Rock city momTanasi is Cherokee for river. A beautiful river that runs through hills and valleys. Autumn brings forth color making the forest resemble my Memi’s homemade quilts. Perfect timing to feast the eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did that deter him? No.

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

The new Opry was thoroughly entertaining. A host of talent: the Swan Brothers, Del McCoury Band, Easton Corbin, the Willis Clan, Connie Smith, David Nails – and Rascal Flatts brought the house down! The music was a nice mixture of bluegrass, traditional country and the new guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

 

My Aunt Irene never owned a home or car, but believe me, she got around. A downtown person who worked at interesting places like the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She knew the bus routes by heart. Seldom called to announce visits, rather surprised us by stepping off the bus at the corner of Lawrenceville Highway and Main in downtown Tucker. Up Main Street, left onto LaVista, final destination, my house on Morgan Road.

She brought news with her. Her daughter, Doris, lived in a log cabin in Decatur. Cousin Anna and Aunt Tillie, lived in West End in a big high ceiling house. Exciting to hear about Atlanta and Decatur. Irene also had a fashion model daughter, Evelyn, who lived in the D.C. area; Evelyn’s husband, an editor for a news magazine. And Irene’s son, Danny, was a career soldier who traveled the world, married a pretty German lady.

Irene had worldly  connections.

Never got in a hurry. Irene was slow yet deliberate. Thorough and methodical. Whether cool or warm, she wore a long sweater with over-sized pockets. Sometimes a dress, but always big pockets. Her eyes sharp for a four-leaf clover, special acorn or an unusual rock. I loved to sit on the front porch listening to the goings on in my yard. I never saw it, until she pointed it out, then it was clear as a bell.

One spring I discovered something on my own. A robin building a nest. Mother Robin worked for days carrying twigs to construct a nest on my swing-set. I anxiously waited for Aunt Irene’s next visit to show off my find. I watched daily for her coming down Morgan Road, but no Irene.

One day three tiny blue green eggs appeared. A beautiful sight to behold, still no Irene.

One Sunday afternoon, I saw her strolling along, not a care in the world. I ran to meet her, grabbing her hand to hurry her along. She laughed.

“What in the Sam-Hill? Diane, don’t you want to see what’s in my pocket?”

“Not today! Wait ‘till you see what I found!” I led her cheerfully around to the backyard, by-passing the front-door greeting. “See that? Three eggs – robin eggs – not two – but three! I watched the mother build the nest and everything, and now, there they are, three tiny eggs!”

As I reached for the nest, Irene grabbed my hand.

“Must never touch.”

Sensing something wrong, I explained, “I waited for you. I waited a long time.”

Irene relaxed as her smile returned, though she held my hand firmly. She admired my rare find, then asked me a question.

“Where’s Mother Robin?”

I shrugged my shoulders. Then Irene led me to the back-porch steps. We sat there for a few minutes while searching the sky for the mother. It sprinkled rain. She sat there just like it was a sunny day.

“They’re robin eggs alright, Diane. What a treasure! But you know, you must never touch a bird’s nest …”

“What about the eggs?”

Especially the eggs.”

Why?

Irene didn’t answer right away, but turned her face up allowing the drizzling rain to wet her face.

“Have you ever wondered why it rains?” Irene asked.

“No, not really.”

“Everyone needs to know why the sky weeps. She spoke in a soft whisper. I drew close to hear.

“Well, Diane, sometimes the sky rains because the world loses precious beings, you know, the little ones.”

“Like robins?”

She nodded her head in affirmation.

“A mother robin will build a nest in anticipation of her children. Just like your mother prepared for your birth a few years ago. Those eggs are babies, but not until she sits on them for a good long while. That’s her job – the job nature gave to her. Oh, she may fly away, but she’s never far. I’ll bet you by George, she never takes her eyes off those eggs. But even if she’s not looking, she knows when a human has touched her nest. And when that happens, she will desert the eggs. They will never hatch, never become little birds.”

Why?”

“She senses danger and will not sit on a touched nest.”

Irene pointed to the fast moving clouds, “The clouds quickly spread the news.”

What news?”

“That a mother has abandoned her young …”

“She’s not ever coming back?”

Irene ignored my question as she spoke of the sky.

“And finally the winds cannot take the sadness any longer, and the sky opens up and down comes the rain.”

My heart was breaking.

“That is sad for the sky.”

Aunt Irene and I sat there on the back door steps in the rain, both sad. For we knew the world was less three robins.

Irene Voyles-Allen (my PawPaw’s sister) was a wonderful storyteller!

Lunch time at the credit union – best part of the day. A lot got said during twelve years of lunches with my co-worker friend, Joyce. We developed a kinship that distance nor time can erase. It was a sad day when my lunch buddy retired leaving me to fend for myself, forcing me to reach out to others.

Joyce and I kept in touch for a while but as life kept us busy, we seemed to see each other less and less. It was during my trips to Lincoln County that I began to think – I need to call Joyce. Yes every time I passed the road sign: Greene County, I thought of her.

She was born Joyce Greene (Greene with an “e” she always said) and grew up in South Georgia on a farm. She was a high school basketball star and oldest sister to three brothers. She married a military man and traveled the world, living in places like London, San Francisco, and her favorite! Myrtle Beach. To make extra money for her growing family, she donned a skimpy cowgirl outfit (boots too!) and spun a roulette wheel while stationed in Reno – or was it Vegas? That girl got around!

So, I called Joyce. We met at our favorite place, Norman’s Landing. It was just like old times. Joyce looked great with her beautiful smile, nails freshly manicured. She wore a scarf with a touch of hot pink that brought out the pink in her cheeks. This woman was and is the epitome of well put together glamour!

On a chilly November day we sat in front of a fireplace in a log cabin sharing lunch. We caught up on our news worthy lives. Then the waitress dropped the check on the table.

“Joyce, we have met here on my birthday several times and you always buy my lunch. Today, we are going to pretend it’s your birthday and I’ll take the check.”

Joyce’s smile disappeared as she leaned in with her eyes big and round. “Well, Diane, if you are going to do that, I will tell you my real age.”

We laughed and after careful consideration of both of our ages, declared not to miss another birthday. Suddenly Joyce put her hands up in her little girl way and whispered. “Diane, I want to tell you something and then we never need to speak of it ever again.” She took a deep breath and said, “About four weeks ago, my granddaughter died …”

As sisters, we shared a moment, never to speak of it again. Albeit, it was a good day to share lunch with a friend.

 

Polly Voyles

Little Polly Voyles

As a small child, I was bedridden with heart disease. This aggravation took three years out of my life. Those years were eased greatly by a mother who loved to read and she read to me often, so often in fact, she regularly lost her voice.  Looking back on my childhood, I realize that was how my mother, Helen Voyles-Story, demonstrated her love for me. But it was when she put the book down and got that gleam in her big brown eyes that I most longed for. And it happened just like that one winter day as I watched the snow fall outside my bedroom window.

Yes, Mama put the book down as she turned her focus to the window. Together we watched snowflakes fall from the sky, snow that stuck to the trees in our woodsy backyard.

It had been a busy morning. She fed me my breakfast because I could not hold a fork. She carried me piggyback to the restroom because I could not walk. She sponged bathed me and dressed me in clean pajamas. She wrapped me warmly with one of her grandmother’s homemade “healing” quilts. She read to me in hopes I would drift back to sleep, because she had a lot to do. Breakfast dishes needed to be washed and the laundry folded while my two sisters were at school, but not today. Today Mama would sit with me and talk most of the day away – just the two of us. Putting the “beans on” for supper time would have to wait. Mama chuckled as she rolled me over to rub my back. “Diane, let me tell you about a rascal of a little cat I had when I was a little girl about your age. That silly cat followed me around from pillar to post. That was back when I was called Polly.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle to herself. I was all ears.

“Yes, Tom Kitten reminds me of that cat. Of course, I was not allowed to own a cat. Ya PawPaw would not allow a cat in the house. And believe you me, that cat knew to stay outta his way.” She laughed. “I don’t know why, but that cat took up with me and followed me around everywhere I went.”

“Is it the same cat that followed you to the cotton field?”

“Yes, the very one, he’d follow me down the cotton rows and crawl in my cotton bag for a ride; that made my bag look heavy like I’d picked a lot of cotton. When I held the bag up for my parents to see, they’d say, ‘Polly, that’s enough, you can read now.’ Then I’d empty my cotton-slash-cat bag into the wagon, sit down and read a book. Yes, ol’ Cat and I were a team.”

“What was his name?”

“I called him ol’ Cat. I couldn’t name him, because that would be claiming it. Ol’ Cat slipped into the house one night. It was Christmas Eve and I let him hide in my bedroom. Daddy was out late – working. My sister, Mary Frances and I had the Christmas tree decorated. Back then we used real candles to light the tree. We worked for days making decoration and couldn’t wait for Daddy to come home so we could light those candles.”

“PawPaw worked on Christmas Eve?”

“Yes, that’s when we lived on Old Norcross in Tucker. He worked any time someone’s well ran dry. Wade Voyles could study the lay of the land and dig, always found water. Not everybody could do that. You know he studied at Georgia Tech; in the forties he studied War Training, got a foreman degree. Anyway, he came home late that Christmas Eve – tired and dirty. We got the matches out and he told us to go ahead and light the candles. Mama put his supper plate on a little table in the living room; that way he could watch us. Frances lit the candles high up and I lit the ones near the bottom.”

“What’s so funny?” I asked as Mama laughed out loud.

“Well, I’m gonna tell you what’s funny, Diane. That ol’ Cat slipped into the living room and for some reason, ran and jumped into the middle of that Christmas tree!”

“Did he catch on fire?”

“No, by some miracle he did not catch fire, but he let out a loud squall that was terrifying! He clung on for dear life and that tree wobbled to and fro! Frances ran and opened the front door. When she did, ol’ Cat darted out! The wind blew in and poof! Instantly, that tree was engulfed in flames – from top to bottom. Daddy stood up, walked over to the blazing Christmas tree and put his big foot into it – and – out the door it went – a ball of fire sailing through the night air!”

“Did you get another tree?”

“No, it was late Christmas Eve; there was no time to go to Aunt Mae’s for another tree. And there I stood, within seconds, no cat and no Christmas tree. I wondered: Will Santa come tonight? What if I never see ol’ Cat again – no tellin’ how many hours I’d have to spend in the cotton field, I’d probably never have time to read another book.”

“What did PawPaw say? Were you in trouble for having the cat in the house?”

“Wade Voyles never said a word. He walked back to the little table, sat down and finished eating his supper. Mama didn’t say anything either except, ‘Wade, do you want some more oyster stew?’”

Mama looked a tad dreamy eyed as she continued her story. “The next morning I woke up and there was that little table Daddy ate his supper on – in the middle of the living room floor. On that table was a cedar tree limb stuck in Mama’s lemonade pitcher. It was decorated with a little this and that – looked like Frances’ handiwork,” Mama said with an all knowing eye. “And there were a few gifts for me under that limb.”

“What? What did you get, Mama?”

“I got a new dress, and a book, Little Women, and a funny looking little brush.” Mama smiled big at the thought. “I looked at the little brush with puzzlement. Frances whispered to me, ‘Polly, it’s a cat brush.’ I quickly slipped that little brush in my pocket and opened the front door to check on the weather; and when I opened the door, ol’ Cat slipped into the house, just as pretty as you please.”

Mama took my temperature again and made a note on her medical chart. I had to think fast to keep her in my room. As soon as the thermometer was out of my mouth I asked, “Did you buy all of your Christmas trees from Aunt Mae?”

“Buy nothing! Aunt Mae wouldn’t take a penny from us. And it wasn’t Christmas until I’d gone to her tree farm, and that was well after I married ya Daddy.”

It worked, she sat back down.

“As soon as Tucker School broke for Christmas, I packed my suitcase and waited on Uncle Tom Moon. I never knew when he was coming, didn’t have a phone back then you know. I just knew he was coming to Tucker sooner or later for supplies and would swing by Old Norcross and pick me up. No matter how cold it was, I sat on the front porch steps listening for the wagon wheels and the clip clop sound of the horses.”

“Horses! They didn’t have a car?”

“No, they did not have a car. It was in the thirties and folks were trying to survive the Depression. Most roads back then were dirt roads, old logging trails widen to accommodate cars and horses. Yes, some had cars, but there was still plenty room for the horse and buggy. Anyway, every year I went to Aunt Mae and Uncle Tom Moon’s to select my Christmas tree.”

I was surprised to know my mother knew anything about horses. “Mama, tell me about the horses.”

“I loved those old horses. I petted them and hugged on ’em, but wasted no time climbing onto the wagon. We left Old Norcross and eased out of Tucker down a dirt road through the woods; trees thick on both sides, every tree imaginable. I passed time by identifying trees. Recognizing trees was easy during summer when the leaves gave their identity away, but not so easy in winter. If I got one wrong, Uncle Tom Moon grunted.”

“What kind of trees did you see?”

“Georgia trees: poplar, sycamore, sugar maple, silver maple, hickory, holly, black walnut, sweet gum and dogwood – all stripped down bare except for the pines, cedars and magnolias. The oaks were easy to spot, ‘cause the dead leaves clung on until spring. And of course, acorns marked the spot of the great oaks. The horse trots made a sound like two coconut shells keeping time to a tune. We passed by dried up cotton fields with a hint of white – cotton overlooked by the pickers, looked a little like snow. And there were homes here and there. I was excited and could hardly wait to see Aunt Mae and the mountain.”

“The mountain?”

“Yes, Diane, the mountain – Stone Mountain – that’s where we were headed, and I knew we were almost there when I could see the granite dome. I have to admit it was a little spooky while deep in the woods. The clip clop of the horse hooves was mesmerizing; each sound took me deeper into an enchanted forest, not to mention, Santa was on the way. And when Santa arrived, I, Polly Voyles, would have the most beautiful Christmas tree in all of Tucker.”

“Why was it spooky?”

“Spooky because back then, there weren’t that many houses around – a feeling of loneliness crept in. And the woods made unexplainable noises. It didn’t bother Uncle Tom Moon a bit nor was he much of a talker; he was a curious sort. Once we saw smoke rising through the trees in the distance. He said, ‘Look there, Polly, smoke rise. The Indians made smoke rising a common sight back in the day, but not now.’ Of course, I had to ask why and he said, ‘White man.’”

Mama talked on.

“What did the white man have to do with the Indians, Uncle Tom? When did they leave? Where’d they go to school?”

“Diane, I asked a million questions as any small child would. He clicked to the horses and turned left near what was the Rosser farm and went down a ways from the mountain. In a while, he clicked again and turned right back toward the mountain. We passed the place where they made sorghum syrup before he finally spoke.”

“The Cherokee Indians used to hunt these woods – smoke rise was the only way you’d know they were here. They used the mountain top as a look-out. They’d see you, but you’d never see them. Alls left now’s … their spirit.”

“Mama, did you ever see any Indians in the woods?”

“Not a one, Diane, you know I’m not that old. But believe you me, when we went through the woods in that open wagon, my eyes were peeled and my ears were listening hard. Once in a while I’d hear rustling in the woods; sometimes I got a glimpse of a rabbit or deer, sometimes a fox. And then again, I’d hear the call of a crow or a bird singing. I saw shadows in the woods, probably just the sun light filtering through. As a small child listening to Uncle Tom’s folklore, I felt edgy about maybe seeing an Indian, but not really afraid, because Uncle Tom Moon liked them, I could tell he did. And he seemed a little miffed that they were gone. And then in no time at all, I saw Christmas trees – white pines – bluish green trees, all in perfectly straight rows. Uncle Tom Moon then handed the reins to me.”

“You drove the horses?”

“Well, at that point, the horses knew where we were and they took themselves home. And there waiting for me was Mae Moon. She was a tall thin woman who most always balled her hair up. She never had children, for some reason she sorta claimed me.”

“I remember her. She was very old.”

“As long as I can remember, Aunt Mae seemed on up in years, even when her hair was black.” Mama shook her head, and got back to her story. “I could not wait to get my Christmas tree, but she insisted on order – first things first. I was to go into the farmhouse to warm and have something to eat. And then there were Christmas cookies to make; Gingerbread-men and Gingerbread-women, not to mention the Snowball family made of popcorn balls, and everyone of them had to be decorated just so. On about the third day, Aunt Mae wrapped her head in a woolen scarf and I knew it was the moment I’d been waiting for, walking the Christmas tree farm. She had already looked over the trees and tied a long white ribbon on about five likely candidates. I always wanted a bigger tree, but she would laugh and say – ‘that tree will not fit inside your house! Wade and Lois will have to cut a hole in the roof!’ Oh how I loved spending my few days with Aunt Mae. I examined each tree closely. I do recall one special day when I made my decision.”

Mama looked out the window at the snow coming down, deep in thought. “While examining one marked tree, I happened to look beyond the tree and saw the mountain. Now mind you, I had seen that mountain countless times, but that day, it was like seeing it for the first time. It felt like I was dreaming. Then something cold hit my face; to my surprise, it was snowing.”

“Like it is today, Mama?”

“Yes, Diane, just like today.”

Mama reached for my hand and held it, then turned her attention back to the window.

“Aunt Mae held my hand as we watched the snowflakes fall from the sky, without a word, I gave her the nod of approval. Neither of us spoke as we stood there admiring my tree; neither caring about the cold. I knew then that I would always remember that moment. After a while, Aunt Mae let go of my hand and stepped forward. She took a long white ribbon – a remnant of an old sheet – and tied it into a big bow – that way Uncle Tom Moon would know which tree to cut. Though Aunt Mae was standing near, she seemed far away when she spoke.

“Polly, would you look at that? An abandoned nest with a robin egg blue, no prettier color in the entire world.”

Mama wiped away a tear.

“Our eyes focused on the robin egg that would never hatch. A bit of sadness crept upon me, thinking of what would never be. And then strangely enough, I felt someone watching from afar. I gazed up at the mountain top, but saw no movement. The feeling did not leave and I hoped it was a Cherokee admiring my Christmas tree, my tree, finely decorated with a genuine bird’s nest, robin egg blue and a fancy white bow, all topped off with new fallen snow.”

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

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

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

Each and every time I drive down Hugh Howell Road or hike the Cherokee Trail or find myself atop the granite mountain, I too feel the presence of a great spirit: little Polly Voyles.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote my first book in the little white house. The little white house was a building next to Tucker High which took care of the overflow of Tucker Elementary, the whole second grade.

The second grade teachers encouraged us to participate in an autumn art project. Anyone wanting to do so could use the desks lined up on the front porch. I liked the idea of getting outside and viewing Main Street downtown Tucker.

I took the first desk.

All the week, I worked on my project. Another second grader, Gwen, sat next to me. She had a square freckled face, always the best dressed girl in school, and her soft brown hair sported a fresh perm. Gwen was very interested in my project.

“Looks like you are making a book of some kind,” commented Gwen at least ten times a day.

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not,” I did not want Gwen or anyone knowing what I was doing. No copycatting my work. I wanted to be the only author.

“It’s easy to see that’s a book, Diane. You have a bunch of pages tied together with red ribbon. I know a book when I see it.”

“Maybe it is and maybe it’s not,” was my only answer. This served to intrigue her all the more. Gwen became all about my business. I worked hard drawing pictures of birds; all kinds of birds. And at the bottom of the page, I wrote a line or two about each species.

“That’s a book alright,” said Gwen knowingly, “a bird book.”

I ignored her.

At the supper table when asked what I did at school today, I informed my family that I was writing a book. I also told them that I planned to be a famous writer or artist when I grew up. I had not yet decided which, maybe both.

Mama agreed that I did have talent, a talent I did not inherit from her. I was proud of my artistic talent and explained to my family that I was the best artist in the whole second grade, this project would be an easy A+.

“Pride cometh before the fall, remember that Diane,” was my mother’s response.

What in the world was Mama talking about? What did being a great artist have to do with pride or falling down? I think Mama was confused and I chose to ignore her. Actually I thought Mama ignorant for saying something like that to me. She reminded me a little bit of that girl, Gwen.

Of course I kept this information to myself and looked forward to my outdoors class. I took close notice of the trees and pinecones. I wanted to create a natural environment to show case the birds.

And every day, Gwen interrogated me, “How many pages does your book have? What’s the title?”

“How do you know it’s a book?” I snapped back. That Gwen was tricky alright.

“What do you think you are? An author? Or an artist?” laughed Gwen.

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not.” (Dealing with Gwen was getting harder by the day.)

Just as I was finishing up, my teacher, Mrs. Keith, came out and said, “Okay children, you have five minutes left to finish your project and turn it in.”

With a knowing smile Gwen rubbed it in. “Now we’re all going to know the title of your book!”

Still ignoring her I tweaked my cover page with my best effort, a beautiful red cardinal. I waited to the last second to write the title across the top of the page. Now it was time to reveal my work. It was a simple title, “Birds.” And that was it. I took a fat black crayon and wrote the title. There! It was finished and perfect. No doubt Mrs. Keith would show my book off to all the other teachers, and no doubt they would marvel at it as they displayed it for all the second graders to witness.

I, Diane Story, was about to known as a great artist and author right here in Tucker, Georgia, in the little white house.

“Brids? What’s a brid?” Gwen asked.

“Gwen, it is Birds, not Brids!”

“Oh yeah, take a good look at that Diane.”

I looked at my manuscript and could not believe my eyes! In my haste, I wrote B-R-I-D-S.

Mrs. Keith held out her hand. I held the book close to my heart with both hands. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Keith. But I have a correction to make.” I was devastated. The blood left my body.

“Sorry Diane, time is up.” Mrs. Keith took my book as she glanced at the cover. “And by the way, that is a good looking cardinal.”

But it was not perfect and I did not have time to replace the cover page. To truly correct it, I would have to draw another cardinal. It made me sick.

That afternoon, Mama was waiting for me on the front porch.

“Let me see it! Let me see that easy A+?”

I was not at all enthused. Daddy walked up and said, “Let’s see it Donnie! We’ve been waiting all week. I took off from work early to be here for this event!”

“Oh, it’s not that great, it’s okay, I guess. I got an A- not an A+,” I said discouragingly.

“Oh no, no way, but you are the best …” said Mama.

“A- is nothing to sneeze at, Helen,” Daddy pointed out.

“I should have gotten an A+, but I wrote a word wrong,” I tried to explain while choking back the tears.

Mama examined my book.

“Diane, you know how to spell birds. I know you do.”

“I know, but at the last minute, I rushed and got it wrong,” I sobbed.

“I like brids, just as much as birds. I think I’ll start calling them brids too,” said my father. He was like that. He would rather change Webster’s dictionary than to see his children disheartened.

“You’ll do not such thing, Tom Story. The correct word is birds, not brids. Diane got it wrong and that’s a lesson learned.”

That was just like Mama, she was a realist while Daddy was a creative dreamer. Mama often said that being a creative dreamer was why Daddy was such a good musician. And yes, pride cometh before the fall – even in the little white house in Tucker, Georgia.

I never got over admiring birds. And to this day, I  love trees and pinecones. And I will never forget how my father on occasion whispered to me, “Donnie, that’s a beautiful brid.”

“Yes, Daddy, that is possibly the most beautiful brid I have ever seen.”

It was our secret.

 

 

 

 

Dennis Brantley Bentley Family

Dennis Brantley Bentley Burial site at Salem Baptist

A bright light warmed my face. I opened my eyes to four windows opposite my king-size sleigh bed at the turn of the century Fitzpatrick Hotel. Sunlight streamed through the far left window – six thirty in the morning. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to go back to sleep. No use. I was nudged by a voice from the past, as relentless as the sun.

“Time to get moving, rise and shine, my deah. Daylight is a wasting. So many books to read and neveh enough sunlight.”

That was the faraway voice of Dieudonne Randolph Bentley-Steed, my father’s aunt from Lincolnton. She was a Lincoln County school teacher born in 1881 who never acquired the need for electricity nor other such “foolishness.” Deceased for nearly 50 years, her will can still be felt and her aristocratic Southern accent heard in my head, especially when I am in this part of the country, so near to her beloved Lincolnton.

She said it so many times.

“If you evah need yoah Aunt Donn, take it upon yoah self to look at a map of Geo’gia. Look no fa’thah than the bo’dah of South Ca’olina. There in Geo’gia, you will find Lincoln County, shaped like an Indian ar’ow head pointing nawth – the only county in the state that reminds you to look to the nawth star for direction. Don’t bothah to call. I have no telephone. If you need anything – just knock! I’ll be there my deahs, always. Please don’t dilly dally about …”

Yes, I hear you Aunt Donn, loud and clear. I’m getting up. As I make my way down two flights of winding stairs, I’m met by the front desk clerk.

“Good morning, did you sleep well, Miss Diane?”

“Sure did Gwen. Disappointed I didn’t see any ghosts. This place is supposed to be haunted you know.”

“So, I’ve heard. I’ve never seen one either.”

“Never? Not a sign of one?”

“Well, one day I was all alone in the lobby, I sneezed and heard a little girl say, ‘bless you.’”

(Maybe I don’t want to see a ghost after all. Yep, time to get moving.)

Yesterday had been the Thomson day. There just off Main Street on Tom Watson Way, I found the Thomson City Cemetery. I paid my respects to my great-great grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story. A tall monument fitting his larger than life persona beckoned; he was easy to find, right there facing Main Street. Grandpa Buck rested in peace with his second wife, Susan Winston McDaniel and her sister, Sallie McDaniel. Surrounding the Story patriarch were many of his grown children.

Henry Allen Story

Henry Allen “Buck” Story

I was drawn to one grave in particular, Andrew Banny Story, Buck and Susan’s first born child. I got to know Banny through one of his descendants, Betsy Haywood from North Carolina. She sent me a Facebook email asking if we could be related. She said her Story descendant, Stacy Story, was from Thomson and that she had an antique doll passed down to her from that family. The doll’s name, Banny. No one knew where the odd little name came from.

My answer:

“Betsy if your Story relatives came from Thomson, Georgia, and you have a doll named Banny, we are related. We have the same great-great grandfather, Buck Story; you are from his second wife and I am from his first. Stacy Story was the third son of Buck and Susan Story. Apparently, the doll was named after (perhaps a favorite) uncle, Andrew O’Banion Story. He was called Banny.”

And what does that say about Banny Story, for a child to name a doll after him?

Banny Story must have been a lovable person, one who made children feel safe. His presence was needed when he was not there, so a doll took his place. As a doll, he was always there for play or comfort, comfort from a storm or perhaps a fever. He must have been dependable, one who was wanted and not forgettable unto this day.

Betsy cherishes this little doll, a precious family heirloom and very happy to know where the name Banny originated.

Recently I received an email from a Story now living in Texas, Laverne. She sent me a photo of my Aunt Donn’s gravestone. It’s next to her father’s grave, Felton Story, in Lincoln County, Georgia. Laverne read my blog about the Bentleys and Storys and informed me that she is related on both sides of the family. Another dear friend made via internet and genealogy. Next time Laverne is in Georgia I hope to meet her in person.

Darryl Bentley emailed me thanking me for writing the stories about Donde (Donn’s husband called her Donde). He remembered living next door to her on Mt. Zion Church Road and mowed grass for them when they moved into the town of Lincolnton. He too is related to Bentleys and Storys, and to Laverne.

Back to Thomson. The most famous in the Thomson City Cemetery is Tom Watson. Down Tom Watson Way turn right onto Bethany Drive and “Author and Statesman” Thomas Edward Watson’s grave can be found alongside his wife, Georgia Durham. On the corner of Tom Watson Way and Bethany Drive is Watson’s Victorian home.

I mention Senator Watson because he wrote a novel entitled, Bethany: A Story About the Old South.

In this book Watson’s heroine, Nellie Roberts, is modeled after Buck and Susan Story’s daughter, Mae Story. Mae was Buck’s thirteenth child, first daughter. Bethany is the name of the fictitious town in Georgia where the story takes place.

I couldn’t help but notice the odd looking black star markers noting Confederate soldiers. Yes, Grandpa Buck has one too. I picked a few buttercups and placed one on his grave, two on Banny’s.

From the far rescesses of my mind, I heard Aunt Donn.

“Where are my buttahcups? My deah you have been in Lincoln County so many times as of late and no buttahcups for yoah Aunt Donn? No visit to pay respect?”

Perhaps it was my conscious speaking to me rather than Donn. Frankly I have not been able to find Salem Baptist. I can see Salem Baptist Road clearly on the map, but finding my way down these long country roads is a bit overwhelming for an Atlanta gal. But I will try again first thing tomorrow morning.

I left Thomson. As I drove north I thought about my great grandfather, Rad Story. It was about two miles north of Thomson that his body was found in a canebrake so says the Augusta Chronicle Archive. He was shot in the face and received four mortal blows to the back of his head. As I traveled about two miles north of Thomson, I slowed down as I wondered where he fell, where he drew his last breath leaving my grandfather head of the family at age seventeen. Next stop Dunn’s Chapel on Ridge Road in the Leah – Appling community to pay my respects to Rad, always.

My visit to Dunn’s Chapel was the end of a long Saturday. Time for a bubble bath at the Fitzpatrick in a claw foot tub and a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow morning here. Putting away the Sunday edition of the Augusta Chronicle, I gather my maps and coffee and said good-bye to Gwen and any ghosts that may be lurking about at the Fitzpatrick Hotel. I left Washington-Wilkes and followed the signs to that county shaped like an arrow head, all the while listening to Braveheart.

I passed Amity Road. Sounds familiar. Yes that’s the road I have been looking for! Turned around. Turned left onto Amity Road looking for my next turn Greenwood Church Road, then Woodlawn Amity Road and then Salem Baptist. Only problem, I pass Greenwood Baptist Church and no Greenwood Church Road and I run out of Amity Road. Not wanting to get lost, I turn left onto another never ending country road heading toward Lincolnton. If all else fails, I’ll go 47 to Interstate 20 and go west back to Atlanta.

“Maybe Amity Road crossed this long country road you are on? My deah, how about tu’ning around and try that?”

I find myself having a conversation with my deceased great aunt and funny thing, she was making sense. I turned around, found the road and turned left. No road signs for a while. But eventually, yes, Amity Road continued on, but to where? I was in desolate country now. I pulled over to get my bearings and was surrounded by a pack of aggressive dogs, not a cute little lap puppy in the bunch. With a pounding heart I eased on down the road thankful the top was up. This was not the place to run out of gas or have a flat tire. I’d hate to be here at night. Amity could turn into Amityville Horror Road. I hit the gas and I left the dogs in the dust.

Why in the world am I out here in God knows where, alone? Hadn’t planned it that way. My friend who is a native from Lincolnton had an emergency. Something about business partner falling into water and losing camera equipment. I have a local cousin who has volunteered to show me around, but did not want to call and say, “I’m here!” Not without notice. So I’m on my own looking for Salem Baptist. I can do this. I drive on until I reach another point of decision.

How long will I stay on a road that goes to nowhere? Amity Road seems to go from one name to another, Thomson Highway, Lincolnton Highway and then again no name at all. A few homes barely visible from the road feel unfriendly. Like maybe they are way out here for one reason – to be left alone.

Where in the world am I? I pull over to sip cold coffee and think. I can go left and hope to find Lincolnton, though probably too far south, or I could go right and go to – where?

Thinking, thinking – what to do? Discouraged, I knocked on my rear view mirror in surrender to Aunt Donn.

“Well, Aunt Donn, I can’t look to the ‘nawth’ star because it’s daylight. So much for the county shaped like an arrow head showing me direction,” I mused as I gave into hopelessness.  That’s when I caught a glimpse of a small monument. And lo and behold, what did I see? An arrow – pointing right.

“My deah, why don’t you follow that ar’ow?”

“Got it, Aunt Don.”

Not long, I see a sign near the road.

Turn Here To Find Your Free Ticket To Heaven

Without thought, I turned in and found a parking space near the road. Too bad its Sunday morning with folks all dressed up going to church and me out here wearing shorts. I planned to wait until service started then slip out of my car into the cemetery, that is until my eyes landed on SMALLEY.

Confirmation! I’m in the right place. So what if I have on shorts on a Sunday morning? It is July in Georgia – 95 degrees out there. I quickly made my way to the Smalley plot and could not believe how many Smalleys were there. I eased a little deeper into the cemetery and found: Felton Story. That’s my newly found Texas cousin Laverne’s father. Next to him was a Steed monument: Walter Ennis and Dieudonne Bentley Steed. Uncle Walter and Aunt Donn. Well what do you know? Aunt Donn, I’m here.

I look about for some sort of wildflower. No buttercups here. I did find a handful of frazzled clover. I placed one on Felton Story’s grave and two for Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter. I stood back looking at the site in disbelief.

“Sorry to be so long Aunt Donn. I didn’t come to your funeral in ’68 because I was in Panama, Central America. My husband was stationed there teaching soldiers to jump out of helicopters into the jungle to train for Viet Nam combat duty. I just could not get back here to Lincolnton. I want you to know that I had so much fun visiting with you when I was a kid. I know you wanted me to listen more and talk less, something I’m still working on. Next time I will bring proper flowers, now that I know where to find you. Love you all the way to the North Star and back.”

I stood there for a moment and in my mind’s eye I saw her looking at me, the way she did when she was proud of me.

Dr. Dennis Brantley Bentley

Dennis Brantley Bentley Record Keeper at Salem Baptist Church Lincoln County

I moved on to the other side of Aunt Donn and found a tall impressive monument with genealogical history on all four sides. It was the patriarch and matriarch of my father’s mother’s family: Dennis Brantley Bentley and Grace Amelia Ramsey Bentley. Dennis Bentley, son of Dr. John Bentley and Nancy Elizabeth Paschal. Grace Amelia Ramsey, daughter of Caleb “Tip” Ramsey and Grace Caroline Hardin.

There about them were several of their children. Older son, Charlie Ramsey Bentley, Salem Baptist record keeper just like his father, Dennis, was buried there. Younger son, Caleb Hardin Bentley not to be found. I wondered if he was buried in Florida. Florida is where he went when he ran away from home after a quarrel with Donn. One infant born to Grace Caroline Bentley Burgess crowded in the far corner of the lot.

I placed a clover on each grave. Suddenly a man called out to me. He stood near the church on the edge of the cemetery. He was an elderly man, well-dressed suitable for Southern church going.

“Hello ma’am, can I help you?”

“Oh, no sir. I’m just visiting with my kin.”

“Would you like some water?”

“No sir, I have a drink in the car. Thank you just the same.”

“Well come into the sanctuary, get outta this heat. We can tell you how to get a free ticket to Heaven,” he said with all sincerity.

“Yes, I saw your sign,” I laughed, “that’s how I knew I was in the right place! Unfortunately, I’m wearing shorts today. My Aunt Donn would turn over in her grave if I entered Salem’s sanctuary improperly dressed.”

He chuckled. “Well, I think you look lovely my dear, but I understand. I sit near the front door. If you need anything, just knock!”

Aunt Donn was a supreme communicator, and apparently still is. I had to laugh. As I said goodbye, I left the rest of the clover with her.

I left feeling happy and confident. If I don’t find anything else today, I have found my Aunt Donn. Back to Amity Road I continued to drive south hoping to run into Interstate 20. I soon found road signs revealing my family to me. It was amazing. First up:

Bentley Road.

Yes, they had to live near to attend Salem Baptist.

Mt. Zion Church Road.

I know that road. I turned. Yes, it is where Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter lived. The road now paved. It was a narrow dirt road with a creek to the left. And there it is. No house. But no doubt, this is where they lived.

I returned to Amity Road and was greeted by my ancestors via more road signs.

Leathersville Community.

It was Leathersville in Lincoln County that the Bentleys called home, some say the first tannery in Georgia. My great-grandfather, Dennis Brantley Bentley made shoes there. His father, Dr. John Bentley traded medical services for hides and land. Balaam Bentley, John’s father, started the tannery by acquiring hides for trade. It was Balaam’s father, Captain William Bentley, who was granted 100 acres as payment for his services in the Continental Army. 100 acres grew into thousands.

Liberty Hill Community.

Liberty Hill School is where Aunt Donn and her brothers and sisters attended along with Horace Lawton Story, a boy who would become my grandfather. It was at Liberty Hill School that Horace Lawton Story fell in love with Nancy Elizabeth Bentley, daughter of Dennis and Grace Amelia Ramsey Bentley. Lawton and Nancy married, had nine children all born in Lincoln County, Georgia, the baby boy was my father, Tom Story.

As I traveled on I found another road that had eluded me.

Highway 150 also known as Cobbham Road.

Which way to go? I studied my map.

If I turn left I go to Fort Gordon where my father’s great-great grandparents are buried: Thomas Hardin and Gracie Reid Hardin. Thomas Hardin (1787-1852) left Virginia to farm in Georgia. His farm now a part of a military facility known as Fort Gordon. Thomas and Gracie were the parents of Grace Caroline Hardin who married Caleb “Tip” Ramsey. Tip and Grace had Grace Amelia Ramsey who married Dennis Brantley Bentley who had Nancy Elizabeth Bentley, my father’s mother. It’s the line known as the Graces in my family.

I’ll catch Fort Gordon next time. Today I turn right onto Cobbham Road. And as pretty as you please, I saw where the Bentleys left off and the Storys started. Now the Storys welcomed me with banners disguised as road signs.

Mistletoe Road. Story Road. Moonstown Road. Marshall Road.

My grandfather, Horace Lawton Story, was born on Mistletoe Plantation, owned by his grandfather, Buck Story, now a part of Mistletoe Park. Mistletoe Plantation backed up to another Buck Story owned property: Moonstown with his Marshall Dollar Plantation nearby. Buck inherited Moonstown Plantation when he married Rachel Anne Montgomery, his first wife, the mother of his first six sons. Third son was my great grandfather, Rad Story.

Familiar names on road signs whispered reminders of the past. They were here.

And how about that? Another place I’ve been looking for: The William Few Home. William Few signer of the U.S. Constitution briefly lived on Cobbham Road. He returned to New York where he lived the remainder of his life. His grown children and grandchildren lived in the Georgia home and it was a place where my grandfather played as a child, many stories told about that yard. The Few home-place neighbored Buck Story property. If William Few’s place is here then I had to be close to Happy Valley.

Cobbham Road near Happy Valley Lane.

I moved on about a mile or so and sure enough another historical marker: Basil O’Neal. A soldier who fought the British and Indians, born in Maryland, moved to Virginia where Basil married Mary Ann Briscoe. They purchased land and while traveling to Georgia over the Appalachian Trail on horseback, they named their new home Happy Valley, because they expected to be happy in Georgia. They had Eleanor (Nellie) O’Neal who married Michael Smalley. Eleanor and Michael had Selina Smalley who married William Aurelius Gunby who had Sallie Gunby. Sallie married Rad Story. Rad and Sallie had Horace Lawton Story who married Nancy Elizabeth Bentley who had Tom Story, my father.

Thus the Storys and Bentleys become one.

At age fourteen, Tom Story, lost his mother to heart failure. He never got over it. Aunt Donn was the closest thing to a mother he had. And though from the age of five, he lived in the Atlanta area, Lincoln County was where his heart belonged. It was “Lincolnton” that put a smile on his face.

And I came to realize why I had a hard time finding these places. They mainly lived in Lincoln County and some spread over into Wilkes, Columbia and McDuffie County. But when Daddy and his brothers and sisters spoke of home it was always, “We’re from … down there in Lincolnton.” I can still hear their voices.

Papa Story (Horace Lawton Story): “Well, Lincolnton is home. Lincolnton is where I fell in love with Nancy Bentley, a blue blood.” Looking at his grandchildren he said this to us, “That’s why you’re my blue bird specials, each and everyone of you, don’t ever forget that. Lincolnton is where I farmed and the rocks about got the best of me, farmed alone since I was seventeen, that’s when my father was killed on Thomson Road. Still didn’t want to leave. Then the state flooded our home-place to enlarge Clarks Hill. Had no choice then. That’s when I moved my family to Atlanta to be near Mother. It’ll always be home, a place of great joy and great sorrow – down there in Lincolnton.”

Daddy, the quiet one in the family (Tom Story): “The cedars sing you to sleep – down there in Lincolnton. Never heard a sound quite like it anywhere else.”

Tom Story’s brothers and sisters:

Grace: “It’s where I get my name – down there in Lincolnton. I’m a part of the Grace lineage on Mama’s side of the family: the Bentleys, Ramseys and Hardins, first born daughter gets that name. Been going on for over two hundred years. Something to be proud of. That’s why we all love that song, Amazing Grace, it’s our heritage from Mama. Speaking of Mama, I sure do miss her. I can see Mama now, with her prize Rhode Island Reds, down there in Lincolnton.”

Lawton, Jr. (Beau): “I know you won’t believe this but when I was a kid, I rode a cow to school – Salem School. I had it trained to wait on me. That’s where I learned to talk to animals to soothe ’em down. I could teach a rooster to lay down and roll over. No place like it in the world, home – down there in Lincolnton.”

Sarah: “Any time Robert went missing we could find him at this woman’s house, she lived on the lake way back in the woods. Yes, Mama was pregnant with Caleb the first time (three year old) Robert went missing, walking up and down that lake bank calling for him. Worried sick he’d drown in the lake. It’s a wonder Mama didn’t lose Cabe. But Robert didn’t answer cause his mouth was full of apple pie. Oh yes, did I tell you? You walk through an apple orchard to get to her house – down there in Lincolnton.”

Robert: “When I was a kid, I knew an elderly black woman who out did anybody baking apple pie. I slipped off to her house every chance I got, pretended to be lost. She’d hear me crying and come after me. Took me by the hand and led me to her kitchen. I coulda gone blindfolded, smellin’ my way to that pie! She lived in the midst of an apple orchard down near the lake – down there in Lincolnton.”

Miriam: “Well, I like to think on Lincolnton, because we were a whole family then, not one cut from the herd. And my little brother, Caleb, could walk, run and play when we lived – down there in Lincolnton.”

“There’s medicinal power of black-eyed peas. Yes ma’am, black-eyed pea juice can stave off the death angel.”

“Where in the world did you learn that, Aunt Miriam?”

“Down there in Lincolnton.”

Caleb: “I can close my eyes and hear my brothers and sisters when I think on Lincolnton. I can see us playing basket ball at the barn and swimming in the water hole, and working the fields. I was out there with them then, not in this wheelchair. We played hard and worked hard – down there in Lincolnton.”

Gene: “I still go down to Lincolnton at least three times a year. I buy Lincolnton cured ham and sausage, enough for me and my brothers and sisters. I fish around the chimney of the house Grandpa Rad built, the house where we were born. The best fishin’ is out there at Clarks Hill. Don’t believe me, ask my sister, Sarah. She’s the only one who can out fish me. And I always stop by Aunt Donn’s grave at Salem. It’s home – down there in Lincolnton.”

Nancy: “I hope one day someone will write a book about my family, the Bentleys and the Storys. I’m proud of my name: Nancy Bentley Story. I want all the family, you know the younger ones coming along, to know their grandparents and great grandparents – on and on back. If you don’t know who you were, how can you know who you are? Be proud of your ancestors. Dig into our east Georgia genealogy. It’s where we come from – down there in Lincolnton.”

As I drive on looking for signs to Interstate 20 westbound, I shared my father’s smile. For I have come to realize why “down there in Lincolnton” was a magical place for him and his siblings. Its home and it feels like home. Its where we find the spirit of that strong willed school teacher – Aunt Donn – in a Georgia county located nearly to South Carolina. A county shaped like an Indian arrow head pointing to the North Star, reminding me from whence I come and where I am going. If I ever need anything, all I have to do is knock and I am there.

Where?

Down there in Lincolnton – of course, my deahs!

Note:

Caleb Eubanks “Tip” Ramsey married three times. First wife, Grace Caroline Hardin, second wife unknown to me, and third wife Sallie McDaniel. He was a planter and politician, close friend of Henry Allen “Buck” Story. Buck’s second wife was Sallie’s sister, Susan McDaniel.

Later discovered that many Paschals were baptized at the Greenwood Baptist Church on Amity Road, the place where I turned around three times looking for Greenwood Church Road. My grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley (Story), was the namesake of Nancy Elizabeth Paschal who married Dr. John Bentley of Leathersville in Lincoln County, Georgia.

O’Neal Note:

The O’Neal family dropped the O in their name as an act of patriotism and became Neal.

Some information about Basil O’Neal came from A Biography of Basil O’Neal by Annie Pearce Barnes Johnson, historian of Georgia Society Daughters of American Colonist, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia.

Millie Briscoe was Basil O’Neal’s first wife. After Millie’s death, he married Sarah Hull Green.

Some information came from Basil O’Neal’s son, Basil Llewellin Neal who wrote, A Son of the Revolution. Llewellin was born when his father was 80 years old. Basil’s last child was born when he was 85. Sarah Hull Green was daughter of Captain McKeen Green. The captain served with relative General Nathaneal Green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time to split.

Where to go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bird crying?”

“Yes, it was crying and …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tried to change the subject.

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

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

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

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

“Young lady, do not lie to me …”

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

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

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

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

So here goes.

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

“What color was that bird, Diane?”

“Uh, well it was a bluish color.”

“Bluish?”

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fitzpatrick Hotel

Fitzpatrick Hotel

“Hello, anybody here?”

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

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

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

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

“It’s two o’clock.”

“I know ma’am …”

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

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

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

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

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

His eyes widened a bit as he spoke.

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

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

“What did they find out?”

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

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

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

“What did they say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gave me a curious look.“

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

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

Mary Stuart's English Ivy

Mary Stuart’s English Ivy   at Robert Toombs Home

 

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

He laughed.

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

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

“Professor, we’re ready.”

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

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

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

Dunns Chapel Cemetery Photo by Tom Poland

Diane at Dunns Chapel Cemetery
Photo by Tom Poland

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

Mark Twain would be proud!

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

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

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

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

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

“No I looked. The basket is empty.”

“Room 204 is where I put soap …”

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

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

“Yes, front desk.”

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

“Oh yes found it. Thanks Daniel.”

“So you are staying another night?”

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

“That’s awesome! Have a good night!”

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

Deafening silence? Oh yeah.

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

Hmmm, wonder what he did wrong?

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

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

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

Do you still want him?

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

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

One can only wonder.

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

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

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

Now is time to finish The Ghosts of Lincoln County.

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

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

A FIN!

Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Reader:

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

 

Diane Story

Diane Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Barbara?” asked Patricia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went limp and silent.

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

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

 

~ Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr.

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

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

 

 

 

Rock City

Rock City 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did that deter him? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Note:

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