July, 2011


Everett Home

“You can drive, Di,” said my mother. Mama had that determined look in her eyes. “If you don’t, then I’ll have to walk to Suwanee, Georgia. I’m worried to death about Frances. I have to see her and let her know I am there for her. She’s the one who brought notes to me at school from ya Daddy. Frances and I were baptized together at Pleasant Hill. Frances and George mean the world to me.”

 

“I know, but Mama, I just got my learner’s permit two weeks ago. I haven’t had a chance to read the manual yet…”

“You’ll do fine. I’ll be right next to ya, and I’ll tell ya what to do as we go.”

“Okay, but Mama, you don’t have a driver’s license…”

“I’m ya mother, this is an emergency.”

And yes, this was an emergency.

Since the war (WWII), my father had a problem with his stomach. He trained out in Texas in an open field while planes flew over head and dropped hundreds of pounds of white flour from the sky. The flour was a pretend bomb. At the end of the day there was a sergeant there assessing the flour damage. As the soldiers in training filed by, the sergeant pronounced them dead or alive. My father was pronounced dead every time, and never alive. This took a toll on his nerves and suffered from a “nervous stomach” to the day he died.

And today my father was worried sick about his niece, Frances. Tom Story’s stomach had him laid low. He could not leave the house, let alone drive a car.

My older sister, Patricia, had not shown any interest in driving. The week after I got my driver’s license, she got her’s. She said, “If Diane can get her license, anybody can.” But that was a year away. Today, we needed to get to Suwanee, about an hour away.

This was my second time behind the wheel of a car. The first time was across the street at the Williams’ house. Frances Williams showed me how to back out of her driveway. That’s all the practice I had gotten round to.

With Mama’s encouragement, I backed out of our driveway and slowly crept up Morgan Road. I took a left onto Chamblee Tucker Road. From there, we hit Tucker Norcross Road, and after a long while, took a right onto Buford Highway. We made our way through Duluth. All the while, Mama looked out for me; she was my defensive line. She told me in advance when to slow down and then when to speed up. I was nervous and drove a little jerky, but slowly gained confidence in Mama’s “driving.”

While on Buford Highway in Duluth, to my left, we passed the Frosty Bar. I remembered that place. I had been there a few years before with my cousin, Frances Sexton. She took me there for a milkshake.

I loved going anywhere with Frances in her ’57 Chevy. After leaving her house on Bancroft, I soon realized we were not going to the Dairy Queen in Tucker.

“Frances, where are we going?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” she answered with an all knowing smile.

We pulled into the Frosty Bar. She ordered milkshakes from a friendly woman, Lois.  Soon, a handsome man in a police uniform approached us. When they saw each other, I could tell they were good friends. Lois’ wink let me know, she knew it too.

That was the first time I met George Everett. He was a “don’t mess with me cop” but to Frances, he was “Georgie Porgie.” To George, Frances was “My Every-Thang.” They married.

And as Mama and I passed the Frosty Bar on my maiden drive, my throat ached to think I was about to see George again today at his parent’s home – the home George grew up in. Our destination was 4055 Stonecypher Road – just off Main Street – in Suwanee. We arrived to a crowd of people standing in the yard; people on the porches of the house. People everywhere, yet so quiet, not a sound was made, not even the sound from a bird or dog. Mama and I slowly made our way up to the front porch.

There I saw Frances and George Everett. George greeted me on the steps and asked, “Diane, what in the world are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you,” was all I could say. He hugged me and I felt his body jerk as he cried inwardly. Frances hugged Mama and then me. Frances could not speak.

Mama and I shook hands with the folks as we passed and received their welcome nod. Most were not able to speak. As we made our way inside the home, there were many with their backs to us. Mama joined them, but I veered off and avoided that group. The house was so crowded, I was easily lost. I made my way to the kitchen. Along the way I heard muffled whispers.

“…see his bottom lip?”

“He’s got three kids…”

“…a little baby.”

“…never hurt a soul.”

“…brought his brother a guitar.”

The kitchen was full of policemen standing and sitting around the table. The policemen looked sad beyond sad. They could hardly hold up their heads. No one spoke. At age fifteen, this was a lot to digest. I did the only thing I knew to do during a time like this. I poured coffee and tea. I cut pie and cake. I put it in front of the officers. I did not give them a chance to say anything. I just poured another cup of coffee and found a taker.

That’s what we do down here in the South. When our minds and hearts hit overload, our hands get busy.

Suddenly the police officers stood and shook hands with a dark haired man who walked into the kitchen.

“Judge Merritt…”

“Keep ya seats boys! Stay where ya are! Just wanted to let you know I’m here.”

The officers nodded with respect. The judge’s small daughter stayed in the kitchen and without hesitation, grabbed a handful of paper napkins and passed them out. “Hello, I’m Marilyn. I’m nine,” she said with a delightful smile.

For just a brief moment the officers forgot about their grief and returned Little Marilyn’s smile. She could not stay long. The Merritts had two other families to visit in the Suwanee-Buford area.

While passing out refreshments, I saw a man sitting in a straight chair in a room across the way. He was dressed in trousers and a sleeveless undershirt, no shoes. He was about four feet from the wall; he stared at the wall. His fists were clinched in anger while his face revealed a broken heart. To this day, I have never witnessed such grief. On the other side of that wall was his twenty-eight year old son, Jerry Reed Everett, lying in a coffin.  Jerry was found handcuffed to two other police officers. All three officers had been shot to death.

I returned to the kitchen knowing that was my place. I did not wander out again until Mama came for me when it was time to go home. She wanted to get back to Tucker before it got “good and dark.” I made sure I did not look upon the face of Jerry Everett’s mother. My hands stayed busy in the quiet kitchen and when I left, I kept my eyes down.

But just before I left, the kitchen silence was broken again by a plain clothed policeman who entered the room. It was a relief to hear someone speak. He declared to get whoever did this horrible thing. He patted the others on the shoulders and back. They were not to worry. He would get to the bottom of this. He would not rest until justice had been done. He went on and on.

I handed him pie and coffee. He thanked me, and continued to talk about the day of reckoning that was coming. He was going to get ‘em.  And I might add; he kept his word.

Mama and I left the Everett home and made our way down the long roads back to Tucker. We hardly spoke. But driving home seemed easier and the long country roads seemed shorter going home.

Days later, we all heard that that take charge – nice man – who was doing so much talking in the kitchen – had become a target. He had been shot in the leg while driving his car.

The question now: Is someone out there trying to kill Gwinnett County policemen? That was a scary situation for all concerned, but especially for the Everett family. The slain policeman, Jerry Everett, had two other brothers on the force, Kelly and our Frances’ George.

Whoever was targeting Gwinnett County’s police officers had to be stopped. How could anyone do such a thing?

If only the killer could have seen the face of Mr. Everett sitting in that chair; only able to look at the back of the wall where his deceased son lay. If only the killer could have seen Jerry’s widow holding a baby with two little tots clinging to her dress tail. If only the killer could have known the love and devotion the Everett family had for one another. If only the killer could have known how the three Everett police officer brothers loved their community and served with pride. If only the killer could have known this, perhaps he would not have been able to do this awful thing.

As the case developed, the recently wounded man’s story began to unravel. He decided to speak the truth. This is how I remember it.

The day of the murders, one of the officers did not feel well, and was being taken home by the other two. The three received a call about unusual traffic on a somewhat isolated country road. While taking the ill officer home, they decided to make a stop and check out the call. The three officers got out of their car and drew their weapons as they walked down the dirt road. They were met by another policeman, who evidently responded to the call sooner; the three holstered their weapons. That’s when the lone officer drew his gun.  At some point in time, the three were handcuffed and taken to a nearby wooded area, and there the unthinkable happened. Two other persons participated on some level. I don’t know who did the shooting, but fourteen shots were fired to end the lives of three good men.

The reason? I heard it was to avoid having a car stripping ring exposed.

It was hard to believe. The man doing so much talking in the kitchen, the man who would get all the answers, knew the family, wore the same uniform, and admired family photos of the children. He was a friend.

Mid April 1964 happened a long time ago. It was the day I served coffee and pie to pure evil; not a day I will likely forget. And as hard as it was, I learned some things of great importance. Beware of someone doing all the talking. Beware of someone who will “fix everything.” But more importantly, I learned that no one can keep good people down. Good does overcome evil.

Since the passing of their beloved brother, Jerry Everett, the Everett Brothers Band was formed by Roger, Randall and sister, Pauline Everett. Their talent landed them on a local radio station to play bluegrass music. Folks gathered at the radio station to hear and see the Everett’s play music. Their gig was not long enough to satisfy their fans, so they followed them home to the Everett’s home – there on Stonecypher Road. There the Everett’s played for hours. So many came over the years – it’s humorously said – Mrs. Everett had to run them out to the barn in the backyard.

The Everett Brothers Music Barn is a place where the community can enjoy bluegrass music. Today, the house is a place where anyone can bring their musical instruments to learn and play. East Dixie Band, Counterpoint, Maple Ridge, Potter’s Clay, Heaven’s Echoes, Back to the Cross, Tim Graves and Cherokee, and many other accomplished bands play on the stage at the Everett Brothers Music Barn. The best local players like homegrown Tucker boys, Charles and Wally Alford, have graced that stage. And on occasion you can see a Nashville singer’s trailer parked there. In 1992 the Everett Brothers Band was inducted into the Atlanta Country Hall of Fame.

A framed photo of Officer Jerry Everett resides over the Everett Brothers Music Barn, and rightfully so. Jerry was the one who saved his hard earned money to give the gift of music to his brother Roger, a guitar; a gift that is well woven throughout the Everett family, as nieces and nephews carry on the family tradition.

Everett Brothers Music Barn

Today I write this story and dedicate it the memory of the three slain police officers, Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Reed Everett, who are known to me and many others as Gwinnett’s finest.

Today, the Fourth of July mid-day, was the first time my heart allowed me to return to the Everett homestead. After forty-seven years, I walked about the grounds of the house and music barn. Today I noticed the house sets on a corner of Stonecypher and Blue Grass Trail, and it felt different. The heaviness of the air was gone; it had given way to the sounds of birds singing and children’s laughter.  I followed the American Flag hanging near the front door of the music barn. There I peeped into the glass window door and eyed the stage lined with microphones. A friendly cat joined me and brushed my leg looking for attention. How nice everything is here today. No doubt, the good honest bluegrass music played here has melted away the cobwebs of sorrow and deceit.

I got back into my car and to drive back home – not to Tucker this time – but to Forsyth County. As I drove down crowded Highway 20 and “claimed” my spot on the 400 Autobahn, I thought about how different things are now, especially the roads.

Well into my first year of driving, I refused to attempt the expressway – 85. One Sunday afternoon, my father took me out for a practice drive. He forced me to get on and off the expressway at least a dozen times. As I drove down the ramp, he would say, “Eye your spot, claim it, and then take it.” I would hesitate and he would say, “Donnie, take it – that means – hit the gas!” Over and over I practiced “eying, claiming, and taking” my spot, until I got it. When I drove back to Tucker that Sunday evening, I was over my fear of the fast highway, thanks to Daddy.

And even though I’m now on a fast highway in Forsyth County, my mind is on the first time I ever drove a car out of my hometown of Tucker.

I wanted to go to Suwanee that day to give Frances and George a hug, but I was afraid to drive. I reminded Mama that I just three weeks ago, I was fourteen years old. I was just a kid. I could not drive. I did not know how to get to Suwanee, Georgia. Mama hadn’t been to Suwanee in years, but thought she could “figure it out on the way.”

Mama told me to put the key in the ignition. When the car started, she said, “See there, Diane, you can drive. Now put it in reverse – the ‘R’ and slowly back up. When you get out of the driveway, stop,” Mama said as she threw up her hand like a traffic cop. “Then put it in drive – the ‘D.’ When you get close to the end of Morgan Road, put your blinker on, and start slowing down, and then come to a complete stop,” Mama again threw up her hand and waited for me to acknowledge her signal before going on.

“Okay, I got the stop signal, Mama.”

“Good! Then, wait for me to give you the all clear,” Mama said as she pointed her finger – again just like a traffic cop. “Now, don’t worry girl, you can drive, and if you think we’re lost – no matter! If there’s road in front of you – you can’t be lost – you just keep going. All roads eventually wind up in Tucker,” Mama said with a chuckle. “Yes girl, you can do it! And we’ll be in Suwanee and back in Tucker before you know it.”

Yes, it was like just yesterday when Mama and I set out on that journey that put me behind the wheel on those long country roads leaving Tucker and then back again;  the day I saw how cruel the world can be, and learned to drive. No matter how many years go by, no matter where I go, every time I think about that day, I hear Mama telling me, “Put it in ‘D’ girl – and get on down the road. Diane you’ll never be lost, because you know All Roads Lead to Tucker.”

Gail Lineback

“That lipstick is too bright,” said my good friend Gail.

“Really? I don’t think so. Maybe I need to blot…”

“You can blot all you want, won’t do any good. The color’s too bright.”

I have had a lot of best-friends at different stages of my life. But when I think on my very best-friend, my mind will time wrap all the way back to the sixth grade at Tucker Elementary. I returned to public school mid-year after an on-and-off illness of four years. The first person to greet me at the classroom door was Gail.

“Welcome back Diane! I know you don’t know me, I’m kinda new, I’m Gail Lineback,” Gail said with a big smile. But I know you. I signed some of the get well cards. It’s okay if you don’t remember my name. If you get tired, let me know. I can carry your book bag. My father is a doctor, and he told me how to look after you,” Gail assured me, “I know what signs to look for.”

Before I could speak, she said, “My parents are divorced. I live with my mother and little sister, Little Nancy – just off Chamblee Tucker Road – not too far from where you live – just off Chamblee Tucker Road. I have an older sister Ellen; she’s moved out and doesn’t live with us anymore. My father has re-married and has another family. My mother has a boyfriend, but she probably won’t marry him. Little Nancy collects Barbie dolls…”

Gail could go on for hours. She was determined to be my friend, and did her best to look out for me. It was Gail that I talked to during the seventh grade dances. We were the two tall girls in the class. It seemed that all the boys were short and did not really grow tall until late high school. The most popular girls were short; makes sense. We would dream about how different our lives would be if only we were “short girls.”

High School came and Gail was still looking after me, on occasion, remarking about my skin tone. “You look pale, want something to drink? How about a piece of cheese? Maybe it’s your lipstick. It’s too bright. Honestly, Story, the birds know it’s you that’s coming down the road, when they see that lipstick.”

“Well, I look paler with lighter lipstick, Gail. When I look pale, they think I’m sick!”

“Just take it down a couple notches.”

“Well quite frankly, Lineback, I like this shade.”

“You need to get your eyes checked out.” And on and on the conversation went. Gail Lineback could never offend me, nor could I offend her.

In our eighth and ninth grade, we had Physical Education together. One cold morning after walking out to the practice football field behind Tucker High School, Gail said, “You look flushed, sit down, Story.” Gail instructed me as though she was a real doctor. “Here, sit on my purse so you won’t get wet.” She stood tall and gave a big wave to Miss Bell and Miss Curtis our PE teachers. They gave her the “yes” nod. “See, it’s okay, you sit here until you feel better.”

I was never allowed to run laps around the field with the other girls, I walked one lap. If I walked too fast, Gail would pass me and yell back, “Story, slow down!”

In the tenth grade, Gail and I did not have any classes together. She was also busy with drill team practice. It had been a while since I talked to her, so I decided to call her at home and catch up. I was met with an unfriendly voice.

“Well hello Diane.  Why the sudden burst of friendship?”

“What?”

“Diane, you haven’t spoken or had lunch with us in weeks.”
“I know I’ve seen you around, I know you’ve been busy with the new girl…”
“Of course, I’m busy with the new girl. I want her to feel welcome. You should be busy making her feel welcome. By ignoring your friends, you make her feel unwelcome. She thinks you don’t like her.”

“Oh no, I didn’t mean to do that. I’ve been busy and thought y’all were doing a good job taking care of her…”

“That should never be the case. You should go out of your way to speak to a new person; have lunch with her.”

“You’re right, I just didn’t think…”

“Dee Dee’s funny. You’d really like her. Join us Monday in the lunchroom, you know the table.”

Gail was serious about her friends. I was very fortunate to be included in that list. The other thing she was serious about was her French. If ever she had a moment to spare, she had her nose in that French language book. Her accent needed to be “authentic.” She wanted to impress her father and make her mother proud. She worked hard to strive for perfection.

We graduated from high school and went our separate ways. I found myself soon married and living in the Canal Zone where my husband urged Green Berets to jump out of helicopters into the jungle; jungle training for Viet Nam. Afterwards, my life became focused on my two sons. Gail became a school teacher. Her life became focused on her children; her students.

I saw her once at a THS reunion. Gail met me at the door. She was still pretty, but I was concerned about her eyes since she wore glasses with very thick lenses. She was married briefly to a British man.

“What? Not French?”

“No,” she laughed, “but he could sure speak French! It was an authentic accent! I couldn’t resist. Oh, by the way Story, your lipstick is too bright.”
Gail missed the next reunion.

The years slipped away quickly and again, I prepared for another class reunion. Hopefully Lineback would come to this one. I would look for her at the door and this time, I would introduce myself to her. I was certain she would not recognize me since the years had changed me so much.

When we graduated, I was five seven and weighed just under a hundred pounds. My dark brown hair had given way to — shall I say — platinum blonde. Some would say — almost white. My Twiggy short hair was grown out pony-tail length. I had gained over forty pounds. No one would recognize me tonight, not even Gail Lineback.

I walked in alone – divorced. Before entering the ballroom, I looked for my senior photo button pin. I walked about a long table looking for it. As I made my way around the table, I happened to look up and saw Gail’s photo framed – on the Memorial table. My heart almost stopped and I could hardly breathe. I walked over and stood before her smiling face. As I looked at her smile, I had a silent conversation with her.

“You’re still meeting me at the door, girlfriend…”

I had seen enough. Just as soon as I get my bearings, I will turn and walk out that door. I will slip out and not talk to anyone. There were a few people about, but no one had spoken to me yet. I’m sure no one has recognized me. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was not prepared for this. Why had I not heard about her death? Why couldn’t I have been a good friend and stayed in touch?

“Diane, here is your pictured down here!” called out Brenda Martin from the other end of the table.

Steve McLeod walked into the hallway from the ballroom, “Diane! I thought I saw you come in.”

How in the world did they recognize me? I know I look like a stranger.

 

Then I thought…uh oh! I need to check my lipstick. I hear you girlfriend!

As I walked down the hallway to the lady’s room, I thought, I don’t want to appear unfriendly to my friends. I will finish in here, and then I will enter the ballroom, where I will speak to each and every friend here tonight.

Yes, Lineback, I still hear you – loud and clear!

 

AJC Obituary 2007: Gail Lineback was an artist, a teacher, and an avid and accomplished gardener. She pursued a wide range of interests, including St. Matthew’s Handbell Choir and Cajun dance. She was active in the spiritual communities at St. Luke’s Episcopal and St. Matthew’s Episcopal churches. She was a passionate advocate for women and families in need, giving generously of herself. She will be remembered fondly by friends and family. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Family Promise, to Bethesda Elementary Care Team, to the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association.

And Gail Lineback was my best friend.