Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War’


Dennis Brantley Bentley Family

Dennis Brantley Bentley Burial site at Salem Baptist

A bright light warmed my face. I opened my eyes to four windows opposite my king-size sleigh bed at the turn of the century Fitzpatrick Hotel. Sunlight streamed through the far left window – six thirty in the morning. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to go back to sleep. No use. I was nudged by a voice from the past, as relentless as the sun.

“Time to get moving, rise and shine, my deah. Daylight is a wasting. So many books to read and neveh enough sunlight.”

That was the faraway voice of Dieudonne Randolph Bentley-Steed, my father’s aunt from Lincolnton. She was a Lincoln County school teacher born in 1881 who never acquired the need for electricity nor other such “foolishness.” Deceased for nearly 50 years, her will can still be felt and her aristocratic Southern accent heard in my head, especially when I am in this part of the country, so near to her beloved Lincolnton.

She said it so many times.

“If you evah need yoah Aunt Donn, take it upon yoah self to look at a map of Geo’gia. Look no fa’thah than the bo’dah of South Ca’olina. There in Geo’gia, you will find Lincoln County, shaped like an Indian ar’ow head pointing nawth – the only county in the state that reminds you to look to the nawth star for direction. Don’t bothah to call. I have no telephone. If you need anything – just knock! I’ll be there my deahs, always. Please don’t dilly dally about …”

Yes, I hear you Aunt Donn, loud and clear. I’m getting up. As I make my way down two flights of winding stairs, I’m met by the front desk clerk.

“Good morning, did you sleep well, Miss Diane?”

“Sure did Gwen. Disappointed I didn’t see any ghosts. This place is supposed to be haunted you know.”

“So, I’ve heard. I’ve never seen one either.”

“Never? Not a sign of one?”

“Well, one day I was all alone in the lobby, I sneezed and heard a little girl say, ‘bless you.’”

(Maybe I don’t want to see a ghost after all. Yep, time to get moving.)

Yesterday had been the Thomson day. There just off Main Street on Tom Watson Way, I found the Thomson City Cemetery. I paid my respects to my great-great grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story. A tall monument fitting his larger than life persona beckoned; he was easy to find, right there facing Main Street. Grandpa Buck rested in peace with his second wife, Susan Winston McDaniel and her sister, Sallie McDaniel. Surrounding the Story patriarch were many of his grown children.

Henry Allen Story

Henry Allen “Buck” Story

I was drawn to one grave in particular, Andrew Banny Story, Buck and Susan’s first born child. I got to know Banny through one of his descendants, Betsy Haywood from North Carolina. She sent me a Facebook email asking if we could be related. She said her Story descendant, Stacy Story, was from Thomson and that she had an antique doll passed down to her from that family. The doll’s name, Banny. No one knew where the odd little name came from.

My answer:

“Betsy if your Story relatives came from Thomson, Georgia, and you have a doll named Banny, we are related. We have the same great-great grandfather, Buck Story; you are from his second wife and I am from his first. Stacy Story was the third son of Buck and Susan Story. Apparently, the doll was named after (perhaps a favorite) uncle, Andrew O’Banion Story. He was called Banny.”

And what does that say about Banny Story, for a child to name a doll after him?

Banny Story must have been a lovable person, one who made children feel safe. His presence was needed when he was not there, so a doll took his place. As a doll, he was always there for play or comfort, comfort from a storm or perhaps a fever. He must have been dependable, one who was wanted and not forgettable unto this day.

Betsy cherishes this little doll, a precious family heirloom and very happy to know where the name Banny originated.

Recently I received an email from a Story now living in Texas, Laverne. She sent me a photo of my Aunt Donn’s gravestone. It’s next to her father’s grave, Felton Story, in Lincoln County, Georgia. Laverne read my blog about the Bentleys and Storys and informed me that she is related on both sides of the family. Another dear friend made via internet and genealogy. Next time Laverne is in Georgia I hope to meet her in person.

Darryl Bentley emailed me thanking me for writing the stories about Donde (Donn’s husband called her Donde). He remembered living next door to her on Mt. Zion Church Road and mowed grass for them when they moved into the town of Lincolnton. He too is related to Bentleys and Storys, and to Laverne.

Back to Thomson. The most famous in the Thomson City Cemetery is Tom Watson. Down Tom Watson Way turn right onto Bethany Drive and “Author and Statesman” Thomas Edward Watson’s grave can be found alongside his wife, Georgia Durham. On the corner of Tom Watson Way and Bethany Drive is Watson’s Victorian home.

I mention Senator Watson because he wrote a novel entitled, Bethany: A Story About the Old South.

In this book Watson’s heroine, Nellie Roberts, is modeled after Buck and Susan Story’s daughter, Mae Story. Mae was Buck’s thirteenth child, first daughter. Bethany is the name of the fictitious town in Georgia where the story takes place.

I couldn’t help but notice the odd looking black star markers noting Confederate soldiers. Yes, Grandpa Buck has one too. I picked a few buttercups and placed one on his grave, two on Banny’s.

From the far rescesses of my mind, I heard Aunt Donn.

“Where are my buttahcups? My deah you have been in Lincoln County so many times as of late and no buttahcups for yoah Aunt Donn? No visit to pay respect?”

Perhaps it was my conscious speaking to me rather than Donn. Frankly I have not been able to find Salem Baptist. I can see Salem Baptist Road clearly on the map, but finding my way down these long country roads is a bit overwhelming for an Atlanta gal. But I will try again first thing tomorrow morning.

I left Thomson. As I drove north I thought about my great grandfather, Rad Story. It was about two miles north of Thomson that his body was found in a canebrake so says the Augusta Chronicle Archive. He was shot in the face and received four mortal blows to the back of his head. As I traveled about two miles north of Thomson, I slowed down as I wondered where he fell, where he drew his last breath leaving my grandfather head of the family at age seventeen. Next stop Dunn’s Chapel on Ridge Road in the Leah – Appling community to pay my respects to Rad, always.

My visit to Dunn’s Chapel was the end of a long Saturday. Time for a bubble bath at the Fitzpatrick in a claw foot tub and a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow morning here. Putting away the Sunday edition of the Augusta Chronicle, I gather my maps and coffee and said good-bye to Gwen and any ghosts that may be lurking about at the Fitzpatrick Hotel. I left Washington-Wilkes and followed the signs to that county shaped like an arrow head, all the while listening to Braveheart.

I passed Amity Road. Sounds familiar. Yes that’s the road I have been looking for! Turned around. Turned left onto Amity Road looking for my next turn Greenwood Church Road, then Woodlawn Amity Road and then Salem Baptist. Only problem, I pass Greenwood Baptist Church and no Greenwood Church Road and I run out of Amity Road. Not wanting to get lost, I turn left onto another never ending country road heading toward Lincolnton. If all else fails, I’ll go 47 to Interstate 20 and go west back to Atlanta.

“Maybe Amity Road crossed this long country road you are on? My deah, how about tu’ning around and try that?”

I find myself having a conversation with my deceased great aunt and funny thing, she was making sense. I turned around, found the road and turned left. No road signs for a while. But eventually, yes, Amity Road continued on, but to where? I was in desolate country now. I pulled over to get my bearings and was surrounded by a pack of aggressive dogs, not a cute little lap puppy in the bunch. With a pounding heart I eased on down the road thankful the top was up. This was not the place to run out of gas or have a flat tire. I’d hate to be here at night. Amity could turn into Amityville Horror Road. I hit the gas and I left the dogs in the dust.

Why in the world am I out here in God knows where, alone? Hadn’t planned it that way. My friend who is a native from Lincolnton had an emergency. Something about business partner falling into water and losing camera equipment. I have a local cousin who has volunteered to show me around, but did not want to call and say, “I’m here!” Not without notice. So I’m on my own looking for Salem Baptist. I can do this. I drive on until I reach another point of decision.

How long will I stay on a road that goes to nowhere? Amity Road seems to go from one name to another, Thomson Highway, Lincolnton Highway and then again no name at all. A few homes barely visible from the road feel unfriendly. Like maybe they are way out here for one reason – to be left alone.

Where in the world am I? I pull over to sip cold coffee and think. I can go left and hope to find Lincolnton, though probably too far south, or I could go right and go to – where?

Thinking, thinking – what to do? Discouraged, I knocked on my rear view mirror in surrender to Aunt Donn.

“Well, Aunt Donn, I can’t look to the ‘nawth’ star because it’s daylight. So much for the county shaped like an arrow head showing me direction,” I mused as I gave into hopelessness.  That’s when I caught a glimpse of a small monument. And lo and behold, what did I see? An arrow – pointing right.

“My deah, why don’t you follow that ar’ow?”

“Got it, Aunt Don.”

Not long, I see a sign near the road.

Turn Here To Find Your Free Ticket To Heaven

Without thought, I turned in and found a parking space near the road. Too bad its Sunday morning with folks all dressed up going to church and me out here wearing shorts. I planned to wait until service started then slip out of my car into the cemetery, that is until my eyes landed on SMALLEY.

Confirmation! I’m in the right place. So what if I have on shorts on a Sunday morning? It is July in Georgia – 95 degrees out there. I quickly made my way to the Smalley plot and could not believe how many Smalleys were there. I eased a little deeper into the cemetery and found: Felton Story. That’s my newly found Texas cousin Laverne’s father. Next to him was a Steed monument: Walter Ennis and Dieudonne Bentley Steed. Uncle Walter and Aunt Donn. Well what do you know? Aunt Donn, I’m here.

I look about for some sort of wildflower. No buttercups here. I did find a handful of frazzled clover. I placed one on Felton Story’s grave and two for Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter. I stood back looking at the site in disbelief.

“Sorry to be so long Aunt Donn. I didn’t come to your funeral in ’68 because I was in Panama, Central America. My husband was stationed there teaching soldiers to jump out of helicopters into the jungle to train for Viet Nam combat duty. I just could not get back here to Lincolnton. I want you to know that I had so much fun visiting with you when I was a kid. I know you wanted me to listen more and talk less, something I’m still working on. Next time I will bring proper flowers, now that I know where to find you. Love you all the way to the North Star and back.”

I stood there for a moment and in my mind’s eye I saw her looking at me, the way she did when she was proud of me.

Dr. Dennis Brantley Bentley

Dennis Brantley Bentley Record Keeper at Salem Baptist Church Lincoln County

I moved on to the other side of Aunt Donn and found a tall impressive monument with genealogical history on all four sides. It was the patriarch and matriarch of my father’s mother’s family: Dennis Brantley Bentley and Grace Amelia Ramsey Bentley. Dennis Bentley, son of Dr. John Bentley and Nancy Elizabeth Paschal. Grace Amelia Ramsey, daughter of Caleb “Tip” Ramsey and Grace Caroline Hardin.

There about them were several of their children. Older son, Charlie Ramsey Bentley, Salem Baptist record keeper just like his father, Dennis, was buried there. Younger son, Caleb Hardin Bentley not to be found. I wondered if he was buried in Florida. Florida is where he went when he ran away from home after a quarrel with Donn. One infant born to Grace Caroline Bentley Burgess crowded in the far corner of the lot.

I placed a clover on each grave. Suddenly a man called out to me. He stood near the church on the edge of the cemetery. He was an elderly man, well-dressed suitable for Southern church going.

“Hello ma’am, can I help you?”

“Oh, no sir. I’m just visiting with my kin.”

“Would you like some water?”

“No sir, I have a drink in the car. Thank you just the same.”

“Well come into the sanctuary, get outta this heat. We can tell you how to get a free ticket to Heaven,” he said with all sincerity.

“Yes, I saw your sign,” I laughed, “that’s how I knew I was in the right place! Unfortunately, I’m wearing shorts today. My Aunt Donn would turn over in her grave if I entered Salem’s sanctuary improperly dressed.”

He chuckled. “Well, I think you look lovely my dear, but I understand. I sit near the front door. If you need anything, just knock!”

Aunt Donn was a supreme communicator, and apparently still is. I had to laugh. As I said goodbye, I left the rest of the clover with her.

I left feeling happy and confident. If I don’t find anything else today, I have found my Aunt Donn. Back to Amity Road I continued to drive south hoping to run into Interstate 20. I soon found road signs revealing my family to me. It was amazing. First up:

Bentley Road.

Yes, they had to live near to attend Salem Baptist.

Mt. Zion Church Road.

I know that road. I turned. Yes, it is where Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter lived. The road now paved. It was a narrow dirt road with a creek to the left. And there it is. No house. But no doubt, this is where they lived.

I returned to Amity Road and was greeted by my ancestors via more road signs.

Leathersville Community.

It was Leathersville in Lincoln County that the Bentleys called home, some say the first tannery in Georgia. My great-grandfather, Dennis Brantley Bentley made shoes there. His father, Dr. John Bentley traded medical services for hides and land. Balaam Bentley, John’s father, started the tannery by acquiring hides for trade. It was Balaam’s father, Captain William Bentley, who was granted 100 acres as payment for his services in the Continental Army. 100 acres grew into thousands.

Liberty Hill Community.

Liberty Hill School is where Aunt Donn and her brothers and sisters attended along with Horace Lawton Story, a boy who would become my grandfather. It was at Liberty Hill School that Horace Lawton Story fell in love with Nancy Elizabeth Bentley, daughter of Dennis and Grace Amelia Ramsey Bentley. Lawton and Nancy married, had nine children all born in Lincoln County, Georgia, the baby boy was my father, Tom Story.

As I traveled on I found another road that had eluded me.

Highway 150 also known as Cobbham Road.

Which way to go? I studied my map.

If I turn left I go to Fort Gordon where my father’s great-great grandparents are buried: Thomas Hardin and Gracie Reid Hardin. Thomas Hardin (1787-1852) left Virginia to farm in Georgia. His farm now a part of a military facility known as Fort Gordon. Thomas and Gracie were the parents of Grace Caroline Hardin who married Caleb “Tip” Ramsey. Tip and Grace had Grace Amelia Ramsey who married Dennis Brantley Bentley who had Nancy Elizabeth Bentley, my father’s mother. It’s the line known as the Graces in my family.

I’ll catch Fort Gordon next time. Today I turn right onto Cobbham Road. And as pretty as you please, I saw where the Bentleys left off and the Storys started. Now the Storys welcomed me with banners disguised as road signs.

Mistletoe Road. Story Road. Moonstown Road. Marshall Road.

My grandfather, Horace Lawton Story, was born on Mistletoe Plantation, owned by his grandfather, Buck Story, now a part of Mistletoe Park. Mistletoe Plantation backed up to another Buck Story owned property: Moonstown with his Marshall Dollar Plantation nearby. Buck inherited Moonstown Plantation when he married Rachel Anne Montgomery, his first wife, the mother of his first six sons. Third son was my great grandfather, Rad Story.

Familiar names on road signs whispered reminders of the past. They were here.

And how about that? Another place I’ve been looking for: The William Few Home. William Few signer of the U.S. Constitution briefly lived on Cobbham Road. He returned to New York where he lived the remainder of his life. His grown children and grandchildren lived in the Georgia home and it was a place where my grandfather played as a child, many stories told about that yard. The Few home-place neighbored Buck Story property. If William Few’s place is here then I had to be close to Happy Valley.

Cobbham Road near Happy Valley Lane.

I moved on about a mile or so and sure enough another historical marker: Basil O’Neal. A soldier who fought the British and Indians, born in Maryland, moved to Virginia where Basil married Mary Ann Briscoe. They purchased land and while traveling to Georgia over the Appalachian Trail on horseback, they named their new home Happy Valley, because they expected to be happy in Georgia. They had Eleanor (Nellie) O’Neal who married Michael Smalley. Eleanor and Michael had Selina Smalley who married William Aurelius Gunby who had Sallie Gunby. Sallie married Rad Story. Rad and Sallie had Horace Lawton Story who married Nancy Elizabeth Bentley who had Tom Story, my father.

Thus the Storys and Bentleys become one.

At age fourteen, Tom Story, lost his mother to heart failure. He never got over it. Aunt Donn was the closest thing to a mother he had. And though from the age of five, he lived in the Atlanta area, Lincoln County was where his heart belonged. It was “Lincolnton” that put a smile on his face.

And I came to realize why I had a hard time finding these places. They mainly lived in Lincoln County and some spread over into Wilkes, Columbia and McDuffie County. But when Daddy and his brothers and sisters spoke of home it was always, “We’re from … down there in Lincolnton.” I can still hear their voices.

Papa Story (Horace Lawton Story): “Well, Lincolnton is home. Lincolnton is where I fell in love with Nancy Bentley, a blue blood.” Looking at his grandchildren he said this to us, “That’s why you’re my blue bird specials, each and everyone of you, don’t ever forget that. Lincolnton is where I farmed and the rocks about got the best of me, farmed alone since I was seventeen, that’s when my father was killed on Thomson Road. Still didn’t want to leave. Then the state flooded our home-place to enlarge Clarks Hill. Had no choice then. That’s when I moved my family to Atlanta to be near Mother. It’ll always be home, a place of great joy and great sorrow – down there in Lincolnton.”

Daddy, the quiet one in the family (Tom Story): “The cedars sing you to sleep – down there in Lincolnton. Never heard a sound quite like it anywhere else.”

Tom Story’s brothers and sisters:

Grace: “It’s where I get my name – down there in Lincolnton. I’m a part of the Grace lineage on Mama’s side of the family: the Bentleys, Ramseys and Hardins, first born daughter gets that name. Been going on for over two hundred years. Something to be proud of. That’s why we all love that song, Amazing Grace, it’s our heritage from Mama. Speaking of Mama, I sure do miss her. I can see Mama now, with her prize Rhode Island Reds, down there in Lincolnton.”

Lawton, Jr. (Beau): “I know you won’t believe this but when I was a kid, I rode a cow to school – Salem School. I had it trained to wait on me. That’s where I learned to talk to animals to soothe ’em down. I could teach a rooster to lay down and roll over. No place like it in the world, home – down there in Lincolnton.”

Sarah: “Any time Robert went missing we could find him at this woman’s house, she lived on the lake way back in the woods. Yes, Mama was pregnant with Caleb the first time (three year old) Robert went missing, walking up and down that lake bank calling for him. Worried sick he’d drown in the lake. It’s a wonder Mama didn’t lose Cabe. But Robert didn’t answer cause his mouth was full of apple pie. Oh yes, did I tell you? You walk through an apple orchard to get to her house – down there in Lincolnton.”

Robert: “When I was a kid, I knew an elderly black woman who out did anybody baking apple pie. I slipped off to her house every chance I got, pretended to be lost. She’d hear me crying and come after me. Took me by the hand and led me to her kitchen. I coulda gone blindfolded, smellin’ my way to that pie! She lived in the midst of an apple orchard down near the lake – down there in Lincolnton.”

Miriam: “Well, I like to think on Lincolnton, because we were a whole family then, not one cut from the herd. And my little brother, Caleb, could walk, run and play when we lived – down there in Lincolnton.”

“There’s medicinal power of black-eyed peas. Yes ma’am, black-eyed pea juice can stave off the death angel.”

“Where in the world did you learn that, Aunt Miriam?”

“Down there in Lincolnton.”

Caleb: “I can close my eyes and hear my brothers and sisters when I think on Lincolnton. I can see us playing basket ball at the barn and swimming in the water hole, and working the fields. I was out there with them then, not in this wheelchair. We played hard and worked hard – down there in Lincolnton.”

Gene: “I still go down to Lincolnton at least three times a year. I buy Lincolnton cured ham and sausage, enough for me and my brothers and sisters. I fish around the chimney of the house Grandpa Rad built, the house where we were born. The best fishin’ is out there at Clarks Hill. Don’t believe me, ask my sister, Sarah. She’s the only one who can out fish me. And I always stop by Aunt Donn’s grave at Salem. It’s home – down there in Lincolnton.”

Nancy: “I hope one day someone will write a book about my family, the Bentleys and the Storys. I’m proud of my name: Nancy Bentley Story. I want all the family, you know the younger ones coming along, to know their grandparents and great grandparents – on and on back. If you don’t know who you were, how can you know who you are? Be proud of your ancestors. Dig into our east Georgia genealogy. It’s where we come from – down there in Lincolnton.”

As I drive on looking for signs to Interstate 20 westbound, I shared my father’s smile. For I have come to realize why “down there in Lincolnton” was a magical place for him and his siblings. Its home and it feels like home. Its where we find the spirit of that strong willed school teacher – Aunt Donn – in a Georgia county located nearly to South Carolina. A county shaped like an Indian arrow head pointing to the North Star, reminding me from whence I come and where I am going. If I ever need anything, all I have to do is knock and I am there.

Where?

Down there in Lincolnton – of course, my deahs!

Note:

Caleb Eubanks “Tip” Ramsey married three times. First wife, Grace Caroline Hardin, second wife unknown to me, and third wife Sallie McDaniel. He was a planter and politician, close friend of Henry Allen “Buck” Story. Buck’s second wife was Sallie’s sister, Susan McDaniel.

Later discovered that many Paschals were baptized at the Greenwood Baptist Church on Amity Road, the place where I turned around three times looking for Greenwood Church Road. My grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley (Story), was the namesake of Nancy Elizabeth Paschal who married Dr. John Bentley of Leathersville in Lincoln County, Georgia.

O’Neal Note:

The O’Neal family dropped the O in their name as an act of patriotism and became Neal.

Some information about Basil O’Neal came from A Biography of Basil O’Neal by Annie Pearce Barnes Johnson, historian of Georgia Society Daughters of American Colonist, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia.

Millie Briscoe was Basil O’Neal’s first wife. After Millie’s death, he married Sarah Hull Green.

Some information came from Basil O’Neal’s son, Basil Llewellin Neal who wrote, A Son of the Revolution. Llewellin was born when his father was 80 years old. Basil’s last child was born when he was 85. Sarah Hull Green was daughter of Captain McKeen Green. The captain served with relative General Nathaneal Green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aurelius, I want you to talk to that grandson of yours!” exclaimed Selina Gunby.

“Which one?” mused Aurelius Gunby as though he didn’t know.

“That little Horace.”

Yes, that little Horace needed speaking to.

Cousins Horace Lawton Story and Eugene Gunby were best buddies. Eugene was a few years older than Horace, but because of Horace’s size and Eugene’s poor health, they seemed to be about the same age.

Eugene Gunby owned a cart pulled by a trained goat. He rode it everywhere he went and often invited Horace to ride with him. Every morning Horace hurried to finish breakfast and waited outside looking for the goat’s horns to peep up over the horizon. It was time to go to school. Horace was in the first grade.

The boys spent many happy-go-lucky days with Mr. Goat. Eugene had trained Mr. Goat to come, back up and standstill; Mr. Goat did all but attach himself to the harness and cart.  Mr. Goat and the two boys took leave and ventured out to the meadows and orchards. They made their rounds across the creeks and tormented the bee hives.

The Arimathea Methodist was located between Horace’s farm and Grandpa Aurelius’ farm, which gave the boys lots of room for adventure. Eugene lived on a farm “on down the road,” Uncle Edwin Gunby had a general store nearby, and Liberty Hill School was a hop skip and jump away. They made their rounds every chance they got, always stopping by Uncle Ed’s store for licorice and peppermint sticks.

While riding the countryside, the boys relived, with much exaggeration, the stories of great-great grandfather, Basil O’Neal.  Grandpa Basil  was known as the “world’s best marksman.” According to the boys, he won the Revolutionary War single handed and run “them British” back to where they come from.

But not all was fun, games and war stories. Eugene and Horace began to argue.

The Gunbys were a close knit family and strived to be there for one another. The boys were at odds and the whole family felt it. Grandmother Selina would not tolerate this situation any longer. It was time for Grandpa to speak to young Horace.

“Horace, let’s walk out to the orchard and check on the apples and peaches. Their blooms fell off a few weeks back. Let’s see if we are making fruit yet.”
“Sure Grandpa.”

As they walked about and checked the progress of the orchard, the old man decided to sit down. “Horace, come sit with me.”

“The apples will be in soon, won’t they Grandpa?”

“Oh yes, give it five or six more weeks, peaches a little later. That’ll be something you and Eugene can do with that goat and cart – gather apples.”

“Well, I don’t think that will happen Grandpa. I’m not playing with Eugene anymore. He’s selfish and I don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

“I see and why is that? I thought you two were best friends.”

“He won’t ever let me take the reins and lead Mr. Goat. I want to be in charge of where we go in the cart, just one time. And, I’m the one who gets us outta the creek when we get stuck!”

“He never lets you drive? Why not?”

“’Cause he’s selfish and always wants to tell me what to do, just ‘cause he’s older than me. I won’t tolerate it,” said young Horace as he sat up taller to appear bigger than his six years.

“But you enjoy riding in the cart and that beats walking back and forth to school. Think about that before school starts back. That’s a lot of walking,” said Aurelius, “but what really bothers me is the arguing you two are doing. I want you to think about this before you have more harsh words: A word once sent abroad…”

“…cannot be called back. I know, Grandpa, Horatio said that. But he didn’t have a cousin like Eugene!”

“Now let’s think about this for a moment. After you have ridden in the goat cart all you want, what do you do?” Before Horace could answer, Aurelius answered for him, “You jump out and go anywhere you want to go. I’ve seen you! You and those long legs can out run any of your cousins. You should be proud of that.”

“I am! And I can climb a tree quicker than all of ‘em too!”

Aurelius laughed and enjoyed his time with Horace. They decided to walk on and check on the blackberries. Sure enough, they were coming in too. Blackberry cobbler was going to be just as good as apple pie.

“Horace look at the blackberry blossoms! Thousands of them; looks like lots of pies to me!”

“Maybe millions Grandpa!”

Aurelius took Horace by the hand and said, “Steady me a bit, Horace, so I can walk through this rough terrain.”

“Sure Grandpa, lean on me.”

“You are a thoughtful young man Horace. Tell me, what do you do for Eugene when you two get out of the cart?”

“Well, you know…”

“I want to hear it from you Horace.”

Horace swallowed hard and whispered the words, “I hand him his crutches.”

“Why do you do that Horace?”

“Grandpa, you know.”

“Please, answer my question, ‘son.”

“I hand him his crutches, because he can’t walk.”

“Why can’t Eugene walk?”

The small boy took a deep breath and exhaled. “Because he had polio and his legs won’t work anymore.”

“And you are there to hand him his crutches. You two make a good team. I want you to think about that.”

“Grandpa, I don’t want to take his goat and cart away, I just want to guide it one time. I even asked to hold one rein while he holds the other, but no! He says – not yet,”  Horace explained as he fought back tears.

Were they tears of remorse or tears for his cousin’s condition? Aurelius thought maybe some of both.

“Perhaps Eugene wants to be able to do something that others can’t do. You know how you like being the fastest runner and best tree climber? Perhaps Eugene wants to have one thing he can do – that no one else can do.”

The two walked on together all the while, Aurelius holding on to Horace’s hand or shoulder. They studied the cloud formation and picked out pictures made by the clouds. As they headed back to the house Aurelius spoke of Eugene again.

“Now you can continue to ask Eugene if you can take the reins, but it is his decision to keep them or share them.”

“I know Grandpa. I will ask him again, but if he says ‘not yet,’ then I will not be mad at him. I won’t be mad at Eugene anymore.”

And Pierce Eugene Gunby never let go of the reins.

After polio left him a cripple, he moped around and did nothing for himself. His mother took matters into her own hands.

“Eugene, you can sit there and do nothing all day long,” She pointed to a patch of land where the family was cultivating a vegetable garden, “or you can get out there and help. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

“How Mother, how can I?”

“The good Lord gave you a brain, figure it out.”

Eugene trained a goat and then a horse. He whistled for the horse and it walked to him near the front porch. He was able to tie a low hanging pillow case around the horses’ neck, and used his upper body strength to climb up on the horse. He laid on his belly and hung over the side of the horse. They went to the garden and Eugene picked vegetables hanging upside down. He filled his pillow case. He did his share.

From that summer on, Eugene Gunby was in charge of his future. The horse and Mr. Goat became Eugene’s legs. There was nothing Eugene could not do on a horse. And what he could not do physically, he made up for it academically.

When ready for college, he applied at Berry, a college in North Georgia. The founder, Martha Berry explained that Berry College was a working college and she had doubts Eugene could handle it. She turned down his request.

Eugene did not give up. He made a deal with Martha Berry. Let him on campus and give him two weeks. If he could not keep up, he would leave. She gave him that chance, and that was all he needed. He excelled at Berry and graduated.

Martha Berry later stated in a newspaper article that Eugene Gunby was a perfect example of Berry’s motto: Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

Eugene received a gift from (Coca Cola) Robert Woodruff; an Arabian stud named Katun.  Katun came from the Arabian line of Gazara and Nasr. Gazara and Nasr were the first Arabians known to grace the state of Georgia.

In 1974 one-hundred-eighty-five acres of pastures with barns and stables were dedicated to Eugene calling it the Gunby Equine Center, and on a gate within the center, the Eugene Gunby Center. This is how Berry College recognized Eugene Gunby’s concern for youth, for the handicapped, and for his deep love of horses.

Eugene became a Fulton County Circuit Court Judge, at first, riding a horse from courthouse to courthouse. Once Eugene Gunby took the reins, he never let up; not for Horace Story, not for Martha Berry, not for anyone. Eugene became actively involved in church work and served on the administrative board at Peachtree Road Methodist. He received the highest Masonry award of thirty-three degrees for his outstanding service of the Scottish Rite Masons. He served as president on the Atlanta Council of Boy Scouts of America and achieved the Silver Beaver Award. He served on the advisory board of Scottish Rite’s Hospital of Georgia and was a member of the YMCA executive committee.

Cousins Eugene and Horace remained best friends for life. It was the same every time they met. Before they departed, Horace asked, “Eugene, are you ready to let go of the reins yet?”

Eugene’s answer was always the same, “Not yet, Horace, not yet.”

 

 

 

Nancy Story-Goss, Aunt Donn, Sarah Story-Graves

“Tom, what do you think about these pajamas?”

“I don’t sleep in pajamas, Helen,” answered Tom, “you know that.”

“Well Tom Story you will sleep in pajamas while we are at ya Aunt Donn’s house. You know how proper she is. This is the first time I’ve ever been invited to her house. I wouldn’t think about going down there under-dressed. Here, look at this. Do you like this housecoat?”

Yes, Aunt Donn was a proper woman. She was my father’s aunt; his mother’s sister. I never knew my father’s mother; she died of heart failure when Daddy was about fourteen years old. He seldom spoke of her, but I know that Daddy adored his mother. And when his eyes set on Aunt Donn, it was a special moment indeed.

The few times I met Aunt Donn was here in Tucker on Morgan Road – at my Aunt Sarah’s house, or on Henderson Road at my Aunt Nancy’s house. When the letter arrived announcing her visit, the Story family prepared for Aunt Donn for days in advance. When she finally walked through the door, you could hear a pin drop. The Story “children” all anticipated Aunt Donn with a warm heart.

And at last Aunt Donn would make her entrance; and always so well dressed. She wore a suit – wool and dark. Her legs covered to the ankles by a skirt with dark hose and black laced up high heeled shoes. Every hair in place topped off with a hat with feathers and sometimes a veil. Aunt Donn carried herself as any regal queen with her chin slightly elevated. She had an odd purplish spot on her lip which made her look all the more sophisticated.

And though all the Storys are Southern born and raised; none spoke quite the Southern that Aunt Donn spoke. Daddy and his family hit their “r” softly, but Aunt Donn’s second “r” in a word was sometimes ignored all together. I heard it was a South Carolinian influence carried over the border to Lincolnton, though it sounded somewhat British.

And now, we were invited to visit Donn Bentley-Steed at her home in Lincolnton Georgia, the place of my father’s birth, the home of his father and mother; a lot of old Southern history down in Lincolnton. And now I would get to see for myself – Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter’s home. It must be a fine place. I know it’s in the country not too far from Augusta. I know that Aunt Donn considered herself one of the first women graduates of the University of Georgia, and that at one time or another she ran a post office, taught school, and ran a hotel in Lincolnton.

“Oh for the love of Pete!” she would say, “It took the Univursity of Geo’gia over a hundred yeahs to allow a woman to be educated there. Yes, finally in 1932 the Univursity took in Geo’gia State No’mal as pawt of the Univursity.  State No’mal was, you know, where they sent girls to become teachers. Little by little the wauld is wising up!”

This matriarch had long since retired, but still known as a “do it all kind of person.” She was proud of the fact that she never wasted a moment of good natural sunlight being an avid reader.

“Too many books in the world, and just not enough time,” Aunt Donn would say as she searched for a window with sunlight streaming through. Though she never owned a television and thought them to be vile time wasters, a few years down the road, Aunt Donn became an advocate and supporter of a new kind of television programming, GPB – Georgia Public Broadcasting.

And each and every time we departed from Aunt Donn, she had us hold hands and form a circle. No matter how big or small the circle, she recited her most favorite words in the whole world, Numbers 6:24-26. “May the Lawd bless thee, and keep thee. May the Lawd make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. May the Lawd lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”

Aunt Donn never had children, but claimed her students, nieces and nephews as her own. In fact she named all nine children of her sister, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story, which included my father, Tom Story. Each name had a special place in Donn’s heart and the history books. It was always a history lesson in her presence, and now my family was on the way to her house. I could hardly wait! Our best clothes packed along with new pajamas. Mama even got a new perm. Aunt Donn – here we come!

We left Atlanta and headed east – for the country. A few hours later, when Daddy announced, “We are almost there,” we had long left the country and were in the wilderness. Then he brought the car to a stop. It was hard to believe it when we saw it – Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter’s country home.

It was an unpainted wooden clapboard type home balanced up on stacks of rocks. The house could be seen underneath – that’s where the chickens lived. Two out-houses graced the backyard; girls had a cut out moon on the door while the boys had a cut out star. They could be found on the other side of the Cana Lily garden – the flowers all dried up now due to the harsh cold winter.

I don’t know what I expected, but this was not it. My parents gathered us together as we approached the front porch; Mama a little anxious while Daddy looked straight ahead with a big smile on his face. Out came Aunt Donn. She did not have on her woolen suit, but rather an ankle length navy blue dress with hose and her laced up high heeled shoes, topped off with her “shawt fur” about her shoulders. She was so glad to see us! She was genteel and gracious.

“Come in Tom and Helen! So good to see you! And look at these gulls – three of them now! Each one just beautiful! Come in – oh – please come in. Tom, where’re Sarah and Nancy?”

“Oh, there’re right behind us. They should be along soon,” Daddy and Mama explained.

“Are their husbands coming too, Tom?”

“Yes, they’re all coming, Doc (Dorsey) and Carl and all the kids too! Hope we won’t be too much…”

“Oh, Tom, I knew I could count on you! Thank you, thank you! I hated to write to you like that, but I really need some help.Walta, has the rheumatism so bad in his leg, well, he can hawdly get about! Let alone chop fie-wood.”

Daddy hugged Aunt Donn for a long time and said, “Don’t worry; we’ll take care of everything. You have lots of good help now.”

“Well, come in! Please, Helen, come in. Gulls, come on into Aunt Donn’s house!”

It was a very cold winter day and we did not tarry. My two sisters and I grabbed our dolls and teddy bears as we made our way into the house. Inside the house was a short stairway to the right that led up to a locked door, a room there I suppose. I don’t know, because no one was allowed to go up there. My sister, Patricia, and our cousins used to dream up all kinds of ideas about that locked door.

Roy told a story about gold from the Confederate treasure that was lost as the floor of a railroad car collapsed dropping solid gold coins all over Lincolnton. He was sure some of that treasure was up in that room. Linda thought perhaps a lost family piano was there. And Steve thought Uncle Walter must have another bedroom somewhere in the house. It was hard to believe Uncle Walter slept in an outside room. Patricia wondered if an old trunk was locked away containing birth certificates, wills and diaries. I liked to sit on the steps and admire the wooden star and crescent moon that hung on the wall just before reaching the locked door. The moon had its own staircase with miniature ceramic angels ascending the moon – on the way to Heaven. My father built and gifted the moon and star to his beloved Aunt Donn.

Aunt Donn would proudly boast that her Thomas Jonathan had given her the stars and moon!

The entire house was a curiosity to all of us kids. The high ceiling house was furnished with antiques, and well worn Oriental rugs covered the creaky hardwood floors. The dining room table was always set with fine china down to the finger bowls. The house reminded me of an old English library without the bookcases; hundreds of books stacked all the way to the ceiling. Aunt Donn used a librarian’s step ladder to reach the books high up.

The fireplace was the first thing I noticed as I entered the house. Over the mantle was a large portrait of a beautiful girl with long dark hair; eyes of blue. The girl was dressed in an eighteen hundreds type of white lace dress. The pretty girl seemed to stare at me – no matter where in the room I stood. I felt her presence mysteriously as though she was really there, and wanted to speak to me.

And as warm as the fireplace appeared, it was as cold inside the house as outside.

“As I said, we’re running shawt on fie-wood, Tom. Walta has not been able to chop any wood lately, poooor thing.”

“Oh, that’s no problem, really. Doc, Carl and I will take care of that, just as soon as they get here,” Tom called out as he studied a huge framed Declaration of Independence on the wall in the living-room.

Aunt Donn looked at my father as though she just adored him, “Oh, Tom, I just cannot get over how much you favah Dr. Bentley. You look just like him. One day I’ll give this Declaration of Independence to you. I know you cherish it as did Doctah Bentley. And thank you for coming to my aid. I knew I could count on you my deah-est.” She took my father by the hand and led him to the fireplace. The two of them stood there holding hands, and looking at the pretty girl in the portrait. They put their heads together, and spoke quietly to each other as though they were the only ones in the room.

Dennis Brantley Bentley 1844-1912

I would soon learn that no matter how irritated Aunt Donn became, when she stood before the fireplace and looked at the portrait of the pretty girl, she always melted and smiled in spite of herself. I called it the magic spot.

Aunt Donn’s house was somewhat of a time warp. It was not all that large, but the high ceilings gave the appearance of wide open space. But no getting around it, the house was old and cold; no electricity.

Clarke’s Hill rocks lined the steps leading up to the front porch. I know they were Clarke’s Hill rocks, because Aunt Donn told us so. According to Aunt Donn, Clarke’s Hill was named after a Revolutionary War hero, Elijah Clarke. The Hill was where Elijah Clarke held his troops while making plans to drive out the British occupant troops from the capital of Georgia, Augusta. More than a century later, the Hill was flooded and the lake was created which buried rich Georgia history and my father’s family farm underwater. It seemed that every spot in Aunt Donn’s house held a history lesson.

Uncle Walter’s outside bedroom was a “traveler’s room” off the front porch; a room without an entrance into the house. Once through the front door of the house, a very large Clarke’s Hill rock propped open a bedroom door to the left. Next to the rock was a heavy looking over-sized chest that showcased a big pitcher and bowl. The bowl doubled as a hiding place for Aunt Donn’s lipstick. Every time she heard a knock on the door, she straightened her clothes as she admired herself in the mirror hanging on the wall over the pitcher and bowl, then smeared red lipstick on her lips just before opening the door. I used to wonder who she was dressing up for all way out here, but she did it every time, even when it was just Uncle Walter wanting in the house.

And though we were just a few hours from home, Lincolnton was light years away from Tucker Georgia. What in the world were we to do here?  No television, no radio and no running water? With seven “Story” cousins under the age of nine – plenty!

I soon learned that Aunt Donn was a very serious no nonsense woman who insisted on red lipstick and properness – no matter what the circumstances – she never let her sophisticated guard down. And at times she could be very stern. Aunt Donn had a wooden ruler that she kept handy, and reminded us often of how she maintained order in her classroom back when she taught school.

I was intimidated and kept my distance as much as possible.

Uncle Walter was an odd character. He was quiet, and avoided socializing with the family very much. He sure didn’t chop any firewood with the men. He stayed in the background limping about with his cane. He did watch his big tub of water outside to be sure the kids did not play in his “good rainwater.” My cousins, Roy and Steve, sailed leaves in the tub of water while pretending the leaves were boats. Uncle Walter did not like that. He did not like it when we ran his chickens either – something about “they would never lay again!”

Uncle Walter kept his eyes on the children at all times, and reported any mischief to our parents – which became a full time job. But before the weekend was over, we cured Uncle Walter’s rheumatism. He was actually able to chase us while shaking his cane in the air. Yes, the children cured him.

Aunt Donn mostly ignored her husband and gave him a smile that said, “Chil’ren will be chil’ren.” But on occasion, she took her “rule” out to show us and said, “Chil’ren should be seen and not heard.”

I tried to stay clean and avoid a bath, because there was no real bathroom there. But when Mama found out that I fell into chicken poo, she insisted on a bath. She dragged a metal tub with a high up back from the enclosed back-porch. The porch doubled as a meat locker in winter housing good Lincolnton country ham. Mama carried buckets of Uncle Walter’s rainwater to heat up on the wood burning stove in the kitchen. She was so tired, she handed me a bar of red soap so that I could bathe myself. The soap burned, so I used very little. Mama lathered up my bath-rag and gave me a good once over. I started burning and itching. I was used to Ivory soap at home and not that harsh germ killing soap. My face and body became swollen and as red as the soap.

“No worry, now Helen. Let me take care of that child. All she needs is a little buddah-milk. That’s right. That’s what Doctah Bentley would prescribe.”

Aunt Donn took over and applied buttermilk on me from head to toe, while Mama and her two sisters-in-law decided to make a trip to the general store for some lotion to soothe my rash. The truth be known, Mama was tired of dusting books and batting away cobwebs. I have never seen her work so hard, especially in her church clothes and shoes. Mama pulled the dusting scarf off her new perm and said to my aunts, Sarah and Nancy, “Let’s go. The sooner we get outta here, the sooner —— we’ll have what we need.”

The men stayed busy chopping firewood as the children played outside. That left me alone in the house with Aunt Donn.

She covered the settee with a quilt and sheet, and then motioned for me to sit there. I was timid about walking into that part of the house, since it seemed to be for grown-ups only.

“Sit here Donnie, so I can keep an eye on you. All that running around you’ve been doing, aren’t you the one who just got over Scarlett fevah?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And outdoors running the chickens? See what happens? The good Lawd knows when you need rest. Yoah body breaks down – one way or the othah – and you have to slow down then. That’s what Doctah Bentley always said, and I see it true every day.”

Every time Aunt Donn saw a crack in my dried buttermilk, she dabbed me again. I sat there cold and shivering in my tee shirt, panties and socks. I winced and she seemed aggravated.

“Now, young lady, you sit still. This does not hurt a bit.”

“It’s cold and it smells funny.”

“You must take yoah medicine…”

“This isn’t medicine, its buttermilk…”

“You don’t need any medicine. This is how country folks live. We make do!”

She looked me over good to be sure she did not miss a spot, and then sat down in her Queen Anne chair near the fire.

“All this jumping into automobiles and running up and down the road. My fatha was a doctah and…”

“The ‘doctah’ who —— cured people with buttermilk?”

“Yes, ma’am he did cure people with buddah-milk! There are certain properties that buddah-milk…” Aunt Donn shook her head about as though she was the most misunderstood person in the world. “Why do I botha? Donnie, why do I botha?”
I shrugged my shoulders, and did not answer her, because I really did not know what she was talking about.

Aunt Donn was appalled, “Young lady! Did you just shrug yoah shouldas at me? Is that how you answer an adult?”

“No ma’am.”

“Well, that’s more like it,” Aunt Donn replied and seemed to settle down a bit. Then she started talking like almost to herself. “They used to all live here you know. Here, in Lincolnton, on beautiful fawm. They called the fawm, Leathasville. Doctah Dennis Brantley Bentley, you know, my fatha, the doctah, and yes, sometimes he did cure with buddah-milk and herbs. We used what we had available. It’s not like living near the big cities. Yes, at one time, we all lived here in Lincolnton in a lovely house. And then they left, all one by one, they went out west, except for me. I chose to stay, because, Lincolnton is my home and it will always be my home.”

“Is Lincolnton named after Abraham Lincoln? Is this where President Lincoln lived?”

“Well, no Donnie,” replied Aunt Donn. I learned fast the best way to get Aunt Donn in a pleasant mood was to simply allow her to flourish in her element; teaching. “Lincolnton Georgia was named for a man from Massachusetts, Benjamin Lincoln; born in 1733. He was a major general in the American Revolutionary War, and was responsible for overseeing the largest surrendah of the war at the Siege of Charleston. He also accepted the British surrendah at Yorktown.” She smiled to herself and went on, “So, I see you have an interest in history just like yoar fatha.”

After a bit of silence, Aunt Donn asked me a question. “What’s on yoah mind? You look like you want to say something.”

“Well, Ma’am, I hate to tell you, but Augusta is not the capital of Georgia.”

“I know that. Now why in the world would you think otha-wise?”
“When you told us about Elijah Clarke, you said Augusta was the capital of Georgia.”

“Yes, I did. Donnie,” She went on, “The state of Geo’gia has had many capitals, the last being Atlanta. The first capital was Savannah, the second Augusta, then for a shawt while, Ebenezer, Milledgeville, and Macon. When Elijah Clarke drove out the British, the capital of Geo’gia was indeed Augusta.”

Aunt Donn paused and stared up at the portrait of the pretty girl.

“She grew up at the Leathasville Fawm in Lincolnton. Lincolnton was her home, then she married her childhood sweethawt, Lawton. They moved into the home Lawton’s fatha, Mr. Radford Gunn Story, built…”

“Story? That’s my last name…”

Aunt Donn held up her hand to stop me, “Of course it is. Now just listen to me for a moment, please.”

“There in that big old house, they started a family, but they fell on hawd times fawming. The truth be known, Lawton was not the fawmah his fatha was. It’s hawd to fawm, especially near Clarke’s Hill; lots of rocks on the Hill. Lawton was beating the rocks, but the boll weevil and asthma proved more challenging. The  fawms up there were flooded by the state, and became a pawt of Clarke’s Hill Lake. They decided to go west like the rest of them, and fawm out there.”

“California?”

“No, Atlanta Geo’gia.”

I forgot myself for a moment and spoke a little too sharply, “That’s not far and it’s not out west!”
“It is far, you little whippah-snappah! It is far when one has no telephone or automobile. It may as well be Califonia!” Aunt Donn regained her composure as she allowed a tiny smile to show on her face, “I commend you on your knowledge of geography. How old are you now, six?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“That’s well indeed! Well, young lady, I see you do listen. You are simply disobedient. How many times has Walta asked you to stop chasing the chickens?”

Before I could get it counted up and give her a correct answer, she asked, “Weren’t you the one who nelly drown at Clarke’s Hill Lake a summa or so ago?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you see what kind of trouble you can get into when you do not obey adults?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And why in the world would one want to leave Lincolnton?” Aunt Donn returned to her story about going out west. “Yes, they all went west. They left the very place the furst settlers of Geo’gia put down roots. We have Athens just a stone throw away; the home of first and largest learning institution in all of Geo’gia. Left it for the railroad; everyone is in such a hurry now a days. Go, go, go!”

“We have airplanes in Atlanta…”

“Yes! Go, go, go. Fasta, fasta and fasta!”

I tried to change the subject.

“My father calls me Donnie, because he wanted a boy when I was born. My real name is Diane…”

“Of course I know yoah real name, Diane. And I have my doubts about that.”

“Doubts about what? Ma’am?”

“That yoah fatha wanted boys. He adores his gulls, as well as Helen and all of his sistas.”

“Well, ma’am, how did you get your name? Donn?”

“Donn is a shawt version of my given name, a long French name. Yoah fatha and his siblings made chopped livvah out of it. So, I asked them to please call me Donn.”

“Wow.”

“Yes, and it’s a very lovely name. It means given by the Lawd.

“Wow.”

“Donnie, it is not proppah to use that word.”

I looked at her in surprise, and did not know exactly which word she was speaking of. She returned my stare.

“That word – ‘wow,’ please do not use it again in my presence!”

“Yes, ma’am,” I continued to hold my stare into her eyes. I did not want to drop my eyes in fear she would discover what happened to her “rule.” This morning, when no one was looking, I slipped her wooden ruler down the side of her Queen Anne chair just under the cushion. That way when she finds it, she will think she lost it there, and no one would have to be punished. My eyes were on Aunt Donn’s eyes and I would not allow my eyes to even blink.

“You are much like her, especially about the eyes, same color of blue.” Aunt Donn seemed to drift in thought, and then came back at me, “Yes, and she was a whippah-snappah much the same as you! And Doctah Bentley had Motha to covah her in butta-milk many times. She had sensitive skin as well.”

Aunt Donn turned away from my eyes and looked toward the burning fire.

“The pretty girl in the portrait?”

“Yes, the pretty girl in the portrait,” answered Aunt Donn. She then stood before the mantle and gazed at the girl. With her right hand, she motioned for me to join her.

Could this be for real? The only people I had seen invited to stand before the fireplace with Aunt Donn were my father and his sisters. Any time I tried to go near the mantle – an adult gently pulled me back. That magic spot seemed to be reserved only for Aunt Donn and her special people.

And now, here today, she motioned for me to join her. I stood up and gingerly took a few steps and stood right next to her; my eyes on Aunt Donn and her eyes on the pretty girl. And I saw it happen; the same as always. Aunt Donn’s stern face melted away, and she became quite gentle while standing in the magic spot.

“Yes, she is a pretty girl; about sixteen when this portrait was painted. She was Doctah Bentley’s favorite you know. And here we stand, Donn and Donnie.” As a tear slid down Aunt Donn’s face, she whispered, “We’re here Sista.”

“She’s your sister?” I whispered to Aunt Donn.

“Yes, my Dear, she is my sista,” and then Aunt Donn gave my hand a gentle squeeze, and said, “and she is yoah grandmotha.”

We made several trips to Lincolnton to visit Aunt Donn and Uncle Walter, but never a visit as special as the day she introduced me to my grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley (Story). On another trip, she gifted my father, Tom Story, the framed Declaration of Independence that Daddy and his grandfather, Dr. Bentley, so dearly loved.

On our way home from our first visit to Aunt Donn’s home, Daddy insisted on stopping by the general store for Coca Cola. Mama really wanted to hurry home back to Tucker, but Daddy said the “gulls” needed a souvenir to remember Lincolnton. Daddy found a ceramic wishing well and bought it.

“Helen, every time I look at this wishing well, I’ll be thankful we didn’t lose a young ‘un in Aunt Donn’s well.”

Mama rolled her eyes.

“And look here, Helen, finger bowls. I know you want these.”

“Tom Story don’t you even think about it.”

“What do you think gulls? Finger bowls? That way you can dip your fingers in the water and keep ‘em clean while you’re eating.” Daddy threw his head back and laughed. Of course, we knew not to answer.

Back on the road, we headed home following the signs: Atlanta – WEST.

During our ride home, Daddy asked, “Gulls, did you have a good time?” We were slow to answer, all being a little tired. “What did you learn? Being around Aunt Donn, I know you learned something.”

My eight year old sister, Patricia, answered first, “Aunt Donn collects rocks. Each rock has a special meaning, and some of the rocks have been owned by the Bentley family all the way back to the seventeen hundreds. And if I practice drawing circles, it will strengthen the muscles in my hand and I will have better penmanship.”

My younger sister, Barbara, spoke next, “There are two dark spots on America.”

“Dark spots? What’s that all about Bobtail?” asked Daddy.

“Dark spots are shame. Aunt Donn says that slavery and the Trail of Tears are dark spots.”

“Is that really something a four year old needs to hear?” whispered Mama to Daddy.

“Never too young to learn that, Helen.”

“Well, Tom Story, I can tell you what I learned at Aunt Donn’s!” laughed Mama.

“What? Tell me. Now listen up gulls.”

“I learned that one must never ever cut the butter with anything but the ‘buddah’ knife!”

We all laughed, especially Daddy.

“Well, what about you Donnie? I bet you learned to like buttermilk,” said Daddy.

“Not really.” My rash had gotten the better of me and I did not feel like talking; my lips were still burning. And yes, the Coke did help some, but I was still nauseous from the smell of buttermilk.

“Well, you can’t be with Aunt Donn for three days and learn nothing,” said Daddy. “After we moved to Tucker, one of my brothers or sisters would go back to Lincolnton and stay with Aunt Donn for the summer. That fall, when we went back to school, that person skipped a grade. I know you learned at least one thing. What was it?”

“I met my grandmother. Her name is Nancy Elizabeth and she was a very pretty girl.”

Yes, I met my grandmother for the first time. And I will never forget the day I stood in the magic spot with my great-aunt, Dieudonnee, a woman truly given by God.

Author’s Note:

*In 1988 the South Carolina legislature voted to rename Clarke’s Hill Lake for the esteemed Senator Strom Thurmond. Since that day, the South has taken note of this issue. So far it has been resolved in this way. South Carolina maps name the lake, Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake. Georgia maps name the lake, Clarke’s Hill Lake.

*Leathersville can be found in the southern part of Lincolnton.