotted pine kitchen cabinets Mr. Story built have survived to this day.

Lots of changes! And not just within my walls. Eventually the Johnson home on LaVista was torn down. The pasture between me and the Johnson’s was done away with, and they built St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on that piece of property. The swamp land next to the Johnson home was filled in and Tucker Elementary was built there.

Mrs. Story was happy about the new school so close by, but Mr. Story was not happy about the new road that came with it. The old wooded logging trail next to my property line was made into a “highway” as Mr. Story put it. He often said, “Helen, we may as well be living down on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.”

Mrs. Story went to the woods with a bucket and shovel. She came back with pieces of privet hedge. She worked hard for days planting them along-side the property line between me and the new school house road, to keep the cars out of sight and hold down the sound. Mr. and Mrs. Story loved the peacefulness of the quiet sleepy little neighborhood of Morgan Road and worked tirelessly to maintain it.

Mr. Story loved living far away from the city lights. He loved the rural nature of Tucker Georgia. On a clear night, he could be found sitting outside studying the stars. Sometimes the three little girls joined him. They too were mesmerized by the black blanket of a sky with tiny sparkling lights. They were delighted to be able to find the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Then the questions came.

“Daddy, how did God get to be God?”

“Daddy, who made God?”

“Just how big is God, Daddy?”

Mr. Story was not quick to answer his daughters, but took a good long while and did not allow those questions to interrupt his concentrated study of the sky. Then, finally he spoke, “Well girls, I can’t tell you how God was made. And I can’t tell you who made God. I can tell you how big He is.”

“How big Daddy? How big?”

Mr. Story smiled as his eyes continued to search the sky. “Well, God is big enough to hang the moon and stars in the sky.”

“Wow, Daddy! God is big!”

And as much as Mr. Story would like for his home to remain in the country without the glare of city lights, Tucker grew. New homes, churches, stores, schools, parks were built, and the street lights came. Many years later Tucker Elementary was changed to Tucker Recreation Center. And the Browning District Courthouse was moved to the front lawn of the Tucker Recreation Center.  And Aunt Mae Moon’s acreage with the Christmas trees became part of a development called Smoke Rise.

The roads around Tucker became busy paved lanes. Chamblee Tucker connected to LaVista, LaVista  connected to the little school house road, and the little school house road connected to Morgan Road, and Morgan Road connected back to  Chamblee Tucker where Tucker High School is –  forming a school time traffic loop. I still recall Morgan Road when it was just a little dirt road cut through the woods that by passed the old logging trail. The homes on Morgan Road were not separated by curbs or pavement; they were essentially little houses in the woods.

Mr. and Mrs. Story enjoyed taking the girls to Grant’s Park and the Fairgrounds. And most every summer, they packed up the car and headed for the Great Smoky Mountains. There they listened to good blue grass music at the Grand Ole Opry. Mr. Story would come home and practice new songs on his Gibson after each trip to the Opry. Just such a vacation ended as they returned during the wee hours of the morning.

To their surprise, Morgan Road had been paved. They walked up and down Morgan Road by moonlight, laughing all the way. I heard the two older girls ask for roller skates. The next thing I knew, Mr. Story had torn up Mrs. Story’s butterfly garden in the front side yard.

I spent many days watching little Patricia chase butterflies, and I was a little sad to see that garden go. I wondered what Mr. Story was doing as he outlined a long space with boards and then filled it in with concrete. When he finished, he called his girls, “Pat, Donnie, Bobtail! Your mother has something for you.”

Mrs. Story brought out boxes of roller skates, and laced her daughters’ feet up. “I don’t want you girls skating on the road. I want you to skate here on our new driveway,” explained Mrs. Story.

“Listen to your mother girls and stay out of the road,” added Mr. Story.

When the girls were not skating, Mr. Story parked his car on the driveway and did away with the horseshoe drive. I was so proud! I was the first on Morgan Road to have a “paved” driveway, and with the paved roads on two sides of me, I had a well turned out look. Morgan Road went from a wood-land to a suburb seemingly overnight.

There were many more changes on the way. I learned to trust Mr. Story and know that whenever he got his tools out, it was for the best. He took a sledgehammer to me once.

Patricia and Diane had a “little kitchen” in the closet that opened up to their mother’s kitchen. They had their own miniature stove, sink and refrigerator as well as a double stacked doll’s bed. They cooked what Mrs. Story cooked; they held a baby as Mrs. Story held a baby. The pantry ceiling had an open place where things could be stored away in my attic. Little Diane took issue with that pantry.

One day Mrs. Story found her second daughter standing frozen in the pantry. “Diane, are you alright? What’s wrong? Tom! Come here! Something’s wrong with Diane. Diane, speak to me,” shouted Mrs. Story as she held on to baby Barbara.

Mr. Story rushed into the kitchen and grabbed Diane up in his arms, “Donnie, what’s wrong?”

“Oh, she’s okay,” explained Patricia, “she’s just scared. She thinks the boogey man lives up in the attic and he’ll get her when no one is looking.”

Mr. Story went straight away to his carpenter workshop out back. He returned with a sledgehammer and took that pantry down along with the whole wall. Mr. Story explained to Mrs. Story that he had been thinking about opening that wall up anyway. He liked the idea of the kitchen and the family room being open; that way no one was ever alone in the kitchen. He replaced the wall with a planter; a planter with round bars that connected the ceiling to a waist high narrow cabinet with holes in it for flower boxes.

Funny thing, he never got around to putting the flower boxes in the holes. It became a place for the little girls to hide their unwanted food. The girls were not big eaters, and Mrs. Story insisted they clean their plate before leaving the table. Those little girls were quick to stash away their unwanted dinner into the planter holes.

Whitie, their over-sized Tom-cat would jump on the screened back-door and cry out. He clung there with his claws until he got the chance to get inside that kitchen. Whitie ran through the kitchen knocking whoever was in his way down as he made a mad dash for the planter opening.

“That’s the craziest cat I’ve ever seen in my life!” Mrs. Story could not bond with that crazy cat. As soon as Whitie finished with the clean up, he was just as wild about going back outside and jumped on the screen holding tight with his claws, crying out.

“Will someone let that crazy cat out?” Mrs. Story called out; she kept her distance from Whitie. It makes me chuckle to think about it. I don’t believe Mrs. Story ever knew that the planter was Whitie’s main feeding ground.

But the planter was not a permanent fixture. In many years to come, the Story family would grow with in-laws and grandchildren. The sledgehammer was put to me again, and a long and wide bar replaced the planters.

Goodbye Whitie!

Mr. Story also moved the kitchen wall back to make the back bedroom a small room giving the kitchen space for a larger table. Mr. Story wanted each person in his family to have a place to sit for a meal together.

But I am getting ahead of myself; first things first. The large back bedroom was used for Diane to recover from Scarlett fever and rheumatic fever when Diane was only seven years old. That was a sad time for me, I so wanted the Storys to be happy. It broke my heart to see them down. I remember one conversation that I wished I had not been privy to.

“Patricia, you will go to G.A.s tonight. I insist,” said Mrs. Story.

“But I don’t want to leave Diane.”

I’ll take care of Diane. I have not once left this house since she’s been ill. Now, no more arguing from you; you need to get out and do things with your friends.”

“I’ll go next year, if Diane is not sick again…”

“No, you’ll go this year,” Mrs. Story was firm as she looked Patricia in the eyes. “There is something I have to tell you. You know, your sister may ——- pass away. You have to know that. You must get on with your own life —- outside the walls of this house. You will go and participate in G.A.s – I insist.”

Diane recovered after three episodes of rheumatic fever spanning over a period of five years. It was Mrs. Story who figured out why she was relapsing. Mrs. Story made a temperature chart on a clipboard. She took Diane’s temperature three times a day for a period of five years. Mrs. Story noticed that Diane’s normal body temperature was 97.1. When Diane had what seemed to be a normal body temperature of 98.6 or so, she was running a low grade fever. She needed a doctor then, not later. When the doctors realized that, Diane was treated within the proper time-frame. And at age twelve, Diane became well, and the sick-room went back to being a regular bedroom.

The doctors from Emory and Grady thought highly of Mrs. Story’s methodical, practical approach to healing. They said, “Mrs. Story wrote the book on excellent home-care.”

A few years before Diane became ill, Mrs. Story’s paternal grandmother, Emma Voyles, lived in the front bedroom adjacent to the living-room.“Granny” loved making quilts. For weeks she cut colorful cotton squares and triangles. She sewed the colorful pieces together on an old treadle sewing machine. When finished, she had one big square; the “top.” Granny lined a huge metal square frame with a “bottom” piece of material – her favorite color was navy. She placed white cotton stuffing on the bottom; then Granny topped it off with the colorful top piece.

That’s when Mr. Story screwed in four hooks to the front bedroom ceiling, and hoisted Granny’s quilt square up in the air. Granny then sat comfortably and hand quilted her masterpiece.  It was a joy to watch the perseverance of such an elderly woman. I heard she was born in 1869 – in April.

It was a sad day for the Story’s when Granny passed away in her sleep that night in 1957. The whole family was together – that is all but the little boy. Tommy had not come here yet. It was a celebration of sorts, Valentine’s Day. The family enjoyed red heart boxes of candy, and the girls showed off their highly decorated cigar boxes full of valentines from friends. Many stopped by to give Granny flowers, cards, and her favorite, red Jello.

Granny retired as usual, but her breathing changed during the night. Of course, I stayed up with her – just the two of us. I was with her when the angel came, and asked Granny if she was ready for the journey to Heaven. Granny being a pioneer sort, of course, said, “Yes.” Mrs. Story found her grandmother the next morning. Granny had a smile on her face. Mrs. Story spoke often of that smile for years to come.

I miss Granny. I also miss Mr. Story. One October day, Mr. Story left for a contract job, and never returned. I know it was a fall day, because he stopped and admired the beauty of my trees. He never took my colorful gold and ruby leaves for granted. No matter how much of a hurry he got in, he took time to admire them. That very morning, I heard him mumble to himself, “I’m a rich man.” My gold and red leaves have come and gone thirty-eight times since I last saw Mr. Story that morning. I heard he fell off Avondale Elementary while fixing the roof.

And I miss Mrs. Story perhaps most of all, maybe because we were together – alone – for so many years. She had breathing problems and all sorts of ailments. But the last few weeks that we were together, she became very sick. She poured over her Dick Frymire book reading home remedies. She read up on diabetes in her medical book; the book was still open to that page when the “children” came home a few weeks later.

I’ll never forget that early Monday morning when Mrs. Story drove herself to the doctor in downtown Tucker. I’ve not seen her since.

I remember the day Mrs. Story moved in and was in a hurry to get inside to see me.  But before entering my front door, she planned her daffodil bed. She was very young, still in her teens. I can see her now walking up my front steps holding little Patricia’s hand. Over the years I have watched Mrs. Story go from five-four to just five feet tall. I heard her tell someone she was shrinking because of deteriorating arthritis. I saw her beautiful blonde hair turn dark and then to solid white. And though she sometimes got lonesome, she always had me. I comforted her with my roof and walls as much as possible; I kept her safe and warm. I have seen Mrs. Story’s daffodils come up through the ground three times since I saw her last. Yes, I miss Mrs. Story.

I miss the girls and the little boy too. One by one, they grew into fine adults. And one by one they moved away and started their own family. Each of Mr. and Mrs. Story’s children had two each. Those were fun days when they came back to visit. It was little ones all over again: Lowry and Kimberly, James and Jonathan, Brian and Christopher, and Emilee and Katelyn. And to this day, if you look closely, you can find two unfound Easter eggs. I know where they are.

There are no secrets between me and the Storys.

While growing up, most every Sunday, the Story grandchildren made their way up my front porch steps to “Nanny.” Only the first four grandchildren felt the arms of “Grandee.”

The grandchildren entertained themselves playing touch football in my leaves, and games and puzzles on rainy days. The living-room was headquarters for Risk tournaments. They quickly outgrew the Risk game map so the oldest grandchild, Lowry, taped paper together in order to cover the entire open space of the room. Then he drew a map of the world from memory.

Yes, he became a world traveler and went to places like Massachusetts, New York, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, France and the Bahamas. He never forgot his “Nanny,” sometimes making phone calls to her at three o’clock in the morning just to say “Hello Nan, are you awake?”

I saw a spark forever extinguished in Mrs. Story’s eyes when her grandson, Lowry, went to Heaven. It was near Christmas time and Mrs. Story could never bear to have another live Christmas tree in her home. She eventually displayed a ceramic Christmas tree on the big eating bar. Not as many lights as I would like to see. But I supported Mrs. Story in her decision, though I do miss being lit up each year.

Long gone are the years when Mr. and Mrs. Story poured over the kitchen table studying their budget; wondering how they would ever pay the eight-hundred-sixty-nine dollar loan they owed for their home. But it always worked out; they managed.

And long gone is the day Mr. Story cussed me. He filled a wheelbarrow full of concrete. He then rolled the wheelbarrow in through the kitchen, family room and then finally to the bathroom. There he used the mixture to stick ceramic tiles to my walls. Mrs. Story told him to stop cussing me, because the neighbors would think he was cussing her. For some reason he told me I was “not doing right.” I was glad when that day was over.

My scariest moment with the Storys came about one o’clock in the morning on a cold winter night. It was near tragedy. Patricia came home in the wee hours from Habersham County where she performed with the Tucker Drill Team at a play-off football game.

That night all was quiet within my walls with soft sleeping sounds, along with the occasional distant lonesome sound of the Tucker train. Patricia quietly closed the front door and left the lights off; she did not want to wake anyone. She began to undress while standing quietly in the family room before the flame to warm. Just as Patricia took off her tasseled boots, a super strong wind blew the front door open – crashing the door against the living-room wall. She screamed and ran to Mr. and Mrs. Story’s bedroom, yelling, “Someone’s in the house!” Startled by the crash and hearing Patricia, Mr. Story grabbed his rifle – his loaded rifle.

At the same moment, Diane woke from a sound sleep to the door crash and Sister screaming. She leapt out of bed, hiked her flannel gown up and ran down the hallway to her parent’s room. Mr. Story took aim in the dark and shot at Diane. He thought Diane was the intruder. Fortunately, the bullet whizzed over her head. I took the bullet in the chimney. That’s okay. I’d take a bullet for any of those Story kids.

So much has happened within and outside my walls. I was a popular place for the neighborhood children to play: roller skating, kick ball and playhouse. Mrs. Story played outside with her little girls showing them how to build playhouses with pine straw and sticks. She showed them how to furnish their pantry with different types of soil and berries, and how to make sofas and chairs with brick and planks from Mr. Story’s workshop. Mr. Story taught the girls how to build and paint bird houses. And that Story boy became a phenomenal football kicker. Mr. Story stayed busy taking his son to play ball at Fitzgerald Field. Yes, a lot has happened here, but then came the years when I was all alone.

Alone, I watch for Mrs. Story’s daffodils to pop through, and remember how she planted them when she was a young bride. Through the years I so enjoyed watching her admire her daffodils. It brought her so much pleasure!  As the years passed, Mrs. Story was forced to watch the progression of her flower garden from her chair in the family room, not able to walk about much anymore. I remember how she watched my trees drop their red and gold leaves to the ground each October. I’ve seen the tears stream down her face. Oh, it’s not for the beauty of my leaves, but the beauty of her husband – long gone now.

Yes, for a lot of years, Mrs. Story was alone – but not really – I was with her. I knew she would never leave me – until that day – that March day she left and never returned. As she backed out of the driveway, she stopped and took a moment to enjoy her daffodils that were just peeping through the hard ground. She took one last look at me, smiled, and then allowed her car to roll backwards into Morgan Road.

“Home” 2011 marks the end of 65 years with the Story Family

When Mrs. Story had been away for three weeks, the Story kids came back to me, but only for a short while. It was not like before when we were happy together. They seemed much older and perhaps a little sad or tired. They worked hard to clear out all of the furniture, china, books, everything. I was cleaned up and painted down. And then something happened to me that never happened in all of my existence; Diane put a “FOR SALE” sign in my front yard. What was she thinking? I took a bullet for that kid.

Many people made appointments to see me. Not many really liked me. They made comments to my face.

“Needs a new kitchen.”

“Not enough closet space.”

“Needs new bathroom and new kitchen.”

“Needs work.”

“Wonder how old that roof is?”

“Needs new light fixtures.”

“Porch needs screen.”

“When was this house built? Did you say 1946? Wow, that is old.”

“Pretty  nice, yes, pretty nice.”

What? Yes, he said I’m “pretty nice.” But he left and others came; more negative remarks. I heard one man tell Tommy that he wanted to cut down all my trees. When Tommy asked if the man would like to see inside the house, the man said, “No, I’d tear that down too.”

Tear “that” down too? What is to happen to me? Oh how I missed my Story family. If only Mrs. Story would come home, she’d straighten all this out.

Diane came in one day and walked through each room and told me goodbye. She told me I had served the Story family well, and that they would always remember and cherish me. “Good job,” was the last thing she said to me. She laid an acorn on the window sill in Mrs. Story’s bedroom. It wasn’t just any acorn, but a perfect acorn – one with the cap still nice and secure. Then my electricity and water got turned off.

I guess Mrs. Story is not coming home after all. I sit here on Morgan Road now a tiny house by today’s standards amongst the big trees, and wonder. What will happen to me? I’ve been alone for so long, Mrs. Story’s voice is but a faint memory. I struggle to bring the sound of her voice forward, “Breakfast is ready, hurry up; you’ll be late for school.” It would be such a joy just to see Mrs. Story’s little ceramic Christmas tree lights. I try hard to remember everything, but each day I forget a little bit more.

I am empty and useless, not a heartbeat around except for the squirrels who play on Mrs. Story front porch swing. Occasionally I see them drive by slowly; I’d know those Story kids any day of the week. Yes, I’d know that “Bobtail” anywhere.

One morning I heard a car door open and close. Someone is here. Is it the man with his chainsaw? Is he here to cut down my magnificent trees, and tear me apart – piece by piece? I hear more car doors. He’s not alone.

They slowly approach my front porch. The man says, “Wow, boys look at the red and gold leaves! Aren’t they beautiful?”

“Yes, they are! And lots of them Daddy! Maybe millions!”

“Come on up to the porch boys, you can play in the leaves later,” Daddy said as he waited. “Well here it is boys, I promise, we will not have to move again. No more leaving friends behind; no more starting over. This is home.”

Then I heard something I haven’t heard in a very long time, children running through my rooms, children laughing, children playing. I noticed something familiar about the man; yes he’s the one who said I looked “pretty nice.” As the days pass, I learned that “Daddy” is a soft spoken man of few words. He looks at his children – four boys age five to ten – as though they are pure gold. He has big plans for me, “upgrades.” Not sure what that means, but I will find out.

Hmmm, I wonder how “Daddy” feels about – Christmas lights. I’ll just have to be patient, wait, and see.  I can’t help but smile to see the squirrels on Mrs. Story’s swing blaze a trail back to the woods. Those four little boys are awesome!

Now I remember; my name is “Home,” and I am a treasure chest.