Thomson Train Station

on February 28, 2012 in Southern Charm, The Runaway Story

Horace Lawton Story

Young Lawton Story turned over in his bed and buried himself deeper in the linen and quilts, hoping he was dreaming. But the knock on his door returned. He was not dreaming. It was time to wake up.

Life on the Story farm was a huge responsibility for an only son. At the time, Lawton had four sisters who stayed busy learning to sew and sing. The older two girls loved reading the family bible and poetry. All the girls were interested in making hats.

But as the oldest child, the hard work of the farm fell squarely on young Lawton’s shoulders. He dressed quickly in the dark and made his way through the hall and downstairs as quietly as possible. He was a thoughtful brother who did not want to wake his sisters. Downstairs in the kitchen, his mother, cut open hot biscuits and slipped a thick slice of good Lincolnton country ham in them, as she greeted him, “Good morning sleepy head!”

Lawton sat down and downed his breakfast. He had wasted a good part of the morning. It was almost five-thirty.

“Good morning son,” said Rad Story as he entered the room and poured himself another cup of hot coffee. “I’ve already fed the horses, couldn’t wait for you any longer. Better bundle up! It’s brutal out there; one of the coldest mornings yet.”

Lawton finished up breakfast quickly. It was time he headed out to the barn. An hour every morning before going to school, he twist corn.

“Son, if you don’t get with it, we won’t have enough corn seed to plant this spring. How many seed bags do we have now?”

“I’m working on the second one Papa,” answered Lawton.

“That’s not nearly enough. Go on out there and get started. I’ll help you if I can.”

“Thanks, Papa.”

Sallie Story wrapped four more biscuits for her young son to take to school for lunch. “Do like your Papa says and bundle up. It is cold out there.”

It was cold for this part of Georgia and the wind made howling sounds, not to mention, it was dark as night. And the sisters were still snuggled in their beds nice and warm. Truth be known, Lawton really enjoyed the company of his sisters and their reading and singing and creative sewing. Growing up in a household full of “women” made Lawton a natural socializer.

Young Lawton Story was no stranger to responsibility, even on Sundays. The Rad Story family belonged to the Arimathea Methodist. Young Lawton took care of the horses and buggies during the service. He stood by an open window of the church to hear the singing and preaching. Sometimes he watered and cared for as many as sixty horses during the worship service. Lawton loved the social world around and about Lincolnton.

And now here he sat in the dark barn, freezing cold, with a single lantern. He must have wondered, “What is wrong with this picture?” But he did not want to disappoint his father and so Lawton slipped off his gloves that his mother forced on him. No one could twist hard kernels of corn off the dried cob with gloves on.

Being a farmer in the 1890s was a tough job all year round. In the spring-time, it was cultivating the ground with plows harnessed by livestock; then came the planting. Summer-time was weeding and irrigating.  Late summer and fall was harvest time which brought in the fresh crops and started the job of drying, canning and curing. Winter-time was just as busy. It was the time to plow up the fields to make room for the next crop, and replace the seed supply. Without seed, there would be no spring-time planting.

Young Lawton would not let his father down. So, he twisted the corn until his callused hands almost bled.

“How’re you doing in here, son?” asked Rad as he slipped in between the barn doors.

“I’m alright, sir.”

Sallie and Rad Story

“Need some help?”

“Yes sir,” replied Lawton with a big smile on his face.

Rad Story seldom had time to help his son with the seed process, but this cold morning he made an exception.

“My hands are almost frozen!” said Rad Story as he rubbed his hands together. “This might warm my hands up, what do you think?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay, Lawton, throw me a few of those corn cobs, careful now.”

Lawton would one day grow up to be six feet and five inches tall, just like his father. This morning he was just a tall lanky kid not realizing his own strength. He carelessly threw a corn cob at his father too wild to catch. The cob hit his father’s frozen hand sending horrendous throbs of pain throughout his hand.

With that the tall stout father stood and turned Lawton’s backside around. Rad swatted his son a couple of times. Rad quickly regained his composure and said, “I’m sorry son, but it hurt so bad; I just had to whoop you a little.” Rad Story held his hand close to his chest and went round in circles until the throbbing stopped.

Lawton twisted the corn alone until school time. Lawton was not happy. Never in his life had his father laid a hand on him. But today on this cold and dark morning, Lawton had his first and only “whooping.” More than anything, his heart was broken.

Lawton did not do well at school that day. He did not want to socialize with his friends, not even his special friend, Nancy Bentley. Lawton had a lot of thinking to do. After school, he twisted corn for another hour. Then the tired lad went to bed right after supper. He did not even want to listen to his sisters read that night.

Nor could he sleep. The warmth of his mother’s quilts comforted him, but he could not relax enough to fall asleep. He was hurt, angry and most of all, he felt disconnected from the most important person in his whole life, his father. Yes, this little boy cried.

Then, he got to thinking. He would not be treated that way by his father. Nor would he work for him. Nor would he ever set eyes on him again. Papa could twist his own corn. Papa would be sorry.

Lawton had a plan.

Lawton would rise earlier than his father. That meant he had to get up before four o’clock in the morning. May as well call it night-time. May as well leave now, since it’s a long walk to the Thomson Train Station. Who knows? Maybe he’d get lucky and catch a ride on the back of some buckboard. He would quietly ease through the sleepy house and take a bag full of left over cornbread and biscuits. He would pour all of his hard earned coins into a sock and stuff it into his pocket. He would then set out for the train depot. He would not be here when Eugene and Mr. Goat stopped to pick him up in the goat cart; he would not go to school today. Eugene and Mr. Goat would have to go without him. He would catch a train to where ever and be gone before anyone could find him.

And that is exactly what he did, well maybe not exactly. Lawton did make it to the Thomson Train Station. All the biscuits and cornbread were gone by the time he got there. Just as he was about to purchase a ticket, he spotted the candy jars. Why not? So he purchased a piece of candy, then another, and another. Before long, Lawton was out of money and could not purchase a ticket to anywhere but here.

What was he to do?

Lawton sat down on an old church pew in the depot and stared into space. He watched the movement of the day as his eyes followed the sun up through the cracks of the wall. He knew his father was looking for him, and by now was frantic. Heck, not just his father. His sisters were out of bed, running around and screaming his name. As unpleasant as the situation was, the thoughts of his sisters out in the cold calling his name brought a little smile to his face. But he could not allow himself to think of his precious mother. Funny thing, he had not thought about what Mother would do when she realized her only son was missing. His heart broke as he fought back the bitter tears of regret. And when he thought of his cousin, Eugene, going to school without him, it made him sad. Who would help Eugene out of the cart and hand him his crutches?

Young Lawton sat on the pew. It had been a long day. He was tired and his feet hurt.

But what could he do now? He could not go home. And he still felt anger toward Papa.  He did not know what to do, so he did nothing. Young Lawton sat still as a mouse and hoped to disappear on that church pew in the train station. He sat there all day, and occasionally caught himself drifting into sleep. When awake, he followed the sun through the cracks in the wall as it made its way back down. It was about “eventide” now. Then he got a glimpse of something he would know anywhere, his father’s white stallion.

Lawton froze. His eyes followed the horse through the cracks in the train station wall as it made another circle, then another circle, and another. Twenty minutes passed and he continued to see the white horse circle the train depot, walking very slowly. Then the white horse stopped and did not circle again. Lawton sat there for as long as he could stand it, then stood to his feet. He knew that his father was waiting for him. And anyway, he had missed lunch and supper. It was time to face the music. It was time to face Papa.

Young Lawton slowly walked to the door and opened it. He mustered the courage to lift his head and look up. And there in front of him was his father, Rad Story, sitting atop his white stallion.

And for some reason, the young lad was not angry at his father anymore. In fact, Papa and his white horse was a “welcomed sight for sore eyes.”

Rad sat still and Lawton stood still for a few moments. Lawton knew he had to make the first move. He slowly approached the horse and stopped.

Rad Story made the next move.

“Son, are you ready to go home?”

“Yes, Papa,” whispered young Lawton.

Rad Story lifted himself up and sat down behind the saddle. He leaned down to offer his hand and said, “Here son, you sit here. It’ll be past your bedtime by the time we get home.”

Young Lawton took his father’s hand and was lifted atop the horse. With the movement of the withers, and the darkness of night for a blanket, young Lawton relaxed and lied against his Papa and fell asleep.

He awoke the next morning in his own bed. And he was allowed to sleep late, just this one time. Had the boy been awake last night when he arrived home, he would have known that it was Papa that held him in his arms like a newborn baby and carried him upstairs to bed. He would have known that his little sisters ran breathlessly and opened doors for Papa as they squelched their excited giggles. And that it was Mother who placed an extra quilt on her son as she kissed his head.

Many years later at my Aunt Sarah’s home on Morgan Road in Tucker Georgia, Lawton Story and his sisters, met for a long over due supper and fellowship. Four of his sisters were there. Theo had long since passed away and was buried in Decatur, Georgia along side her mother and Uncle Charlie.  They were all there in spirit for their names were mentioned often.

The elderly ladies were fascinated by the Story family crowd that showed up to greet them. They were proud of their big brother’s nine children and “so many little grands!”

PaPa Story’s sisters were Annie “Maude” (b.1888), Theodosia “Theo” (b.1892), Eddy Gaines (b.1893), Marion Pierce “Reesie” (b.1895) and baby Ruth Radford (b.1901) Story. It was there that my sister, Patricia, heard that Radford Gunn Story and Sallie Elizabeth Gunby-Story’s first born child was a son, stillborn. Their second child was Lawton, our grandfather, and then the five daughters.

The conversation went from the present Storys to the long gone Storys. The sisters laughed as they recalled their millinery shop in Lincolnton, and which sister was the most creative. My grandfather, now our “PaPa Story,” talked about how hard the work was on that Lincolnton farm. He could never get rid of all “those rocks.” He smiled often as he recalled the fun he had with his “little sisters.” He teased them about “getting to sleep late.”

“Oh sure, Lawton, six o’clock was late!” They teased back at their brother, and laughed the night away.

PaPa Story spoke with regret that with all the grandchildren he had, not one was named, “Sallie,” for his precious mother. And of course, they all recalled “Papa’s white horse.” And even Baby Ruth remembered Papa on the white horse, and she was but three years old when Rad Story met an untimely death.

But my grandfather, Lawton Story, Sr., was most touched and could not hide the tears in his eyes when he spoke of his kind and gentle father and the day he ran away from home. The sisters listened with compassion.

“I had nowhere to go since I spent my train ticket money on candy. I stayed there all day. About eventide, I saw Papa’s white horse walk slowly round and round the depot, and then it stopped. I knew Papa was waiting for me. I slowly gained courage to walk out of the train depot. When I looked up and saw Papa sitting atop that white stallion, my heart melted. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Papa sat on his horse looking straight ahead, a perfect profile – looked like a portrait. I wanted to run up and cry out – I’m sorry Papa! Please take me home!”

Then PaPa Story looked about at all of his grandchildren and laughed with pure pleasure. He knew that whenever he mentioned the white horse, he had our attention. That’s when he would say, “And it was a beauty of a horse, a Saddlebred; a horse that could be ridden all day. Papa said that horse was so smooth, he could’ve been sitting on a comfortable chair. I wish you could’ve seen Rad Story sitting on that white stallion…”

Author’s Note:

The portrait of Sallie and Rad Story was damaged when Lawton Story’s young children poked their grandmother’s eye balls out with a pencil. My sister, Patricia Story-Logan, had the eyes replaced.

Horace Lawton Story was born in 1886 on the Mistletoe Farm owned by his grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story. They later moved to a house that Rad Story built in Lincolnton. Both farms are now under water, Clarke’s Hill Lake sometimes called Strom Thurmond Lake. The Buck Story farm was also a part of what is now known as Mistletoe State Park.

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