Whodunit?

on July 28, 2013 in Southern Charm

Tom BaptismSeveral years back I had the pleasure of sharing my old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church pew with my cousins, Ted Graves, Elizabeth Graves-Dickens and Curtis Sexton. We sat two pews from the front on the right side, near the side entrance door.

After the choir finished singing, Pastor Buster Dockins took over, “I want to welcome each and every one of you to our annual Homecoming. I am anxious to meet the new faces I see today. Please stay for lunch after the service. We have enough food to feed an army, and as you may well know, we have some excellent cooks here. It is my prayer that you will receive a blessing today.”

With that he read a verse from the Bible and started preaching. Just as the congregation was getting into what he was saying, the side entrance door blew open with great force. It startled everyone.

Pastor Dockins did not miss a beat, as he spoke to thin air while walking to the door.

“Come on in, we were expecting you! All is welcome!”

The congregation laughed. As he shut the door, he looked about and said, “I don’t know whodunit, but I will close the door for them.”

We laughed again and Pastor Dockins returned to his message.

Curtis leaned into me and whispered, “Yeah, I wonder whodunit?” Curtis laughed as he teased me. He goosed me and tried to scare me, “Woooooo, wonder where they’re sitting?”

I punched him with my elbow and tried to hide my smile.

I sat there looking at the preacher, not hearing a word he said. My mind left the message as I kicked around a thought. Knowing what I know about my family, based on their personalities, who would have been the invisible guest? My investigation to unravel this puzzle was afoot.

Whodunit?

What do I know about the Story family history at this church?

Before this church building, Pleasant Hill Baptist met in a log cabin, where my grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story, joined the congregation in 1928. Before Pleasant Hill she belonged to Salem Baptist in Lincolnton, Georgia.

While she occupied this Baptist church, her husband, Horace “Lawton” Story, Sr., sat on a pew at the Tucker Methodist. Tucker Methodist had been his church since 1928 when he left Arimathea Methodist in Lincolnton.

They had nine children who were decidedly Baptist or Methodist.

So, whodunit?Frances and Helen Baptism

Could it have been my father, Tom Story?  Tom was a timid man who expressed himself best while playing his Gibson guitar. Back in the early fifties, he volunteered his finely tuned carpenter skills to help build this church as it stands today. Tom was baptized in a cold spring pond used by Pleasant Hill Baptist when he was fourteen years of age. Though he loved to join in singing hymns, he would have quietly eased in whether he arrived at church late or on time.  No, it was not Daddy.

Could it have been my father’s baby sister, Nancy Story-Goss? Nancy was a fun loving person who was always ready for a Rook game, badminton or horse shoes. She was an avid camper. Nancy especially loved church socials where she participated by bringing picnic baskets full of good food. Nancy knew every short cut to Pleasant Hill Baptist. She was our cheerleader at the annual Easter Egg Hunt. As fun loving as she was, when singled out in a crowd, she quieted down much like her brother, Tom. No, it was not Aunt Nancy.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Eugene Story? Gene was a people person. He was well spoken and presented himself well, especially on the golf course or fishing competition. Gene never met a stranger. Everyone was a potential golf buddy. He could very well be the robust spirit who blew that door open, but there was only one thing, when he married, he became a Presbyterian.  No, it was not Uncle Gene.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Caleb Story? Caleb could run faster, swim faster and out play all his siblings in a game of football. He went to Heaven when I was but three years old, and my earthly eyes are limited. I cannot see Uncle Cabe as he was in his youth or how he is now in spirit. I can only see him in my mind’s eye as a young man being pushed up the handicapped ramp and through the double front doors of this church in his wheelchair. I sadly conclude, it was not Uncle Cabe.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Miriam Story-Sexton? Miriam worked in this very church providing cookies and juice at Vacation Bible School. She contributed to every picnic on the grounds. She worked diligently to have perfect attendance, especially during summer revival when she would put away her gardening to praise the Lord.

As she lied confined to her sick bed she spoke to her son Curtis, “Son, don’t worry about me. My brothers are here, and they’ll look after me.”

Looking about the room and seeing no one, Curtis asked, “Where Mama, where are your brothers?”

Miriam pointed to her father’s rocking chair at the foot of her bed, “There, Cabe is sitting in PaPa’s chair, and Tom is sitting on the arm.” Though she suffered with crumbling bones that could not support her body, her smile could not be removed, and soon thereafter, she left this world for the next. And though Miriam spoke with conviction at home, in the church house, her small voice became tiny as a mouse. No, it was not Miriam.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Robert Story? Now that is very likely, since Robert was the spokesman for his brothers and sisters. During the Great Depression , the Story children could not afford to go to the theater. They pooled their money together and sent their brother, Robert. When Robert returned, he gave a fully detailed account of the movie down to the clothes worn. The other children could talk about the movie with friends as though they had seen the movie.

Robert was Gwinnett County’s Man of the Year twice for his committed community service. Yes, it could be Robert. But no, it was not him. Uncle Robert was a staunch Methodist.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Sarah Story-Graves? Very likely it was her. She worked in this church doing whatever needed. She encouraged the congregation to study shape note singing. She cooked meals for the preachers and sent food from her garden to the congregation, and those in need. Sarah was an overachiever, yet she remained quiet as though she did not want to be noticed. When it came to a line, she would step back and let others go first. No, it was not Aunt Sarah.

Could it have been my father’s brother, Lawton Story, Jr.? Lawton rode the horse drawn buggy to Tucker Methodist with his father and brothers. Perhaps being the first son, Lawton had a soft spot for his mother. He occasionally attended her church, always sitting near the back. His sisters teased him by calling him a “back row Baptist.” But “Mother” didn’t care where he sat, as long as he was in the house of the Lord come Sunday morning. It must have warmed her heart to look about and see her son there.

Lawton was a quiet congenial man who was happy to take the spotlight when showing off his little animals when they performed the little tricks he taught them. But he would shy away from a crowd of people when the focus was on him. No, it was not Uncle Lawton.

Could it have been my father’s sister, Grace Story-Graves?  Grace was the first born and most definitely rode in the horse drawn buggy with her mother to this Baptist church as did all the girls, and baby brother, Tom.

Cecil Johnson was her neighbor, friend, and longest serving pastor at Pleasant Hill. When Grace was elderly and unwell, she tied herself to the kitchen cabinet with a rope so that she could stand long enough to prepare a meal to send to the church. She always wanted to do her part.

Grace did have a hard time getting out of the house in a timely manner on Sunday mornings.

Once in the car, Grace would have her husband go back in the house and make sure the radio was unplugged; lightning might strike it and set the house on fire.  When he returned, she asked him to check the tires. He would get out of the car, walk around and kick the tires. When she was satisfied all was well, they headed to Pleasant Hill.

Sometimes service had already started. Did that stop Grace? Being a front row Baptist, Grace opened that door and made her way down the aisle, making no bones about it. She was delighted to be here!

I glanced over at the pew occupied by Aunt Grace all my growing up years. Yes, oh yes, it could have been her!

As the pastor wrapped up his message, he asks young Ted Graves to “get a song.” Tina Graves warms up the organ while Rita Singleton-Young hits the down beat on the baby grand. We stand and sing:

Pre-cious mem-‘ries, un-seen angels, Sent from somewhere to my soul; How they lin-ger, e-ver near me, And the sa-cred past un-fold. Pre-cious fa-ther, lov-ing moth-er, Fly a-cross the lone-ly years; And old home scenes of my child-hood, In fond mem-o- r-y ap-pears. Pre-cious mem-‘ries, how they lin-ger, How they ev-er flood my soul . . .

As we sing, I stand in reverence this Homecoming day, at the very Baptist church my grandmother drove her horse drawn buggy to every Sunday, a buggy filled with the daughters and baby son. I smile as I recall how my grandfather drove his horse drawn buggy to Tucker Methodist, filled with the sons.

I honor her literal view of baptism while I respect my grandfather’s philosophical view of baptism. I am thankful to both of them for paving the way for us, the Story family.

Grandmother Nancy passed away first and PaPa Story honored her wishes by burying her in the Pleasant Hill Baptist Cemetery. He concluded that tombstone which bore her name should bear his name as well. That is how my staunch Methodist grandfather got buried amongst the Baptist, buried just a short walk on the other side of the door that blew open on this Homecoming day.

I regret to say I did not hear the Homecoming message prepared by Pastor Dockins.

But I did receive an awesome Homecoming blessing at his suggestion:

Whodunit?

Author’s Notes:

Helen Voyles was a member of Tucker Methodist when she married Tom Story. She became Baptist when she was baptized at Pleasant Hill Baptist during summer revival. Also baptized with Helen was Tom’s niece, Frances Sexton.

Many volunteered labor for Pleasant Hill’s new building in the early 1950s, including Lawton (Jr.), Robert, Gene, and Tom Story. Caleb Story was an invalid and died in 1952. Story brothers-in-law who volunteered labor for the new building were Lester Graves, Dorsey Graves, Chester Sexton and Carl Goss. Along with many others, the Story sisters, Grace, Sarah, Miriam and Nancy provided food and drinks for the workers. Also providing food and drinks for the workers, sisters-in-law Bonnie Cofer-Story, Marie Burruss-Story, Mary Bramblett-Story and Helen Voyles-Story.

Pleasant Hill Baptist is located at the edge of Tucker in Dekalb County, Georgia.

First photo is of Thomas Jonathan Story being baptized in the pond at age fourteen, 1937. He is surrounded by family and congregation of Pleasant Hill Baptist. Right to Left: Grace, Miriam, Sarah in hat. Man? Man? Grandmother Nancy Bentley-Story behind Caleb in wheelchair. Boys R to L: Horace, Gene Graves, Ted, standing behind boys: R to L: Chester, H. Lawton Story (PaPa Story), Robert, Bonnie. Man with two children? Two in background of pool? Tom in pool. Minister? Man in jacket? Man in background? Daniel Singleton? Lawton, Jr., Gene Story. Man? Boy? Man? Man? (Where is twelve year old Nancy Story?) Second photo is of Helen Voyles-Story and Frances Sexton being baptized in the new building; Preacher Cecil Johnson officiating.

If you have a story that you would like to share about Pleasant Hill Baptist, please mail them to the church historian, Vicki Graves-Watkins. She is compiling a book of memoirs about the church of her grandmother, Grace Story-Graves, and great-grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story.

Pleasant Hill Baptist

4278 Chamblee Tucker Road

Doraville, Georgia 30340

“Precious Memories” Stamps and Baxter, owners/ J. B. F. Wright, author

“All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia” Copyright © 2012 by H. D. Story

All Rights Reserved

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