Southern Charm Category


Plumb Nellie

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~William Shakespeare

 

Plumb Nellie, 1970s

I rode horseback across a Dunwoody meadow. Plumb outta the city and Nellie in the country, as Aunt Donn would say. “Yes I agree, Aunt Donn. This is as plumb nellie as you can get this close to Atlanta.” Not at all unusual to carry on a conversation with my late and great Aunt Donn of Lincoln County.

I sat atop Britches, a dun bay with black tiger stripes at high points of knees and hocks. Beautiful animal. We walked through sweet grass; tall grass blowing in the breeze ready for bush-hog. Was this a mirror image of the Saxon meadow of Drew Bentley-Haye? That land grant from William the Conqueror to the first known Bentley?

Moseying along on horseback under blue sky makes room for the mind to roam. Perfect day. Cloud watching triggers the imagination, encourages intellectual curiosity. Nonsense some say. William Aurelius Gunby would approve of such nonsense, my philosophical great-great grandfather of Columbia County.

We swing wide right to miss the blackberry thicket. Slow and easy a must for a hot August day in Georgia. To the creek where Britches can stand in sand and cool water. After a long drink Britches meanders inside the tree line. We pass the “chair” tree, directional marker most likely made by the Cherokee. Beaver dam on the right. River straight ahead. The sound of water cools the body. Ferns please the eye. Sun bounces off water and rocks shooting a hint of color through the trees. No wonder the Cherokee called the river, Chattahoochee – the Painted Rocks.

Natural beauty by sight, smell and sound, absorbed like a sponge. Eliminate illness from the mind; the body will follow. So said progressive thinker, my great-great grandfather, Dr. John B. Bentley, country doctor born 1797 in Lincoln County.

Riding with the flow of rushing water energizes the body. Muscles relax. Nerves tingle all the way to the toes. Was that why Court of Ordinary Gene Gunby rode so hard on the Chattahoochee River trails? Was he trying to awaken his dead legs? Nothing ordinary about my grandfather’s cousin, Judge Eugene Gunby, country cripple boy from Lincoln County.

Out of nowhere comes a dappled gray pony trotting through the woods alone. Wonder what color Dulce was? That sweet pony so loved by the children of Dennis and Grace Bentley. Their daughter, my Aunt Donn, wrote of Dulce the Pony in a letter to Atlanta. Written while living in that old creaky farmhouse in Lincoln County.

We move on to breathtaking beauty found in an odd place, the old ferry boat crossing. White blooms climb cedars, reaching for the sky: the magnificent Cherokee rose. Britches reads my body language and stops. I admire the never-ending white blooms while listening to water rush. Back in the day, the Chattahoochee served as a territorial divide. White settlers on the south, Native Americans on the north. The north side now marked with development. Still the white blooms reach for the sky as if the spirit of the Cherokee refuses to leave.

I wonder? Was the State Flower of Georgia named for a beautiful Indian maiden?

Rules that separate races are made to be broken. Anyway, how long was it before a white settler and Indian maiden became lovers? George Washington Paschal left his Wilkes County law office to aid General Wool in the relocation of the Cherokee. Cupid struck when George looked into the eyes of Sollee Ridge. His new father-in-law, Second in Command of the Cherokee Nation.

Britches took the high trail through the woods to circle back to the barn. Shade lowered the temperature. To avoid a snake encounter, he swung wide avoiding the natural spring. Horses know. Hazel Bentley Eubanks learned of such things while exploring the where ‘bouts of Balaam’s tannery known as Leathersville. Balaam Bentley, my great-great-great grandfather of Lincoln County.

Loose reins best with a good horse in the woods. The woods eerily quiet except for an occasional bug or bird sound. Could’ve been the days of Tomochichi and Oglethorpe. Not a soul in sight, though the trees seem to hide someone watching. No sign of the modern world. No big wheel in a cul de sac. No weed-eater noise. Just muffled sounds of horse hooves hitting dirt floor.

Was this the way of my ancestors?

Did they experience this-kind-of-quiet living in the backwoods of Georgia? Was the forest silent when Chloe Bentley watched that log cabin burn? Did she hear Indian ponies running? No way to call for help. No fire department, no 911. Was she afraid in the woods after the attack?

Would I like living in isolation? No car? No shopping center? No cell phone? A river dictating where to live? One day I will be a memory, as my ancestors and the Cherokee. What will survive?

Britches picked up speed as we left the canopy of leaves. I tightened the reins. This state champion barrel racer always on the lookout for a “barrel” and that lone scrub pine would do nicely. With a bit of urging, he trots through the creek. No need to stop, refreshed already. He crossed the meadow through the buttercups and Queen Anne’s lace, stopping occasionally to nibble daisies, passing a pond and two Halifax green barns.

Halifax green? Unusual color for a barn. Barns are red, but not at Pounds’ Stables. What color did Buck Story paint his barns? Probably weathered gray, no paint at all. Penny pincher he was. Second thought, he would paint to protect his investment, but not for show. Buck Story, my formidable great-great grandfather had many barns in McDuffie, Warren, Columbia and Lincoln County.

Britches walked on avoiding the riding rings. He automatically stopped at the hitching post in front of the big barn. Time for sweet feed and brush down. His silent request understood.

My great grandfather, Rad Story, was a man who understood his horse. They say Rad was known in McDuffie, Warren, Lincoln and Columbia County by that magnificent white saddleback stallion he rode. No doubt, hay and sweet feed were familiar smells to him. Did Rad and Sallie ride together for pleasure? Perhaps a romantic ride on a lovely day under blue sky and white clouds? I like to think they did. An indelible moment of sweetness for Sallie, before Rad was murdered near Thomson Road in McDuffie County.

It was a beautiful day in 1968 when I rode Britches with my friend, Jim. As we galloped along Jim pulled reins on his quarter horse, Julie, looking back at me.

“Do you like it here, Di?”

Near the blackberry thicket we built a Cape Cod home and raised two sons, James and Jonathan. Jim and I were married for 25 years. Today all that remains of my Plumb Nellie is the Chattahoochee River and my two sons. I often wonder, did the Cherokee rose survive?

2003

On a hot August day I found myself within a few miles of my once upon a time Plumb Nellie. I stood in a delivery room holding a newborn baby, Jonathan Caleb “Jayce” Pounds. As he peeped out the blanket, I had to say, “Oh my dear, you look so familiar. I know I’ve seen that sweet little face somewhere.”

2010

While cleaning out my desk, I found a photograph.

“Jayce, come take a look at this old school photo for Gramma-Di.”

My seven year old grandson examined the photo. I pointed to a six year old boy on the front row.

“Who does that little boy look like?”

Me, he looks like me.”

After a moment, his eyes left the boy and moved on.

“Who is she?”

Out of 61 people in the photo, Jayce pointed to an eight year old girl sitting on the front row, 12th down from the little boy.

“That’s Nancy Bentley. The little boy who looks like you, is her brother, Caleb Hardin Bentley.”

“Caleb? That’s my name.”

“Yes, by coincidence, you have the same name.”

“And same face.”

“You are related to these people, you know. Nancy Bentley grew up and became my father’s mother. That would make her your great-great grandmother.”

“Look at him, his hair is buzzed.”

“Yes, that little boy is Horace Lawton Story. He married Nancy Bentley. Lawton used to tease Caleb about his hair – those long curls. Nancy told Lawton to pick on someone his own size. He loved her spirit. They married and had my father, Tom Story. Tom married Nanny and they had me. I had your father and Daddy and Mommie had you.”

“It started on the same row at school.”

“Yes, the same row at Liberty Hill School, 1894 in Lincoln County.”

“Look at that girl. What’s wrong with her eyes?”

“She’s making a face at the photographer. That’s Aunt Donn, Nancy and Caleb’s older sister. Boy oh boy, I can tell you some stories about her.”

And the beat goes on . . .

 

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

All Rights Reserved

Nancy Elizabeth Pascal  Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley
Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Today I saw a photograph of my great-great grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley. This rare find of a photo came to me by internet email from Appling, Georgia.

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal was born March 24, 1805, to William (1776-1853) and Elizabeth Elliot-Paschal (1780-1846).

Nancy Paschal became a part of the Leathersville pioneer family when she married John Bentley in 1822. Dr. John Bentley was the son of Nancy Tankersley and Balaam Bentley. Balaam was the son of Captain William Bentley II, who was granted land in Georgia for service in the American Revolutionary War. The land became known as Leathersville; it was the first tannery in Georgia.

Nancy was no stranger to the Bentleys. Her sister, Mary “Polly” Paschal, married Dr. John Bentley’s brother, Benjamin Bentley. They say you can’t speak of a Bentley without speaking of a Paschal. That’s the way it was down there in Leathersville, Georgia.

Receiving this likeness of Nancy Paschal was truly a gift; one I never dreamed of having.

I examined the newly acquired photo with care. As most vintage photographs Nancy did not have a smile on her face. She appeared tired and perhaps sad. I thought about how life must have been rearing a family in a log home without central heat and air conditioning, about how difficult it was to deliver numerous babies at home under these conditions. At least her husband was a doctor and her sister, Polly, was nearby.

No doubt Nancy had her hands full attending to the ins and outs of patients arriving at all hours of the day and night, not to mention her own children. And then there was the fact that their farm was a working tannery. She was a busy woman with little time for leisure, I suppose.

And her big round eyes told a story, but what exactly? I studied the photo more closely and discovered her pretty shaped lips. Her hair was dark and she was well dressed.  Was she happy? Was she truly sad? Perhaps she had lost someone in a tragic way, and had lost her smile to the ages. Or maybe the photographer told her not to smile. Or perhaps this is how a face looks after surviving a war fought on the homeland. She survived the War Between the States and lived another twenty-two years.

It is true that she lost her young son, Charlie, to that war. Charles Mallory Bentley was born April 2, 1842. He was killed in the Battle of Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia, July 2, 1862; a place called Poindexter Farm. It was a seven day battle that took the lives of almost eight thousand soldiers; many called it a bloody debacle. Worrisome words for a mother to hear.

How in the world did Nancy find her son all the way in Virginia? Perhaps it was the Bentley’s pre-war Northern connections to the tannery. Did Poindexter Farm purchase harnesses, saddles and bridles from the Bentley’s? Did they know Charlie?

Impossible times in which to search for a son; the world was turned upside down. Still, she did it. Charlie was brought home and buried at the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville; home where mother could place flowers on her son’s grave.

I wonder if General George McClellan or General Robert E. Lee realized how they changed the lines on mother’s faces across America during that week long battle? No wonder Nancy’s face became stoic, along with countless other mothers.

Those thoughts swirled about my mind as I drifted off to sleep the evening I received the photo of Nancy Paschal. The distant thunder intruded into my thoughts and that is all that I remember until I found myself walking in the woods somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I was lost.

I was dreaming.

As my dream progressed I noticed the vegetation changing from the deep forest to open meadows in the distance. I could hear the brisk sound of fast moving water and decided to follow that sound. I found a creek.

Alongside the creek were purple blooming butterfly bushes. The sound of the bubbling water seemed to beckon, so I moved on. I followed the creek and was taken by the beauty of the butterfly bushes; odd that there were no butterflies about. And though I heard rumbling of thunder in the distance, the sky was clear blue and the sun shined brightly.

And of all things, I smelled a divine aroma. The creek took me closer and closer to the delicious smell of fresh baked shortbread.

Who in the world could bake shortbread way out here in the middle of nowhere?

I suddenly saw a well put together woman in a long black dress wearing a white bonnet. I did not see her feet or legs move. She seemed to glide about on the ground without walking. She looked familiar and I was sure I knew her, but could not place her. As I approached her, I noticed that she was grinning at me. She knew me. She was waiting for me.

She did not speak, but looked at me with her big round eyes, and her hands produced a tray of rectangular shaped shortbread cookies. Each cookie was perfectly formed and organized in such a way that it looked like one giant snowflake.

“So, you’re the one baking cookies out here? How in the world did you do this? You must be a genius! No professional, not even on the Food Network could do this!”

The lady never spoke but giggled with delight as she modestly looked down. It was apparent that this lady was proud of her accomplishments though humble. And for some reason I knew she wanted me to be proud of her. For just a moment I forgot about being lost. I was in heaven. Then I remembered, “I know you ‘mam, you’re Nancy Paschal.”

Then a loud clap of thunder sat me up in my bed. I was no longer with the sweet lady down by the butterfly bushes at the creek, but home in Forsyth County, Georgia. Lightning lit up my bedroom and was followed by another loud clash of thunder.

Oh no my computer! If lightning hits I could lose my stories and special pictures! I jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to my office. I quickly unplugged my computer. I had just found Nancy Paschal and I did not want to lose her now.

What a grand and accomplished lady she must have been!

Author’s Notes:

Dr. John and Nancy Paschal-Bentley’s children: Mary A. 1822-1891, William P. 1824-1905, John Balaam 1826-1890, Dr. Benjamin 1828-1892, Jerry W. 1830-1878, Jabus “Marchall” 1832-1855, Asa Judson 1834-1918, Sallie E. 1836-1901, Martha J. 1839-1898, Charlie M. 1842-1862, Dennis Brantley 1844-1912, H. N. 1847-1877, and Susan V. Bentley 1849-1911.

More about the children: Mary married Peter Coleman Dill 1841, William married Sallie Hogan 1845, John Balaam married Mary Reid 1859, Dr. Benjamin married Mary Thomas “Tommie” Davenport 1856, Jerry married Harriet Colman 1852, Jabus Marchall did not marry, Asa Judson married Virginia Paschal 1859, Sallie married Mikiel Smalley 1858, Charlie did not marry, Dennis Brantley married Grace Amelia Ramsey 1869, H. N. married Martha Murphey 1869, and Susan Bentley married Robert Graves 1869.

Dennis Brantley Bentley was eighteen years old when his brother, Charlie, was killed at Malvern Hill.  Dennis named his first born, Charlie. Dennis had a daughter whom he named after his mother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal. Her name was Nancy Elizabeth Bentley who married Horace “Lawton” Story who had a son, Tom Story – my father.

Dr. John Bentley and Nancy Paschal-Bentley are buried in the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville, Georgia, along with other family members including their son, Charlie.

I have heard of Happy Valley all my childhood from my grandfather, Horace Lawton “Papa Story.” As a child, Papa Story grew up “just down the road a piece” from Happy Valley. He spent many days at Happy Valley playing with the descendants of Revolutionary War soldier, Basil O’Neal. A smile always took over my grandfather’s face when speaking of Happy Valley. This is the story of how Happy Valley was made; a place of happiness by design.

Let’s begin here.

On October 19, 1758, Peter Lamar O’Neal II became the proud father of Basil O’Neal. The place was Prince George’s County, Maryland. Peter and his wife were English immigrants. Basil did not disappoint his father, for he grew into an intelligent and physically strong man who would live to the age of 91, a testimony of this man’s vigor living in a world of uncertainty and war.

When Basil was seventeen, he and his family left Maryland for Virginia. He was on the way to the adventure of a life time.

While in Virginia, he met a pretty girl, Mary Ellen “Milly” Briscoe. She too had English roots; her great grandfather was English Lord Bromfield. Her father was a medical doctor, Dr. Truman Briscoe.

Though Milly’s life was rather cushy compared to Basil, this young lady had an adventurous side. And perhaps that is why they fell in love with each other. She was a part of Colonial society with an itching for adventure, while he was part of the militia, who fought Indians and the British.

They planned to marry on January 17, 1783. The Revolutionary War was winding down and this seemed like a good time to start their lives together.

They married and joined a wagon train. According to the advertising bulletin, one hundred acres of land could be purchased for five dollars. They had each other and purchased almost four hundred acres.

The wagon train was headed across the Appalachians for a colony called Georgia. Georgia was a backwoods home of the black bear, mountain lions and the indigenous people called the Cherokees and Creeks. Georgia was also deep in fertile soil, tall trees, and fast moving water. Some said a man could step into pine straw beds up to his waist. Rumors of tall trees farther than the eye could see were a flurry. Even at high noon if you were deep in a Georgian forest, you could not see the sun. This was the place Basil’s feet wanted to go.

Many on the wagon train carried china, silver and precious antiques such as grandfather clocks and sideboards with them to Georgia. They all took hundreds of pounds of flour and other staples to get by on the trail. Livestock was allowed to follow and the men hunted in the forest along the way.

The wagon train moved at a speed of no more than two miles an hour. They were lucky to move ten miles a day. Basil thought it slow going, but there was safety in numbers. The wagon train was grateful to have Basil, a trained militia with a reputation as an expert marksman.

Basil and Milly rode pack horses along side of the wagon train.  They packed fruit tree seedlings, predominantly apple and peach trees, carefully wrapped by Milly’s own hands. They took precious little besides, pots, plow parts, axes and shovels. Milly worked constantly to keep the seedlings watered and protected from the cold winter.

This was an uneasy time for such a treacherous adventure. Basil was committed to the war.  Basil along with Dr. Truman Briscoe and Dr. John Briscoe signed an oath of allegiance to the independence of the thirteen colonies in Henry County, Virginia on September 20, 1777. It was time for the war to be over so the colonists could get on with their lives. But Basil wondered, would it really ever end?

Basil had served as a private in the Virginia Militia under Captain Daniel Chadwell and Major John Graves; two terms in Virginia and one in Georgia. Surely, the war was ending now. Now was the time for Milly. Now was the time for the journey to Georgia where the indigenous people were more “peaceable.”

The wagon train was thankful to have Basil. The way Basil handled a gun was impressive; he carried two guns; one a six foot long musket that earned the name, Buckaneer. Buckaneer because of how many deer fell under its sites. Basil never shot for sport, only food and running the British back to England. And now he braved new territory with Milly and Buckaneer.

And though this newlywed couple knew that hard times and perhaps more of the war lay ahead, they expected to be successful. They expected to be happy. They hoped for land with hickory trees, for hickory trees were a sure indication of good soil. Basil called their new Georgia home, Happy Valley, while still on the Appalachian Trail. And to their delight, hickory trees grew throughout their lot.

Basil and Milly started their new life without money or slaves. Basil himself cut and hewed logs. He and Milly built a log cabin near a cedar grove. They cultivated land and planted each sapling with care.

Visitors of the O’Neals boasted of the gentile hospitality received at Happy Valley; squirrels for breakfast, apple and peach brandy, bread and honey on the sideboard. Happy Valley thrived.

Great celebration came to Happy Valley in 1787. A neighbor who lived on the land adjacent Happy Valley returned home, and informed Basil and Milly that he had signed the Constitution of the United States of America. His name was William Few.

Basil and Milly had six children; their daughter Eleanor “Nellie” would become (Horace Lawton Story) “Papa Story’s” great grandmother.

In 1828 Milly died and was buried near the cedar grove close to the home they built together when they first came to Happy Valley.

A year after the death of Milly, Basil married Sarah Hull Green. He was seventy years of age and she was thirty. Sarah was the daughter of Captain McKeen Green who served under the command of General Nathaneal Green, whom he was related. Basil and Sarah had six children.

Basil and his two wives are buried at Happy Valley. When signing documents to execute Basil O’Neal’s last will and testament, the O’Neal children signed their name Neal as they were always called. This act legally changed their name to Neal, rather than O’Neal. Dropping the “O” in O’Neal was an act of patriotism.

Much of the original home built by Basil and Milly burned in a fire. The home was located near what is now known as the Sharon Meeting House on Washington Road, Columbia County, Georgia.

A historical marker was placed at the entry of the homesite by the Georgia Historical Association.

Author’ Notes:

Basil is pronounced with a short “a,” as in “as.”

Basil O’Neal’s mother’s name is unknown; perhaps Mary.

Basil O’Neal’s son Basil Llewellyn O’Neal wrote, “A Son of the Revolution.”

The Revolutionary War effort in Georgia ended in Wilkes County, Georgia, when the British realized they could not fight well inland. Wilkes County’s located behind the land called Happy Valley.

In time, William Few returned to New York at the urging of his wife, but still owned his home next to Happy Valley for quite some time. His son and grandson lived there for many years. William Few is number 25 in the famous painting of The Signers of The Constituion of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy.

Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story and Horace Lawton Story’s first child, Grace Truman Story-Graves, was named after Dr. Truman Briscoe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Lincolnton, Georgia, several years before the Great Depression, lived a man, Horace Lawton Story, Sr., and his wife, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story. Before it was all said and done, they had nine children. They lived in a farm house built by Lawton’s father, Rad Story.

Life was hard on the farm especially for Lawton, mainly because he suffered from asthma. He also struggled with the rock ridden land and fought bow weevils. But on he went with his farming and caring for his family; a family he adored.

Nancy did her part. She could sing like and angel and cared for her prize Rhode Island Red chickens. She was the only one who could approach the “wild thangs” without getting flogged. She was happiest when pampering her chicks; the Reds and her baby chicks: Grace, Beau, Sarah, Robert, Miriam, Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

The children stayed busy with school, working the farm and throwing a basketball at a hoop made from a bushel basket. They all worked together and played together. The Storys were all for one, and one for all.

“Do you see this stick?” Lawton Story would ask his children. When he had their attention, he would then snap the stick in two.  “See what happens when you stand alone?” Then he would hold a stick, one for each member of his family, and try to break the bunch in two, as he did with the single stick. Even his strong hands could not break the bunch. “When we stand together as one, nothing can break us. We stand separate in the world, we can be broken. Stand together children, be there one for the other.”

As it would happen, tragedy befell this lovely family when one of the daughters became ill. Miriam was the fifth child; a child who was born with a “blue veil” over her face. Miriam was sickly much of her childhood and smaller than her siblings. She was very young when she came down with “the fever.” A burial dress was purchased for her and stored away in the wardrobe. The dress was a large version of a christening gown; dark creamy in color. Nancy Story prayed that little dress would never be worn by her daughter.

All care was given to Miriam, but to no avail. Then the day came when she refused food and became lifeless. It was impossible to keep the child awake.

Nancy had spent days working frantically with Miriam. She had racked her brain to remember all the ways of healing practiced by her grandfather, Dr. John Bentley. Nothing was working.

The doctor was sent for yet again.

“I don’t give her any hope, Nancy. There’s nothing to do that has not been done. She’s in the hands of the Lord now,” the doctor said as he looked out the window, so not to look Nancy and Lawton in the face. “Let her rest.” The doctor struggled to find the words, “Make preparations – now.”

The stunned family could not come to terms with the thought of losing little Miriam. How could they survive as a family, without her silly little giggle and bright eyes? The family encircled Miriam’s bed and they all prayed and spoke their minds – hoping the good Lord and Miriam could hear them.

Nancy was the first to make a move away from her daughter. She went to the kitchen and poured dried black-eyed peas into a pot of cold water. And then she did something never done before. When putting away the sack of dried peas, she stopped and held the sack close to her heart. She walked back over to the pot of peas soaking in water.

Nancy put her hand back into the sack and pulled out three more handfuls of dried peas and with each one she said, “One for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit. Now,” she said calling out with authority, “that will do. Lawton, tomorrow we will all leave this house and catch up on the chores.”

Lawton was stunned and the children dismayed. What was Mother thinking? Mother was speaking out of the realm of reality. The children reminded her of the stick story and how they always stood together. They would not leave their sister.

Nancy Story stood firm, “Everything is backed up. We have stock to feed, wood to chop and corn to pull, and,” she hesitated, but being a strong and sensible woman, she continued, “and Lawton, you have a job to do in the barn.”

Lawton fought back tears and said, “Come sunlight, I’ll get started on the coffin.”

The black-eyed peas cooked throughout the night and before daylight, Nancy cooked cornbread. The children questioned why they were eating black-eyed peas and cornbread for breakfast.

“Where’s the ham and eggs, Mother?”

miriamwithleastones

Older Miriam with the “Least Ones”

“The eggs are in the hen house and ham is in the smoke house, waiting for us to tend to it,” answered Nancy Story to her children. “Today we will eat peas and cornbread, catch up on the chores. Grace, you and Sarah, go to the smoke house on the way in and cut some ham for dinner.”

The children ate their unusual breakfast of peas and cornbread while they took their assignment from Mother; that is all but the Least Ones: Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

“You Least Ones come with me,” Lawton said to his babies. He looked at Nancy and said, “They can hand nails to me, and I can keep a close eye on them in the barn.”

So, off they went after each one kissed Miriam goodbye. They would work hard today. They would keep Miriam on their minds and hearts. They would pray in the field or in the barn; no matter where their assignment took them.

Miriam was left alone in the house. She was not able to speak, but had heard the words of the doctor. She had heard the prayers pleading for her life. And come sunlight, she heard her father hammering nails into her coffin. She was sick, she was weak, but with every pound of the hammer, something inside her stirred. It was the will to live.

And she knew what she had to do.

Miriam had to get to those black-eyed peas on the kitchen table. Somehow, someway, Miriam slid out of bed and crawled to the kitchen table. She struggled to the chair. She fell time and time again. Somewhere along the way, she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she tried to climb onto the chair again. And finally she made it. She mustered up energy to get onto the table. Miriam crawled to the big bowl of black-eyed peas where put her little mouth on the rim. She sipped black-eyed pea juice.

When her family returned to the house midday, they found little Miriam unconscious on the kitchen table. They were shocked and speechless.

Robert, the fourth child and detective of the family, pointed to Miriam’s mouth. “What is that on her face?” Robert got closer and smelled Miriam’s mouth. “That’s black-eyed pea juice! She’s been eatin’ black-eyed peas!”

With that Lawton found his voice, “Beau!”

The eldest son knew exactly what that meant. Beau scooped up little Miriam into his arms and put her back into bed. The rest of the family circled her bed and quietly sobbed and gave thanks. Nancy stayed in the kitchen where she pulled out another big pot and “put on” more dried black-eyed peas to soak, all the while thanking the  good Lord.

From that moment on, someone stayed with Miriam during the day and fed her black-eyed pea juice, one drop at a time. Miriam recovered and grew into a lovely young woman. She married and became the mother of four children: Frances, Rachel, Curtis and David. And thank the good Lord Miriam never wore that little dress hanging in her mother’s wardrobe, though she kept it as a keepsake and on occasion pulled out the dress to show it to her children and grandchildren. Miriam believed the sickness made her smaller than her brothers and sisters, but she was Story enough to beat the death angel on that day in Lincolnton, so long ago.

My father, Tom Story, was among the “Least Ones” who went to the barn that early morning and handed nails to his father to make Miriam’s coffin. And though he was only a tot, he carried this story in his heart his entire life.

I remember Daddy and his family, telling the black-eyed pea story from my early childhood, as did all Story cousins. Miriam held a special place in the hearts of her brothers and sisters, as she was the bridge who connected the older ones to the “Least Ones.” Whenever there was a disagreement amongst brothers and sisters, it was Miriam who reminded the family of the stick story. She had a way of pulling peace out of thin air. Another “Least One,” Gene, would later say of Miriam, “We all loved each other and we all love our children, but it seemed like Miriam just loves a little bit more.”

And even today, whenever a stubborn sickness enters my home, I give the Holy Trinity its due, give thanks for my Grandmother Nancy, and “put on” the black-eyed peas.

Recently my friend, Sheila Kirkman-Barron, told another black-eyed pea story. Years back, her children’s pediatrician, Dr. Leila Alice Denmark, advised Sheila to throw out the cereal and eggs and feed her children black-eyed peas for breakfast. When Sheila did so, her children became free of allergies.

Dr. Denmark ate black-eyed peas for breakfast. She lived to be fifty-three days shy of one-hundred-fourteen years of age. Well known Georgia pediatrician and author, Dr. Denmark died December 10, 2011. But before her departure, she prescribed black-eyed peas to many Georgians.

Black-Eyed Peas Recipe

Sort 1 lb. dried peas (look ’em is what I’ve always heard) and remove anything that is not a pea – also throw away ugly peas

To cook peas quicker, soak dried peas in cold water – an hour or so

Rinse peas in cold water

Put peas in large pot and cover with about 6 cups of  hot water

Add salt and pepper to taste along with seasoning (I use chicken bouillon, some use fat meat)

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until tender – about 45 minutes.

Delicious with hot cornbread.

Aurelius, I want you to talk to that grandson of yours!” exclaimed Selina Gunby.

“Which one?” mused Aurelius Gunby as though he didn’t know.

“That little Horace.”

Yes, that little Horace needed speaking to.

Cousins Horace Lawton Story and Eugene Gunby were best buddies. Eugene was a few years older than Horace, but because of Horace’s size and Eugene’s poor health, they seemed to be about the same age.

Eugene Gunby owned a cart pulled by a trained goat. He rode it everywhere he went and often invited Horace to ride with him. Every morning Horace hurried to finish breakfast and waited outside looking for the goat’s horns to peep up over the horizon. It was time to go to school. Horace was in the first grade.

The boys spent many happy-go-lucky days with Mr. Goat. Eugene had trained Mr. Goat to come, back up and standstill; Mr. Goat did all but attach himself to the harness and cart.  Mr. Goat and the two boys took leave and ventured out to the meadows and orchards. They made their rounds across the creeks and tormented the bee hives.

The Arimathea Methodist was located between Horace’s farm and Grandpa Aurelius’ farm, which gave the boys lots of room for adventure. Eugene lived on a farm “on down the road,” Uncle Edwin Gunby had a general store nearby, and Liberty Hill School was a hop skip and jump away. They made their rounds every chance they got, always stopping by Uncle Ed’s store for licorice and peppermint sticks.

While riding the countryside, the boys relived, with much exaggeration, the stories of great-great grandfather, Basil O’Neal.  Grandpa Basil  was known as the “world’s best marksman.” According to the boys, he won the Revolutionary War single handed and run “them British” back to where they come from.

But not all was fun, games and war stories. Eugene and Horace began to argue.

The Gunbys were a close knit family and strived to be there for one another. The boys were at odds and the whole family felt it. Grandmother Selina would not tolerate this situation any longer. It was time for Grandpa to speak to young Horace.

“Horace, let’s walk out to the orchard and check on the apples and peaches. Their blooms fell off a few weeks back. Let’s see if we are making fruit yet.”
“Sure Grandpa.”

As they walked about and checked the progress of the orchard, the old man decided to sit down. “Horace, come sit with me.”

“The apples will be in soon, won’t they Grandpa?”

“Oh yes, give it five or six more weeks, peaches a little later. That’ll be something you and Eugene can do with that goat and cart – gather apples.”

“Well, I don’t think that will happen Grandpa. I’m not playing with Eugene anymore. He’s selfish and I don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

“I see and why is that? I thought you two were best friends.”

“He won’t ever let me take the reins and lead Mr. Goat. I want to be in charge of where we go in the cart, just one time. And, I’m the one who gets us outta the creek when we get stuck!”

“He never lets you drive? Why not?”

“’Cause he’s selfish and always wants to tell me what to do, just ‘cause he’s older than me. I won’t tolerate it,” said young Horace as he sat up taller to appear bigger than his six years.

“But you enjoy riding in the cart and that beats walking back and forth to school. Think about that before school starts back. That’s a lot of walking,” said Aurelius, “but what really bothers me is the arguing you two are doing. I want you to think about this before you have more harsh words: A word once sent abroad…”

“…cannot be called back. I know, Grandpa, Horatio said that. But he didn’t have a cousin like Eugene!”

“Now let’s think about this for a moment. After you have ridden in the goat cart all you want, what do you do?” Before Horace could answer, Aurelius answered for him, “You jump out and go anywhere you want to go. I’ve seen you! You and those long legs can out run any of your cousins. You should be proud of that.”

“I am! And I can climb a tree quicker than all of ‘em too!”

Aurelius laughed and enjoyed his time with Horace. They decided to walk on and check on the blackberries. Sure enough, they were coming in too. Blackberry cobbler was going to be just as good as apple pie.

“Horace look at the blackberry blossoms! Thousands of them; looks like lots of pies to me!”

“Maybe millions Grandpa!”

Aurelius took Horace by the hand and said, “Steady me a bit, Horace, so I can walk through this rough terrain.”

“Sure Grandpa, lean on me.”

“You are a thoughtful young man Horace. Tell me, what do you do for Eugene when you two get out of the cart?”

“Well, you know…”

“I want to hear it from you Horace.”

Horace swallowed hard and whispered the words, “I hand him his crutches.”

“Why do you do that Horace?”

“Grandpa, you know.”

“Please, answer my question, ‘son.”

“I hand him his crutches, because he can’t walk.”

“Why can’t Eugene walk?”

The small boy took a deep breath and exhaled. “Because he had polio and his legs won’t work anymore.”

“And you are there to hand him his crutches. You two make a good team. I want you to think about that.”

“Grandpa, I don’t want to take his goat and cart away, I just want to guide it one time. I even asked to hold one rein while he holds the other, but no! He says – not yet,”  Horace explained as he fought back tears.

Were they tears of remorse or tears for his cousin’s condition? Aurelius thought maybe some of both.

“Perhaps Eugene wants to be able to do something that others can’t do. You know how you like being the fastest runner and best tree climber? Perhaps Eugene wants to have one thing he can do – that no one else can do.”

The two walked on together all the while, Aurelius holding on to Horace’s hand or shoulder. They studied the cloud formation and picked out pictures made by the clouds. As they headed back to the house Aurelius spoke of Eugene again.

“Now you can continue to ask Eugene if you can take the reins, but it is his decision to keep them or share them.”

“I know Grandpa. I will ask him again, but if he says ‘not yet,’ then I will not be mad at him. I won’t be mad at Eugene anymore.”

And Pierce Eugene Gunby never let go of the reins.

After polio left him a cripple, he moped around and did nothing for himself. His mother took matters into her own hands.

“Eugene, you can sit there and do nothing all day long,” She pointed to a patch of land where the family was cultivating a vegetable garden, “or you can get out there and help. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

“How Mother, how can I?”

“The good Lord gave you a brain, figure it out.”

Eugene trained a goat and then a horse. He whistled for the horse and it walked to him near the front porch. He was able to tie a low hanging pillow case around the horses’ neck, and used his upper body strength to climb up on the horse. He laid on his belly and hung over the side of the horse. They went to the garden and Eugene picked vegetables hanging upside down. He filled his pillow case. He did his share.

From that summer on, Eugene Gunby was in charge of his future. The horse and Mr. Goat became Eugene’s legs. There was nothing Eugene could not do on a horse. And what he could not do physically, he made up for it academically.

When ready for college, he applied at Berry, a college in North Georgia. The founder, Martha Berry explained that Berry College was a working college and she had doubts Eugene could handle it. She turned down his request.

Eugene did not give up. He made a deal with Martha Berry. Let him on campus and give him two weeks. If he could not keep up, he would leave. She gave him that chance, and that was all he needed. He excelled at Berry and graduated.

Martha Berry later stated in a newspaper article that Eugene Gunby was a perfect example of Berry’s motto: Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

Eugene received a gift from (Coca Cola) Robert Woodruff; an Arabian stud named Katun.  Katun came from the Arabian line of Gazara and Nasr. Gazara and Nasr were the first Arabians known to grace the state of Georgia.

In 1974 one-hundred-eighty-five acres of pastures with barns and stables were dedicated to Eugene calling it the Gunby Equine Center, and on a gate within the center, the Eugene Gunby Center. This is how Berry College recognized Eugene Gunby’s concern for youth, for the handicapped, and for his deep love of horses.

Eugene became a Fulton County Circuit Court Judge, at first, riding a horse from courthouse to courthouse. Once Eugene Gunby took the reins, he never let up; not for Horace Story, not for Martha Berry, not for anyone. Eugene became actively involved in church work and served on the administrative board at Peachtree Road Methodist. He received the highest Masonry award of thirty-three degrees for his outstanding service of the Scottish Rite Masons. He served as president on the Atlanta Council of Boy Scouts of America and achieved the Silver Beaver Award. He served on the advisory board of Scottish Rite’s Hospital of Georgia and was a member of the YMCA executive committee.

Cousins Eugene and Horace remained best friends for life. It was the same every time they met. Before they departed, Horace asked, “Eugene, are you ready to let go of the reins yet?”

Eugene’s answer was always the same, “Not yet, Horace, not yet.”

 

 

 

A seven year old boy stood in silence as he looked on the still remains of his grandfather lying in a coffin. Horace Lawton Story was a lanky lad with light sky blue eyes. He wore his blondish hair cut close to the scalp, unlike most young lads in 1893, because his grandfather favored it.

“When a soldier goes into battle, he shaves his head; that way his hair will not tangle and get caught up in something, and slow him down. Do away with pride Horace and keep your hair cut close to the head so that you will be ready for anything at any time,” spoke William Aurelius Gunby to his grandson in months past. “Don’t be an Absalom!”

Young Horace Story knew all about King David’s Absalom, Grandpa Gunby had seen to that, and much more. The man was a staunch Methodist who lived his belief daily.

Young Horace stood there before his beloved grandfather with pride as he took away his cap as though showing Grandpa Gunby his obedience. Horace fought back tears and tried to be a brave soldier, but failed as hot tears streamed down his face.

Being a brave soldier was important to the Gunby family, especially since his great-great grandfather, Basil O’Neal, was a Revolutionary War soldier. But today was a time sorrow could not be hidden. Horace would be a “brave little soldier” on another day.

William Aurelius Gunby was delighted when his daughter, Sallie Elizabeth Gunby-Story, gave birth to this grandson. Sallie had lost a son who was still born, but this baby boy was a born fighter and survived. And as a proud grandfather, he insisted the baby boy be named after the famous Roman poet, Quintus Horatio Flaccus, because there was more to life than being a fighter. Aurelius wanted to teach his new grandson strength through humility.

Yes Grandpa Gunby knew the importance of being a strong and accomplished soldier, though he was a quiet and peaceful man. He was a Georgia planter by trade. He believed in power through the All Mighty, hard work, deep thought and kindness. He was born January 29, 1828, in East Georgia and married his sweetheart, Selina Anne Smalley.

Selina was born October 12, 1832, and was the daughter of Michael and Eleanor “Nellie” Neal Smalley. Nellie was the daughter of Revolutionary war soldier, Basil O’Neal. After the colonies earned their independence from England, the O’Neals dropped the “O” in O’Neal and became Neal in an act of patriotism.

Young Horace was proud of his “fighting for freedom” family. It came natural as he was “raised on it.”

But today, as Horace Story stood before his fallen grandfather, he recalled the many days that he walked with Grandpa Gunby outside – out under the clouds.

“Come here Horace, come walk with me,” Grandpa Gunby would say as he cut Horace from the herd, “Just you and me.”

This always delighted the young lad although he had to take three strides to his grandfather’s one in order to keep up.

After walking for a while, Grandpa Gunby would stop dead in his tracks, look up while shielding his eyes with his hand, “Beautiful cloud formation today; maybe rain tonight. Look at ‘em move.”

Horace would mimic his grandfather and shield his eyes and study the clouds. After a while the grandfather would speak to his grandson, and this is what Horace lived for. He hung on every word.

“What do you see Horace?”

“I see a kite, but it’s dissolving fast. The wind is blowing.”

“A picture is a poem without words, that’s what Horatio the Roman poet said. Wise man; Horace what do you know of Horatio?”

“I know I’m named after him,” they walked on a bit, then Horace looked up to his grandfather and asked, “Grandpa, how did Horatio get so smart? Was he born smart? Or did he have to study hard?” Horace took a deep breath and let it all out. “Grandpa I know you want me to memorize the whole Apostles’ Creed, but it’s too long.”

“Stay with it and you will get it all. But, for now, let me hear what you know.”

Horace thought for a moment then said, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.”

“Excellent! That will do for now.”

“Grandpa, how did Horatio become so wise,” Horace reminded his grandfather of his question.

“It was life’s circumstances that made Horatio wise. He was born to a wealthy family. He went to the best schools and fought alongside Marc Anthony in the Battle of Philippi.”

“Horatio was a great soldier too? Like Grandpa Basil?” young Horace was amazed and curious. “Why didn’t you tell me about that before? You’ve just told me about his wise sayings.”

“Well, I suppose I never mentioned it, because Horatio did the unthinkable; you might say – the unspeakable.”

“What? What did he do?”

“Well, my boy, even though Octavia and Marc Anthony won that battle, it had little to do with Horatio.” Grandpa Gunby chuckled and chose his words carefully, “Well, how can I put this? No other way but to say, Horatio got scared, threw down his shield and weapon, and ran like a scared dog.”

“No way Grandpa, you wouldn’t name me after a coward. I hope Eugene don’t hear about this.”

Aurelius laughed, “Eugene is your cousin and best friend! But you are right, Horace, I would not name you after a coward, nor a rich man fighting for the Roman army. There was more to Horatio than that.”

“Like what?”

“Horatio accepted his disgrace. He knew when he was wrong. He lost his family’s wealth. He lived in poverty, sometimes going hungry. That’s when Horatio embraced hard work. As he worked sun up to sun down, he thought about how it was to be wealthy, a soldier, a poor man. That is when he wrote down his thoughts.”

“Like – Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work,” Horace said proudly.

“Yes, you have learned well for such a small lad, very well said,” Aurelius Gunby continued speaking as they walked and admired the cloud formation, “Life is ever changing just like those clouds. The secret to happiness is to embrace the change, learn from the past, and move on. That is true wisdom and Horatio learned that and shared it with you and me.” Grandpa stopped suddenly and pointed to the sky. “Now, Horace, tell me what you see.”

“I see an elephant to the right and a bear to the left.”

“Yes, I see the bear, but not the elephant,” Grandpa Gunby studied harder. “And see now the bear is becoming a flower. Do you see that?”

“Yes sir, I do see it. It’s beautiful.”

The grandfather took a step forward and the grandson followed suit. They walked a bit further and the grandfather spoke again, “You know Horace, one day you will leave this place and find your own way into the world. Lord only knows what is in store for you; some good —– some bad I suppose.” Aurelius watched the clouds swirl about. “The sky over you will change. Yes, those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.”

Young Horace nodded his head “yes,” because he understood his grandfather all too well. He had heard this quote for as long as he could remember. Every time someone in the family took leave, Aurelius Gunby sent his loved one on his or her way with a reminder that their soul would not change just because they were away from home.

The two walked on together, and then Aurelius got down to the real reason for the walk. And it would not be the last time this subject came up.

“Now Horace, what’s this I hear about you and your cousin squabbling?”

“Who Grandpa?”

“Who? Who have you been arguing with? Over Mr. Goat?”

“Oh, that. Well, I want to lead Mr. Goat some times. Eugene always has to lead! It’s not fair!”

“Eugene trained Mr. Goat and he helped his father and uncles build the cart.  It’s good of him to ask you to ride with him. Doesn’t that beat walking back and forth to school?”

“But he could let me take the reins some of the time; don’t ya think?”

They walked on. Finally the old man said, “A word once sent abroad, flies irrevocably. Horace, my boy, once a bitter word comes out of your mouth, it cannot be pulled back. It is out there forever. Please remember that when speaking to someone. And I dare say, it is your decision how you treat Eugene.”

They walked on for a few more minutes still noticing the clouds and pointing out pictures in the sky, saying little.

The memories of the walks and talks overwhelmed seven year old Horace as he stood before his still and silent grandfather in the Gunby parlor. This was a change that he had to embrace, just as Horatio accepted his demise.

The voice of his grandmother, Selina, interrupted his thoughts for a moment. She was speaking to a black man who lived on the Gunby farm for as long as Horace could remember. She sent for him and he had come into the parlor.

“I want to thank you for caring for Mr. Gunby,” said Selina Gunby.

“No ‘mam, no need, it was my pleasure.”

Selina smiled graciously at the man, “I knew you would want to say goodbye to him.” Selina walked toward the man and extended her hand. He accepted her hand as tears rolled down his face.

“Years ago, Mr. Gunby freed his slaves, before the war I might add; before it was Mr. Lincoln’s law,” stated Selina.

“Yes ‘mam he did. He told me I was free – like the rest of ‘em, and I said, Mr. Gunby if I’m free to stay here and care for you then that’s what I’m a gonna do. And ‘mam, that’s what I did.”

“And no one could have done better, and now you are free to go as you were then.”

“No ‘mam, if you don’t mind, I’ll stick around. Someone needs to look after Mr. Gunby’s grave. I don’t want no roots growing in or around his grave. I want to keep it cleaned off. I’ll see to it every day.”

“Very well,” Selina replied, “you are welcome to stay for as long as you wish. The family is grateful to you. Will you help us carry Mr. Gunby to the wagon?”

The man did not answer, but went straight away to the coffin where he stood for a moment and wept.

Young Horace stepped back as the coffin was closed and carried out of the house.

As Horace followed the coffin, he knew he followed the remains of an honorable man; a man Horace was proud to call “Grandpa.”

As the family walked out of the house and gathered about the wagon, Charles Oren Gunby raised his hand to hold up the horses. He looked up to the April sky and observed the clouds racing about, and said, “Those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.” He wiped his eyes and asked, “Does anyone else have something to say about Father before we leave the farm?”

The black man raised his head and said, “Pale Death will beat at the po’ man’s do’ and the rich man’s do’ – all the same – that’s what Mr. Gunby said.”

“Yes indeed. Is there anyone else?” asked seventeen year old Charles Gunby.

Young Eugene Gunby said, “Yes, Uncle Charlie. I want to say: Happy is a man who fears dishonor worse than death, and is not afraid to die.”

William Aurelius Gunby was right  when he said Horace would leave this place, have good times and bad times. Horace married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Bentley; they had nine children and twenty-six grandchildren. At the tender age of seventeen, Horace had to accept the fact that his father had been murdered. At seventeen, he buried his beloved Grandmother Selina the same year he buried his father. As a farmer, Horace toiled over rocky soil and fought boll weevils. He put food on the table and clothes on his family during the Great Depression.  Horace watched a beloved son slowly and painfully become a cripple. He buried his wife and son. He fought asthma all the live long day.

And it was Uncle Charlie, who encouraged Horace to leave Lincolnton and come to the Atlanta area. Charlie Oren Gunby became Professor Gunby and taught school in Decatur, Georgia. He also owned a small farm on the edge of Tucker. Horace packed up his whole family and moved to that little farm.

I am proud to say that Horace Lawton Story (Sr.) was my grandfather. Anyone who knew him knew that no matter where he found himself, under good or bad circumstances, Horace Lawton Story was a man with an unchanged soul.

And though Horace had less than eight years with William Aurelius Gunby, he closely followed his grandfather’s footsteps all the days of his life.

Author’s Notes:

The black man cared for Mr. Gunby’s grave until the day he died.

The William Aurelius Gunby family lived in a big two story white house near Arimathea Methodist.

William Aurelius Gunby was born in 1828 and died April 20, 1893. He was a steward in the Methodist church for thirty years. He is buried at Dunn’s Chapel.

Also buried at Dunn’s Chapel are William Aurelius Gunby’s parents, William Gunby 1798 – 1858 and Hannah Digby-Gunby 1786 – 1831.

Dunn’s Chapel’s 650 Ridge Road Appling, Georgia. Appling is near Lincolnton, Georgia. Some call the area Leah, Georgia.

Horatio was a poet who was born 65 BC. The English translation of Horatio is Horace.

Quotes from Quintus Horatio Flaccus that were used in this story:

A picture is a poem without words.

A word once sent abroad, flies irrevocably.

Those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.

Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man’s cottage and the palaces of kings.

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

All my life I have heard stories of a good and just woman. She was born in Warren County, Georgia in 1825. Yes that was a long time ago, but the mark she made on the Story family is indelible. Her life was an example of self sacrifice and taking the higher road in all that she did. Her reputation survived her earthly years by nearly one hundred and ninety years. She was called, “Aunt Wilanty.”

I learned of Aunt Wilanty as a small child. When breaking a candy bar to share, my father’s voice floated in from the background,“What would Aunt Wilanty do?” Of course, remembering the stories of Aunt Wilanty, I reluctantly offered the larger piece to my sister.  Aunt Wilanty was the yardstick by which our father, Tom Story, measured his daughters’ generosity.

Here is what I know about this woman who was the sister of my great-great grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story.

April 2, 1854, this was the day Wilanty Story dreamed of. She sat proudly in her carriage as the driver trotted on to the James Montgomery estate in Warren County, Georgia. Every hair on her head was in place and she looked as “fine” as any bride on this important day, the wedding day. Not her wedding day, but her baby brother, Henry Allen’s.

Henry Allen, was a tall good looking young man who was about to marry his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Ann Montgomery. Their engagement was announced in the Christian Index a year ago, and since then, every care had been made for the young couple to have their perfect day when Georgia was new with bloom.

“It’s always someone else’s day,” Wilanty must have thought so many times. But after today, it would be her time. As she rode past the peach trees and forsythia in bloom, she recalled the day her father spoke to her about staying the course, and most of all, make it to the finish line. Wilanty smiled as she spoke the words of her father aloud, “A fin (aw fin), Papa, a fin!”

“A fin,” Wilanty’s father, Samuel Gaines Story, a man born in 1776, spoke these words often. He was a hardworking Georgia planter who had little time for small talk. He took a short cut when possible with these two words, “A fin.”

With those two words spoken, his children got a move on and worked a little harder and faster. They finished whatever was expected of them.

When Wilanty was a small child, she questioned her father, “A fin? What does it mean? Why do you say that, Papa?”

“A fin means ‘To the end!’ It’s the motto of ye family crest – back in Scotland. We Storys are a sept of the Oglivy Clan ye know. There on our Coat of Arms stands a lass with light hair with her hands on her hips – looking accomplished and strong,” he smiled at his youngest daughter. “She stands on the words ‘A FIN.’ And that is what she stands for – she stays her course To the End.”

Samuel Story sat back in his chair and was quiet for a moment as he recalled his grandfather’s stories of Scotland. “Very few Scots, have a fair lass on their crest. Maybe we’re the only ones in all of Scotland. She was a good and just lassie, who had the courage to do battle for Robert the Bruce and Joan of Arc. And my little Wilanty, the good and just lass on the crest wears a blue dress, blue as the sky over Scotland. Might’en be the same blue as the color of ye eyes.”

Yes Wilanty Story learned her father’s lesson well. She had stayed the course; as of this April day in 1854, she finished the course. After today, she would be free to live her own life.

Just a few years after the talk with her father about Scotland and the family crest, Samuel Story died leaving a family of nineteen children and a baby on the way.

Wilanty, the youngest girl, stepped forward and made the commitment to care for her mother, Stacey, through the pregnancy. At age fourteen, Wilanty, was all grown up. She also helped her mother by caring for her seven year old little brother, Sanders Walker Story, and her newborn baby brother, Henry Allen Story. Wilanty took every step Henry Allen took and kept a watchful eye on him.

“A fin,” became her motto as she taught her baby brother the important things of life, like Scotland; the things Papa would have taught his young son had he had the chance.

And today, her job was finished. Henry Allen Story would take a wife and his new life would begin as her new independent life would also begin. She smoothed out her blue dress as she smiled thinking to herself, “Yes Papa, my dress is as blue as the sky over Scotland.”

A new sense of joy filled her soul as the carriage approached the Montgomery home. All the while thinking of the day she would take a husband, one day she would own her own home, care for her own gardens and have her own babies. And it all started after today.

As the carriage stopped in front of the Montgomery home, out stepped the groom, her brother, Henry Allen. He stood tall and straight to greet Wilanty. How proud she was of her baby brother, but she saw a look on his face that worried her, “What is it? Is everything okay?”

“Wilanty, could you do me a favor?”

“Of course, what in the world, Henry?”

“Rachel is missing her mother,” explained Henry Allen, “she even thinks the death of Mary could be a bad omen.”

“Oh of course she is missing her mother. And truly, there is no such thing as a bad omen. But how dreadful to lose your mother just a month before your wedding day. Tell me what can I do?”

“Just go upstairs to her room and knock on the door. Ask her if you can help her dress or fix her hair. Her sisters are there but, I think she would be comforted if someone like her mother was with her,” Henry Allen explained.

“Mother should go…”

“Mother shouldn’t try to make it up the stairs. Iot’s you Wilanty that will take Rachel’s grief away. It was just this morning that they took down the black mourning drape and replaced it with white flowers.”

“Oh how dreadful,” said Wilanty, as she turned to admire the fresh baby’s breath on the front door, “And what a shame for Mary (Swint-Montgomery) to pass on at a time such as this. This is the day every mother waits for. I’ll go.”

Wilanty made her way up the stairs and down the hall to Rachel’s room. There she softly knocked on the door and opened it a bit. “Rachel, may I come in and see how pretty you look?”

And that is how Wilanty joined the new Henry Allen Story family.

After Rachel and Henry Allen married, they moved from Warrenton to the Thomson area in McDuffie County, to a farm called Moon’s Town. At first, Wilanty would stay to help the young couple set up housekeeping, and then came the first baby, and of course she would stay a while longer to help Rachel with the baby. Then the second baby came, the third baby came, the fourth baby came, the fifth baby came. Then the War Between the States came and Henry Allen left the Moon’s Town farm while Sanders Walker Story left his mercantile store in Warrenton. The brothers went off to war. Henry Allen left Wilanty to “take care of my family.” Now was not the time to leave and she could hear her father’s words, “A fin.”

“But if I don’t leave now, it will be too late! I wish I never heard those words!” She must have had this conversation many times, especially when she saw that one special person give up on her and marry another.

Wilanty stayed at Moon’s Town. She cared for Rachel and the five little boys: Sam, James, Rad, Henry and Benjamin.

The years past and the war began to wind down. The South was losing the war and Wilanty lost her little brother, Sanders. He was wounded at the Battle of Murpheesboro and died shortly thereafter. Wilanty cried herself to sleep many nights talking to her deceased father, “Papa I tried. I tried so hard to care for Sanders. I begged him not to go! This is Mr. Lincoln’s war not yours Sanders! Stay at your merchantile! That’s what I told him, but he would not listen to me!  Papa please forgive me.”

Wilanty prayed by night and by day she carried a clothes basket with her everywhere she went. There amidst the clothes, she kept a loaded pistol. She kept it handy in case a war tattered straggler happened onto Moon’s Town and wanted more that a meal.

And Wilanty prayed for Henry Allen in the still of the night when Rachel and the boys were asleep. “Dear Father in Heaven, Please send an angel to care for Henry Allen; send him home to his wife and little boys. Let Mr. Lincoln have his war and let it be over.”

One prayer night Wilanty realized she was not alone when she heard Rachel’s voice from the hallway, “Amen.”

Wilanty and Rachel’s prayers were answered on a cold winter day when Henry Allen walked through the front door. Thank God at least one brother made it home safe and sound.

The war was officially over in the spring of 1865 when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Henry Allen worked on his farms from sun up to sun down. He burned the midnight oil toiling over deeds, ledgers, plats and maps. He had to find a way to make his farms viable, and tenant farming seemed to be the way.

If Wilanty had wanted to start her own life, she would have to wait. With the loss of the war, Henry Allen had lost his wealth, his brother and his horse. And now he was working every waking hour trying to salvage his farms. This was not the time to leave her brother.

And when September rolled around, Rachel had her sixth son, Columbus Marion Story. This time Rachel did not do well. In fact as each day passed, Rachel became weaker. Rachel called for Wilanty often to take the baby. She asked Wilanty to care for the boys and raise the baby as her own. Of course, Wilanty assured Rachel that she would get stronger tomorrow and everything would be alright. On October 10, just seventeen days after baby “Lum” was born, Rachel died. She was twenty-eight years old.

Wilanty kept her promise to Rachel and stayed with the six boys. And now Henry Allen had to deal with the biggest loss of all, his dear Rachel.

About four years after Rachel’s death, Henry Allen married a school teacher from Virginia. Susan Winston McDaniel was the little sister of Sally McDaniel-Ramsey. Sally was the wife of a local Democratic politician and farmer, Caleb “Tip” Ramsey, a friend of Henry Allen.

Here was the opportunity for a new beginning for Wilanty Story. She busied herself to get the house ready for the new bride, Susan. She excited her six nephews about getting a new mother. How wonderful it was going to be.

On the day Susan arrived at Moon’s Town, Wilanty had each boy dress in his Sunday clothes, each boy wearing a clean pressed white shirt, black tie, dark trousers and a black jacket. As the hour approached, Wilanty had them line up in birth order: Samuel Walker Story, James Montgomery Story, Radford Gunn Story, Benjamin Franklin Story, Henry David Story and Columbus Marion Story.  There they all stood joyful and proud.

As soon as Susan settled in and the boys got acquainted with their new mother, Wilanty would take her leave.

Not long after the union, other children were born and Susan had her hands full looking after her own. Susan preferred to have her children eat first, and then the older boys were allowed to come in from the barn and eat last. The six boys being older had chores to do. But when Susan’s suppertime seemed to drag out a little too long, Wilanty filled her pockets with biscuits and made a quick trip to the barn. Susan made cookies for her children, while Wilanty made cookies for Rachel’s boys.

Wilanty would never leave those first six boys. Her heart and soul belonged to them.

Wilanty Story never married, never owned her own home.

Her baby brother, Henry Allen, prospered and by the end of his life in 1913, owned ten thousand acres which were all working farms.

Henry Allen Story and his second wife, Susan had eleven children; seven boys and four girls. The six sons of Henry Allen and Rachel Montgomery–Story all lived to adulthood, married and had families of their own.

The third son of Henry Allen and Rachel was Radford Gunn Story. In 1904 Rad was killed in an altercation near one of the Story farms. The death of Rad devastated the Story family, especially his five brothers. After the death of Rad, some of his brothers left their lifelong homes in the Thomson area. They seemed to have disappeared. And that too is where the story of Wilanty ends. Nothing else is known of her.

One hundred years later, my sister, Patricia Story-Logan, moved to a little horse farm near Tampa, Florida. Whereever Pat is, she is looking for Storys. Pat found evidence that Henry Allen and Rachel‘s baby son, “Lum” Story moved to Tampa. There so many years ago, Lum became a deputy sheriff and preached the Gospel in Tampa.

Soon thereafter, Pat found a pioneer graveyard in Tampa. She found the disintegrating grave of Columbus Marion Story. And next to his grave site was a crumbling grave stone, the letters barely legible: WILANTY STORY.

Aunt Wilanty was a good and just woman who kept her promise To the End. And I have to believe that she is wearing a blue dress; blue as the sky over Scotland.

A FIN!

Author’s Notes:

Radford Gunn Story had a son, Horace “Lawton” Story, who had a son, Thomas Jonathan Story. Thomas Story was my father.

Samuel Gaines Story’s second wife was Stacey Duckworth-Story. Stacey Duckworth was born in 1794. Stacey and Samuel married on March 21, 1812 in Warrenton, Georgia.

I recall back in 1955 sitting down at Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter’s supper table in their Lincolnton, Georgia farmhouse. The house was of yesteryear as were the rugs and furnishings. The whole house was a timed warped mystery and though I had to be on my best behavior, the adventure was worth all the fuss.

The first thing I learned about visiting the Steeds was to wait on Aunt Donn’s lead. She was of the old South and no matter how humble her present world, pomp and circumstance were important to her. She was definitely in charge and spoke with an aristocratic Southern accent ignoring her second “Rs.” I noticed the longer my father was around his mother’s sister, he fell into that same accent.

One thing was for sure, my father, Tom Story, loved his Aunt Donn. The world seemed to revolve around this dear lady as far as he was concerned. He hung on her every word.

And now it was “suppah time” and the event of setting the table took place. Each person had a place setting of fine china along with a matching finger bowl to dip fingers in should we get “mussed.” All this finery and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving.

And finally a large platter of country ham was placed on the center of the round table next to platter of hot biscuits. A tureen of red eye gravy balanced the two platters. Corn, which Aunt Donn pronounced “cawn” set next to a bowl of string beans and potatoes.

Yes, it was time to eat and I could hardly wait to sit down at this fancy table. I received “the eye” from my mother and knew it was time to slow down and look to Aunt Donn. Aunt Donn approached the table and stopped at her chair. My father pulled her chair out and nestled her up close to the table. Daddy placed his hands on her shoulders as he kissed the side of her head. Aunt Donn patted his hands. Then we all sat down.

Aunt Donn was not quick to get to the meal. She wanted to remember the “good Lawd” first and foremost. There would be no eating until “the Lawd had his due.”

“Shall we bow our heads?” asked Aunt Donn as she looked about the table at each and every one of us. We bowed heads and Aunt Donn blessed the meal, the day, Tom and Helen Story and the “little gulls,” the weatheh, the laying chickens, the fi’ewood Tom chopped and the biscuits Helen made, the coming night and tomorroh’s sunrise.

As a child of about six years of age, I became restless in my chair. I squirmed and Aunt Donn prayed.

“And deah Lawd, please fo’give our boldness and make us humble in yoah sight. Allow us to remembah the wheat and the tare. Let us be mindful of the tares as they slip in during the night and take root and grow amongst us without detection. Oh how the tares stand haughty and obstinate along-side the wheat!  One cannot tell a tare from the good wheat as they stand togethah in the field of life…”

“What’s a tare?” I thought. I wanted to ask but knew this was not the time. And so it was, I remained silent. But the only way to remain still was to open my eyes a tiny bit so I could peep through my eyelashes at Aunt Donn. I spied on her as she went on about pride cometh before the fall.

My eyes drifted to the right of her and I saw my father’s elbow on the table and the side of his face being supported by that hand. His eyes were closed and he had a warm smile on his face. I could tell that he knew we were into a long blessing and that he was enjoying every minute.

Seeing my father sit there next to Aunt Donn seems just like yesterday. Daddy was a tall handsome man with dark hair; just thirty one years of age. He looked relaxed and well dressed in his gray and brown Argyle sweater. How would I know that nineteen years later he would have a fatal accident? After so many years, it is sometimes hard to really remember what his face looked like. But all I need do is close my eyes and go back to that Lincolnton supper table and I see his face clearly.

Next to Daddy sat my little sister, Barbara, who quietly rocked her doll, Sally. My older sister, Patricia, sat next to Barbara and was the perfect example of what Aunt Donn thought a “propah” child should be.

The next chair was Uncle Walter, but he was not in his chair, though he was there before the blessing. It startled me a bit to see that empty chair. Did the tares (whoever or whatever they were) slip in and take him? My mother must have sensed my restlessness, because I felt her bad eye upon me. I quickly regained my composure.

“Fathah deah Lawd, let us, yoah humble folk, know that at hahvest time, the wheat will loweh its head and the tares will remain upright, neveh showing an ounce of humility…”

Again, I opened my eyes a bit and peeped through my eyelashes, being careful to not look to the left at my mother. Daddy’s face was still resting on his hand and his smile was unwavering. Barbara had fallen asleep sitting up still holding her doll, Sally. Patricia was reverently in the praying position, and Uncle Walter had returned as quietly as he left. His absence went completely undetected.

“Yes Lawd, let us, yoah people, be as the good wheat and observe humility. In Yoah blessed name Lawd, Amen.” Then Aunt Donn looked about the table and I know we all looked the very same as when we sat down. But she seemed to think we look differently. “Just do look at y’all! I have neveh seen y’all look so beautiful! You are the good wheat! Not a tare among you! And I love you all! Waltah deah, will you pass the biscuits please?”

I sure am glad Uncle Walter made it back to the table in time to pass the biscuits, and relieved to know there was not a tare in the house.

Yes, Aunt Donn would have her say no matter where or when or how long. Years later, a car would pick Aunt Donn up in Lincolnton and take her to Stone Mountain and other Atlanta areas just so a group of folks could hear what she had to say about education.  She spoke to us about these trips.

“Now I tell you gulls, I have no need for the television. I wouldn’t have one if you gave it to me. But I see how chil’ren and adults, for that mattah, gaze into the screen as though there is no tomorrah. It distresses me how the awt of conve’sation and writing has left us. So, as Waltah says, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ These trips are impotant and all togethah necessary for that very reason. I along with other teachahs of Geo’giah stand befo’e the television folks and attempt to explain the impotance of mass education.”

Aunt Donn smiled, and with great pride she explained, “A new television station is coming to Geo’giah and it is imperative you gulls watch this new station; tell yoah friends and yoah future chil’ren, let everyone know.”

The new television station came to Georgia just as Aunt Donn said it would. It started out with one name and then another. Today that educational station is called GPB, Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Even though Dieudonne Bentley-Steed is long gone, her memory is forever with us. Her “say” is still being heard. And I close my eyes every night thanking the “good Lawd” the tares are not amongst us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dieudonne Randolph Bentley-Steed was born and raised in Lincolnton, Georgia, where she enjoyed the best of life with her books, fine china, and real silver, which she used daily in spite of the fact her modest home was without running water or electricity. She was proud of the fact that she graduated from State Normal College, and was quick to let you know that “Noh’mal” was a part of the University of Georgia. And though she had a Southern accent which resembled another language all together, she insisted that her name Dieudonne be pronounced with the “propah” French accent.

Often she reprimanded us by saying: “If you can not accomplish this small feat, then just call me Donn.”

We all called her Donn. Donn was my father’s mother’s older sister.

And we all knew where to find Donn. “Get yoahself a Geo’giah map and look fo’ the county which resembles a Chai’kee broken ar’ow head pointing nawth, dividing Geo’giah and South Ca’olina. There, you will find yoah Aunt Donn in Lincoln County.”

Aunt Donn was a retired school teacher who wed late in life and did not have children of her own. She claimed and named all nine of her sister Nancy’s children. Her sister Nancy was my father’s mother, and Aunt Donn named my father Thomas Jonathan after Stonewall Jackson.

And as any day, Donn Steed read a book, but today was different as she was mindful of the mantel clock as it chimed the sixth hour. Eventide was approaching and she would be ready for it. She continued to silently read Ecclesiastes, pondering time, mindful of the ticking away of minutes.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…A time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

Donn marked her spot, then read a verse one more time before closing the book, “Yes,” she thought, “A time to keep, and a time to cast away.” And aloud Donn spoke these words with deliberation, “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Tears ran down her face as she continued to read aloud, “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for wawh, and a time for peace.”

Time and the proper thing to do filled every crevice of Donn’s thoughts these days. The dancing and laughter was over, that much was for sure. Could it be a time for wawh? She would have to speak to “Sistah” about this and she would this day. “Yes,”  Donn thought, “it is a time to speak.”

Shadows crept into the room, a time when Donn normally lit the kerosene lamp, but not today. Today she stood and reached for her “shawt fur” and wrapped herself warmly. As she stepped across the room, Donn suddenly stopped at Dr. Bentley’s roll-top desk. She yanked open a drawer and shuffled about until she found an old school photo taken at Liberty Hill in Lincolnton.

An unexpected smile crossed Donn’s face as she admired the photo. “There is Nancy and Lawton, Caleb, Cha’lie and Ca’oline. And just do look at that sad face on Ella Spires! And Ella wearing the rose Nancy gave her.” Donn shook her head in disbelief, “It’s as though this pictu’e was taken just yeste’day. Yes, Nancy and Ella were upset because the photog’aphah wouldn’t let you sit togethah.”

And with a chuckle that could not be contained, “And me!” Donn blew her cheeks out big holding her breath and rolled her eyes to the back of her head as she had done in the photograph. Suddenly she reached for the desk to steady herself. “Well, I can’t do that anymore. It makes me swimmy headed. Yes, y’all scolded me about making funny faces at the photog’aphah, but I didn’t listen. Y’all were right,” Donn mused, “I never listen to anyone. And now I have to live with that silly face for the ages.”

With that, Donn returned the photo to the past under letters and documents of old to her grandfather’s desk. She opened the back door and walked out into the yard to her now dormant flower garden.

“Donn, where’re you going at this hour?” asked Walter.

“Oh, just a shawt walk, I want to cleah my head, Waltah.”

“Don’t be long, it’ll be dark soon.”

“I shan’t be too long Deah, don’t wor’y about me,” Donn tried to reassure Walter. Her husband had always cooked for Donn, but had become an old mother hen since Donn’s sister, Nancy, passed away in April.

Yes 1938 was a year of sorrow for Donn. It was the year her sister, Nancy Bentley-Story died of heart failure. Nancy lived in Tucker near Atlanta, and Donn lived in Lincolnton many miles away. But distance could not part these two sisters. And Donn had come to realize that death could not part them either.

As a child, anytime Nancy went missing, she could be found in Dr. Bentley’s herb garden or Mother’s flower garden. That was when they were children; back when family and time together were taken for granted.

Tonight Donn walked to the only garden she had – pitiful as it was. Her garden was not at all as fine as the Leathersville gardens, but it would have to do. She looked up at the twilight sky searching for the first sign of a star. Allowing herself to be a kid again, she sang quietly to the tune of a child’s song, “Star light, Star bright, Furst star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight, Calling on Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story.”

When the first star winked back, Donn settled down with a smile, “There you are Sistah, glad to see yoah as beautiful as eveh.” Quickly, Donn’s smile dissipated as she got down to business. “I need to talk to you about something, rathah impo’tant. There is chaos in yoah home.” Donn chuckled nervously as she continued, “Yoah husband has always encou’aged the chil’ren to be high spirited, and now he has to live with the consequences! You were the one who b’ought ordah to the home. And my deah sistah, now you are not there.”

Donn was quiet for a moment while she allowed the cold air to comfort her face, “Little Nancy is doing the best she can. She makes a big pan of biscuits every mo’ning and pone of co’nbread at suppah time, and gets her lessons. That’s a lot for a twelve yeah old. She told me that Mothah taught her to make biscuits. She said you instructed her while sitting in a chair; sitting in a chair, because yoah hawt was too weak to suppo’t you. And little Nancy, yoah namesake, is doing a good job with the biscuits. I wanted you to know that.”

Namesake Nancy Bentley Story

Though tears streamed down her face, Donn couldn’t help but smile when thinking of her brother-in-law, Lawton. “Sistah, Lawton got so aggravated hea’ing the doahs slam shut, he fo’bade the chil’ren to use the doahs! So now they use the windows instead. What a sight! Chil’ren crawling in and out of windows! What will the good people of Tuckah Geo’gia think?” Donn shook her head in disbelief, “I am sorry to tell you, but they have made kites out of yoah quilts. And that baby boy of yoahs, that Tom Story! He lassoes live snakes. Then he ties a wiggling snake to a stick and chases little Nancy. Gene is just as bad! One day a while back, their fathah sent the three of them out to the field to bu’n dried cawn stalks. Gene and Tom wanted to play ‘jump the fiah,’ but little Nancy wanted to get the work done, so they wouldn’t get a whoopin’ from Papa. She took off her new shoes, yes, Lawton bought the child new school shoes. She is tickled pink ovah those shoes and took them off to keep them clean. She told the boys to help with the wurk. But no, Gene and Tom would not stop playing. Then the boys got the idea to tie Nancy’s shoe strings togethah and dangle her new shoes ovah the fiah, fo’cing the child to play with them. And yes, they got a whoopin,’ little Nancy too, for she would rathah be punished than call out her brothas. Yes, Lawton Story is losing his patience. I do believe he is at wit’s end.”

Donn was silent for a moment; as though she was giving her sister time to digest it all. “I know how the chil’ren feel; I remembah the day Mothah died as though it was yeste’day. I remembah Fathah standing at the foot of her bed as her spirit ascended to the good Lawd. He said, ‘A time to be born, and a time to die. Today is a time to weep and mourn, for my lovely Grace Amelia has left this earth.’ Fathah wept so on that dreadful day.”

“Donn, come in, it’s dark out already,” Walter called out to Donn through the night air. Before Donn could answer, Walter noticed something strange. “Donn! Is that you standing in the dried up gladiolas?”

“Yes, Waltah, I am in the ga’den. “I’ll be there directly Deah,”

“I don’t like this a bit, not one bit,” Walter grumbled to himself.

Donn heard the screen door squeak as it closed, and knew she was alone with her thoughts again. “The chil’ren won’t admit who took a pencil and poked out the eyeballs of their grandmothah, Sallie Gunby in the po’trait of her and Rad Story. But one of them did it. It’s strange, they seem to enjoy tortu’ing each othah, but will band togethah when one is put upon. They will not fo’sake one anothah for the wauld! No mattah how much trouble they get in.”

Donn wiped the tears from her face and pulled her fur tighter, “Caleb doesn’t cause as much mischief as do Gene and Tom. Caleb is struggling, Sistah. I hate to tell you, but his pa’alysis is getting wurse.” Donn took a deep breath and felt a burden lifted when she got that information out. She quickly changed the subject, for she did not want to tell her sister that Caleb would never recover.

“I do not believe Caleb instigates the mischief; he enjoys the excitement of the unexpected. So, he does join in with the encouragement of mischief, I am sorry to say. Yes, he enjoys every minute of the chaos.”

“Donn, I’m making tea for you. Come on in now,” called out Walter through the night air.

“I’ll be in shawtly Waltah,” called out Donn. Then she whispered up to the stars, “I know Waltah means well. But a body needs time alone with the Heavens and I cannot explain that to him in feah of him thinking me daff!”

Donn took another deep breath and quickly continued her conversation, because she knew her time was growing short. She knew that Walter Steed would walk out there to get her if she did not come in soon. She had to get said what needed to be said. This was a time to speak.

“Sistah, I must speak to you about something of great impotance. Lawton has met a woman. I’ve heard that she is from a pioneeh family of Tuckah. Her name is Minnie Beatrix Brand. She helps little Nancy in the kitchen and is good to the boys, especially Tom. They say, when a sto’m comes, she gets Tom to sit at her feet while she holds his hand and rubs his back with her other hand.” Donn cried as she explained, “I guess what I am saying, is the chil’ren are going to get anothah mothah.”

Donn wept uncontrollably. “Oh Sistah, how I wish you had not gone away; this would neveh eveh happen if you were heah. You are the love of Lawton Story’s life, even back when that silly school picture was made, eve’yone knew you were meant fo’ each othah! Why did you have to go? But who am I to ask such a question? The good Lawd says ‘A time to die.’ It breaks my heart to know it was yoah time to die, leaving foah chil’ren at home. I know you had nine, but the othahs are grown and mar’ied. The foah left at home are but chil’ren. And they are in need of a mothah so badly. Sistah, maybe it’s time for them to have anothah mothah.”

“Donn!”

“I’m coming Waltah!”

The screen door closes again. Donn has few minutes left. It’s time to get serious.

“Sistah, you know it was raining on the day you left us. It was as though the angels were crying their eyes out.  It had been raining fo’ days, and the Hea’st got stuck in the mud when they tried to leave with you. The wheels mi’ed up and made big ruts in the yawd. All the chil’ren cried for you, especially the young boys. Caleb said, ‘They’re stuck, that’s ‘cause Mama doesn’t want to go leave us.’ Gene said, ‘I don’t care what Papa says – Mama doesn’t want to go to Heaven.’ And Tom cried out, ‘Dear God, please don’t let my Mama be dead!’ Tom had to be restrained fo’ days.”

Donn wiped her eyes again, “But it was Little Nancy that worried me the most, for she did not cry. She stood firm and stared as they took you away. For days she could be found staring at the dried ruts left in the yawd. As days passed on, the ruts crumbled and disappeahed. That’s when little Nancy cried. It was as though her teahs picked up where the rain left off.”

Donn was silent for a good long while, “Sistah, I knew if I talked to you, you would advise me. And you have, wisely. Yes, I know what to do now. It is a time to plant the seeds of kindness. I will get myself to Tuckah and meet this Miss Minnie and I will accept her on behalf of the enti’e Bentley family.”

Donn heard the screen door open again, “Donn, it’s dark, your tea is cold, and I’m coming to get you.”

“It’s okay Waltah, I’m on my way now. Just wait for me at the doah, Deah. My feet know the way.”

With that Donn stepped out from the midst of dead gladiolas and headed back toward the house. She suddenly stopped and looked up one last time at the brightest star in Heaven, and whispered, “Good night Sistah.”

Author’s Notes:

The one room school house in Lincolnton was Liberty Hill, near Leathersville.

Children in the Liberty Hill 1894 class picture are: Left to Right – Front Row – #4 Caleb Hardin Bentley, #6 Horace Lawton Story, #16 Nancy Elizabeth Bentley. Second Row – #12 Ella Spires, #16 possibly Effie Louise Bentley, #17 possibly Casey Lowe Bentley. Third Row – #5 Dieudonne “Donn” Bentley, #9 Charlie Ramsey Bentley holding a chalk board with his initials CRB Aug 1894, #10 Caroline Grace Eugenia Bentley.

Ella Spires never married nor left Lincolnton, and lived to be a very old woman. Though blind in the last years of life, she always smiled when hearing the voices of Nancy Bentley-Story’s children. Nancy’s children called Ella, “Cousin Ella.” As a young woman, Ella embroidered a bouquet of flowers using Nancy Bentley’s hair as thread. Nancy Bentley and Ella Spires were life-long best friends.

Nancy Elizabeth Bentley and Horace Lawton Story were born in 1886, photographed in school class picture in 1894 when they were eight years old, married in 1906.

Charlie Bentley became a teacher and Caleb Bentley moved to Florida where he became vice president of a fruit company.

Genealogy of the Bentley children in the school photograph: Parents Dennis Brantley and Grace Amelia Ramsey-Bentley, grandfather Dr. John Bentley, great-grandfather Balaam Bentley, and great-great grandfather Captain William Bentley II. Captain William Bentley II was granted land in Wilkes County which is now Lincoln County, for payment of services rendered in the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War. He was from South Carolina. Over the years the Bentleys traded services for hides and land. The land became known as Leathersville. Leathersville is just south of Lincolnton, Georgia.

Click on photos to enlarge.