Posts Tagged ‘Story’


Fitzpatrick Hotel

Fitzpatrick Hotel

“Hello, anybody here?”

I walked the halls of a three story Victorian hotel looking for any sign of life. No one. Wandering through the lobby, I happened to see a note on the check in counter: If you need help call Carolyn at 706 …

I turned the phone around and dialed. A woman’s voice on the other end had a question for me.

“Are you the lady who was supposed to be here at noon?”

“Yes ma’am, unfortunately I got a late start …”

“It’s two o’clock.”

“I know ma’am …”

“Well, I just got home. I don’t live in downtown Washington-Wilkes, you know. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Twenty minutes later, Carolyn, checked me in and wasted no time telling me about Daniel.

“Now Daniel will be in and out. If the front door is locked use the Lady’s door. I’ll give you the code. That way you can come and go as you please.”

She was right about Daniel. He was in and out, mostly out. If I could pin him down for a moment, I had a question for this young man, a haunting question.

“Hey Daniel, have you ever seen any ghosts in here?”

His eyes widened a bit as he spoke.

“I’ve never seen a ghost here. No ma’am, nor ever spoken to a guest who has seen a ghost here. But a while back, a ghost hunting crew checked in …”

Looking around at the high ceilings, Oriental rugs and Victorian furniture, I pushed.

“What did they find out?”

“Well, not sure ma’am. They kept to themselves, Ghost Brothers, a TV show coming out soon. Yes ma’am, the Fitzpatrick Hotel and all unseen guests will be on that show, so I hear.”

“So, Ghost Brothers found signs of paranormal activity?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. I did overhear ‘em talkin’ though.”

“What did they say?”

“Oh, something like,” in a slightly Shakespearean tone, Daniel, paraphrased the TV spokesperson, “Thick warm smell of history permeates this 1898 hotel. You can feel where ghosts filter through the muted stained-glass windows. The Fitzpatrick is where the mystics meet majestic grandeur …”

Daniel’s voice trailed off as he let himself out the front door. He turned back to the door long enough to key it locked. And he was gone. I was alone in a locked hotel and the only guest checked in today, at least the only one with a body.

The first night I fell asleep staring at the hall light creeping under the door, mindful of expected dark spots to appear in the shape of shoes or feet. I was ready to scream bloody murder, all the while knowing there was no one to hear.

But the Fitzpatrick Hotel is not the only haunting building of “majestic grandeur” in Washington, Georgia. Historical markers dot the square and roads.

The Robert Toombs Home can be found just minutes from the Washington Square. Toombs was a successful planter, lawyer, U.S. Congressman and Senator, the man from Georgia who shouted to his constituents: “Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door …”

I toured Toombs’ 7000 square feet home, a home that was elegant, yet warmed cozy by old creaking hardwood floors. I especially enjoyed the garden even in a light misty rain. While photographing the English ivy at the front porch steps, I bumped into a man who introduced himself.

“Since you are a history professor, you’ll want a picture of this.” I said to him.

He gave me a curious look.“

“According to Marcia inside, this ivy came from the garden of Mary Queen of Scots.”

“Well, my dear, you do know Bob Toombs was full of BS?”

Mary Stuart's English Ivy

Mary Stuart’s English Ivy   at Robert Toombs Home

 

“Oh?”

“Oh yes, said he could drink all the blood spilled fighting the Yankees. Little did he know, blood spilled would be of biblical proportions. Blood up to the bridles of horses, even a bit much for Toombs to swallow. Yes, Bob Toombs was full of shit!” He chuckled. “But that ivy could have come from Mary Stuart’s garden. Who knows? Bob was an influential man.”

“What about the gold? Do you know anything about the lost Confederate gold? That’s why I’m here, to gather information to write a short story …”

“That gold was transferred by railway from a bank in Virginia to pay off Confederate debt. The last of the gold was to go to Europe, but it didn’t make it. Robbery occurred somewhere around the Chennault House between Washington and Lincolnton. Some say the Chennault family was tortured, strung up by the thumbs till they passed out. The lady of the house was separated from her nursing child for an extended period. Union soldiers meant business about getting that gold back. The Chennaults apparently did not know. If so, surely one of them would’ve spilled the beans hearing that hungry baby cry. I understand Lincoln offered the Chennault’s an apology. You know Lincoln revealed his true feelings about the South when he said, ‘with malice toward none.'”

“Yes, he did. Back to the lost gold, professor, I heard Jefferson Davis spent the night at the Chennault house disguised as a woman …”

He laughed.

“Davis was running from Union soldiers, hiding at the Chennault’s house. I’ve heard about the woman disguise thing, but don’t believe it. As far as the gold, I believe that gold was taken about three miles from the Chennault’s. Others will swear the robbery took place at the house. It remains a mystery to this day what happened to that gold. By today’s standards it would be worth over a million dollars.”

A group dressed in graduation caps and gowns approached along with a photographer.

“Professor, we’re ready.”

“Okay, looks like my graduating history club is ready to go. Good luck dear on your hunt for the lost gold, but I believe you’re chasing ghosts. Even Margaret Mitchell wrote about that gold in Gone with the Wind. The Union soldiers thought Rhett had it, threatened to hang him. People have been speculating over a hundred and fifty years. Maybe it was taken out west and melted down, who knows? Well, hope your pictures of Mary’s ivy turnout. And hey, I’ll check out your blog! ”

Chasing ghosts was right in more ways than one. I’m really here to finish a book I’m writing, The Ghosts of Lincoln County. This part of Georgia was home to my ancestors back in the 1700s. I am looking for their old home-places with the use of a map and computer printouts. The only way a map could be of use to me, is if it was to jump on my steering wheel and take control of the car. The roads here are long and give new meaning to the term country mile. And there is little evidence of a place found even looking straight at it.

I would know my ancestors better if I could see where they worked, lived and died. But frankly it is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack, much like searching for the lost Confederate gold. I feel so close yet so far away.

Dunns Chapel Cemetery Photo by Tom Poland

Diane at Dunns Chapel Cemetery
Photo by Tom Poland

I have had some luck finding the disappearing trail of my ancestors thanks to writer, Tom Poland. Thanks to him, I have seen the Chennault House, a monument listing the names of my great grandfathers of old, Clarks Hill where my family home-place is now under water, and Dunn’s Chapel, where many of my ancestors are buried, and Liberty Hill School. He also gave me a tour the Lincoln Journal where I met part of the staff, and last but not least, he introduced me to the best fried chicken in Lincoln County.

Mark Twain would be proud!

Liberty Hill School was most meaningful to me, because it is the schoolhouse where my paternal grandparents met as children. It was the place where they fell in love, a love that blessed them with nine children and twenty-six grandchildren. A little schoolhouse that has survived time in Leathersville – Lincoln County.

As far as the Fitzpatrick Hotel, I returned to stay another night only to find my soap gone. I started to call room service, but why bother? I walked down the yesteryear stairway, feeling strangely alone. I found a note on the counter: If you need help call Daniel 706 …

The voice at the other end asked, “Hello, Diane, is that you? Are you still there?”

“Yes, Daniel, I am here and I don’t have any soap.”

“Sure you do, it’s in the basket on the white chest in your bathroom.”

“No I looked. The basket is empty.”

“Room 204 is where I put soap …”

“That’s the room I’m in, and Daniel, no soap.”

“No way, I … Oh well, never mind. Where are you, in the lobby?”

“Yes, front desk.”

“Okay good. Look behind the desk for a shoe box. There should be some soap there.”

“Oh yes found it. Thanks Daniel.”

“So you are staying another night?”

“Yes I love it here, feel right at home!”

“That’s awesome! Have a good night!”

To tell the truth I do feel at home at the Fitzpatrick Hotel, especially when I ascend the staircase from the lobby to the second floor. It is oddly comforting for my hand to slide down the rail as I descend the same steps as my ancestors did. Could my ancestors have come this way? The Fitzpatrick would have been something spectacular at the turn of the century. Surely my folks walked into this hotel. Did Rad Story put his arms around Sallie and give her a twirl on the worn hardwoods in the ballroom? Did his big brother, Fox Huntin’ Sam, stay over for a social? Did Rad’s father, Buck Story, chew the fat about politics and the price of cotton and sugarcane in the lobby? Did Dennis Bentley make a house call to aid someone with an herbal concoction or stay over while supplying Washington with saddles, bridles, and shoes from Leathersville? I wonder about these things as I make my way about this grand place, a place where the silence of yesteryear is deafening.

Deafening silence? Oh yeah.

The Fitzpatrick Hotel is built on the first cemetery in Washington, Georgia. Only the head stones were removed, and there lies the remains of many, including the first (some say second) woman hanged for murder in the State of Georgia, Polly Barclay. Polly was known as a fast beauty with magnetic charms. It’s said she gave her brother $200 to rid her of a problem. Problem? Young Polly married an old man. All seemed well until the day she set eyes on a young farm hand, Mark Mitchum; she wanted him. And, apparently, she could no longer tolerate her husband.

Hmmm, wonder what he did wrong?

Mr. Barclay’s world was perfect, until about supper time. He was the envy of every man in Wilkes county young or old, until that night, about supper time. Yes, his young Polly was a looker. He had given her everything, wealth, good standing in the community and a handsome home with a barn full of cotton, money in the bank so to speak. Where had he gone wrong? Surely these things ran through his mind as he lay in a pool of blood. And another thing, there had been a noise in the barn. He didn’t want to deal with it, but Polly insisted. Did he see his assailants? Did he put two an two together? The old man was found alive, but died within three hours without one word spoken. Why? The ball from the revolver cut his tongue clean off.

Hmmm, I wonder? Anyway why kill the man? Why else? Love and money.

From an old oak tree, Polly hanged on May 13 (Friday 13th), 1806, at the west end of town. Polly’s brother was tried and found not guilty. Mark Mitchum was classified as nolle prosequi. Polly Barclay was the only one convicted and paid the price, not with a rope, but a chain around her neck, wearing her silk wedding reception gown, a glorious sight until the end no doubt. Does Polly roam the halls of the Fitzpatrick searching for Mr. Mitchum? I’d love to happen up on Polly, see her sashaying down the halls of the Fitzpatrick in her fancy gown. I’d have one question for her.

Do you still want him?

One cannot help but be moved by the strong invisible pull of antiquity and imagination at the Fitzpatrick Hotel. I did not hear Polly’s chain rattle at the Fitz as so many do on a foggy dark night, but did hear some knocking while drawing water for a bath in my claw feet tub. While researching Polly Barclay, I came across a place known as the Washington tavern – a room within a hotel, a place that celebrated politics and public events. The watering hole was also called “Gal in the Fountain.” Many rallied within those walls, elite men such as: George Walton – who signed the Declaration of Independence, Oliver Hilhouse, John Dooly, Samuel Davis, William and Gabriel Toombs, Burnett Pope, Benjamin Taliaferro, Gen. David Meriwether, Gen. John Clark – who shot a hole in a hanging portrait of George Washington while socializing at the “Gal,” Col. N. Long, Job and John Callaway, Silas Mercer, John Appling, Dr. Joel Abbot, John H. Walton, Zechariah Lamar, G. Hay, Sanders Walker, and many more.

My eyes widened at the name, Sanders Walker. My great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story (born 1776), had a son, Sanders Walker Story (killed at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during the Civil War). Samuel would have been thirty-eight at the time of Polly Barclay’s hanging. He was a successful planter in the area and apparently was good friends with Sanders Walker. These men were a testament to the high caliber of people in Wilkes County in 1806 who influenced the community of Washington, and no doubt held great debate about Polly Barclay at the “Gal.” Was it possible that my three times great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story, downed an ale at the “Gal in the Fountain” right here in Washington-Wilkes?

One can only wonder.

Then came my journey’s end. Time to leave room #204. I packed and left historic Washington; time to say goodbye to all ghosts. I drove eastback through Lincoln County to Interstate 20. Left feeling good for coming and knowing I was near to the heart of my ancestors, sad for feeling alone in the fact that I did not find everything I was looking for. After several trips to this area, I decided that it is time to be happy with what I have.

I was in search of answers for my blog, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com. After posting several stories of The Ghosts of Lincoln County, questions and comments poured in from all over, some good, some bad. I am appreciative of all the encouragement received. “Cousin Ann G.’s” email stunned me when stating that I did not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. Just for her, I wrote a chapter entitled, Disclosure. Thank you “Cousin Ann G.” And, I am amazed at the people who allude to the fact that I should have a DNA test to prove that I am related to “those” Bentleys. I have no need for DNA for I know who I am. I know because my father, Tom Story, told me, just as his father and mother told him and so forth and so on.

My life has been made rich with stories of old. I am of the least of the many storytellers in my famly.

Now is time to finish The Ghosts of Lincoln County.

As I see the last glimpse of Lincoln County in the rearview mirror of my Mustang, I say goodbye to looking for that needle in the haystack, a needle that is as elusive as the lost Confederate gold. I say goodbye to Little River, Aunt Donn, and to the love of my father’s life, Lincolnton, Georgia.

I am Westbound to Atlanta! Yes, Daddy, I am going home.

A FIN!

Note:

Tom Poland writes about everything Southern, a columnist for the Lincoln Journal. He has also written numerous books, latest entitled, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, the University of South Carolina Press.

Buck Story’s legal name was Henry Allen Story 1838-1913.

Research of Polly Barclay came from, Miss Eliza A. Bowen, who wrote for the Washington Gazette and Chronicles 1886-1897; her manuscripts about the people of Wilkes County was compiled into a book, The Story of Wilkes County. Information also came from Murderpedia. Mr. Barclay is said to be buried on the spot where he fell, covered by two unhewn stones near the old Elberton and Augusta road, a few miles beyond Sandtown.

“Gal in the Fountain” was run by Micajah Williamson in 1806.

A FIN means “to the end,” Gaelic, Story motto, coat of arms. (Pronounced Aw FIN.)

At the time of this writing, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com, has over 300,000 pages viewed. Thank you!

 

Dear Reader:

This is the ending story for The Ghosts of Lincoln County. Scroll down and you will find The Ghosts of Lincoln County Introduction. There will be thirty stories in between. Book coming soon!

 

 

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.”

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.