Posts Tagged ‘diane story’


Just read a story in the Lincoln Journal about disappearing sites in Georgia, such as smokehouses. According to Tom Poland, not many smokehouses left. Indeed another disappearing Southern tradition, one likely unknown by the youth of today.

I do remember a smokehouse, impossible to forget. If I walked from my house on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia, to our mailbox, look across the street about ten yards, between the road and the Leake’s barn, there sat a small building atop rocks. As Mr. Poland described, the building was dark and if by chance close enough, a hint of a sweet smoke lingered in the planks.

That smokehouse (called the meat house by the owner Mrs. Leake) had not be used in years. But when I was about six years old, I made good use of that oversized “doll’s house,” much to my regret.

I was of a runt of a kid with a curious experimental nature whose mind raced from one thing to another.  By today’s standards I would have been labeled ADD simply because I could not sit still. Taking a nap (much more needed by my mother) was low on my list.

One autumn day during nap time, I slipped out of the house (quietly so Mama could not hear) and found my good friend, Ricky Westbrooks, who lived up one house across the street. As it turned out, Ricky had some firecrackers he “found in Jimmy’s room” and I just happened to have a few matches on me. We quickly put our heads together and came up with a plan. We ran around to the back of the Westbrook’s stand-alone garage, the one his older brother, Jimmy, built as a Tucker High shop project. There we set our plan into action.

We knew what to do, but not who was going to do what. I offered to hold the long string of firecrackers and let Ricky strike the match. His freckled face broke out into a sweat while looking at the matches, so I offered to strike the match and he held the firecrackers. When the flame touched the fuse, just ever so slightly, it raced toward Ricky’s hand. He was not prepared. Startled, he threw the flaming firecrackers up against the garage. They bounced off the wooden garage and landed in a pile of dried leaves which took to flames as soon as the loud popping started.

It was time to split.

Where to go?

With all the noise and screaming going on, no one knows at a time like that. As I ran past the William’s house I spotted the smokehouse. I wanted to cross the street and slip back into my house, but it was like a four alarm (actually it was a two alarm) with neighbors pouring out of their houses and that included Mama. I did not want to run into her so I tugged on the smokehouse door as I had seen Jackie Leake do so often. There I stood in the smokehouse. I shut myself in and turned around and around thinking, what to do, what to do?

The smokehouse was empty save a few yard rakes. In the far right corner was a high up cabinet based from the floor. That’d do. I could get up there and pretend to be stuck. I climbed without success numerous times, but when the fire trucks buzzed by with sirens blazing, the adrenaline kicked in and I made it to the top. There I sat for the duration waiting to be found.

I cannot tell you the torture I endured. It seemed forever before Jackie Leake opened the door and yelled, “She’s in here!”

Almost immediately, I was face to face with Mama. She grabbed me and held me tight. Then she sat me down and made me look into her eyes.

“Diane, what are you doing in here? We’ve been looking for you everywhere! Why didn’t you answer when you heard your name? I thought you burned up in that fire!”

Now, I was old enough to know better than to lie to my mother, but this seemed like an exception.

“I heard a bird crying in here and wanted to rescue it, so I forced open the door. I climbed up on the cabinet and then couldn’t get down.”

“Bird crying?”

“Yes, it was crying and …”

“No such thing as a bird crying, Diane!”

About that time, Tom Story showed up. Thank goodness, a gentle soul who looked for the good in his daughters.

“Well, now Helen, she could of heard a bird in distress and came in to …”

“No such thing Tom! Diane,” she focused her attention back to me, “Young lady, I will snatch a knot in your tail if you lie to me! Where is the bird now?”

“When Jackie opened the door, it flew out.”

Tall Jackie Leake shrugged his shoulder. He hadn’t seen a bird.

“How can you hear a bird cry and not the whole neighborhood calling your name?”

“I did answer. I guess you didn’t hear me.”

I tried to change the subject.

“What’s going on out there? I thought I heard a firetruck.”

Mama’s big brown eyes would not let me go.

“You heard two firetrucks! The Westbrook’s garage burnt down to the ground. Do you know anything about it?”

“Well no, I’ve been in here the whole time. I was stuck up there,” pointing to the cabinet, “Jackie got me down.”

“Young lady, do not lie to me …”

“Now Helen, she could be telling the truth. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt until we know what really happened.”

“Tom, look at her face! You know she’s not telling the truth!”

“Now, now Helen, we don’t know. And you know how she loves birds, always drawing them …”

My father was a lovely man who looked upon his three little girls as precious gems born to be admired. But Mama was the realist in the family and the truth and nothing but the truth was all she wanted, especially today.

So here goes.

“Mama, I’m telling you the truth. A bird was crying …”

“What color was that bird, Diane?”

“Uh, well it was a bluish color.”

“Bluish?”

“Yes ma’am bluish, and it was crying so bad, I just had to help it. I know I should’ve gone for help but …”

I could go on and on with this story and tell you all the nonsense I said that day, but the truth caught up to me while standing in the middle of that smokehouse, wishing and a praying for a sign of a bird. I studied the rafters looking for an old nest, a feather – anything.

The truth showed up in the form of Jimmy Westbrooks. Ricky came clean.

Mama was true to her words, that is about snatching a knot. She did her best to cure me of lying, just like they cured hams in that smokehouse; she put the heat to me. It was there, while smelling the lingering scent of hams cured from yesteryear, that I learned the most important lesson of my life: Never lie to Mama.

Note:

To read more about disappearing Southern traditions: Author Tom Poland, journalist for the Lincoln Journal. Latest book, Georgialina A Southland As We Knew It, the University of South Carolina Press.

The Morgan Road smokehouse was built by Mr. Henry, the original property owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diane Story

Diane Story

When I was a child, about four years old, I visited Clarks Hill Lake with my family. It’s my first true memory of Lincoln County, Georgia. All my life I have heard about Lincoln County, as though it was some magical place of the past, Lincolnton in particular. Not many people live there, not like Atlanta. But Lincolnton is well known with places like the National Register of Historic Places. The county and city are named after General Benjamin Lincoln who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

The lake seemed to have a sacred meaning for my father, Tom Story. He started out in his laid back casual way – taking his wife and three daughters on a little adventure, but by the time we reached Lincoln County, it was apparent the man was on a mission. As soon as he parked the car he made a beeline straight for the Clarks Hill shoreline and there he stood with his hands on hips staring into the blue green water. That day when I was four years old, I noticed he was not just staring into the water, but at an old brick chimney. My older sister and I walked down to the lake and stood beside him. The bottoms of our bare feet burned on hard Georgia red clay as we enjoyed the cool splash of the water.

“That’s where I was born – right there. See that chimney? If you could go under water, you’d see the house that my grandfather, Rad Story, built. It’s there,” he assured us as he pointed, “down there. Yep, that’s where my brothers and sisters were all born, except Robert. He was born at Uncle Ed Gunby’s general store just down the road a piece.” He chuckled at the thought of Robert being born at a general store. And then he continued on about his people. “Aurelius Gunby couldn’t stand the thoughts of his daughter, Sallie, living at Mistletoe Plantation. He reeled her back here by deeding this land over to her husband Rad; lots of Gunbys lived here ‘bouts. The Storys farmed ten thousand acres from here to Thomson, land owned by Buck Story, Rad’s daddy.”

My father,Tom Story, was a quiet man, but could go on and on about the history of Lincoln County, especially when it came to his family.

“We go way back. The Gunbys were akin to the Smalleys, O’Neals – Basil O’Neal, came here during the Revolutionary War. On my mother’s side, we’re akin to the Bentleys, Ramseys, Hardins and Reids. The Hardins are buried at Ft. Gordon, which used to be their farm. Our people were some of the first in Lincoln County.”

“Why did we leave Lincoln County, Daddy?” asked six year old Patricia.

“Life can make you do things you don’t necessarily want to. Yep, life can bring you to your knees. They,” Daddy hesitated and then spoke choosing his words carefully, “Rad – well – he died. And then eventually the government, of all things, flooded our home-place. Sometimes it’s just better to git! That’s all’s that’s left now – that chimney.” Then he grinned and winked at us. “And me, and you and you.”

“And Barbara?” asked Patricia.

“Yes, and Barbara,” he answered with a chuckle. “We’re family, nobody can take that from you. Once family, always family – in life or death.”

Once our lake visits were over, it was off to Aunt Donn’s house. She was a curious though well-educated woman who taught school in Lincolnton. She was of great importance to my father as she was the only living relative of his mother. Donn always dressed up like she was going somewhere important. She lived in an old clapboard home which looked as though it had never been painted – it set atop stacks of rocks. She love rocks; they adorned her porch steps and served as door stops in her home. Not just any old rocks, but ones that came to her through history – something to do with a  Revolutionary War hero – Elijah Clarke. Aunt Donn must have been an excellent school teacher for she had a way of depositing an indelible thought into your memory bank.

“My deahs, if you want to know where to find yoah Aunt Donn, take it upon yoah self to look at a map of Geo’gia. Look no fa’thah then the bo’dah of South Ca’olina. There in Geo’gia, you will find a county in the shape of an Indian ar’ow head pointing nawth. Just remembah, Lincoln is the only county that reminds you to look to the nawth star! Yo’ll neveh be lost if you look to the heavens from whence yoah help cometh. I’ll be heah in Lincoln County with yoah Uncle Waltah, in the same place of mine and yoah fo’fathahs: Dennis Bentley, Dr. John Bentley, Balaam Bentley and William Bentley II. Now keep in mind the very reason we are heah in Geo’gia and not South Ca’olina, is because Captain William Bentley II was awau’ded land heah in exchange for his effo’ts in the American Revolutiona’y war. We call that land Leathasville; it’s neah Lincolnton the county seat. It’s where my fathah and they all – including my grandfathah, Dr. John Bentley, made shoes and saddles – heah in Lincoln County. Now let me make you awa’e of one mo’e thing of impo’tance. Lincoln County was pawt of Wilkes County until 1796. Let’s don’t neglect our Wilkes County histo’y …”

Yes Aunt Donn had an over the top Southern accent which sounded as though she was trying to mimic a sophisticated English lady. My father left Lincoln County at age five, but carried a tad of her accent with him. He had difficulty pronouncing a second “r” in a word, and sometimes his first “r” was neglected. The longer he hung with Aunt Donn, the more he sounded like her.

And on one evening when he asked Mama to please pass the “cawn” at Aunt Donn’s supper table, well, that’s when my mother, Helen Story, said, “Tom, we need to get back to Atlanta.”

I have spoken to quite of few folks from Lincolnton and never heard them speak with an accent like Aunt Donn. But then again, they weren’t born in 1881. You would have thought that Donn was a perfectionist in the area of pronunciation, since she was so particular about her name, Dieudonne Randolph Bentley. She would not tolerate a poor French accent.

“My deahs, if you cannot propa’ly pa’nounce my name, then just call me Donn! I have a lovely name,” she would say with her chin tilted up in righteous indignation. “Dieudonne is French, and it means Gift of God. And of coa’se, Randolph comes from our family in Roanake Island – you know the Randolphs – the ones related to President Thomas Jeffe’son.”

We wisely concealed our eye-ball rolling when Donn did her name dropping, but we honestly tried to sharpen up our French accent just for her. We failed miserably. Even Walter Steed, her husband, called her Donn. And my mother enjoyed calling her the “Gift of God.” You know like, “Tom, go ask the Gift of God . . .” My mother had an attitude toward Aunt Donn because the truth be known, Donn was somewhat of a pot stirrer, a loop hole finder. And she could not be beaten at her game, but never mind about all that, it will suffice to say that my father hung on her every word.

As the years passed, my sisters and I made many memories exploring rural eastern Georgia, and just flat out running wild with our cousins. Even the nights proved to be an adventure. Just how in the world do you keep from sinking to the bottom of a feather mattress? My cousin, Roy, complained that he was about to “smother to death” as he sank deeper and deeper, trapped by the high walls of feathers held together by fine linen. We loved it, because it was the only way to slow him down, and trust me when I say Roy needed slowing down.

But nothing could ever replace my first memory of Lincoln County when I was four years old, not even running the chickens, sabotaging the out-house, nor hollering down the well. That day, my father and Uncle Doc took a boat out to fish near the old brick chimney, while my mother and Aunt Sarah prepared lunch on shore. Mama busy with lunch and my two year old sister had her hands full. I made it my business to take full advantage of the situation and slipped off. I followed the alluring call of gentle splashes. Of course, Mama’s last words to me were, “Don’t go out too far.” And I obeyed her as far as not going too far out into the water, but she said nothing about following the shoreline. In minutes I found myself in a different cove, alone.

And I loved it. The water splashed my feet and legs. A dragonfly teased me, as the wind blew through the trees enticing them to hum an alluring song. I knew I should turn back, but was compelled to stay just a little longer to hear a lone bird sing with the trees. As a four year old, I felt completely satisfied and proud of myself for being independent. Then I got an idea. I could not swim as my older cousins, but I could lie on my stomach and pretend to swim. And that is what I did. And yes, I did go out a little way into the lake.

After a few minutes, I felt a tickle around my ankle. I stopped splashing and was still as could be. The tickling turned into an invisible hand that grabbed my foot and snatched me backwards, back to the shore. When I should have been on the bank, I was under water. I was disoriented, confused, and realized I was in a place that I had to get out of fast. And I knew I was on my own.

I fought hard to get away from the pull, but whatever it was, had me and sucked me deeper into an even darker place. I found myself struggling to free myself from tree roots, some thick and some thin and hairy. When I tried to surface, I hit ground. Somehow I was under ground and surrounded by water. I struggled to free myself and finally, just in time, my head surfaced and I took a big gulp of fresh air, only to be pulled back under the bank again, and again. I knew the third time I went under, I was done for. I was tired and had no strength left to fight the tree roots or the whirlpool. I was dying and I knew it.

And then a miracle happened. The ground above opened up and a bright light shined down into the dark water. Tiny little stars floated down through the light as if to comfort me. Somehow the light allowed the murmuring of the trees to filter into my ears. As the sound of the trees caressed me, I relaxed. I heard many hushed voices whispering things like: “Don’t give up, help is on the way. Don’t give up. You’ll make it.” The voices did not speak in unison, but rather here and there, some far away, some close, some male some female. I did not recognize any of the voices, but somehow believed they were folks who had gone on before me, folks who were pulling for me.

And then a pleasant sensation soothed the top of my head. It floated down through my body in waves to my toes. The feeling can only be described as electric, yet numbing. It melted my will and I surrendered. I felt a swooping feeling of being lifted. I lost consciousness.

When I opened my eyes, I was face to face with my mother. She was stunned. I was told later that one of my older cousins saw me surface for air and go under the bank. He pulled me out.

As I lay stretched out that day on the shore, my mother verbally let me have it. I was dazed and could not concentrate on what she was saying, though I know she was upset. She was angry.

The gentle sound of the water hitting the shore allowed me to escape Mama’s wrath. The more I concentrated on the sound of the water, the less I heard her. As the sun warmed my face, Mama seemed to float away. I looked toward her, but saw the trees behind her instead. The wind blew and the trees murmured, everything else was shut out. I know I was surrounded by many, but do not remember seeing or hearing them.

Three years later I was diagnosed with heart disease and would spend the next five years in and out of hospitals and on strict bedrest for three of those years. My first trip to the hospital when I was seven was most frightful. Unable to draw blood from my small arms, I was strapped to a hard table and the preparation to draw blood from my leg began. I cried, begging my parents to rescue me. Their unwillingness put me in a panic. Just as I was about to scream bloody murder and pull a Houdini, I caught a glimpse of a picture on the wall. It was a colorful rendering of a lake with water lapping the shoreline – just like Clarks Hill. To the left of the lake were tall trees, some cedars – just like Clarks Hill.

I went limp and silent.

I stared at the picture and was taken away – taken to Clarks Hill Lake. I felt the sun on my face and hard Georgia red clay beneath me. I heard the lake water caressing the shore. I felt the breeze and heard the murmuring of the trees. And those hushed whispering voices spoke to me as they did in that watery grave, “Don’t give up, help is on the way. Don’t give up. You’ll make it.”

And who were those hushed whispering voices who stuck with me? I know they are folks who have gone on before me. I know they are folks who are pulling for me. And someday I will return to Lincoln County and learn all about them. Them? The ghosts of Lincoln County.

 

~ Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr.

“Tom Story, why in the world is it, no matter where we’re going, whether it be the beach or the mountains, we always wind up in Lincolnton, Georgia?” Helen Story rolled her intense, big brown eyes (her trademark), then demanded, “Just tell me why!”

“Now Helen, you know, even to get to Heaven, you gotta go through Lincolnton,” Tom Story said with a slow grin (his trademark).

 

 

 

Rock City

Rock City 2015

Tanasi is a Cherokee word for the river. And a beautiful river it is along with the hills and valleys of Tennessee – especially in October when nature bursts alive with color resembling my Memi’s homemade quilts.

But first things first. Whenever this Georgian makes way for Tennessee, it is by Look Out Mountain – first stop – Rock City. A hiker’s dream come true filled with gnomes and fairies. And once at the look out – seven states can be seen on a clear day. All this while reminiscing about the Cherokee lovers who partook in forbidden love. The young man was thrown off the mountain. The young woman jumped after her lover; truly a Cherokee Romeo and Juliet. That site is called Lover’s Leap. But before Lover’s Leap, the swinging bridge will take your breath away while walking suspended in air two-hundred feet only to be met by an eighty foot waterfall – breathtakingly beautiful – and I am proud to say that part of Look Out Mountain is in Georgia.

It’s been a while since I have been on Look Out Mountain, but as a child it was an annual trip. My interest in real estate surely started there as we drove through the Look Out Mountain neighborhood picking out the houses my sisters and I wanted to live in. My favorite was Little Red Riding Hood Trail. My sister, Patricia, loved Mother Goose Trail and my sister, Barbara loved all the roads including: Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Elfin and the Fairyland School. We just knew that if we found a house available, we could talk our parents into buying one, but nothing was ever for sale.

Ruby Falls is the next stop, though still on Look Out Mountain, now in Tennessee. And the trees and foliage are just as inviting as on the Georgia side. Now to board an elevator and drop two-hundred sixty feet underground. It’s about an hour hike through the somewhat dark cave to the waterfall. It’s different now since they have the lights on a timer. Upon entrance into the dark falls room, water can be heard as a cool breeze greets you. After a moment the lights come on and music from heaven plays – and there before me is a waterfall located over one-thousand twenty feet underground – awesome.

But the real reason for being in Tennessee is the Grand Ole Opry – this year celebrating their ninety years anniversary – so it’s off to Nashville. My father, Tom Story, lived for the Grand Ole Opry and it was a part of our annual trip to Tennessee. We were the first to arrive at the Opry and the last to leave. While there in the Ryman Auditorium, we drank cups of hot chocolate while enjoying the show. My favorites were Minnie Pearl with the price tag hanging from her hat and the square dancers. My father played the guitar (Gibson only!) and was into everything at the Opry.

While at home every Saturday night (very late!) Daddy could be heard fidgeting with the radio in the dark. He tuned in Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. After a while, static took over and the fidgeting started again until he had Little Jimmy Dickens coming in loud and clear, then the static returned. But always heard was Flatt and Scruggs singing about Martha White biscuits – ending with “Goodness gracious, its pea pickin’ good!”

Every so often, my mother Helen Story, could be heard saying, “Tom, the girls need their sleep!”

Did that deter him? No.

And here I am at the new Opry where the journey began some fifty (sixty?) years ago. Tom Story would be amazed at how beautiful the new Opry is, but I know my father. He would have his eyes glued to the center stage floor that was cut from the Ryman – the spot where all the greats stood while singing. He would enjoy the new acts, but in his mind, he would hear the talent he so loved listening through the static of his radio.

And tonight, I was thoroughly entertained by the Swan Brothers, Del McCoury Band, Easton Corbin, the Willis Clan, Connie Smith, David Nails – and Rascal Flatts honestly brought the house down! The music was a nice mixture of bluegrass, traditional country and the new guys.

Other than the Opry, my father’s favorite Nashville place was the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. When we were not in the shop, we were “camped out” at the restaurant across the street. The front window was the only table he would have and we had to eat slowly while he watched for Ernest Tubb to enter or exit the record shop.

Often Mama coaxed Daddy into giving the table up. “Tom, see all those people? They are waiting on a table. We’ve been here too long, we need to go.”

“Helen, as long as we’re eating, this table is ours. Girls, have another piece of pie.” He continued to stalk the record shop.

I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but the walls were covered with china plates and they had the best lemon meringue pie, though three pieces in one meal was much for little girls. The restaurant is no longer there, but that giant Ernest Tubb guitar still marks the spot of the record shop.

And if Daddy was here in Nashville today, he would spend an entire day in the Johnny Cash Museum. I can see Mama rolling her eyes.

And it was not a Tennessee vacation until Daddy pumped the car brakes pretending the brakes were “gone” as he drove recklessly down a steep mountain road. We girls had him figured out and laughed between screams though Mama did not find it amusing. Nor did she find it amusing when we talked Daddy into stopping to feed a cute little bear.

“Tom Story, look there! Do you see that sign? DO NOT FEED BEARS!”

Did he listen? No.

And we had such great fun! After all that’s the real reason to go to Tennessee – to find bears. Yes, we attracted a baby bear, the mother bear joined him and we fed them both carefully from inside the car. When we had no more food – the mother bear swiped our car with a big paw putting a dent in the door, jamming the door closed. For the rest of the trip Daddy crawled in and out of the car on Mama’s side. When we returned to our Tucker, Georgia home, Daddy pried the door open and it made an awful noise. He immediately told us what key the sound was in. I wish you could’ve seen how Mama rolled those big brown eyes.

So, that’s why we are not supposed to feed the bears. Lesson learned. Now today, as I travel with my son, James, we will not stop for any bears, not even the little cute ones.

Leaving Nashville behind, we headed to Franklin, Tennessee, the cutest little town in the world, also the place where the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War was fought – the place where six Confederate generals died in one day at the Battle of Franklin.

The Lotz House and Carter House are must sees if you enjoy old homes – especially homes shot full of holes by rifles and cannons. The road from Nashville separated these two homes. As I stood on the Lotz front porch I wondered, “What in the world did Mr. and Mrs. Lotz think as they watched twenty-five thousand Union soldiers pass by their five acre farm?”

I received a mental answer to my question from a distant ghostly being, my great-aunt Dieudonne Bentley-Steed. She was a school teacher back in Lincolnton, Georgia, and was always in her teaching mode. Aunt Donn came in loud and clear with her aristocratic Southern accent, “My deah, the end was neah.”

Yes the end of the war was near and no one knew that better than little Matilda Lotz. Just two days after her sixth birthday, she left a neighbor’s cellar where she hid trying to muffle the sound of constant gunfire and cannon booms. She hid out on the  Carter farm. Tough for a child, but the hard part came when she crossed the road to return home. She had to climb over dead soldiers stacked ten deep. Her beautiful home had one side wall splintered off and a cannon ball set in the front room parlor. Bewildered, the child walked the halls and rooms. Just yesterday, she and her nine year old brother played hide and seek there. Today the same rooms were filled with soldiers bleeding out on the hardwood floors. The blood stains remain to this day. This had been a happy place for little Matilda where the most conflict she experienced was the trouble she got into from drawing on the walls with pieces of cooled coal; she could not resist drawing the farm animals.

After that dreadful day on December 1, 1864, little Matilda lost herself in paint and coal, drawing her place into the new world. As a single young lady she ignored disapproval of traveling alone to Paris, France, where she studied art. Today her little artistic treasures can be found in the William Randolph Hearst mansion in California, the Lotz House, and museums throughout the world. If you happen up on one of her pictures as someone recently did at a flea market (purchased for five dollars), you will find that it is worth millions.

The best entertainment in Franklin is the Ghost Tour, really a way to get the skinny on what went on behind closed doors back in the day and the result being: souls that cannot find rest and walk the streets of Franklin, Tennessee, streets adorned with Garden Club floral arrangements, pumpkins and scarecrows.

Yes going to Rock City, Georgia, and Tanasi, is always a trip down memory lane with a little history lesson. It’s a place I love to be. And still! No house for sale on Little Red Riding Hood Trail!

Author’s Note:

Robert Blythe, at the Lotz House Museum, is a great historian who brings the Battle of Franklin and the Lotz family to life.

 

 

Polly Voyles

Helen “Polly” Voyles

When I was a small child, I was bedridden with heart disease. This aggravation took three active years out of my life. Those years were eased greatly by a mother who loved to read and she read to me often, so often in fact, she regularly lost her voice. My two sisters knew our mother saved her voice for me and understood when she did not always answer them verbally. Looking back on my childhood, I realize that is how my mother, Helen Voyles-Story, demonstrated her love for me.
But it was when she put the book down and got that gleam in her big brown eyes that I longed for. And it happened just like that one winter day as I watched the snow fall outside my bedroom window, all the while listening to a tale about Tom Kitten.

Mama put the book down.

Together we watched snowflakes fall from the sky, snow that began to stick to the trees in our woodsy backyard.
It had already been a busy morning. She fed me my breakfast because I could not hold a fork. She carried me piggyback to the restroom because I could not walk. She sponged bathed me and dressed me in clean pajamas. Mama wrapped me warmly with one of her grandmother’s homemade quilts as I lied in a small bed in the back bedroom. She read to me in hopes I would drift back to sleep, because she had a lot to do. Breakfast dishes needed to be washed and the laundry folded while my two sisters were at school, but not today. Today Mama would sit with me and talk most of the day away – just the two of us. Putting the “beans on” for supper time would have to wait.
Mama chuckled as she rolled me over to rub my back.
“Diane, let me tell you about a rascal of a little cat I had when I was a little girl about your age. That silly cat followed me around from pillar to post. That was back when I was called Polly.” She couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she brought up the memories.
I turned back over and smiled at her; I was all ears.
“Yes, Tom Kitten reminds me of that cat. Of course, I was not allowed to own a cat. Ya PawPaw would not allow a cat in the house. And believe you me, that cat knew to stay outta his way.” She could not hold her laughter back. “Well, I don’t know why, but that cat just took up with me and followed me around everywhere I went.”
“Is it the same cat that followed you to the cotton field?”
“Yes, the very one, he’d follow me down the cotton rows and crawl in my cotton bag for a ride; that made my bag look heavy like I had picked a lot of cotton. When I held the bag up for my parents to see, they’d say, ‘Polly, that’s enough, you can read now.’ Then I’d empty my cotton-slash-cat bag into the wagon, sit down and read a book. Yes, ol’ Cat and I were a team.”
“What was his name?”
“I called him ol’ Cat. I couldn’t name him, because that would be claiming it. Ol’ Cat slipped into the house one night. It was Christmas Eve and I let him hide in my bedroom. Daddy was out late – working. My sister, Mary Frances and I had the Christmas tree decorated. Back then we used real candles to light the tree. We worked for days making decoration and couldn’t wait for Daddy to come home so we could light those candles.”
“PawPaw worked on Christmas Eve?”
“Yes, that’s when we lived on Old Norcross in Tucker. He worked any time someone’s well ran dry; water’s a necessity you know. Wade Voyles could walk a place over and study the lay of the land and dig, always found water. Not everybody could do that. You know he studied at Georgia Tech; in the forties he studied War Training, got a foreman and supervisor degree, and that man knew how to find water. Yes, when someone needed water, they called on Wade Voyles.”
“Anyway, he came home late that Christmas Eve – tired and dirty. We got the matches out and he told us to go ahead and light the candles. Mama put his supper plate on a little table in the living room; that way he could watch us. Frances lit the candles high up and I lit the ones near the bottom.”
“What’s so funny?” I asked as Mama laughed out loud.
“Well, I’m gonna tell you what’s funny, Diane. That ol’ Cat slipped into the living room and for some reason, ran and jumped into the middle of that Christmas tree!”
“Did he catch on fire?”
“No, by some miracle he did not catch fire, but he let out a loud squall that was terrifying! He clung on for dear life and that tree wobbled to and fro! Frances ran and opened the front door. When she did, ol’ Cat darted out! The wind blew in and poof! Instantly, that tree was engulfed in flames – from top to bottom.”
I was shocked.
“Daddy stood up, walked over to the blazing Christmas tree and put his big foot into it – and – out the door it went – a ball of fire sailing through the night air!”
“Oh no, Mama, did you get another tree?”
“No, it was late Christmas Eve; there was no time to go to Aunt Mae’s for another tree. And there I stood, within seconds, no cat and no Christmas tree. I wondered: Will Santa come tonight? What if I never see ol’ Cat again – no tellin’ how many hours I’d have to spend in the cotton field, I’d probably never have time to read another book.”
“What did PawPaw say? Were you in trouble for having the cat in the house?”
“Wade Voyles never said a word. He walked back to the little table, sat down and finished eating his supper. Mama didn’t say anything either except, ‘Wade, do you want some more oyster stew?’”
“What a night.” Mama looked a tad dreamy eyed as she continued her story. “The next morning I woke up and there was that little table Daddy was eating on – in the middle of the living room floor. On that little table was a cedar tree limb stuck in Mama’s lemonade pitcher. It was decorated with a little this and that – looked like Frances’ handiwork,” Mama said with an all knowing eye.” And there were a few gifts for me under that limb.”
“What? What did you get, Mama?”
“I got a new dress, and a book, Little Women, and a funny looking little brush.” Mama smiled big at the thought. “I looked at the little brush with puzzlement. Frances whispered to me, ‘Polly, it’s a cat brush.’ I quickly slipped that little brush in my pocket and opened the front door to check on the weather; and when I opened the door, ol’ Cat slipped into the house, just as pretty as you please.”
My mother took my temperature again and made a note on her medical chart. I had to think fast to keep her in my room. As soon as the thermometer was out of my mouth I asked, “Did you buy all of your Christmas trees from Aunt Mae?”
“Buy nothing! Aunt Mae wouldn’t take a penny from us. And it wasn’t Christmas until I’d gone to her tree farm, and that was well after I married ya Daddy.”
It worked, she sat back down.
“As soon as Tucker School broke for Christmas, I packed my little suitcase and waited on Uncle Tom Moon. I never knew when he was coming, didn’t have a phone back then you know. I just knew he was coming to Tucker sooner or later for supplies and would swing by Old Norcross and pick me up. No matter how cold it was, I sat on the front porch steps listening for the wagon wheels and the clip clop sound of the horses.”
“Horses! They didn’t have a car?”
“No, they did not have a car. It was in the thirties and folks were trying to survive the Depression. Most roads back then were dirt roads, old logging trails widen to accommodate cars and horses. Yes, some had cars, but there was still plenty room for the horse and buggy. Anyway, every year I went to Aunt Mae and Uncle Tom Moon’s to select my Christmas tree.”
I was surprised to know my mother knew anything about horses.
“Mama, tell me about the horses . . .”
“I loved those old horses. I petted them and hugged on ’em, but wasted no time climbing onto the wagon. We left Old Norcross and eased out of Tucker down a dirt road through the woods; trees thick on both sides, every tree imaginable. I passed time by identifying trees. Recognizing trees was easy during summer when the leaves gave their identity away, but not so easy in winter. If I got one wrong, Uncle Tom Moon grunted.”
“What kind of trees did you see?”
“Georgia trees: poplar, sycamore, sugar maple, silver maple, hickory, holly, black walnut, sweet gum and dogwood – all stripped down bare except for the pines, cedars and magnolias. The oaks were easy to spot, ‘cause the dead leaves clung on until spring. And of course, acorns marked the spot of the great oaks. The horse trots made a sound like two coconut shells keeping time to a tune. We passed by dried up cotton fields with a hint of white – cotton overlooked by the pickers, looked a little like snow. And there were homes here and there and about. I was excited and could hardly wait to see Aunt Mae and the mountain.”
“The mountain?”
“Yes, Diane, the mountain – Stone Mountain – that’s where we were headed, and I knew we were almost there when I could see the granite dome. I have to admit it was a little spooky while deep in the woods. The clip clop of the horse hooves was mesmerizing; with each sound I was going deeper into an enchanted forest, not to mention Santa was on the way. And when Santa arrived, I, Polly Voyles, would have the most beautiful Christmas tree in all of Tucker.”
“Why was it spooky?”
“Spooky because back then, there weren’t that many houses around – just a few farms here and there. And the woods made unexplainable noises at times. It didn’t bother Uncle Tom Moon a bit nor was he much of a talker; he was a curious sort. Once we saw smoke rising through the trees in the distance. He said, ‘Look there, Polly, smoke rise. The Indians made smoke rising a common sight back in the day, but not now.’ Of course, I had to ask why and he said, ‘White man.’”
“What did the white man have to do with the Indians? When did they leave? Where did they go to school? I asked a million questions as any small child would. He clicked to the horses and turned left near what was the Rosser farm and went down a ways from the mountain. In a while, he clicked again and turned right back toward the mountain. We passed the place where they made sorghum syrup before he spoke.”
“The Cherokee Indians used to hunt these woods – smoke rise was the only way you’d know they were here. They used the mountain top as a look-out post. They’d see you, but you never saw them. All’s left now’s . . . their spirit.”
“Mama, did you ever see any Indians when you were out with Uncle Tom Moon?”
“Not a one, Diane, and believe you me, when we went through those roads in an open wagon, my eyes were peeled and my ears were listening hard. Once in a while I’d hear rustling in the woods; sometimes I got a glimpse of a rabbit or deer, sometimes a fox. And then again, I’d hear the call of a crow or a bird singing. I saw shadows in the woods, probably just the sun light filtering through. I felt edgy about maybe seeing an Indian, but not really afraid, because Uncle Tom Moon liked them, I could tell he did. And he seemed a little miffed that they were gone. And then in no time at all, I saw Christmas trees – white pines – bluish green trees, all in perfectly straight rows. Uncle Tom Moon then handed the reins to me.”
“You drove the horses?”
“Well, at that point, the horses knew where we were and they took themselves home. And there standing waiting for me was Mae Moon. She was a tall thin woman who most always balled her hair up. She never had children, for some reason she sorta claimed me.”
“I remember her. She was very old.”
“As long as I can remember, Aunt Mae seemed on up in years, even when her hair was black.” Mama shook her head, and got back to her story. “I could not wait to pick out my Christmas tree, but she insisted on order – first things first. I was to go into the farmhouse to warm and have something to eat. And then there were Christmas cookies to make; Gingerbread-men and Gingerbread-women, not to mention the Snowball family made of popcorn balls, and everyone of them had to be decorated just so.”
“I was anxious to pick out my tree. On about the third day, Aunt Mae wrapped her head in a woolen scarf and I knew it was the moment I’d been waiting for, walking the Christmas tree farm. She had already looked over the trees and tied a long white ribbon on about five likely candidates. I always wanted a bigger tree, but she would laugh and say – ‘that tree will not fit inside your house! Wade and Lois will have to cut a hole in the roof!’ Oh how I loved spending my few days with Aunt Mae. I examined each tree closely. I do recall one special day when I made my decision.”
Mama looked out the window at the snow coming down, deep in thought.
“While examining one marked tree, I happened to look beyond the tree and saw the mountain. Now mind you, I had seen that mountain countless times, but that day, it was like seeing it for the first time. I felt like I was dreaming. Then I felt something cold hit my face; to my surprise, it was snowing.”
“Like it is today, Mama?”
“Yes, Diane, snowing just like it is today.” Mama reached for my hand and held it, then turned her attention back to the window.
“Aunt Mae held my hand as we watched the snowflakes fall from the sky. Neither of us spoke as we stood there admiring my tree; neither caring about the cold. I knew then that I would always remember that moment. After a while, Aunt Mae let go of my hand and stepped forward. She took a long white ribbon – a remnant of an old sheet – and tied it into a big bow – that way Uncle Tom Moon would know which tree to cut for me. Though Aunt Mae was standing near, the snow buffered her voice, and she seemed far away when she spoke, ‘Polly, would you look at that? An abandoned nest with a robin egg blue, no prettier color in the entire world.’ Our eyes focused on the robin egg that would never hatch. A bit of sadness crept upon me, thinking of what would never be, and then strangely enough, I felt someone watching from afar. I gazed up at the mountain top, but saw no movement. The feeling did not leave me and I hoped it was a Cherokee admiring my Christmas tree, my tree, finely decorated with a genuine bird’s nest, robin egg blue and a fancy white bow, all topped off with new fallen snow.”

Mama paused for a moment. Her eyes were far from my sick bed, yes, she was a million miles away. A slow smile gave her heart and mind away as she spoke.

“Yes, that day I sensed the great spirit of the Cherokee. I wished the spirit of the Cherokee children could see me, me and my Aunt Mae.”

 

On November 17, 1931, my mother was born in Nicholson, Georgia, but lived her whole life in Tucker, Georgia, in the shadow of Stone Mountain. Her name was Annie Helen Voyles-Story, but was “Polly” to near and dear ones who knew her as a cotton-top child. Later she was affectionately called Nanny, by her grandchildren. She loved a good book and we all enjoyed story time with her. In time, I would learn that the dirt road from Tucker to Stone Mountain was named after an Atlanta attorney, Hugh Howell. The Christmas tree farm was located on Old Tucker Road. The Moon’s farm became a part of a development called Smoke Rise, and of course, the mountain is Stone Mountain.
Each and every time I drive down Hugh Howell Road or hike the Cherokee Trail or find myself atop the granite mountain, I too feel the presence of a great spirit: little Polly Voyles.

Harold R. Turpin

Harold R. Turpin

“Would Diane Story please return to the Home Economics Building? Diane Story – report to Miss Ina Mae Jones in the Home Economics Building! This is an emergency!” asked/demanded Mr. Turpin – as only Mr. Turpin could do. His voice rang out all over Tucker High School.

That was the last thing I ever wanted to hear as an eighth grader at Tucker High; my name blaring over the P-A system – out over the entire school – by Mr. Turpin. What would Sister think?

This was my first year at THS. My sister, Patricia, was two years ahead of me. Pat was a model student and on the THS Drill Team. I was just recovering from a long illness and was not interested in anything much but socializing. I had a few years of conversing to make up, and I enjoyed every moment of it with friends. I didn’t even care if I knew the person I was talking to, I just loved talking. And I knew to avoid the perfectionist principal of Tucker High, Mr. Turpin.

Mr. Turpin was known for his no nonsense attitude, and refused to accept anything less than the best effort from his students. No matter what was going on when Mr. Turpin walked down the halls, disguised male voices from seemingly out of nowhere announced his approach, “Chief, chief, the chief!” Everyone knew to straighten up and walk a bit taller.

Harold Turpin met Mildred Newton at Hiltonia where she was a teacher and he a principal/coach. They married and moved to Tucker Georgia where they were well known by all; the Turpins were educators. Mrs. Turpin taught fourth grade at Tucker Elementary, while Mr. Turpin took charge of Tucker High. In the presence of the Turpins, a student was compelled to put forth their very best – behavior and otherwise.

The truth be known, as I learned years later, Mr. Turpin did everything he could for a student – including breaking the rules – if it was to better a student’s education or station in life. He was all about improvement and moving upward and onward.

But here today in the eighth grade, I was facing the very situation I hoped to avoid. I was being summoned by Mr. Turpin over the P-A System. There was no sweeping this one under the carpet.

As I left class and headed for the Home Ec Building, I recalled my first real visit with Mr. Turpin back in the fall. Coach Terry Sparks, who was my Georgia Civics teacher, sent me to the front office to “help out.” When I learned to stop talking so much, I could stop “helping out” and return to class.

My one hour job in the front office was to take permission slips into Mr. Turpin for his approval. One by one, the football players of THS filed in. It was like they had a schedule going.  It was always one football player at a time. One jock would come in and say, “Hey, get Mr. Turpin to sign this,” as he handed me a note.

“Okay, I’ll ask him,” I said after I read the note and asked a few questions.

Ida Mae Jones

Ina Mae Jones

I really didn’t want to disturb such a busy man, but I swallowed hard and tapped on his door. I did my job.

“Mr. Turpin, could you sign this for…?”

“What is it now?”

“It seems that so and so forgot to shave his legs, and he needs his legs shaved so that the tape will stick to his legs. He needs to check out of school and go home to shave his legs — sir.”

“What?” barked Mr. Turpin as he leapt from his desk downing an antacid on the way to the front-office, barreling toward the hunk of an athlete like a freight train.

“Let me take a look at that ankle. Weren’t you in here just last week? Asking to go home to shave your legs?”

“Yes sir, but the hair’s grown back out. If I play ball tonight, I need to go now to be ready. Coach Hodges sent me over.”
With a grimace and a lecture, Mr. Turpin finally agreed and hastily signed the permission slip.

Coach Terry Hodges

Coach Terry Hodges

Not five minutes later, another football player came in with the same story. Each time Mr. Turpin jumped from his desk, and went through the same routine. Each time acting as though he was going to refuse the request, but always Mr. Turpin gave in and signed the slip – after his lecture was heard. And each time, he turned suddenly to return to his office, downing an antacid shaking his head in disbelief.

I thought it strange; it was almost like Mr. Turpin was hiding his face with his hand as he downed his antacid. This went on for the entire hour that I was on duty, with one football player after another approaching Mr. Turpin with the same story. I just knew at any moment, Mr. Turpin would blow up like a volcano, but he never did.

As I left my class and very slowly walked down the hall toward the Home Economics building, I hoped Mr. Turpin would have the same forgiveness in his heart for me, but who was I?

I certainly was not a football player, nor a cheerleader, nor was I on the drill team. I was not even in a club, and couldn’t play a musical instrument if my life depended on it.  I was just an eighth grader finding my way through the halls of Tucker High School. My heart pounded a little harder with each step closer to the Home Ec Building. This was my third audience with Mr. Turpin.

The second time I was summoned by Mr. Turpin, he tracked me down in my art class.

I especially enjoyed my art class, because it put me in the same class with upper class-men – even seniors. What fun that was; especially when the class was asked to decorate the halls to market the Junior-Senior Prom. The theme was Hawaii.

I created a very sensual Hawaiian girl dancing the hula. Her grass skirt was made of long yellow strips of paper that hung loose from her body. She was attached to the poster paper with a spring and would wiggle as the students passed her. She was a hit, especially with the upper class-men. I wowed them with my talent.

But our smiles left us the day Mr. Turpin knocked on the art classroom door. He stuck his head in as he cracked open the door. Everyone froze as his gaze circled the room. His intense eyes landed on me. He nodded at me and pointed – silently demanding me to follow him.

I took a deep breath as all the art students stared at me. I stood and did the only thing I could, I followed Mr. Turpin. He did not speak all the way to the front office door. There he stopped at the hula girl.

I knew they should not have placed her next to that door, but the art class upper class-men insisted. And, there she was – wiggling all over herself.

Mr. Turpin stopped and stared at the hula girl as he downed an antacid. “What do you think she needs, Diane?”

“Uhhhhh, nothing sir.”

“Nothing sir? Look again.”

“Where sir?”

Mr. Turpin paced the floor for a moment and then approached me again. “Do you have any more of that red paint?”

I looked closely at the red paint on the hula girl and realized Mr. Turpin was speaking of the hula girl’s halter top. “I don’t think so…”

“You don’t think so!”

Realizing that was the wrong answer, I tried to make amends, “Well, I suppose I could mix up some more, but sir – it’s supposed to be a bikini and a bikini…”

“I know what a bikini is Diane!” He turned suddenly as I had seen him do when he really comes down on someone, almost like he was hiding his face.

“I’ll do it. I’ll mix some more red paint sir, but I can’t cover her up too much, it’ll ruin the whole…”

“A little will do,” he snapped.

The bell rang for classes to change.

“I’ll do it tomorrow…”

“No ma’am, you’ll do it now.”

“But sir, I’ll be late for my next class.”

“I’ll take care of that. Let’s go.”

Mr. Turpin escorted me back to my art class. It was quite an ordeal. As the students flooded the halls, all eyes were on me and the “Chief” – as the disguised voices of the male students announced our approach. When we got to the art class, Mr. Turpin walked in and went straight to the paint.

“Red? Where is it?”

“I’ll mix it, sir, here it is.”

Mr. Turpin carried the cup of red paint back to the hula girl. He stood there and was my assistant holding my paint. As I painted over her cleavage, he nodded with approval and then walked me to my next class. He did not speak as we walked. His silence was worse than his bark.

I promised myself to steer clear of Mr. Turpin.  And now, here I was being summoned to the Home Economics Building. What in the world could be wrong? And why the PA system? Before, he found me in class. Could it be that he could not find me, since I changed my schedule while working in Mr. Turpin’s office that day? My locker was too far away from my classes. I just could not carry so many books at one time, so I took full advantage of the front office files while there. Mr. Turpin is going to kill me today, I just know it!

I left the Home Ec building this morning after first period. I was the captain of the cooking team; eight of us including me in my group. We spent the whole class reading and preparing: how to bake a carrot cake. The class time was up and Miss Ina Mae Jones, our teacher, told us to leave the cake in the oven and she would remove it when done. I gave her the time to remove the three layers of cake. We had the frosting mixed together and would frost the carrot cake first thing tomorrow morning. We were to serve the cake at a tea for an invited teacher. Our tea time guest was Coach Terry Hodges.

Even though I needed to make quick tracks to get to the Home Economics Building, I made a mad dash for the girl’s restroom. I had to get some of this make-up off my face. Miss Ina Mae Jones did not approve of the “over done look,” and I did not want to disappoint her. Miss Jones was my mother’s Home Economics teacher and Mama told me – repeatedly – to listen to Miss Jones and obey her. Mama said she never wanted to hear of me being anything but “the perfect young lady” in the presence of Miss Ina Mae Jones. So, you see, I had no choice but to delay my summons.

Some of this mascara and eye shadow had to go.  I had recently recovered from rheumatic fever and found myself five foot seven and weighed only eighty-nine pounds. My saving grace was to fix myself up to look as much like the skinny London high fashion model, Twiggy, as possible.  Of course, I made up my face quickly after Miss Jones’ first period class. And I washed my face before going home. As I washed my face clean, my sister, Patricia, Rena Jones and Sheila Kirkman found me in the restroom.

Twiggy

Twiggy

“I figured I’d find you here. Do you know Mr. Turpin is looking for you?” asked Sister.  But before I could answer she said, “Oh my, let me help you get those eye lashes off. You can’t go to the Home Ec Building looking like this. Miss Jones might call Mom.”

“Jimmy (Cofer) said Mr. Turpin is already at the Home Ec Building waiting for you,” said Rena. “Diane, what happened to the cake?”

“What?”

“Mr. Turpin just came on the speaker again,  and said that you needed to get to the Home Ec Building, because you blew up a cake,” added Sheila. “How in the world did that happen?”

“Oh no,” I said, not believing my ears.

“Hurry Diane, you poor baby,” said Sheila, “You’ve got to get over there now.”

“I’d go with you if I could,” added Sister.

“No, I’ll go. I’ll go now and get this over with,” I said as I wiped my face with a paper towel.

“Be brave,” said Rena.

“Yes, be brave,” encouraged Sister and Sheila.

Blew up a cake! Not the carrot cake! I hurried to get there although a knot balled up my stomach the closer I came to the building. And, then there it was – just what I had dreaded most, the steep steps to the front door of the Home Economics Building, and there stood holding the door open – Mr. Turpin.

“Captain Story, so nice of you to join us,” said Mr. Turpin, “Come on in.”

I followed him to the kitchen area and there stood Miss Jones with a concerned look on her face.  “Diane, look at this. What do you think happened? You may need to form an investigative team to analyze this one.”

I looked into the oven and could not believe my eyes. The three cake layers had exploded! And the cake batter had dried on the top, sides, door, and racks of the oven. Not to mention what little was left in the pans. I didn’t know what to think or say.

I would later form an investigation committee and realize that there were nine ingredients for the carrot cake recipe. Each girl on the team would add her assigned ingredient. Since one ingredient was not assigned, I took care of that one; so did all seven of the other girls. The ninth and unassigned ingredient was baking powder. So you see, baking powder was added eight times to the carrot cake batter. But today, right now, I did not have a clue. I just knew that tomorrow Coach Hodges would not have any cake with his tea.

I stood there looking at the mess without an answer. I turned and looked at both of them. They looked at me. Miss Jones handed me a bucket and a sponge.

Mr. Turpin placed his hand on his face and turned quickly – just as I had seen him do when the football players wanted to go home to shave their legs, just as I had seen him do as he helped me paint the hula girl’s bosom. And today, I saw it – without a doubt – I saw what he tried so hard to hide – a smile!

 

All photos from 1963 THS Yearbook except Twiggy. Twiggy Google Image.