January, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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