December, 2014


One summer day in 1955, my father and I went for a ride in his car; just the two of us. Up our Morgan Road and then left onto Chamblee Tucker Road. He turned right near the “Pittsburgh” area and then stopped at a four-way stop which put up across the road from a spooky Confederate cemetery.
I always dreaded this part of the trip, because the cemetery took my breath and my heart stopped until he hit the gas. At night when the car’s headlights flashed across the cemetery it seemed as though the old headstones jumped out at us; not so much during the day.
Still Tom Story said the same thing every time he put on the brakes and we were face to face with the old worn stones of death, “Haunted!” After a moment of being mesmerized, he hit the gas and made a hard right turn onto Tucker Norcross Road, down the road deep into Gwinnett County.
That is where his sister Grace, and his two brother’s Robert and Lawton lived; all within a farm or two of each other. I had seven boy cousins and one girl cousin who lived down that road.
That road is now known as Jimmy Carter Boulevard, a place over populated with people and stores. But back then, it was farmland with a house dotted here and there. At night, it was darker than my home town of Tucker. The only light was from the moon and stars, God’s country to all my Gwinnett County relatives.
Daddy’s sister Sarah lived on our road, Morgan, while Miriam lived on Bancroft and Nancy lived on Henderson Road, all in Tucker. His brother Gene lived at the edge of Tucker on Lawrenceville Highway.
We were a close knit family who looked for opportunities to visit each other, and today was no different.
Today, Daddy and I were on a mission to get my haircut. My sisters had long smooth blonde hair while my hair was short, dark and wiry. I needed a haircut about every six weeks. My father’s sister, Miriam, usually cut my hair, but she was not feeling well.
I loved any excuse to visit with my older cousins, Ann and Ted Graves.
Their brother, Junior, was grown and married to Rena who lived near the Confederate cemetery.
Daddy and I arrived just in time to help Aunt Grace shell butterbeans. She was too busy to stop and cut my hair and insisted that Daddy let me spend the night. He could pick me up tomorrow morning and my hair would be beautiful when she got finished with me. He agreed.
I was disappointed that Rena and Junior did not come by to visit, since Rena allowed my sisters and me to wear her high heeled shoes.
After dinner Ann and Ted had plans with friends and went their way. I was hoping for a chance to catch fire flies with them, but I was left to spend the evening with Uncle Lester and Aunt Grace. They scurried about cleaning up my hair on the floor like we were about to have important company.
It was imperative that we get the kitchen “set to right” and to the front porch by night fall. We sat there; Aunt Grace and Uncle Lester on the porch floor with their feet on the steps. I took my seat on the next step closer to the ground.
The only movement was the fire flies, too bad there was no one to help me catch them. The sound of hot bugs grew louder the longer we sat there. The full moon and stars lent light to the surrounding grounds. All about us were farms; cornfields everywhere.
“Do you hear something?” asked Uncle Lester.
“Listen,” said Aunt Grace in anticipation.
“What? I don’t hear anything,” I replied.
“Shhhh,” they both said to me, “Listen!”
I took a deep breath and wondered what in the world was going on with those two. Maybe this was their way of keeping me quiet. You know, the children should be seen and not heard thing. But then I heard it too.
A voice of a man in the distance began to slowly surround us and give the hot bugs some competition. As the bugs grew louder the man’s voice seemed to grow louder as well, until I realized it was a familiar voice.
“Follow me, I will make you fishers of men,” the man’s voice went in and out, and I could not get all he was saying.
“He’s saying something about goin’ fishing!”
“Shhhh!” snapped Aunt Grace.
Again I quieted down and strained my ears to hear.
Uncle Lester quietly laughed and whispered, “Diane, if you will listen, you will know what Preacher Johnson is going to preach on this Sunday.”
“Shhhh, Lester!” Aunt Grace was having none of this conversation. “How can a child learn to be quiet if you, a grown man, can’t be quiet?”
Again, we sat there on the porch of my relatives’ farm, all quiet. Then I heard a different sound that made me jump up and into Uncle Lester’s lap. It was their cow mooing in the pasture just behind the house.
Uncle Lester could not help but burst into laughter.
“Lester!”
“I’m sorry Grace, but did you see how fast Diane jumped into my lap?” he whispered through his laughter. “She’s not used to life on a farm.”
“Shhhh, Lester, shhhh! We’re gonna miss the whole sermon!”
When I realized it was the cow, I returned to my seat on the steps. We listened and heard the fading in and out of Preacher Johnson’s voice.
“Why is he preaching what we are going to hear Sunday?” I could not help but wonder out loud.
“He’s practicing,” answered Uncle Lester.
“Lester! Diane!” Aunt Grace reminded us both to quiet down again.
And then Preacher Johnson’s voice faded completely away, and I thought the show was over.
“Okay, can we go inside now? When will Ann and Ted get home? I don’t know why I couldn’t go with them.”
“Diane, they’ll be in before long. They’re out with some friends,” explained Uncle Lester. “They’re nearly grown, you know. You’ll understand that way of thinking when you’re a big girl. I know it’s tough being five.”
“Alright you two, quiet down,” Aunt Grace reminded us.
What? Will Preacher Johnson come back with an encore? And then I heard it, a man’s voice swirling through the ethers. It was out there somewhere, but where? I listened hard and studied the sound.
From our hill top view, we sat on the steps looking down across the road at a gigantic cornfield. I strained my eyes and tried extra hard to adjust my sight to night vision. All the full moon would allow me to see was the shadows of the cornfield. I did not know the voice, but I knew it was not Preacher Johnson.
Uncle Lester chuckled and whispered, “I knew we’d hear from him tonight, I just knew it!”
“Yes,” replied Aunt Grace in a whisper.
“Who?” I asked.
“He’s gonna make a good preacher,” said Uncle Lester.
“Yes, he is, pretty good one already,” whispered Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again.
The mystery man began to bemoan the fact that he had lost his sheep.
“Oh no, he’s lost his sheep! Who has sheep out here? I’ve never seen any sheep,” I was puzzled. “I know about the haunted cemetery, cows and corn and walnut trees, but I never knew about any sheep!”
“Diane, will you please be quiet and listen? And no one has any sheep out here,” explained Aunt Grace who was getting a little testy with me. “And there is no such thing as a haunted cemetery.”
“Yes there is! Just down the road…”
“Shhhh, Diane!” Aunt Grace meant it this time.
“He’s on the lost sheep tonight, Grace,” whispered Uncle Lester.
“Sounds like it,” replied Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again, this time a little more defiantly, “And somebody does have sheep out here! Why don’t you want me to know who?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb!” Aunt Grace snapped back.
What? Really? I had never heard Grace Graves speak broken English and was not used to her disciplinarian side.
“I wish I knew what that meant!” I answered back a little sharply. “I just want to know who you are talking about. Who is that man?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb,” was her reply for the second time.
Okay, if that’s the way you want it. I turned my back on the both of them.
Uncle Lester joined me on my step and put his arm around me.
“Diane,” he whispered, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb, means, you are not a hoot owl, so stop saying – who. Grace wants us to be quiet so we can hear a new preacher make his mark on the world.”
“Okay, but who is he?” I asked, saying the “who” word again.
Of course Aunt Grace said, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb.”
Uncle Lester tried to squelch his laughter as he whispered, “Tilman Singleton.”
“Alright, you two, quiet down over there. He’s about to really get into it now,” replied Grace in anticipation.
Yes he did get into it. When he finished, I knew all about the lost sheep and how to be found. Mr. Tilman Singleton attended our church, and had a lovely wife and a bunch of kids. They all sounded like a flock of little song birds.
As Tilman Singleton’s voice faded away deep into the hot night’s summer air, the sound of a piano took over. The music was beautiful and went on for some time. It was very peaceful and comforting, and then again it was fast, up and away.
Aunt Grace did not have to call me or Uncle Lester down again, because we listened intently as we leaned forward trying to be as near to the music as possible. None of us wanted to miss a beat. The music had a way of capturing the mind and not letting it go. It was beautiful.
Then the piano music slowed down as though it was a train waiting for someone to get aboard. And that’s when an incredible thing happened. The cornfield sang.
I sat there with my aunt and uncle for a long time that night. At five years of age, I learned a lot about my family. Grace Graves was a hard working woman who refused to miss an opportunity to hear the Word. Lester Graves was a kind man; the kind everyone wanted to be near. And for sure, the cornfields in Gwinnett County were the gittin’ place for praise and worship for our Pleasant Hill.
Author’s Notes:
The Confederate cemetery was replaced by Wendy’s, a fast food restaurant.