An Unchanged Soul

on April 24, 2013 in An Unchanged Soul, Southern Charm

A seven year old boy stood in silence as he looked on the still remains of his grandfather lying in a coffin. Horace Lawton Story was a lanky lad with light sky blue eyes. He wore his blondish hair cut close to the scalp, unlike most young lads in 1893, because his grandfather favored it.

“When a soldier goes into battle, he shaves his head; that way his hair will not tangle and get caught up in something, and slow him down. Do away with pride Horace and keep your hair cut close to the head so that you will be ready for anything at any time,” spoke William Aurelius Gunby to his grandson in months past. “Don’t be an Absalom!”

Young Horace Story knew all about King David’s Absalom, Grandpa Gunby had seen to that, and much more. The man was a staunch Methodist who lived his belief daily.

Young Horace stood there before his beloved grandfather with pride as he took away his cap as though showing Grandpa Gunby his obedience. Horace fought back tears and tried to be a brave soldier, but failed as hot tears streamed down his face.

Being a brave soldier was important to the Gunby family, especially since his great-great grandfather, Basil O’Neal, was a Revolutionary War soldier. But today was a time sorrow could not be hidden. Horace would be a “brave little soldier” on another day.

William Aurelius Gunby was delighted when his daughter, Sallie Elizabeth Gunby-Story, gave birth to this grandson. Sallie had lost a son who was still born, but this baby boy was a born fighter and survived. And as a proud grandfather, he insisted the baby boy be named after the famous Roman poet, Quintus Horatio Flaccus, because there was more to life than being a fighter. Aurelius wanted to teach his new grandson strength through humility.

Yes Grandpa Gunby knew the importance of being a strong and accomplished soldier, though he was a quiet and peaceful man. He was a Georgia planter by trade. He believed in power through the All Mighty, hard work, deep thought and kindness. He was born January 29, 1828, in East Georgia and married his sweetheart, Selina Anne Smalley.

Selina was born October 12, 1832, and was the daughter of Michael and Eleanor “Nellie” Neal Smalley. Nellie was the daughter of Revolutionary war soldier, Basil O’Neal. After the colonies earned their independence from England, the O’Neals dropped the “O” in O’Neal and became Neal in an act of patriotism.

Young Horace was proud of his “fighting for freedom” family. It came natural as he was “raised on it.”

But today, as Horace Story stood before his fallen grandfather, he recalled the many days that he walked with Grandpa Gunby outside – out under the clouds.

“Come here Horace, come walk with me,” Grandpa Gunby would say as he cut Horace from the herd, “Just you and me.”

This always delighted the young lad although he had to take three strides to his grandfather’s one in order to keep up.

After walking for a while, Grandpa Gunby would stop dead in his tracks, look up while shielding his eyes with his hand, “Beautiful cloud formation today; maybe rain tonight. Look at ‘em move.”

Horace would mimic his grandfather and shield his eyes and study the clouds. After a while the grandfather would speak to his grandson, and this is what Horace lived for. He hung on every word.

“What do you see Horace?”

“I see a kite, but it’s dissolving fast. The wind is blowing.”

“A picture is a poem without words, that’s what Horatio the Roman poet said. Wise man; Horace what do you know of Horatio?”

“I know I’m named after him,” they walked on a bit, then Horace looked up to his grandfather and asked, “Grandpa, how did Horatio get so smart? Was he born smart? Or did he have to study hard?” Horace took a deep breath and let it all out. “Grandpa I know you want me to memorize the whole Apostles’ Creed, but it’s too long.”

“Stay with it and you will get it all. But, for now, let me hear what you know.”

Horace thought for a moment then said, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.”

“Excellent! That will do for now.”

“Grandpa, how did Horatio become so wise,” Horace reminded his grandfather of his question.

“It was life’s circumstances that made Horatio wise. He was born to a wealthy family. He went to the best schools and fought alongside Marc Anthony in the Battle of Philippi.”

“Horatio was a great soldier too? Like Grandpa Basil?” young Horace was amazed and curious. “Why didn’t you tell me about that before? You’ve just told me about his wise sayings.”

“Well, I suppose I never mentioned it, because Horatio did the unthinkable; you might say – the unspeakable.”

“What? What did he do?”

“Well, my boy, even though Octavia and Marc Anthony won that battle, it had little to do with Horatio.” Grandpa Gunby chuckled and chose his words carefully, “Well, how can I put this? No other way but to say, Horatio got scared, threw down his shield and weapon, and ran like a scared dog.”

“No way Grandpa, you wouldn’t name me after a coward. I hope Eugene don’t hear about this.”

Aurelius laughed, “Eugene is your cousin and best friend! But you are right, Horace, I would not name you after a coward, nor a rich man fighting for the Roman army. There was more to Horatio than that.”

“Like what?”

“Horatio accepted his disgrace. He knew when he was wrong. He lost his family’s wealth. He lived in poverty, sometimes going hungry. That’s when Horatio embraced hard work. As he worked sun up to sun down, he thought about how it was to be wealthy, a soldier, a poor man. That is when he wrote down his thoughts.”

“Like – Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work,” Horace said proudly.

“Yes, you have learned well for such a small lad, very well said,” Aurelius Gunby continued speaking as they walked and admired the cloud formation, “Life is ever changing just like those clouds. The secret to happiness is to embrace the change, learn from the past, and move on. That is true wisdom and Horatio learned that and shared it with you and me.” Grandpa stopped suddenly and pointed to the sky. “Now, Horace, tell me what you see.”

“I see an elephant to the right and a bear to the left.”

“Yes, I see the bear, but not the elephant,” Grandpa Gunby studied harder. “And see now the bear is becoming a flower. Do you see that?”

“Yes sir, I do see it. It’s beautiful.”

The grandfather took a step forward and the grandson followed suit. They walked a bit further and the grandfather spoke again, “You know Horace, one day you will leave this place and find your own way into the world. Lord only knows what is in store for you; some good —– some bad I suppose.” Aurelius watched the clouds swirl about. “The sky over you will change. Yes, those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.”

Young Horace nodded his head “yes,” because he understood his grandfather all too well. He had heard this quote for as long as he could remember. Every time someone in the family took leave, Aurelius Gunby sent his loved one on his or her way with a reminder that their soul would not change just because they were away from home.

The two walked on together, and then Aurelius got down to the real reason for the walk. And it would not be the last time this subject came up.

“Now Horace, what’s this I hear about you and your cousin squabbling?”

“Who Grandpa?”

“Who? Who have you been arguing with? Over Mr. Goat?”

“Oh, that. Well, I want to lead Mr. Goat some times. Eugene always has to lead! It’s not fair!”

“Eugene trained Mr. Goat and he helped his father and uncles build the cart.  It’s good of him to ask you to ride with him. Doesn’t that beat walking back and forth to school?”

“But he could let me take the reins some of the time; don’t ya think?”

They walked on. Finally the old man said, “A word once sent abroad, flies irrevocably. Horace, my boy, once a bitter word comes out of your mouth, it cannot be pulled back. It is out there forever. Please remember that when speaking to someone. And I dare say, it is your decision how you treat Eugene.”

They walked on for a few more minutes still noticing the clouds and pointing out pictures in the sky, saying little.

The memories of the walks and talks overwhelmed seven year old Horace as he stood before his still and silent grandfather in the Gunby parlor. This was a change that he had to embrace, just as Horatio accepted his demise.

The voice of his grandmother, Selina, interrupted his thoughts for a moment. She was speaking to a black man who lived on the Gunby farm for as long as Horace could remember. She sent for him and he had come into the parlor.

“I want to thank you for caring for Mr. Gunby,” said Selina Gunby.

“No ‘mam, no need, it was my pleasure.”

Selina smiled graciously at the man, “I knew you would want to say goodbye to him.” Selina walked toward the man and extended her hand. He accepted her hand as tears rolled down his face.

“Years ago, Mr. Gunby freed his slaves, before the war I might add; before it was Mr. Lincoln’s law,” stated Selina.

“Yes ‘mam he did. He told me I was free – like the rest of ‘em, and I said, Mr. Gunby if I’m free to stay here and care for you then that’s what I’m a gonna do. And ‘mam, that’s what I did.”

“And no one could have done better, and now you are free to go as you were then.”

“No ‘mam, if you don’t mind, I’ll stick around. Someone needs to look after Mr. Gunby’s grave. I don’t want no roots growing in or around his grave. I want to keep it cleaned off. I’ll see to it every day.”

“Very well,” Selina replied, “you are welcome to stay for as long as you wish. The family is grateful to you. Will you help us carry Mr. Gunby to the wagon?”

The man did not answer, but went straight away to the coffin where he stood for a moment and wept.

Young Horace stepped back as the coffin was closed and carried out of the house.

As Horace followed the coffin, he knew he followed the remains of an honorable man; a man Horace was proud to call “Grandpa.”

As the family walked out of the house and gathered about the wagon, Charles Oren Gunby raised his hand to hold up the horses. He looked up to the April sky and observed the clouds racing about, and said, “Those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.” He wiped his eyes and asked, “Does anyone else have something to say about Father before we leave the farm?”

The black man raised his head and said, “Pale Death will beat at the po’ man’s do’ and the rich man’s do’ – all the same – that’s what Mr. Gunby said.”

“Yes indeed. Is there anyone else?” asked seventeen year old Charles Gunby.

Young Eugene Gunby said, “Yes, Uncle Charlie. I want to say: Happy is a man who fears dishonor worse than death, and is not afraid to die.”

William Aurelius Gunby was right  when he said Horace would leave this place, have good times and bad times. Horace married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Bentley; they had nine children and twenty-six grandchildren. At the tender age of seventeen, Horace had to accept the fact that his father had been murdered. At seventeen, he buried his beloved Grandmother Selina the same year he buried his father. As a farmer, Horace toiled over rocky soil and fought boll weevils. He put food on the table and clothes on his family during the Great Depression.  Horace watched a beloved son slowly and painfully become a cripple. He buried his wife and son. He fought asthma all the live long day.

And it was Uncle Charlie, who encouraged Horace to leave Lincolnton and come to the Atlanta area. Charlie Oren Gunby became Professor Gunby and taught school in Decatur, Georgia. He also owned a small farm on the edge of Tucker. Horace packed up his whole family and moved to that little farm.

I am proud to say that Horace Lawton Story (Sr.) was my grandfather. Anyone who knew him knew that no matter where he found himself, under good or bad circumstances, Horace Lawton Story was a man with an unchanged soul.

And though Horace had less than eight years with William Aurelius Gunby, he closely followed his grandfather’s footsteps all the days of his life.

Author’s Notes:

The black man cared for Mr. Gunby’s grave until the day he died.

The William Aurelius Gunby family lived in a big two story white house near Arimathea Methodist.

William Aurelius Gunby was born in 1828 and died April 20, 1893. He was a steward in the Methodist church for thirty years. He is buried at Dunn’s Chapel.

Also buried at Dunn’s Chapel are William Aurelius Gunby’s parents, William Gunby 1798 – 1858 and Hannah Digby-Gunby 1786 – 1831.

Dunn’s Chapel’s 650 Ridge Road Appling, Georgia. Appling is near Lincolnton, Georgia. Some call the area Leah, Georgia.

Horatio was a poet who was born 65 BC. The English translation of Horatio is Horace.

Quotes from Quintus Horatio Flaccus that were used in this story:

A picture is a poem without words.

A word once sent abroad, flies irrevocably.

Those who cross the sea, change sky, but not their soul.

Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man’s cottage and the palaces of kings.

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

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