Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’


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).

 

 

 

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

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.

Rufus_Cooper_1“James let’s walk down that street today.”

“Really, Jill, we never go down there?”

“I know; that’s why we should try it – you know – do something different.”

James laughed and agreed, “Yes we could do something different, let’s go for it.”

After walking down the street near the horse park, they happened up on a big homemade sign in the front yard. The sign had a photo of two dogs attached to the sign. The sign read: Our owner died. We need a new home.

“Jillian, is this why we are walking down here?”

“Well…”

“Two dogs? One dog is all we can handle.”

“James, what if we died and Ally had been left alone?”

“I’m sure a relative would have adopted her. In fact, they woulda fought over her.”

“Well, they need a home and we have a home and no dog.”

“Jillian, someone will adopt them. I know it. We agreed to wait a year or so. Ally hasn’t been gone that long and we decided to travel for awhile, remember?”

“I suppose. I just miss having a dog in the house.”

“We’ll get another dog one day and he’ll come the way Ally came to us. But not now, we need the time to grieve for our Ally.”

Then there was the time when a friend of Jillian’s house burnt down. The family had to relocate out of state until their house was rebuilt, and they needed to place the  dogs until the project was finished and they could move back.

“Two dogs?”

“James, what if our house burned down and we had to board Ally in a kennel? Wouldn’t you want someone to foster care for her?”

“Yes, of course. Go ahead and call her. We’ll take ‘em – just temporarily.”

When Jillian called, her friend had already placed the two dogs in a caring home. Jillian was happy for her friend yet disappointed that her home remained without a pet.

“What’s wrong Jill? You seem sad today.”

“Well, James, for the last couple of years, a lot has happened. My grandmother was sick. I stayed busy with her after work and on the weekends. And then she died. And then Ally got sick and I was busy with her, then she died. Then Mother was sick and in the nursing home. I stayed busy with her and then she died. Now, I come home from work and I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Well, Jill, why don’t we get another dog?”

And so the hunt was on. Jillian immediately opened her laptop and introduced James to dozens of applicants.

“There’s Lucky, how do you like him? And here’s Dutchess, what about her? And look, there is Bullet and this one is King….”

“Looks like you’ve been looking for quite a while Jill,” laughed James.

Every weekend they traveled to towns all over Georgia in a search of a new dog, a new family member. After much looking they decided they were partial to labs and retrievers. And that’s when they heard of an elderly lady looking for a home for a young golden retriever. She had three other dogs and the fourth one was too much. That is when they drove to Newnan, Georgia, and met Rufus.

At first sight, Rufus was everything they wanted. He was a beauty with a golden coat with white under frost. He had been to obedience school, but not yet neutered. They paid the lady, promising to have Rufus fixed as soon as possible. As they walked Rufus to the car the dog looked back at the elderly lady and curiously turned his head. She tried to give back part of the money to buy him a new toy. They refused the money and assured her they would buy Rufus many new toys. Rufus barked at the lady. Again he had her attention. He sat obediently and extended his paw. She squatted down and shook his hand as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Mam, do you want us to leave him with you and pick him up in a couple days?” James asked. “That way you have plenty of time to say good-bye.”

“Oh no, if you do I will not be able to give him up.” The elderly lady looked sweetly at the couple and said, “Whoever said grief was the price for love, was right. Now take him before I change my mind.” With that the lady turned and walked away not looking back.

Rufus went to his new home.

Neither really cared for the name Rufus. Jillian thought Cooper was a good name for him. When Rufus ignored them, they tried Rufus-Cooper.

Rufus-Cooper could have won a beauty contest with that face and those big brown eyes. Those eyes were to die for and they let you in on a secret about Rufus-Cooper; he was somewhat manipulative. He had a way of turning his pretty little head and gazing at you. In an instant,  you wanted to give the world to him. James and Jillian soon learned that his obedience school instructions needed reinforcement, as well as the backyard fence.

When Rufus-Cooper takes to the yard, he rounds the trees until he becomes a centrifugal force. There’s no slowing him down. That dog has energy!

James and Jillian are amazed! In fact, they could not believe their eyes. They were accustomed to Ally who came to them as an adult. She was as laid back as a queen upon her throne and adored the love they bestowed upon her. Rufus-Cooper was a young upstart with keen sight and hearing. He was ready for anything in an instant. It took two nights in a cage before he remembered the meaning of the word, settle. Jillian thought it unkind to place him in the cage, but also realized Rufus-Cooper could not bounce around in the house during the night. Apparently, Rufus-Cooper thought he was a tennis ball.

The two nights of restriction helped, but James thought the young dog needed some rough housing to release some of that energy. Out in the backyard they played tug-a-war with a toy. They went round and round. Jillian watched and wanted in on the fun, after all, that was her dog too.

“James, let me rough house with him.”

James laughed, “Jillian you don’t know anything about this rough housing. You’d better not.”

“Nonsense, I want to rough house with Cooper, too.”

With that James handed the toy over to Jillian. In just moments Jillian screamed and twirled around in circles. She protected her face with her hands and cried. James went after her as she ran into the house. James was afraid to look at Jillian’s face fearing the whole side of her face destroyed.

“He clawed me! That Rufus-Cooper! Oh my gosh; it hurts so much. I know he didn’t mean to, but oh my gosh; it hurts! It’s burning like fire!”

“Let me take a look Jill!”

Jillian bravely revealed her face and there it was: a wound at the base of her nose. It was clearly visible – with a magnifying glass. Yes, James was right; Jillian did not know anything about this rough housing stuff.

“Maybe we need to get him a playmate…”

“Jillian, we don’t need two dogs. If we get another one like Rufus-Cooper, we’ll have to move out of the house and let them have it.”

“I know. I just don’t think you can do all that rough housing alone.”

They persevered with reinforcement and Rufus-Cooper settles – from time to time. He has had two successful neighborhood play-dates. He has earned a “good boy” but not a single “good boy.”

Rufus-Cooper is well behaved at the Varsity as he anticipates his Frosty Orange with a wagging tail. He is also on his best behavior when Jillian takes him to PetSmart where he gets a new toy – if he walks with her. But playing on the Stone Mountain Park is still in the future.

“James, let’s take Cooper to play Frisbee at the Stone Mountain Park today; he’ll love the grassy Mall.”

 “Are you kiddin’? Jillian if that dog takes off, he will not stop until he hits the Atlantic Ocean. He’s not ready for free range yet. Stone Mountain will have to wait, maybe next year.”

“Oh, Cooper will love the mountain! I’ll be glad when that day comes!”

James laughed, “Yes, me too!”

Until that day, Rufus-Cooper will stay busy playing in the backyard and taking his walks. It is just a matter of time before Rufus-Cooper is a well trained good boy! James and Jillian look forward to many happy years with Wild Thang, excuse me I mean, Rufus-Cooper.

Nancy Elizabeth Pascal  Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley
Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Today I saw a photograph of my great-great grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley. This rare find of a photo came to me by internet email from Appling, Georgia.

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal was born March 24, 1805, to William (1776-1853) and Elizabeth Elliot-Paschal (1780-1846).

Nancy Paschal became a part of the Leathersville pioneer family when she married John Bentley in 1822. Dr. John Bentley was the son of Nancy Tankersley and Balaam Bentley. Balaam was the son of Captain William Bentley II, who was granted land in Georgia for service in the American Revolutionary War. The land became known as Leathersville; it was the first tannery in Georgia.

Nancy was no stranger to the Bentleys. Her sister, Mary “Polly” Paschal, married Dr. John Bentley’s brother, Benjamin Bentley. They say you can’t speak of a Bentley without speaking of a Paschal. That’s the way it was down there in Leathersville, Georgia.

Receiving this likeness of Nancy Paschal was truly a gift; one I never dreamed of having.

I examined the newly acquired photo with care. As most vintage photographs Nancy did not have a smile on her face. She appeared tired and perhaps sad. I thought about how life must have been rearing a family in a log home without central heat and air conditioning, about how difficult it was to deliver numerous babies at home under these conditions. At least her husband was a doctor and her sister, Polly, was nearby.

No doubt Nancy had her hands full attending to the ins and outs of patients arriving at all hours of the day and night, not to mention her own children. And then there was the fact that their farm was a working tannery. She was a busy woman with little time for leisure, I suppose.

And her big round eyes told a story, but what exactly? I studied the photo more closely and discovered her pretty shaped lips. Her hair was dark and she was well dressed.  Was she happy? Was she truly sad? Perhaps she had lost someone in a tragic way, and had lost her smile to the ages. Or maybe the photographer told her not to smile. Or perhaps this is how a face looks after surviving a war fought on the homeland. She survived the War Between the States and lived another twenty-two years.

It is true that she lost her young son, Charlie, to that war. Charles Mallory Bentley was born April 2, 1842. He was killed in the Battle of Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia, July 2, 1862; a place called Poindexter Farm. It was a seven day battle that took the lives of almost eight thousand soldiers; many called it a bloody debacle. Worrisome words for a mother to hear.

How in the world did Nancy find her son all the way in Virginia? Perhaps it was the Bentley’s pre-war Northern connections to the tannery. Did Poindexter Farm purchase harnesses, saddles and bridles from the Bentley’s? Did they know Charlie?

Impossible times in which to search for a son; the world was turned upside down. Still, she did it. Charlie was brought home and buried at the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville; home where mother could place flowers on her son’s grave.

I wonder if General George McClellan or General Robert E. Lee realized how they changed the lines on mother’s faces across America during that week long battle? No wonder Nancy’s face became stoic, along with countless other mothers.

Those thoughts swirled about my mind as I drifted off to sleep the evening I received the photo of Nancy Paschal. The distant thunder intruded into my thoughts and that is all that I remember until I found myself walking in the woods somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I was lost.

I was dreaming.

As my dream progressed I noticed the vegetation changing from the deep forest to open meadows in the distance. I could hear the brisk sound of fast moving water and decided to follow that sound. I found a creek.

Alongside the creek were purple blooming butterfly bushes. The sound of the bubbling water seemed to beckon, so I moved on. I followed the creek and was taken by the beauty of the butterfly bushes; odd that there were no butterflies about. And though I heard rumbling of thunder in the distance, the sky was clear blue and the sun shined brightly.

And of all things, I smelled a divine aroma. The creek took me closer and closer to the delicious smell of fresh baked shortbread.

Who in the world could bake shortbread way out here in the middle of nowhere?

I suddenly saw a well put together woman in a long black dress wearing a white bonnet. I did not see her feet or legs move. She seemed to glide about on the ground without walking. She looked familiar and I was sure I knew her, but could not place her. As I approached her, I noticed that she was grinning at me. She knew me. She was waiting for me.

She did not speak, but looked at me with her big round eyes, and her hands produced a tray of rectangular shaped shortbread cookies. Each cookie was perfectly formed and organized in such a way that it looked like one giant snowflake.

“So, you’re the one baking cookies out here? How in the world did you do this? You must be a genius! No professional, not even on the Food Network could do this!”

The lady never spoke but giggled with delight as she modestly looked down. It was apparent that this lady was proud of her accomplishments though humble. And for some reason I knew she wanted me to be proud of her. For just a moment I forgot about being lost. I was in heaven. Then I remembered, “I know you ‘mam, you’re Nancy Paschal.”

Then a loud clap of thunder sat me up in my bed. I was no longer with the sweet lady down by the butterfly bushes at the creek, but home in Forsyth County, Georgia. Lightning lit up my bedroom and was followed by another loud clash of thunder.

Oh no my computer! If lightning hits I could lose my stories and special pictures! I jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to my office. I quickly unplugged my computer. I had just found Nancy Paschal and I did not want to lose her now.

What a grand and accomplished lady she must have been!

Author’s Notes:

Dr. John and Nancy Paschal-Bentley’s children: Mary A. 1822-1891, William P. 1824-1905, John Balaam 1826-1890, Dr. Benjamin 1828-1892, Jerry W. 1830-1878, Jabus “Marchall” 1832-1855, Asa Judson 1834-1918, Sallie E. 1836-1901, Martha J. 1839-1898, Charlie M. 1842-1862, Dennis Brantley 1844-1912, H. N. 1847-1877, and Susan V. Bentley 1849-1911.

More about the children: Mary married Peter Coleman Dill 1841, William married Sallie Hogan 1845, John Balaam married Mary Reid 1859, Dr. Benjamin married Mary Thomas “Tommie” Davenport 1856, Jerry married Harriet Colman 1852, Jabus Marchall did not marry, Asa Judson married Virginia Paschal 1859, Sallie married Mikiel Smalley 1858, Charlie did not marry, Dennis Brantley married Grace Amelia Ramsey 1869, H. N. married Martha Murphey 1869, and Susan Bentley married Robert Graves 1869.

Dennis Brantley Bentley was eighteen years old when his brother, Charlie, was killed at Malvern Hill.  Dennis named his first born, Charlie. Dennis had a daughter whom he named after his mother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal. Her name was Nancy Elizabeth Bentley who married Horace “Lawton” Story who had a son, Tom Story – my father.

Dr. John Bentley and Nancy Paschal-Bentley are buried in the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville, Georgia, along with other family members including their son, Charlie.

I have heard of Happy Valley all my childhood from my grandfather, Horace Lawton “Papa Story.” As a child, Papa Story grew up “just down the road a piece” from Happy Valley. He spent many days at Happy Valley playing with the descendants of Revolutionary War soldier, Basil O’Neal. A smile always took over my grandfather’s face when speaking of Happy Valley. This is the story of how Happy Valley was made; a place of happiness by design.

Let’s begin here.

On October 19, 1758, Peter Lamar O’Neal II became the proud father of Basil O’Neal. The place was Prince George’s County, Maryland. Peter and his wife were English immigrants. Basil did not disappoint his father, for he grew into an intelligent and physically strong man who would live to the age of 91, a testimony of this man’s vigor living in a world of uncertainty and war.

When Basil was seventeen, he and his family left Maryland for Virginia. He was on the way to the adventure of a life time.

While in Virginia, he met a pretty girl, Mary Ellen “Milly” Briscoe. She too had English roots; her great grandfather was English Lord Bromfield. Her father was a medical doctor, Dr. Truman Briscoe.

Though Milly’s life was rather cushy compared to Basil, this young lady had an adventurous side. And perhaps that is why they fell in love with each other. She was a part of Colonial society with an itching for adventure, while he was part of the militia, who fought Indians and the British.

They planned to marry on January 17, 1783. The Revolutionary War was winding down and this seemed like a good time to start their lives together.

They married and joined a wagon train. According to the advertising bulletin, one hundred acres of land could be purchased for five dollars. They had each other and purchased almost four hundred acres.

The wagon train was headed across the Appalachians for a colony called Georgia. Georgia was a backwoods home of the black bear, mountain lions and the indigenous people called the Cherokees and Creeks. Georgia was also deep in fertile soil, tall trees, and fast moving water. Some said a man could step into pine straw beds up to his waist. Rumors of tall trees farther than the eye could see were a flurry. Even at high noon if you were deep in a Georgian forest, you could not see the sun. This was the place Basil’s feet wanted to go.

Many on the wagon train carried china, silver and precious antiques such as grandfather clocks and sideboards with them to Georgia. They all took hundreds of pounds of flour and other staples to get by on the trail. Livestock was allowed to follow and the men hunted in the forest along the way.

The wagon train moved at a speed of no more than two miles an hour. They were lucky to move ten miles a day. Basil thought it slow going, but there was safety in numbers. The wagon train was grateful to have Basil, a trained militia with a reputation as an expert marksman.

Basil and Milly rode pack horses along side of the wagon train.  They packed fruit tree seedlings, predominantly apple and peach trees, carefully wrapped by Milly’s own hands. They took precious little besides, pots, plow parts, axes and shovels. Milly worked constantly to keep the seedlings watered and protected from the cold winter.

This was an uneasy time for such a treacherous adventure. Basil was committed to the war.  Basil along with Dr. Truman Briscoe and Dr. John Briscoe signed an oath of allegiance to the independence of the thirteen colonies in Henry County, Virginia on September 20, 1777. It was time for the war to be over so the colonists could get on with their lives. But Basil wondered, would it really ever end?

Basil had served as a private in the Virginia Militia under Captain Daniel Chadwell and Major John Graves; two terms in Virginia and one in Georgia. Surely, the war was ending now. Now was the time for Milly. Now was the time for the journey to Georgia where the indigenous people were more “peaceable.”

The wagon train was thankful to have Basil. The way Basil handled a gun was impressive; he carried two guns; one a six foot long musket that earned the name, Buckaneer. Buckaneer because of how many deer fell under its sites. Basil never shot for sport, only food and running the British back to England. And now he braved new territory with Milly and Buckaneer.

And though this newlywed couple knew that hard times and perhaps more of the war lay ahead, they expected to be successful. They expected to be happy. They hoped for land with hickory trees, for hickory trees were a sure indication of good soil. Basil called their new Georgia home, Happy Valley, while still on the Appalachian Trail. And to their delight, hickory trees grew throughout their lot.

Basil and Milly started their new life without money or slaves. Basil himself cut and hewed logs. He and Milly built a log cabin near a cedar grove. They cultivated land and planted each sapling with care.

Visitors of the O’Neals boasted of the gentile hospitality received at Happy Valley; squirrels for breakfast, apple and peach brandy, bread and honey on the sideboard. Happy Valley thrived.

Great celebration came to Happy Valley in 1787. A neighbor who lived on the land adjacent Happy Valley returned home, and informed Basil and Milly that he had signed the Constitution of the United States of America. His name was William Few.

Basil and Milly had six children; their daughter Eleanor “Nellie” would become (Horace Lawton Story) “Papa Story’s” great grandmother.

In 1828 Milly died and was buried near the cedar grove close to the home they built together when they first came to Happy Valley.

A year after the death of Milly, Basil married Sarah Hull Green. He was seventy years of age and she was thirty. Sarah was the daughter of Captain McKeen Green who served under the command of General Nathaneal Green, whom he was related. Basil and Sarah had six children.

Basil and his two wives are buried at Happy Valley. When signing documents to execute Basil O’Neal’s last will and testament, the O’Neal children signed their name Neal as they were always called. This act legally changed their name to Neal, rather than O’Neal. Dropping the “O” in O’Neal was an act of patriotism.

Much of the original home built by Basil and Milly burned in a fire. The home was located near what is now known as the Sharon Meeting House on Washington Road, Columbia County, Georgia.

A historical marker was placed at the entry of the homesite by the Georgia Historical Association.

Author’ Notes:

Basil is pronounced with a short “a,” as in “as.”

Basil O’Neal’s mother’s name is unknown; perhaps Mary.

Basil O’Neal’s son Basil Llewellyn O’Neal wrote, “A Son of the Revolution.”

The Revolutionary War effort in Georgia ended in Wilkes County, Georgia, when the British realized they could not fight well inland. Wilkes County’s located behind the land called Happy Valley.

In time, William Few returned to New York at the urging of his wife, but still owned his home next to Happy Valley for quite some time. His son and grandson lived there for many years. William Few is number 25 in the famous painting of The Signers of The Constituion of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy.

Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story and Horace Lawton Story’s first child, Grace Truman Story-Graves, was named after Dr. Truman Briscoe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Lincolnton, Georgia, several years before the Great Depression, lived a man, Horace Lawton Story, Sr., and his wife, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story. Before it was all said and done, they had nine children. They lived in a farm house built by Lawton’s father, Rad Story.

Life was hard on the farm especially for Lawton, mainly because he suffered from asthma. He also struggled with the rock ridden land and fought bow weevils. But on he went with his farming and caring for his family; a family he adored.

Nancy did her part. She could sing like and angel and cared for her prize Rhode Island Red chickens. She was the only one who could approach the “wild thangs” without getting flogged. She was happiest when pampering her chicks; the Reds and her baby chicks: Grace, Beau, Sarah, Robert, Miriam, Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

The children stayed busy with school, working the farm and throwing a basketball at a hoop made from a bushel basket. They all worked together and played together. The Storys were all for one, and one for all.

“Do you see this stick?” Lawton Story would ask his children. When he had their attention, he would then snap the stick in two.  “See what happens when you stand alone?” Then he would hold a stick, one for each member of his family, and try to break the bunch in two, as he did with the single stick. Even his strong hands could not break the bunch. “When we stand together as one, nothing can break us. We stand separate in the world, we can be broken. Stand together children, be there one for the other.”

As it would happen, tragedy befell this lovely family when one of the daughters became ill. Miriam was the fifth child; a child who was born with a “blue veil” over her face. Miriam was sickly much of her childhood and smaller than her siblings. She was very young when she came down with “the fever.” A burial dress was purchased for her and stored away in the wardrobe. The dress was a large version of a christening gown; dark creamy in color. Nancy Story prayed that little dress would never be worn by her daughter.

All care was given to Miriam, but to no avail. Then the day came when she refused food and became lifeless. It was impossible to keep the child awake.

Nancy had spent days working frantically with Miriam. She had racked her brain to remember all the ways of healing practiced by her grandfather, Dr. John Bentley. Nothing was working.

The doctor was sent for yet again.

“I don’t give her any hope, Nancy. There’s nothing to do that has not been done. She’s in the hands of the Lord now,” the doctor said as he looked out the window, so not to look Nancy and Lawton in the face. “Let her rest.” The doctor struggled to find the words, “Make preparations – now.”

The stunned family could not come to terms with the thought of losing little Miriam. How could they survive as a family, without her silly little giggle and bright eyes? The family encircled Miriam’s bed and they all prayed and spoke their minds – hoping the good Lord and Miriam could hear them.

Nancy was the first to make a move away from her daughter. She went to the kitchen and poured dried black-eyed peas into a pot of cold water. And then she did something never done before. When putting away the sack of dried peas, she stopped and held the sack close to her heart. She walked back over to the pot of peas soaking in water.

Nancy put her hand back into the sack and pulled out three more handfuls of dried peas and with each one she said, “One for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit. Now,” she said calling out with authority, “that will do. Lawton, tomorrow we will all leave this house and catch up on the chores.”

Lawton was stunned and the children dismayed. What was Mother thinking? Mother was speaking out of the realm of reality. The children reminded her of the stick story and how they always stood together. They would not leave their sister.

Nancy Story stood firm, “Everything is backed up. We have stock to feed, wood to chop and corn to pull, and,” she hesitated, but being a strong and sensible woman, she continued, “and Lawton, you have a job to do in the barn.”

Lawton fought back tears and said, “Come sunlight, I’ll get started on the coffin.”

The black-eyed peas cooked throughout the night and before daylight, Nancy cooked cornbread. The children questioned why they were eating black-eyed peas and cornbread for breakfast.

“Where’s the ham and eggs, Mother?”

miriamwithleastones

Older Miriam with the “Least Ones”

“The eggs are in the hen house and ham is in the smoke house, waiting for us to tend to it,” answered Nancy Story to her children. “Today we will eat peas and cornbread, catch up on the chores. Grace, you and Sarah, go to the smoke house on the way in and cut some ham for dinner.”

The children ate their unusual breakfast of peas and cornbread while they took their assignment from Mother; that is all but the Least Ones: Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

“You Least Ones come with me,” Lawton said to his babies. He looked at Nancy and said, “They can hand nails to me, and I can keep a close eye on them in the barn.”

So, off they went after each one kissed Miriam goodbye. They would work hard today. They would keep Miriam on their minds and hearts. They would pray in the field or in the barn; no matter where their assignment took them.

Miriam was left alone in the house. She was not able to speak, but had heard the words of the doctor. She had heard the prayers pleading for her life. And come sunlight, she heard her father hammering nails into her coffin. She was sick, she was weak, but with every pound of the hammer, something inside her stirred. It was the will to live.

And she knew what she had to do.

Miriam had to get to those black-eyed peas on the kitchen table. Somehow, someway, Miriam slid out of bed and crawled to the kitchen table. She struggled to the chair. She fell time and time again. Somewhere along the way, she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she tried to climb onto the chair again. And finally she made it. She mustered up energy to get onto the table. Miriam crawled to the big bowl of black-eyed peas where put her little mouth on the rim. She sipped black-eyed pea juice.

When her family returned to the house midday, they found little Miriam unconscious on the kitchen table. They were shocked and speechless.

Robert, the fourth child and detective of the family, pointed to Miriam’s mouth. “What is that on her face?” Robert got closer and smelled Miriam’s mouth. “That’s black-eyed pea juice! She’s been eatin’ black-eyed peas!”

With that Lawton found his voice, “Beau!”

The eldest son knew exactly what that meant. Beau scooped up little Miriam into his arms and put her back into bed. The rest of the family circled her bed and quietly sobbed and gave thanks. Nancy stayed in the kitchen where she pulled out another big pot and “put on” more dried black-eyed peas to soak, all the while thanking the  good Lord.

From that moment on, someone stayed with Miriam during the day and fed her black-eyed pea juice, one drop at a time. Miriam recovered and grew into a lovely young woman. She married and became the mother of four children: Frances, Rachel, Curtis and David. And thank the good Lord Miriam never wore that little dress hanging in her mother’s wardrobe, though she kept it as a keepsake and on occasion pulled out the dress to show it to her children and grandchildren. Miriam believed the sickness made her smaller than her brothers and sisters, but she was Story enough to beat the death angel on that day in Lincolnton, so long ago.

My father, Tom Story, was among the “Least Ones” who went to the barn that early morning and handed nails to his father to make Miriam’s coffin. And though he was only a tot, he carried this story in his heart his entire life.

I remember Daddy and his family, telling the black-eyed pea story from my early childhood, as did all Story cousins. Miriam held a special place in the hearts of her brothers and sisters, as she was the bridge who connected the older ones to the “Least Ones.” Whenever there was a disagreement amongst brothers and sisters, it was Miriam who reminded the family of the stick story. She had a way of pulling peace out of thin air. Another “Least One,” Gene, would later say of Miriam, “We all loved each other and we all love our children, but it seemed like Miriam just loves a little bit more.”

And even today, whenever a stubborn sickness enters my home, I give the Holy Trinity its due, give thanks for my Grandmother Nancy, and “put on” the black-eyed peas.

Recently my friend, Sheila Kirkman-Barron, told another black-eyed pea story. Years back, her children’s pediatrician, Dr. Leila Alice Denmark, advised Sheila to throw out the cereal and eggs and feed her children black-eyed peas for breakfast. When Sheila did so, her children became free of allergies.

Dr. Denmark ate black-eyed peas for breakfast. She lived to be fifty-three days shy of one-hundred-fourteen years of age. Well known Georgia pediatrician and author, Dr. Denmark died December 10, 2011. But before her departure, she prescribed black-eyed peas to many Georgians.

Black-Eyed Peas Recipe

Sort 1 lb. dried peas (look ’em is what I’ve always heard) and remove anything that is not a pea – also throw away ugly peas

To cook peas quicker, soak dried peas in cold water – an hour or so

Rinse peas in cold water

Put peas in large pot and cover with about 6 cups of  hot water

Add salt and pepper to taste along with seasoning (I use chicken bouillon, some use fat meat)

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until tender – about 45 minutes.

Delicious with hot cornbread.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

I recall back in 1955 sitting down at Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter’s supper table in their Lincolnton, Georgia farmhouse. The house was of yesteryear as were the rugs and furnishings. The whole house was a timed warped mystery and though I had to be on my best behavior, the adventure was worth all the fuss.

The first thing I learned about visiting the Steeds was to wait on Aunt Donn’s lead. She was of the old South and no matter how humble her present world, pomp and circumstance were important to her. She was definitely in charge and spoke with an aristocratic Southern accent ignoring her second “Rs.” I noticed the longer my father was around his mother’s sister, he fell into that same accent.

One thing was for sure, my father, Tom Story, loved his Aunt Donn. The world seemed to revolve around this dear lady as far as he was concerned. He hung on her every word.

And now it was “suppah time” and the event of setting the table took place. Each person had a place setting of fine china along with a matching finger bowl to dip fingers in should we get “mussed.” All this finery and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving.

And finally a large platter of country ham was placed on the center of the round table next to platter of hot biscuits. A tureen of red eye gravy balanced the two platters. Corn, which Aunt Donn pronounced “cawn” set next to a bowl of string beans and potatoes.

Yes, it was time to eat and I could hardly wait to sit down at this fancy table. I received “the eye” from my mother and knew it was time to slow down and look to Aunt Donn. Aunt Donn approached the table and stopped at her chair. My father pulled her chair out and nestled her up close to the table. Daddy placed his hands on her shoulders as he kissed the side of her head. Aunt Donn patted his hands. Then we all sat down.

Aunt Donn was not quick to get to the meal. She wanted to remember the “good Lawd” first and foremost. There would be no eating until “the Lawd had his due.”

“Shall we bow our heads?” asked Aunt Donn as she looked about the table at each and every one of us. We bowed heads and Aunt Donn blessed the meal, the day, Tom and Helen Story and the “little gulls,” the weatheh, the laying chickens, the fi’ewood Tom chopped and the biscuits Helen made, the coming night and tomorroh’s sunrise.

As a child of about six years of age, I became restless in my chair. I squirmed and Aunt Donn prayed.

“And deah Lawd, please fo’give our boldness and make us humble in yoah sight. Allow us to remembah the wheat and the tare. Let us be mindful of the tares as they slip in during the night and take root and grow amongst us without detection. Oh how the tares stand haughty and obstinate along-side the wheat!  One cannot tell a tare from the good wheat as they stand togethah in the field of life…”

“What’s a tare?” I thought. I wanted to ask but knew this was not the time. And so it was, I remained silent. But the only way to remain still was to open my eyes a tiny bit so I could peep through my eyelashes at Aunt Donn. I spied on her as she went on about pride cometh before the fall.

My eyes drifted to the right of her and I saw my father’s elbow on the table and the side of his face being supported by that hand. His eyes were closed and he had a warm smile on his face. I could tell that he knew we were into a long blessing and that he was enjoying every minute.

Seeing my father sit there next to Aunt Donn seems just like yesterday. Daddy was a tall handsome man with dark hair; just thirty one years of age. He looked relaxed and well dressed in his gray and brown Argyle sweater. How would I know that nineteen years later he would have a fatal accident? After so many years, it is sometimes hard to really remember what his face looked like. But all I need do is close my eyes and go back to that Lincolnton supper table and I see his face clearly.

Next to Daddy sat my little sister, Barbara, who quietly rocked her doll, Sally. My older sister, Patricia, sat next to Barbara and was the perfect example of what Aunt Donn thought a “propah” child should be.

The next chair was Uncle Walter, but he was not in his chair, though he was there before the blessing. It startled me a bit to see that empty chair. Did the tares (whoever or whatever they were) slip in and take him? My mother must have sensed my restlessness, because I felt her bad eye upon me. I quickly regained my composure.

“Fathah deah Lawd, let us, yoah humble folk, know that at hahvest time, the wheat will loweh its head and the tares will remain upright, neveh showing an ounce of humility…”

Again, I opened my eyes a bit and peeped through my eyelashes, being careful to not look to the left at my mother. Daddy’s face was still resting on his hand and his smile was unwavering. Barbara had fallen asleep sitting up still holding her doll, Sally. Patricia was reverently in the praying position, and Uncle Walter had returned as quietly as he left. His absence went completely undetected.

“Yes Lawd, let us, yoah people, be as the good wheat and observe humility. In Yoah blessed name Lawd, Amen.” Then Aunt Donn looked about the table and I know we all looked the very same as when we sat down. But she seemed to think we look differently. “Just do look at y’all! I have neveh seen y’all look so beautiful! You are the good wheat! Not a tare among you! And I love you all! Waltah deah, will you pass the biscuits please?”

I sure am glad Uncle Walter made it back to the table in time to pass the biscuits, and relieved to know there was not a tare in the house.

Yes, Aunt Donn would have her say no matter where or when or how long. Years later, a car would pick Aunt Donn up in Lincolnton and take her to Stone Mountain and other Atlanta areas just so a group of folks could hear what she had to say about education.  She spoke to us about these trips.

“Now I tell you gulls, I have no need for the television. I wouldn’t have one if you gave it to me. But I see how chil’ren and adults, for that mattah, gaze into the screen as though there is no tomorrah. It distresses me how the awt of conve’sation and writing has left us. So, as Waltah says, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ These trips are impotant and all togethah necessary for that very reason. I along with other teachahs of Geo’giah stand befo’e the television folks and attempt to explain the impotance of mass education.”

Aunt Donn smiled, and with great pride she explained, “A new television station is coming to Geo’giah and it is imperative you gulls watch this new station; tell yoah friends and yoah future chil’ren, let everyone know.”

The new television station came to Georgia just as Aunt Donn said it would. It started out with one name and then another. Today that educational station is called GPB, Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Even though Dieudonne Bentley-Steed is long gone, her memory is forever with us. Her “say” is still being heard. And I close my eyes every night thanking the “good Lawd” the tares are not amongst us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Story-Goss and Patricia Story-Logan

“Good morning!”

I was surprised to hear my sister’s voice on the other end of the phone so early in the morning.

“Di, Aunt Nancy and I got in from Lincolnton last night. I wanted to call you then, but it was too late. I hope it’s not too early.”
“No, did you have fun?”

“Well we gathered a lot of new information, and found the grave of Buck Story’s second wife Susan McDaniel, but not Rachel,” explained Patricia, “I know she is somewhere in the Warrenton or Lincolnton area! But it looks like she vanished! Without a trace!”

“Rachel? Buck Story? Do I know them?”

“Yes you do, Di I’ve told you a hundred times. Buck Story is our great-great grandfather. Buck’s real name is Henry Allen Story. Rachel Ann Montgomery, our great-great grandmother, was his first wife.”

“Oh yes that’s right. Forgive me,” I said, “It’s not easy to remember folks born over a hundred years ago before seven in the morning.” Ignoring my little touch of sarcasm, Sister went on.

“We found Susan McDaniel right there, beside Buck Story, in the Thomson City Cemetery. And what a monument! I got pictures, wait until you see them, but no Rachel, no sign of the first wife anywhere! Rachel and Buck Story had six sons and the third one was Radford Gunn Story. That’s Papa Story’s father.”

“Oh yeah, I remember now. Well, maybe she was buried out the back door of the old homestead, that’s what they used to do with you when you died back then. They buried you where they threw out the dish water.”

Sister continued to ignore my humor; nothing was getting her off track.

“Aunt Nancy and I have looked in every cemetery in Lincoln, McDuffie, Columbia and Warren County. We combed the archives…”

“What about an obituary in the local newspaper,” I suggested.

“We’ve looked there too, not a trace of an obit.”

“Do you know how she died?”

“She and Buck Story had six sons, and Rachel died nineteen days after Uncle Lum was born. She was just twenty-eight years old.”
“That’s tragic. Lum, what kind of name is that?”

“Columbus Marion Story – they called him Lum. You know, I’ve told you about him. He left Georgia and went to Tampa to live. There he became a sheriff and cleaned up the crime in Tampa. He’s buried down there.”

“Di, you sound sleepy. Did I wake you?”

“Yes, but I’m awake now.”

“Well, why don’t you get up and get dressed, and come over here. When you get here, I’ll drive us to the German Bakery in Stone Mountain. We can have lunch and I’ll tell you all about the new information we got this time.”

Before I could get into the shower the phone rang again.

“Di, are you awake yet? This is ya mother.”

Of course it’s my mother. I’d know that voice anywhere.

“I’m awake. I’m getting ready to come over your way to Tucker. I’m gonna meet Pat and we’re gonna go out for lunch.”

“Good! I want you to talk some sense into ya big sister! You won’t believe what she and Nancy have been up to in Lincolnton!”

“They’re looking for Rachel Montgomery’s grave,” I replied.

“Yes! And climbing over fences, ignoring no trespassing signs! Did you know the trip before this trip, ya sister fell into a grave up to her chest? I found that out from ya Aunt Sarah.”

“No! She never told me that!”

“Good thing ya Aunt Nancy is a strong woman! She grabbed Pat’s arm and pulled her out!”

“Oh my…”

“Yeah, and there’s more! They hang out at the eating places near the courthouse looking for lawyers and old people who might know something. They actually picked up two men in downtown Lincolnton.”
“What?”

“Yes, put them in the car and drove off somewhere in the sure nuff country to find an old woman who knew of a forgotten cemetery.”

“What?”

“Yes, the men said they knew of a woman who could take them to a remote area full of old graves. The woman didn’t have a phone so Pat and Nancy had to drive them to her house.”

“Them?”

“Yes, the two men they picked up in Lincolnton!”

“And so what happened?”
“They found her and talked her into gettin’ in the car to show them where that forgotten cemetery was located.”

“No, they didn’t.”

“Yes they did. I thought if Nancy took Chris, they’d be more cautious…”

“Chris Goss went this time?”

“Yes she did, and Patricia drove that car with Chris sitting in the middle and ya Aunt Nancy on the other side of Chris, with those three strangers in the backseat. Nancy came to her senses and did get nervous about it. After the old woman took them waaaay out into the country on back roads, Nancy decided to wiggle her foot around inside the picnic basket to see exactly where their gun…”

“Their gun?”

“Oh yes they carry a gun out in Lincolnton, ‘cause of wild dogs and the like.”

“So, what happened? Pat didn’t mention this on the phone. That must be the reason she wants to talk to me today.”

Mama went on, “Pat decided to raise the electric windows since so much dust was getting in the car and Nancy had her hand out the window. Nancy wasn’t paying attention to the window, because she had her mind on that gun. Pat rolled the window up on Nancy’s hand.”

“No way.”

“And Nancy didn’t want to holler out to Pat, so she mumbled out of the side of her mouth, ‘my hand is in the window.’ Several times Nancy tried to get Pat’s attention to get her arm free without alerting that team in the backseat. All the while Nancy worked her foot trying to fish the gun up, but Pat drove on and kept asking, ‘What? What did you say Aunt Nancy?’”

“No way. Why didn’t Aunt Nancy scream?”

“Because she was afraid that bunch in the backseat would mug ‘em! And Nancy was afraid if they knew her hand was pinned down – they’d make their move then!”
“No way.”

“Poor Chris sitting between Pat and Nancy finally yelled out, “Mama’s hand is caught in the window!”

“Oh my God in Heaven, that’s so dangerous.”

“I’m telling you! Di, you talk to Pat, maybe you can talk some sense into her. When she and ya Aunt Nancy are down in Lincolnton, they lose all sensibility!”

There was no talking sense into Pat or Aunt Nancy when it came to grave hunting. They fed off each other. For the past five years, every spring and fall those two detectives combed the countryside of Lincoln, Columbia, MdDuffie, Warren, Wilkes, and Washington counties, for a week at a time. They were in hot pursuit uncovering clues to find genealogical details of the Story family. When not in the graveyards, they were in courthouses, country stores and visiting with any distant relative they could dig up. They rubbed gravestones with chalk and took pictures, and now, rescued each other when falling into rotted graves. Not to mention the gun part.

I had no interest in the past. I found some of the stuff somewhat interesting, but became more involved when the hunt for Rachel Montgomery was on. I did not go willingly, but it seemed that during this time, my sister, Patricia, knew more about the dead than the living. It was all I heard until I had Rachel Montgomery front and center of my mind.

The timeline of events became a curiosity to me. Over lunch at the German Bakery I brought up the subject. “Well, what about the War Between the States? Did Buck Story go off to war? And how did Rachel fit in to that time period?”

“Oh yes, Buck Story enlisted in Augusta, May 8, 1862. Let me look at my notes,” answered Pat as she pulled out a little notebook from her purse. “Company A 21st Battalion Georgia Calvary CSA. That group later consolidated with two other groups and became 24th Battalion Georgia Calvary and Hardwick Mounted Rifles. His last known paycheck from the army was written on December 31, 1863 signed by Captain Law. Buck Story reported ‘present’ on September 30, 1864.”

“September 30, 1864? Okay that means he was still on active duty about seven months before Lee surrendered his sword at Appomattox and the war was officially over.”

“Yep, and Rachel of course stayed home, I guess looked after things there, then Buck came home. She had Lum that September 21 in 1865 and she died October 10, 1865. That must have been a devastating year for Buck Story. He fought in a failed war; his wife died and left him with a newborn and five other little boys.”

“How soon did he remarry?”

“Oh he didn’t remarry until 1869, four years later. Oh yes and look at this,” said Pat as she showed me her notes, “Buck Story’s brother, Sanders Walker Story, was wounded in the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862. He actually died from the wound and pneumonia in a Virginia hospital April 17, 1863. Before the war Sanders Story was in the mercantile business in Warrenton, Georgia. He fought with the McDuffie Rifles. He was Buck’s closest sibling in age, about seven years old when Buck was born.” Pat shook her head in disbelief, “Buck Story had a lot to sort out before getting married again. I guess that’s why he waited four years.”

“I can’t believe you know so much about this, truly amazing Pat.”

“Well, most of the Civil War stuff is from our cousin, Gene Graves. He frequents the Atlanta Archives. I’ve seen him there.”

“Gene Graves, another family genealogist. I had no idea.”

Lunch was over and so was my Story family history lesson. It was time for me to get back home. I was married at the time and living on a horse farm, Pounds’ Stable, near Dunwoody with two young sons. We were pretty much isolated and could not see a neighbor from our farm house.

Down a long winding driveway through a clump of trees, our Cape Cod home was nestled within the tree line with a sloping side yard that led to a pasture down to the area where two creeks fed into the property. The creeks were far away, about the length of three football fields from the house, and emptied into the Chattahoochee River. And most nights, the fog from the water crept up across the meadow and surrounded the house giving it a foreboding look.

I was used to seeing the house with the big barns during the daylight hours and was not afraid at night when the fog joined us. At night it became so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face, and on windy nights, the wind whipped around the back corner of the house, making a sound like a screaming woman.

My husband traveled and it was the boys and me at home alone from Tuesday morning until Thursday or Friday evening. The only excitement we had was when a nosy cow or horse wandered out of the pasture into someone’s yard way down the road.

That is until Rachel Montgomery came to visit.

And in the following days, I continued to hear bits and pieces of the week long adventure in Lincolnton. “So what’s this about you falling into a grave?” I asked Pat.

“Oh my goodness, I couldn’t believe it! My feet never hit bottom! Aunt Nancy grabbed my arm and yanked me up in a matter of a second! How’d you know? And anyway that happened last year.”

“Mama told me.”
“Oh don’t tell her too much Di, she’ll worry.”
“Too late.”

Sister laid out what she knew about Rachel Montgomery. “Okay, this is what I have, Di. Rachel Ann Montgomery was the first child of James Franklin Montgomery and Mary Swint-Montgomery. Rachel’s father, James was born on the Fourth of July in 1816, and died April 28, 1884. Mary Swint, her mother, was born July 12, 1817. James and Mary married August 22, 1836. Rachel was born on December 2, 1837 in Warren County, Georgia. Rachel became engaged to Henry Allen Story a year before they married.”

“How do you know they were engaged for a year?”

“Because it was in the Christian Index,” answered Pat, “Buck and Rachel were married in James Montgomery’s home in Warren County, Georgia, on April 2, 1854.”
“You mean the home of her parents?” I asked.

“Yes, but her mother died about a month before the wedding.”
“Oh, that’s sad.”
“Yes, it is sad.”

“And again, exactly how is it Buck Story is related to us?”
“Henry Allen – called Buck Story – was Daddy’s father’s father. There’s our father, Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr., his father, Horace Lawton Story, Sr., and his father Radford Gunn Story and then Rad’s father was Henry Allen ‘Buck’ Story. And Buck’s father was Samuel Gaines Story and I think Samuel’s father was a Richard Story, but I don’t have documentation on Richard Story yet, still working on that.”

“You know for sure?”

“Yes, it’s true and all documented by a deed, or a will, or a tombstone or a Bible entry. That’s what we’ve been doing down there.”

“Well whose grave did you fall in?”

“None of our relatives. We found out about a remote cemetery from a retired lawyer in Lincolnton. It’s out near the lake. You won’t believe the carving on the tombstone! It was a wreath with every flower in the South carved in it! It was so beautiful. I wanted to rub it so I could bring a copy of it home to show everybody. That’s when the earth gave way and I fell in.”

“What if you had been alone?”

“I’d never do that alone, and I’m glad Aunt Nancy’s a strong woman.”

Did that slow Aunt Nancy and Patricia down? No. They were already planning their next trip.

Usually I take in what Pat is telling me about our ancestors, file it away somewhere in the recesses of my mind and go on with life at hand, but not this time. Every time I spoke to Pat, she was unraveling what happened to Rachel Montgomery, and I could not put Rachel out of my mind.

“She just could not have disappeared,” Pat went on, “they all have tombstones so why not Rachel? Her parents were very wealthy and so was Buck Story. Buck and his second wife have a huge tombstone. Did they all forget about Rachel?”

“Where are her parents buried? Did you look there?” I asked.

“There is a Montgomery family cemetery with high brick walls around it.  Some of the graves are not marked.”

“That’s her I bet.”

“Why doesn’t it have her name on a stone? That doesn’t make sense. And why wasn’t she buried at Moon’s Town? That’s where she should be, at her home.”

“Moon’s Town?”

“Yes Moon’s Town. It was the home place of Rachel and Buck Story. Rachel bought Moon’s Town with her own money. She paid six-thousand dollars for one-thousand-four-hundred-and-forty-five acres. When she bought Moon’s Town from the Moon family, it made Buck Story one of the largest land owners in the county.”

“Are you kiddin’ me? How’d she get that kind of money back then?”

“No, I’m not kidding, Rachel’s father made all of his children wealthy, not just his sons, but daughters too. And Buck Story owned farms in several adjacent counties. He’s everywhere! He owned Moon’s Town thanks to Rachel, Mistletoe, Marshall Dollar Place, Big Cotton Gin, Little Cotton Gin, and the Garnett Place. He bought the Marshall Dollar Place after Rachel died for eleven-hundred dollars in 1870. It was a small farm of four-hundred-ninety-five acres.”

“Small?”

“Yes, small compared to the standards of the day. It took a lot of land to grow cotton and sugarcane back then.”

“And he bought it five years after the War Between the States had ended? He was doing well financially in hard times, and must have had U.S. currency not Confederate.” I told Pat. “Well how many sisters and brothers did Rachel have?”

“Some say James Franklin Montgomery had fifteen kids, but I can only document Rachel, Martha, David, John, Lucy, Jane and Mary. I’m still working on the others.”

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

Pat’s words stayed on my mind as I went about my daily work about the house. I stayed busy keeping an eye on our roaming cows, but could not get Rachel Montgomery out of my thoughts. I wondered if she worried over broken fences and wandering cows.

Yes Rachel Montgomery was indeed a mystery. I called my sister often to discuss clues. “So you think she died from birthing Lum?”

“Probably, since she died nineteen days after he was born. First born was Samuel Walker Story who was born in 1855, second was James Montgomery Story who was born in 1856, third was our great-grandfather, Radford Gunn Story who was born in 1858, fourth was Benjamin Franklin Story who was born in 1861, the fifth was Henry David Story who was born in 1862, and last was Columbus Marion Story who was born in 1865.”

“And she died leaving a man with five little boys and a newborn? And he waited four years to remarry? That’s surprising,” I said.

Pat continued, “Then he married a school teacher from Virginia in 1869.”
“When they married, did she have children too?”
“No, I think she was about eighteen years old and…”
“How’d he meet her, in Virginia?”

“Well, Di I first speculated he met her during the War Between the States. That’s the only time I can figure he would go that far north, but then I found out that Caleb “Tip” Ramsey’s wife was a McDaniel, and she is buried next to Buck’s second wife, Susan McDaniel.”

“Tip Ramsey? Haven’t you mentioned his name before?”

“Yes, he was from the Lincolnton area and was related to Daddy’s grandmother, Grace Amelia Ramsey-Bentley.”

“The Ramsey-Bentley connection! And the plot thickens! Susan McDaniel must have come down to Georgia for a visit with Sister and met that long tall handsome Buck Story!”

Pat laughed and said, “The story goes Buck Story sent Susan Winston McDaniel an empty trunk and she packed that trunk up and came down to Georgia and married him!”

“Well, at least she had an education and could teach the children.”

“And you would think he would think enough of his first wife to mark her grave!”

“Rachel Montgomery’s grave is there somewhere and if you ever find it, maybe we can mark it ourselves,” I assured Pat.
“Di, I have looked everywhere. It makes me sick, I cannot move on with my research until we find that grave.”

“Sure you can, just pencil in what you know and then ink it when you are sure. Isn’t that what you do?”

“Yes, but it looks like Rachel Montgomery will stay penciled in forever.”

Well maybe not.

As time moved on, Rachel crept into my mind more and more. I began having little silent conversations with her. When I cooked dinner and rang the bell to call my boys in, I would say something like, “Does this ring a bell, Rachel?” or when breaking up a dispute between the boys, “I bet you did this on a regular basis, Rachel. I feel for you – six boys!”

One day I heard a baby calf crying desperately. I walked up to the barn and found a mother cow dead, with a newborn baby calf crying over her. I saw the sad faces of my sons with tear filled eyes. That day death became real to my boys. And as the days went by, I watched James and Jonathan work hard at feeding the calf with baby bottles. How sad they looked when the baby calf cried for his mother. As I mixed hot water and formula to fill the baby bottles, I thought, “Rachel who fed the baby you left behind?”

Winter set in and the wind blew up across the lower pasture and whipped around the corner of my twelve year old son James’ bedroom. He complained about hearing a woman scream. He talked about it so much, seven year old Jonathan, heard it too. They both tried to convince me that is was a real woman and not the wind.

Because of unusual shadows not noticed before, I started sleeping with the lights on. Bumps and strange sounds made for uncomfortable nights and we began marking the days off the kitchen calendar for “when Daddy comes home.” The boys were quick to get their chores done and in the house behind locked doors before nightfall. Then one weekend Jim did not come home. He stayed up north for a convention.

My mother showed up that weekend with her overnight bag. When I opened the door for her she said, “I’m here to hear that screaming woman.”

The boys were delighted to see “Nanny.” That night a storm blew in and the electricity went out. We lit candles and Mama pulled out a flashlight from her bag and said, “I never go anywhere without this.”

We all went to bed and tried to sleep, but the “screaming woman” was at it and there was a definite sound coming from downstairs. I slowly made my way down the upstairs hall in the dark. I was stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a shadow; an image of a woman in a long flowing gown at the foot of the stairs holding a flickering candle. Her head was topped off with a strange looking night cap of old.

“Who’s there? Speak damn it!”

“It’s ya mother Diane. Get down here now. There is something out there making a grunting sound!”

I quickly stepped down the stairs and followed Mama. She whizzed past the large window in the family room. “There,” Mama cried out, “there, did you see that? It’s big and white! It ran across the backyard going that away!”

“Mama, are you sure you saw something?”

“Yes, I saw something. Di, why in the world don’t you have blinds on these window? Folks can see in,” said Mama while shaking her head in disbelief.

“No one can see us out here.  We like the openness…”

Then we heard it again. The sound was coming from near the back door off the kitchen. It sounded like someone was beating the side of the house with a sledgehammer.

“You hear that? “

When I did not answer Mama, she became irritated. “This house has too many doors and windows, not enough wall! All anyone has to do is knock out a window and step in. The windows may as well be glass doors,” said Mama.

Then we heard it again. Something was intentionally hitting the side of the house, something big and strong; it could not be our imagination.
“Did you hear that Mama?”
“Yes of course I did! Now I’ve seen it and heard it! What are ya gonna do Di? Call the police?” With that Mama picked up the phone and said, “The blamed phone is dead, somebody’s cut the line!”

“No they haven’t. It’s the storm. We need to calm down before we scare the boys.”

Too late, they were peering wide eyed through the banister.

“I’m not going to stay in here all night and wonder what it is. I’m going out there.”
“Goin’ out there? Have you lost ya mind Diane?”

“I’m going out there,” I said handing Mama an umbrella. You hold the umbrella over me and I’ll take the flashlight.”

“Won’t do you no good – batteries are dead. That’s why I’m holding this candle.”

“Okay, hold the candle over here, Mama. I have some batteries in this drawer.” We managed to reload the flashlight and I said, “I’ll go out the backdoor first and you stay behind me. Boys you stay inside.”

It was pouring down rain, but I did not care anymore. I was tired of this nonsense and was determined to see what it was. I yelled out at the top of my lungs to be heard over the rain, “Get out of here! Leave me alone!”

Before I could get all the words out, an inaudible sound was made directly beneath me, just under the deck. Something big hit a support pole and shook the whole deck. I let out a blood curling scream. A cow ran out from under the deck across the backyard, making a new hole in the fence getting back into the pasture.

With that my senses returned and I realized I was soaking wet. Where’s Mama? I knocked on the door. I knocked on the door because it was closed and locked. When I got inside the boys draped me in towels.

“It was just a silly old cow. Everything is alright.” I circled the room with the flashlight and found my mother standing in the breakfast room.

“Mama, isn’t it bad luck to stand under an opened umbrella in the house? And — what are you doing with a tablecloth runner tied around your head?”

“My head was cold, Diane. This house is drafty.”

The boys bundled up in quilts and pillows on the den floor. Mama and I slept on the sofas. I finally went to sleep but not before I heard Mama mumble to herself, “Helen Story, I’ll bet you one thing! Before nightfall tomorrow, you’ll be in ya car heading back to Tucker-town!”

The next day, Pat and Aunt Nancy joined us for dinner and a game of Rook. As we settled into our game, Aunt Nancy began to reminisce about the Lincolnton trip.

“Pat, did you tell ‘em about the one armed man you met in that store?” asked Aunt Nancy.

“Uh, well, no, I didn’t,” reluctantly answered Pat.

“Tell ‘em!” Aunt Nancy demanded.
“Tell us what? What one armed man?” asked Mama.

“Yeah, what one armed man?” I couldn’t wait to hear this one and wondered why Pat had not mentioned it before.

“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Pat tried to down play it.

“Nothing! Tell them what that man said about ya great-great granddaddy, Buck Story!”

“Yeah, tell us Pat,” I had to know.

“Well, I went into this tiny old country store,” said Pat,” and found two men there at a pot bellied stove playing checkers.”
“By yourself? You went in by yourself?” asked Mama.

“Yes, Helen it was alright,” Aunt Nancy answered for Pat, “I was in the car being the look out. And I had the gun right there in my sights, laid up on top of our picnic basket.”

Mama looked disturbed as she slowly shuffled the cards.

Pat went on, “I had no idea what I was going to say. So, I just walked in and looked at them and said, I’m the great-great granddaughter of Henry Allen Story, and I am looking for anyone who might know my family. I am actually looking for a Story cemetery where his first wife, Rachel Montgomery, could be buried. I am looking for Rachel Ann Montgomery-Story’s grave.”

“It’s a wonder you two didn’t get shot!” Mama was not thrilled.

Aunt Nancy had a smile on her face that shined brightly with family pride. Her eyes and ears were on Pat. She wanted to hear this story about her great grandfather. She clung to Pat’s every word as though it was the first time she had heard them.

Pat took a deep breath and continued with her explanation, “The one armed man stood up. He looked like a rough mountain man, but when he smiled at me, I knew he was an okay person. He said, ‘You are Buck Story’s great-great granddaughter?’ And I said, Oh! You know his nickname! And he said, ‘Everybody knew his name. He lived in a place called Moon’s Town. You can find it just over ya shoulder a piece down the road. I heard of a Story cemetery, but never seen it.’”

“He then drew a map on a brown paper bag. He pointed to the map and said, ‘Look in and around there. That’s where the old home place was, not there now, cause of development and all. They’re building houses all out in there. They could’ve moved the graves, I don’t know.’”

Pat continued, “I thanked him over and over. He was so nice, and when I got ready to leave he said, ‘Buck Story owned ten thousand acres back in his day. You know, when I was a kid, I knew him. Every time he saw me, he flipped me a silver dollar. He was a good man.’”

We all sat there at the dining room table speechless. I broke the silence.

“Unbelievable! Pat that is incredible! You went into a strange place, way out in the country – into a Lord knows what kind of store – and found a one armed man sitting at a pot bellied stove playing checkers, who actually knew Buck Story! You didn’t find Rachel Montgomery’s grave, but you found someone who personally knew her husband, the father of her six boys!”

I was totally blown away. Mama was not impressed.

“Nancy Story-Goss, it’s your turn to deal,” said Mama as she handed Nancy the deck of cards, “And I have something to say on the subject of Rachel Montgomery.” Mama spoke to us slowly and deliberately as though we had never heard the English language, “I want y’all to listen to me and remember that that woman died over a hundred years ago. Please, please, let her poor soul rest in peace!”

We knew it was time to get back into the card game. But after a while, we began to talk about the odd goings-on at my house. We all had a good laugh about the cow episode and Mama’s night cap. Then Pat asked Aunt Nancy if she thought some of the other strange occurrences could be the ghost of Rachel Montgomery.

Mama rolled her big brown eyes around to the back of her head, “I’ll deal this time,” she said trying to pull us back into the Rook game. “Nancy, you and Pat are losing this game in case you don’t know it.”

“Do I think it could be Rachel’s ghost?” asked Aunt Nancy. “Heavens no child, that’s not the ghost of Rachel Montgomery. To be absent from the body is to be in the presence of the Lord!”

At the sound of Aunt Nancy’s wise words, I felt a sense of relief throughout my body and silently I said, “Thank you Aunt Nancy, tonight I will be able to sleep with the lights out, sanity has been restored.”

Then Aunt Nancy continued with a faraway look on her face, “That sounds like someone who experienced unrequited love. That’s not Rachel Montgomery for she had the love of her life! Buck Story! No, that’s not Rachel Montgomery. That’s Aunt Wilanty!”

“Aunt Wilanty? Who is she?” I asked astonished.

Aunt Nancy stood and walked over to the window and peeped out, “I’ll have to tell you about her another day. It’s about dark. Helen didn’t you say we needed to be on our way back to Tucker before dark? These roads can be tricky, you know.”

“Yes indeed Nancy. I’ll get my things together,” answered Mama.

“But what happened to Aunt Wilanty?” I persisted.

Aunt Nancy ignored me as she picked up her purse. She gave me a big Story hug and called out to Pat, “Come on Patricia, get your keys. It’s time we get back to Tucker.”

“But what about Aunt Wilanty?” I asked again.

“Diane, Aunt Wilanty was a complicated woman, and we don’t have time to do her justice tonight,” explained Aunt Nancy as she smiled with that faraway look, “Wilanty Story, now that’s a Story for another day.”