September, 2012


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be long, it’ll be dark soon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namesake Nancy Bentley Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Donn!”

“I’m coming Waltah!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on photos to enlarge.

 

Nancy Story-Goss and Patricia Story-Logan

“Good morning!”

I was surprised to hear my sister’s voice on the other end of the phone so early in the morning.

“Di, Aunt Nancy and I got in from Lincolnton last night. I wanted to call you then, but it was too late. I hope it’s not too early.”
“No, did you have fun?”

“Well we gathered a lot of new information, and found the grave of Buck Story’s second wife Susan McDaniel, but not Rachel,” explained Patricia, “I know she is somewhere in the Warrenton or Lincolnton area! But it looks like she vanished! Without a trace!”

“Rachel? Buck Story? Do I know them?”

“Yes you do, Di I’ve told you a hundred times. Buck Story is our great-great grandfather. Buck’s real name is Henry Allen Story. Rachel Ann Montgomery, our great-great grandmother, was his first wife.”

“Oh yes that’s right. Forgive me,” I said, “It’s not easy to remember folks born over a hundred years ago before seven in the morning.” Ignoring my little touch of sarcasm, Sister went on.

“We found Susan McDaniel right there, beside Buck Story, in the Thomson City Cemetery. And what a monument! I got pictures, wait until you see them, but no Rachel, no sign of the first wife anywhere! Rachel and Buck Story had six sons and the third one was Radford Gunn Story. That’s Papa Story’s father.”

“Oh yeah, I remember now. Well, maybe she was buried out the back door of the old homestead, that’s what they used to do with you when you died back then. They buried you where they threw out the dish water.”

Sister continued to ignore my humor; nothing was getting her off track.

“Aunt Nancy and I have looked in every cemetery in Lincoln, McDuffie, Columbia and Warren County. We combed the archives…”

“What about an obituary in the local newspaper,” I suggested.

“We’ve looked there too, not a trace of an obit.”

“Do you know how she died?”

“She and Buck Story had six sons, and Rachel died nineteen days after Uncle Lum was born. She was just twenty-eight years old.”
“That’s tragic. Lum, what kind of name is that?”

“Columbus Marion Story – they called him Lum. You know, I’ve told you about him. He left Georgia and went to Tampa to live. There he became a sheriff and cleaned up the crime in Tampa. He’s buried down there.”

“Di, you sound sleepy. Did I wake you?”

“Yes, but I’m awake now.”

“Well, why don’t you get up and get dressed, and come over here. When you get here, I’ll drive us to the German Bakery in Stone Mountain. We can have lunch and I’ll tell you all about the new information we got this time.”

Before I could get into the shower the phone rang again.

“Di, are you awake yet? This is ya mother.”

Of course it’s my mother. I’d know that voice anywhere.

“I’m awake. I’m getting ready to come over your way to Tucker. I’m gonna meet Pat and we’re gonna go out for lunch.”

“Good! I want you to talk some sense into ya big sister! You won’t believe what she and Nancy have been up to in Lincolnton!”

“They’re looking for Rachel Montgomery’s grave,” I replied.

“Yes! And climbing over fences, ignoring no trespassing signs! Did you know the trip before this trip, ya sister fell into a grave up to her chest? I found that out from ya Aunt Sarah.”

“No! She never told me that!”

“Good thing ya Aunt Nancy is a strong woman! She grabbed Pat’s arm and pulled her out!”

“Oh my…”

“Yeah, and there’s more! They hang out at the eating places near the courthouse looking for lawyers and old people who might know something. They actually picked up two men in downtown Lincolnton.”
“What?”

“Yes, put them in the car and drove off somewhere in the sure nuff country to find an old woman who knew of a forgotten cemetery.”

“What?”

“Yes, the men said they knew of a woman who could take them to a remote area full of old graves. The woman didn’t have a phone so Pat and Nancy had to drive them to her house.”

“Them?”

“Yes, the two men they picked up in Lincolnton!”

“And so what happened?”
“They found her and talked her into gettin’ in the car to show them where that forgotten cemetery was located.”

“No, they didn’t.”

“Yes they did. I thought if Nancy took Chris, they’d be more cautious…”

“Chris Goss went this time?”

“Yes she did, and Patricia drove that car with Chris sitting in the middle and ya Aunt Nancy on the other side of Chris, with those three strangers in the backseat. Nancy came to her senses and did get nervous about it. After the old woman took them waaaay out into the country on back roads, Nancy decided to wiggle her foot around inside the picnic basket to see exactly where their gun…”

“Their gun?”

“Oh yes they carry a gun out in Lincolnton, ‘cause of wild dogs and the like.”

“So, what happened? Pat didn’t mention this on the phone. That must be the reason she wants to talk to me today.”

Mama went on, “Pat decided to raise the electric windows since so much dust was getting in the car and Nancy had her hand out the window. Nancy wasn’t paying attention to the window, because she had her mind on that gun. Pat rolled the window up on Nancy’s hand.”

“No way.”

“And Nancy didn’t want to holler out to Pat, so she mumbled out of the side of her mouth, ‘my hand is in the window.’ Several times Nancy tried to get Pat’s attention to get her arm free without alerting that team in the backseat. All the while Nancy worked her foot trying to fish the gun up, but Pat drove on and kept asking, ‘What? What did you say Aunt Nancy?’”

“No way. Why didn’t Aunt Nancy scream?”

“Because she was afraid that bunch in the backseat would mug ‘em! And Nancy was afraid if they knew her hand was pinned down – they’d make their move then!”
“No way.”

“Poor Chris sitting between Pat and Nancy finally yelled out, “Mama’s hand is caught in the window!”

“Oh my God in Heaven, that’s so dangerous.”

“I’m telling you! Di, you talk to Pat, maybe you can talk some sense into her. When she and ya Aunt Nancy are down in Lincolnton, they lose all sensibility!”

There was no talking sense into Pat or Aunt Nancy when it came to grave hunting. They fed off each other. For the past five years, every spring and fall those two detectives combed the countryside of Lincoln, Columbia, MdDuffie, Warren, Wilkes, and Washington counties, for a week at a time. They were in hot pursuit uncovering clues to find genealogical details of the Story family. When not in the graveyards, they were in courthouses, country stores and visiting with any distant relative they could dig up. They rubbed gravestones with chalk and took pictures, and now, rescued each other when falling into rotted graves. Not to mention the gun part.

I had no interest in the past. I found some of the stuff somewhat interesting, but became more involved when the hunt for Rachel Montgomery was on. I did not go willingly, but it seemed that during this time, my sister, Patricia, knew more about the dead than the living. It was all I heard until I had Rachel Montgomery front and center of my mind.

The timeline of events became a curiosity to me. Over lunch at the German Bakery I brought up the subject. “Well, what about the War Between the States? Did Buck Story go off to war? And how did Rachel fit in to that time period?”

“Oh yes, Buck Story enlisted in Augusta, May 8, 1862. Let me look at my notes,” answered Pat as she pulled out a little notebook from her purse. “Company A 21st Battalion Georgia Calvary CSA. That group later consolidated with two other groups and became 24th Battalion Georgia Calvary and Hardwick Mounted Rifles. His last known paycheck from the army was written on December 31, 1863 signed by Captain Law. Buck Story reported ‘present’ on September 30, 1864.”

“September 30, 1864? Okay that means he was still on active duty about seven months before Lee surrendered his sword at Appomattox and the war was officially over.”

“Yep, and Rachel of course stayed home, I guess looked after things there, then Buck came home. She had Lum that September 21 in 1865 and she died October 10, 1865. That must have been a devastating year for Buck Story. He fought in a failed war; his wife died and left him with a newborn and five other little boys.”

“How soon did he remarry?”

“Oh he didn’t remarry until 1869, four years later. Oh yes and look at this,” said Pat as she showed me her notes, “Buck Story’s brother, Sanders Walker Story, was wounded in the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862. He actually died from the wound and pneumonia in a Virginia hospital April 17, 1863. Before the war Sanders Story was in the mercantile business in Warrenton, Georgia. He fought with the McDuffie Rifles. He was Buck’s closest sibling in age, about seven years old when Buck was born.” Pat shook her head in disbelief, “Buck Story had a lot to sort out before getting married again. I guess that’s why he waited four years.”

“I can’t believe you know so much about this, truly amazing Pat.”

“Well, most of the Civil War stuff is from our cousin, Gene Graves. He frequents the Atlanta Archives. I’ve seen him there.”

“Gene Graves, another family genealogist. I had no idea.”

Lunch was over and so was my Story family history lesson. It was time for me to get back home. I was married at the time and living on a horse farm, Pounds’ Stable, near Dunwoody with two young sons. We were pretty much isolated and could not see a neighbor from our farm house.

Down a long winding driveway through a clump of trees, our Cape Cod home was nestled within the tree line with a sloping side yard that led to a pasture down to the area where two creeks fed into the property. The creeks were far away, about the length of three football fields from the house, and emptied into the Chattahoochee River. And most nights, the fog from the water crept up across the meadow and surrounded the house giving it a foreboding look.

I was used to seeing the house with the big barns during the daylight hours and was not afraid at night when the fog joined us. At night it became so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face, and on windy nights, the wind whipped around the back corner of the house, making a sound like a screaming woman.

My husband traveled and it was the boys and me at home alone from Tuesday morning until Thursday or Friday evening. The only excitement we had was when a nosy cow or horse wandered out of the pasture into someone’s yard way down the road.

That is until Rachel Montgomery came to visit.

And in the following days, I continued to hear bits and pieces of the week long adventure in Lincolnton. “So what’s this about you falling into a grave?” I asked Pat.

“Oh my goodness, I couldn’t believe it! My feet never hit bottom! Aunt Nancy grabbed my arm and yanked me up in a matter of a second! How’d you know? And anyway that happened last year.”

“Mama told me.”
“Oh don’t tell her too much Di, she’ll worry.”
“Too late.”

Sister laid out what she knew about Rachel Montgomery. “Okay, this is what I have, Di. Rachel Ann Montgomery was the first child of James Franklin Montgomery and Mary Swint-Montgomery. Rachel’s father, James was born on the Fourth of July in 1816, and died April 28, 1884. Mary Swint, her mother, was born July 12, 1817. James and Mary married August 22, 1836. Rachel was born on December 2, 1837 in Warren County, Georgia. Rachel became engaged to Henry Allen Story a year before they married.”

“How do you know they were engaged for a year?”

“Because it was in the Christian Index,” answered Pat, “Buck and Rachel were married in James Montgomery’s home in Warren County, Georgia, on April 2, 1854.”
“You mean the home of her parents?” I asked.

“Yes, but her mother died about a month before the wedding.”
“Oh, that’s sad.”
“Yes, it is sad.”

“And again, exactly how is it Buck Story is related to us?”
“Henry Allen – called Buck Story – was Daddy’s father’s father. There’s our father, Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr., his father, Horace Lawton Story, Sr., and his father Radford Gunn Story and then Rad’s father was Henry Allen ‘Buck’ Story. And Buck’s father was Samuel Gaines Story and I think Samuel’s father was a Richard Story, but I don’t have documentation on Richard Story yet, still working on that.”

“You know for sure?”

“Yes, it’s true and all documented by a deed, or a will, or a tombstone or a Bible entry. That’s what we’ve been doing down there.”

“Well whose grave did you fall in?”

“None of our relatives. We found out about a remote cemetery from a retired lawyer in Lincolnton. It’s out near the lake. You won’t believe the carving on the tombstone! It was a wreath with every flower in the South carved in it! It was so beautiful. I wanted to rub it so I could bring a copy of it home to show everybody. That’s when the earth gave way and I fell in.”

“What if you had been alone?”

“I’d never do that alone, and I’m glad Aunt Nancy’s a strong woman.”

Did that slow Aunt Nancy and Patricia down? No. They were already planning their next trip.

Usually I take in what Pat is telling me about our ancestors, file it away somewhere in the recesses of my mind and go on with life at hand, but not this time. Every time I spoke to Pat, she was unraveling what happened to Rachel Montgomery, and I could not put Rachel out of my mind.

“She just could not have disappeared,” Pat went on, “they all have tombstones so why not Rachel? Her parents were very wealthy and so was Buck Story. Buck and his second wife have a huge tombstone. Did they all forget about Rachel?”

“Where are her parents buried? Did you look there?” I asked.

“There is a Montgomery family cemetery with high brick walls around it.  Some of the graves are not marked.”

“That’s her I bet.”

“Why doesn’t it have her name on a stone? That doesn’t make sense. And why wasn’t she buried at Moon’s Town? That’s where she should be, at her home.”

“Moon’s Town?”

“Yes Moon’s Town. It was the home place of Rachel and Buck Story. Rachel bought Moon’s Town with her own money. She paid six-thousand dollars for one-thousand-four-hundred-and-forty-five acres. When she bought Moon’s Town from the Moon family, it made Buck Story one of the largest land owners in the county.”

“Are you kiddin’ me? How’d she get that kind of money back then?”

“No, I’m not kidding, Rachel’s father made all of his children wealthy, not just his sons, but daughters too. And Buck Story owned farms in several adjacent counties. He’s everywhere! He owned Moon’s Town thanks to Rachel, Mistletoe, Marshall Dollar Place, Big Cotton Gin, Little Cotton Gin, and the Garnett Place. He bought the Marshall Dollar Place after Rachel died for eleven-hundred dollars in 1870. It was a small farm of four-hundred-ninety-five acres.”

“Small?”

“Yes, small compared to the standards of the day. It took a lot of land to grow cotton and sugarcane back then.”

“And he bought it five years after the War Between the States had ended? He was doing well financially in hard times, and must have had U.S. currency not Confederate.” I told Pat. “Well how many sisters and brothers did Rachel have?”

“Some say James Franklin Montgomery had fifteen kids, but I can only document Rachel, Martha, David, John, Lucy, Jane and Mary. I’m still working on the others.”

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

Pat’s words stayed on my mind as I went about my daily work about the house. I stayed busy keeping an eye on our roaming cows, but could not get Rachel Montgomery out of my thoughts. I wondered if she worried over broken fences and wandering cows.

Yes Rachel Montgomery was indeed a mystery. I called my sister often to discuss clues. “So you think she died from birthing Lum?”

“Probably, since she died nineteen days after he was born. First born was Samuel Walker Story who was born in 1855, second was James Montgomery Story who was born in 1856, third was our great-grandfather, Radford Gunn Story who was born in 1858, fourth was Benjamin Franklin Story who was born in 1861, the fifth was Henry David Story who was born in 1862, and last was Columbus Marion Story who was born in 1865.”

“And she died leaving a man with five little boys and a newborn? And he waited four years to remarry? That’s surprising,” I said.

Pat continued, “Then he married a school teacher from Virginia in 1869.”
“When they married, did she have children too?”
“No, I think she was about eighteen years old and…”
“How’d he meet her, in Virginia?”

“Well, Di I first speculated he met her during the War Between the States. That’s the only time I can figure he would go that far north, but then I found out that Caleb “Tip” Ramsey’s wife was a McDaniel, and she is buried next to Buck’s second wife, Susan McDaniel.”

“Tip Ramsey? Haven’t you mentioned his name before?”

“Yes, he was from the Lincolnton area and was related to Daddy’s grandmother, Grace Amelia Ramsey-Bentley.”

“The Ramsey-Bentley connection! And the plot thickens! Susan McDaniel must have come down to Georgia for a visit with Sister and met that long tall handsome Buck Story!”

Pat laughed and said, “The story goes Buck Story sent Susan Winston McDaniel an empty trunk and she packed that trunk up and came down to Georgia and married him!”

“Well, at least she had an education and could teach the children.”

“And you would think he would think enough of his first wife to mark her grave!”

“Rachel Montgomery’s grave is there somewhere and if you ever find it, maybe we can mark it ourselves,” I assured Pat.
“Di, I have looked everywhere. It makes me sick, I cannot move on with my research until we find that grave.”

“Sure you can, just pencil in what you know and then ink it when you are sure. Isn’t that what you do?”

“Yes, but it looks like Rachel Montgomery will stay penciled in forever.”

Well maybe not.

As time moved on, Rachel crept into my mind more and more. I began having little silent conversations with her. When I cooked dinner and rang the bell to call my boys in, I would say something like, “Does this ring a bell, Rachel?” or when breaking up a dispute between the boys, “I bet you did this on a regular basis, Rachel. I feel for you – six boys!”

One day I heard a baby calf crying desperately. I walked up to the barn and found a mother cow dead, with a newborn baby calf crying over her. I saw the sad faces of my sons with tear filled eyes. That day death became real to my boys. And as the days went by, I watched James and Jonathan work hard at feeding the calf with baby bottles. How sad they looked when the baby calf cried for his mother. As I mixed hot water and formula to fill the baby bottles, I thought, “Rachel who fed the baby you left behind?”

Winter set in and the wind blew up across the lower pasture and whipped around the corner of my twelve year old son James’ bedroom. He complained about hearing a woman scream. He talked about it so much, seven year old Jonathan, heard it too. They both tried to convince me that is was a real woman and not the wind.

Because of unusual shadows not noticed before, I started sleeping with the lights on. Bumps and strange sounds made for uncomfortable nights and we began marking the days off the kitchen calendar for “when Daddy comes home.” The boys were quick to get their chores done and in the house behind locked doors before nightfall. Then one weekend Jim did not come home. He stayed up north for a convention.

My mother showed up that weekend with her overnight bag. When I opened the door for her she said, “I’m here to hear that screaming woman.”

The boys were delighted to see “Nanny.” That night a storm blew in and the electricity went out. We lit candles and Mama pulled out a flashlight from her bag and said, “I never go anywhere without this.”

We all went to bed and tried to sleep, but the “screaming woman” was at it and there was a definite sound coming from downstairs. I slowly made my way down the upstairs hall in the dark. I was stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a shadow; an image of a woman in a long flowing gown at the foot of the stairs holding a flickering candle. Her head was topped off with a strange looking night cap of old.

“Who’s there? Speak damn it!”

“It’s ya mother Diane. Get down here now. There is something out there making a grunting sound!”

I quickly stepped down the stairs and followed Mama. She whizzed past the large window in the family room. “There,” Mama cried out, “there, did you see that? It’s big and white! It ran across the backyard going that away!”

“Mama, are you sure you saw something?”

“Yes, I saw something. Di, why in the world don’t you have blinds on these window? Folks can see in,” said Mama while shaking her head in disbelief.

“No one can see us out here.  We like the openness…”

Then we heard it again. The sound was coming from near the back door off the kitchen. It sounded like someone was beating the side of the house with a sledgehammer.

“You hear that? “

When I did not answer Mama, she became irritated. “This house has too many doors and windows, not enough wall! All anyone has to do is knock out a window and step in. The windows may as well be glass doors,” said Mama.

Then we heard it again. Something was intentionally hitting the side of the house, something big and strong; it could not be our imagination.
“Did you hear that Mama?”
“Yes of course I did! Now I’ve seen it and heard it! What are ya gonna do Di? Call the police?” With that Mama picked up the phone and said, “The blamed phone is dead, somebody’s cut the line!”

“No they haven’t. It’s the storm. We need to calm down before we scare the boys.”

Too late, they were peering wide eyed through the banister.

“I’m not going to stay in here all night and wonder what it is. I’m going out there.”
“Goin’ out there? Have you lost ya mind Diane?”

“I’m going out there,” I said handing Mama an umbrella. You hold the umbrella over me and I’ll take the flashlight.”

“Won’t do you no good – batteries are dead. That’s why I’m holding this candle.”

“Okay, hold the candle over here, Mama. I have some batteries in this drawer.” We managed to reload the flashlight and I said, “I’ll go out the backdoor first and you stay behind me. Boys you stay inside.”

It was pouring down rain, but I did not care anymore. I was tired of this nonsense and was determined to see what it was. I yelled out at the top of my lungs to be heard over the rain, “Get out of here! Leave me alone!”

Before I could get all the words out, an inaudible sound was made directly beneath me, just under the deck. Something big hit a support pole and shook the whole deck. I let out a blood curling scream. A cow ran out from under the deck across the backyard, making a new hole in the fence getting back into the pasture.

With that my senses returned and I realized I was soaking wet. Where’s Mama? I knocked on the door. I knocked on the door because it was closed and locked. When I got inside the boys draped me in towels.

“It was just a silly old cow. Everything is alright.” I circled the room with the flashlight and found my mother standing in the breakfast room.

“Mama, isn’t it bad luck to stand under an opened umbrella in the house? And — what are you doing with a tablecloth runner tied around your head?”

“My head was cold, Diane. This house is drafty.”

The boys bundled up in quilts and pillows on the den floor. Mama and I slept on the sofas. I finally went to sleep but not before I heard Mama mumble to herself, “Helen Story, I’ll bet you one thing! Before nightfall tomorrow, you’ll be in ya car heading back to Tucker-town!”

The next day, Pat and Aunt Nancy joined us for dinner and a game of Rook. As we settled into our game, Aunt Nancy began to reminisce about the Lincolnton trip.

“Pat, did you tell ‘em about the one armed man you met in that store?” asked Aunt Nancy.

“Uh, well, no, I didn’t,” reluctantly answered Pat.

“Tell ‘em!” Aunt Nancy demanded.
“Tell us what? What one armed man?” asked Mama.

“Yeah, what one armed man?” I couldn’t wait to hear this one and wondered why Pat had not mentioned it before.

“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Pat tried to down play it.

“Nothing! Tell them what that man said about ya great-great granddaddy, Buck Story!”

“Yeah, tell us Pat,” I had to know.

“Well, I went into this tiny old country store,” said Pat,” and found two men there at a pot bellied stove playing checkers.”
“By yourself? You went in by yourself?” asked Mama.

“Yes, Helen it was alright,” Aunt Nancy answered for Pat, “I was in the car being the look out. And I had the gun right there in my sights, laid up on top of our picnic basket.”

Mama looked disturbed as she slowly shuffled the cards.

Pat went on, “I had no idea what I was going to say. So, I just walked in and looked at them and said, I’m the great-great granddaughter of Henry Allen Story, and I am looking for anyone who might know my family. I am actually looking for a Story cemetery where his first wife, Rachel Montgomery, could be buried. I am looking for Rachel Ann Montgomery-Story’s grave.”

“It’s a wonder you two didn’t get shot!” Mama was not thrilled.

Aunt Nancy had a smile on her face that shined brightly with family pride. Her eyes and ears were on Pat. She wanted to hear this story about her great grandfather. She clung to Pat’s every word as though it was the first time she had heard them.

Pat took a deep breath and continued with her explanation, “The one armed man stood up. He looked like a rough mountain man, but when he smiled at me, I knew he was an okay person. He said, ‘You are Buck Story’s great-great granddaughter?’ And I said, Oh! You know his nickname! And he said, ‘Everybody knew his name. He lived in a place called Moon’s Town. You can find it just over ya shoulder a piece down the road. I heard of a Story cemetery, but never seen it.’”

“He then drew a map on a brown paper bag. He pointed to the map and said, ‘Look in and around there. That’s where the old home place was, not there now, cause of development and all. They’re building houses all out in there. They could’ve moved the graves, I don’t know.’”

Pat continued, “I thanked him over and over. He was so nice, and when I got ready to leave he said, ‘Buck Story owned ten thousand acres back in his day. You know, when I was a kid, I knew him. Every time he saw me, he flipped me a silver dollar. He was a good man.’”

We all sat there at the dining room table speechless. I broke the silence.

“Unbelievable! Pat that is incredible! You went into a strange place, way out in the country – into a Lord knows what kind of store – and found a one armed man sitting at a pot bellied stove playing checkers, who actually knew Buck Story! You didn’t find Rachel Montgomery’s grave, but you found someone who personally knew her husband, the father of her six boys!”

I was totally blown away. Mama was not impressed.

“Nancy Story-Goss, it’s your turn to deal,” said Mama as she handed Nancy the deck of cards, “And I have something to say on the subject of Rachel Montgomery.” Mama spoke to us slowly and deliberately as though we had never heard the English language, “I want y’all to listen to me and remember that that woman died over a hundred years ago. Please, please, let her poor soul rest in peace!”

We knew it was time to get back into the card game. But after a while, we began to talk about the odd goings-on at my house. We all had a good laugh about the cow episode and Mama’s night cap. Then Pat asked Aunt Nancy if she thought some of the other strange occurrences could be the ghost of Rachel Montgomery.

Mama rolled her big brown eyes around to the back of her head, “I’ll deal this time,” she said trying to pull us back into the Rook game. “Nancy, you and Pat are losing this game in case you don’t know it.”

“Do I think it could be Rachel’s ghost?” asked Aunt Nancy. “Heavens no child, that’s not the ghost of Rachel Montgomery. To be absent from the body is to be in the presence of the Lord!”

At the sound of Aunt Nancy’s wise words, I felt a sense of relief throughout my body and silently I said, “Thank you Aunt Nancy, tonight I will be able to sleep with the lights out, sanity has been restored.”

Then Aunt Nancy continued with a faraway look on her face, “That sounds like someone who experienced unrequited love. That’s not Rachel Montgomery for she had the love of her life! Buck Story! No, that’s not Rachel Montgomery. That’s Aunt Wilanty!”

“Aunt Wilanty? Who is she?” I asked astonished.

Aunt Nancy stood and walked over to the window and peeped out, “I’ll have to tell you about her another day. It’s about dark. Helen didn’t you say we needed to be on our way back to Tucker before dark? These roads can be tricky, you know.”

“Yes indeed Nancy. I’ll get my things together,” answered Mama.

“But what happened to Aunt Wilanty?” I persisted.

Aunt Nancy ignored me as she picked up her purse. She gave me a big Story hug and called out to Pat, “Come on Patricia, get your keys. It’s time we get back to Tucker.”

“But what about Aunt Wilanty?” I asked again.

“Diane, Aunt Wilanty was a complicated woman, and we don’t have time to do her justice tonight,” explained Aunt Nancy as she smiled with that faraway look, “Wilanty Story, now that’s a Story for another day.”