Posts Tagged ‘Tom and Helen Story’


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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time to split.

Where to go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bird crying?”

“Yes, it was crying and …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tried to change the subject.

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

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

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

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

“Young lady, do not lie to me …”

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

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

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

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

So here goes.

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

“What color was that bird, Diane?”

“Uh, well it was a bluish color.”

“Bluish?”

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am wearing that skirt today!” I demanded.

“Oh no you are not! Mary Ann is wearing that skirt today,” said Patricia, my older sister.

“You and Mary Ann always get to wear the long skirt,” I argued.

“That’s right, Pat. Diane is right,” argued Becky Leake in my defense.

And that’s the way it was in our playhouse built behind Daddy’s workshop. The playhouse was not really a house since it had no walls. The walls were made from thick rows of pine-straw fetched from the woods just a few feet away; the furniture consisted of bricks and boards discarded from Daddy’s workshop.

It was fun to play dress up and pretend to manage our own home, but more fun was to be had if one could wear the long skirt and pretend to be “Mother” or “Mother’s helper.”

Becky and I were always on the losing end and never got to be “Mother.” We always had to be the “guests,” and there were no dress-up clothes for visitors.

And one day, Becky Leake had enough of that. She went home across the road in a huff, but she came back all smiles. And why not? She was carrying a mink coat.

“You’d better put that back, Rebecca!” Mary Ann Leake said in complete devastation.

“Nannie won’t care. She won’t need it until Christmas. We can play with it today,” said Becky – with all smiles.

With reluctance, Mary Ann conceded to her (slightly) older sister. All four of us were intrigued by the beauty of such a jacket – in our playhouse.

After we all tried on the mink coat, Pat and Mary Ann decided to continue sharing the long skirt, not the mink. We had no problem with that, since Becky and I had a turn at trying on the long skirt. The brown and white checked skirt was a tad too small for Becky and too big for me.

So Pat and Mary Ann would continue to share the long skirt, while Becky and I would share the mink coat. All four of us agreed that it was a good deal all around.

Becky had no problem wearing the gorgeous coat. She pretended to be an “important guest” from New York City. As she stood there in her mink coat, she described the Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall and Broadway.

Then it was my turn. The mink was actually a jacket length which made a full length coat for me. But even with open toed sandals and shorts – it was too hot to wear the mink for long. Georgia summers are just too hot and humid for such attire. Soon after my grand entrance, the mink coat was hung on a pine tree limb which doubled as the “hall-tree.”

As I sat there enjoying my invisible cup of tea, I told stories of the North Pole and how I had run into Santa. I played a guessing game with them so that they could guess what awaited them Christmas morning, all the while stroking my mink coat as it dangled from the pine tree limb. Mary Ann enjoyed guessing until it came to her turn. She did not want to know what she was getting for Christmas, even though it was just a pretend game. Christmas had to be a surprise to her, reality or make believe.

What fun we had, but summertime was not all about playing house. The warm days gave way to soft ball games, swimming, and rainy day games of Parcheesi and Clue.

We had a great summer and then came the fall. We saw less of the Leake girls since we were all busy getting ready for school at Tucker Elementary, just a five minute walk behind our homes. As the year progressed, seeing the Leake girls at school and the walk to and from school, was about the only time we saw them.

One weekend Becky and Mary Ann did take the time to join our family as we raked and played in the red and gold leaves that had fallen to the ground in our woodsy yard. An odd thing happened while playing in the leaves.

Patricia’s kitty, Precious, ran wild in circles. It was apparent that something was seriously wrong with the animal. Mama called the animal control center.

The animal control men could not catch Precious. The frightened cat climbed up on top of Daddy’s workshop and out of reach. The animal control men were afraid the cat would flee into the woods.

“If anybody can, my daughter can get that cat for you. That cat will do anything for her,” Daddy said as he looked at Patricia.

With that Patricia joined the men. Daddy explained how important it was to let Precious go away.

Eight year old Patricia cried, but worked hard at controlling her sobs as she said, “I need a baby blanket.”

With that our little sister, Barbara, courageously gave up her long time baby blanket. Pat took the blanket and ascended the ladder while Daddy held it secure.

When atop the roof, Patricia flattened the blanket and called out, “Here Precious, here Precious.”

Precious heeded her master and came.

Pat wrapped her “baby” in the blanket and carefully climbed down the ladder. She bravely handed the poor cat over to animal control. They placed Precious in a cage.

Before leaving, one man examined Precious, and said it looked like the poor cat had gotten a bad case of the wolf-worm (caused by green flies).

As soon as they drove away with Precious, Daddy looked for the “fly infestation” while Mama consoled Patricia. Becky, Mary Ann, Barbara, and I looked on and cried too, but not nearly as much as Pat.

Daddy did not have to look far. Just behind his workshop was Nannie Leake’s forgotten mink coat on the ground and it was infested with flies. The tree limb, used as our hall-tree, broke under the weight of the coat. Apparently the soft furry coat had become a napping place for Precious.

The playhouse story came out as all four girls told how the mink coat got into that condition behind the workshop.

Daddy found a long board and scooped up the coat, then placed it on a big pile of red and gold leaves. He drenched the coat in gasoline and threw a lit match on it. With a matter of fact voice, he said, “Diane, go with Becky and Mary Ann and tell Ms. Leake what I just did to her mink coat.”

Whoa! Are you kidding me? Those were my thoughts, though I remained silent with my feet frozen to the ground. I think Daddy must have read my mind.

“Did you wear the coat, Donnie?” Daddy asked as a reminder.
“Yes, sir.”

“Then go with them,” gently urged Daddy.

As I slowly walked away, Mama said, “Diane, you made your bed, now you must lie in it. Now, get a move on.”

The three of us walked across Morgan Road to the Leake’s house. Becky was distraught and Mary Ann wept. I walked in silence wishing my father believed in corporal punishment. I would gladly take a spanking rather than face Nannie Leake today.

When face to face with her grandmother, all Becky could do was blurt out, “Nannie, I am so sorry.” She collapsed to the floor with grief. Mary Ann was the one who did the talking.

I whispered, “I’m sorry Nannie Leake.” My throat tightened up and I could not produce another word.

Nannie Leake was still and silent, finally she spoke in a strained voice.

“Girls, we will speak of this another day.” It was as though she did not see us at all as she leaned on her cane and made her way out of the house and into the front yard. There she stopped and watched the dark smoke billowing from behind our house. And though she was distraught, this elderly lady stood there looking grand as though she was a queen watching her castle burn down from a far. After all, the mink coat had been a Christmas gift from her late husband. She wore the coat during the Christmas season, whether it was cold in Georgia or not, and now it was gone.

After a while, she spoke again, “Mary Ann, go inside and cut a generous piece of your mother’s pineapple cake and wrap it pretty with the pink ribbon. You’ll find the ribbon in my top dresser drawer. Bring it to me.”

Mary Ann returned and her grandmother examined the beautifully wrapped plate of cake. She nodded her head in approval and said, “Give it to Diane. Diane, please give this cake to Patricia, with my love.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I took the cake and when I was about to cross Morgan Road, Nannie Leake again called my name, “Diane, please tell Mr. Story, that I send my apologies.”

Nannie Leake was a gracious lady even when the world did not go her way.

Often I do not meet the standards demonstrated so eloquently to me on that day of the mink coat burning. But with each and every failure, my memory bank offers up an image of a mink coat to correct me. These are just a few of the things that I learned while growing up on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engagement photo of Tom Story and Helen Voyles at the Henderson Mill

In 1946 I was made by the hands of Mr. Woodall. I was not the only one. Mr. Woodall built several of us on Morgan Road in Tucker Georgia. I liked Mr. Woodall, although I really never bonded with him. I knew our relationship was a temporary one. And all the while we were together, it was because he was busy making me complete. No, I was not the only one, but I was the last one on Morgan Road.

Mr. Woodall lived within my walls until October 1948. I remember that day clearly, because the leaves were unusually beautiful in their glow of red and gold. The trees were really showing off that year; I felt in my heart that something special was about to happen to me, and I was right.

Mr. Woodall packed and left me alone and empty. But I was alone just for a day or so. One morning, a nice young couple pulled up and parked their car in my horseshoe shaped driveway. The man and woman along with a pretty little girl, got out of the car and stood there looking at me as though I was the most beautiful thing they had ever laid eyes on. They slowly made their way toward my front porch. Suddenly the man stopped and looked back at the road.

“Now which house on Morgan did your mother’s mother live in?”
“You have to go to the dead end down there, and turn right. In 1884 my Grandma, Cora Maddox, was born in a log house back up in those woods,” the lady replied.

“Maddox? I thought her name’s Jenkins.”

“She’s a Jenkins because she married Grandpa – William Darling Jenkins.”

“And here we are – after nearly sixty-five years – back in her neck of the woods,” he smiled and was truly amazed. He wrapped his arm around the lady and continued their approach to my front porch.

Then the man stopped again and seemed star struck as he looked up at my gallery of painted leaves. The young lady walked on holding the hand of their fifteen month old daughter. The man was frozen in awe.

“Wow – Helen – look at these trees,” said the tall handsome dark haired man, “The leaves are beautiful. Looks like gold and rubies.” He smiled with a faraway look, “I’m a rich man.”

“It is beautiful, Tom,” laughed the pretty blonde lady, “and right over there is a perfect place for a daffodil bed near that tree. Come on, let’s go into the house. I’ve only seen it once.”

“Seen it once?” Yes, I remember them now. They’re the couple who rented from the Johnson’s on LaVista – directly behind me. When the little girl was a tiny baby, they walked from the Johnson house through the cow pasture and through the woods to visit Mr. Woodall. They were quite excited when they arrived. Oh not because of me, but because the young man had walked up on a calf in the near dark, and it reared up and took him and the baby girl for a ride. Luckily, they were not hurt, but rattled just the same.

They talked to Mr. Woodall about purchasing me. Since they did not return, I thought they had chosen another. But no, here they are today about a year later and looks like they are moving in. I ease dropped on the couple and heard them discussing their need for a new home. They wanted me now, because another baby was on the way, due in April. Now that was something for me to look forward to: a toddler, a baby and a daffodil bed in the springtime.

Display cabinets for Cofer Bros. made by Tom Story

My new owners were the Storys: Tom, Helen and Patricia Anne. I soon realized that Mr. Story was a family man. He built a workshop out back to build cabinets and take on carpenter jobs. He liked being home near his family.

Truly, Mr. Story was in love with my trees; he called me “the little house in the woods.”  Mrs. Story loved my screened in front porch, although my porch was not yet screened when the Story’s moved in that day. But it was the first thing that Mr. Story did to me. Mr. Story took a lot of time and pain to make diamonds on the open wainscoted portion of my porch; then he tacked up the screen.

When Mrs. Story brought him a cup of coffee, she laughed, “Tom Story, you are making diamonds around our porch.”

“What else but diamonds? We have the gold and rubies in the yard; may as well have diamonds in the house. Helen, I tell ya, we live in a treasure chest.”

“A treasure chest?” laughed Mrs. Story, “Tom, this is good enough for us, but I don’t know about it being a treasure chest.”

Mr. Story took a moment to look about at the grandeur of my leaves as he had done so many times, and said, “Gold, rubies and diamonds; I’m a rich man.” He sipped his hot coffee as Mrs. Story rubbed his head, “It’s a treasure chest to me, Helen.  I have a lot of projects around here to get to. And I’d better get busy before that new baby gets here, and I won’t have time to do another darned thing!”

But before that baby came, we had Thanksgiving. Mr. and Mrs. Story roasted a large turkey with a pan of cornbread dressing with gravy. Mr. Story liked everything his wife cooked, and was very pleased about the Thanksgiving leftovers.

And then Christmas came. Mr. and Mr. Story cut a live Christmas tree on Mae Moon’s farm near the Tucker – Stone Mountain area. Cutting a tree at Aunt Mae’s was a Jenkins-Voyles family tradition. It wasn’t Christmas until Mrs. Story visited with her Aunt Mae Moon; a trip she made in a horse pulled wagon every Christmas Advent as a child.

But it was Mr. Story who made sure their tree was decorated to perfection. And if a tree’s limbs were not balanced just right, he’d cut off a limb and nail it to the part of the tree that was lacking. He loved Christmas lights and strung the bright lights all about my roof line and gables. It made me feel special – and beautiful. He made the air within my walls smell festive with boxes of oranges, apples, peppermint, chocolate and lemon drops. Mr. Story hammered a big fat nail into a hairy coconut and drained the milk into a glass. Mrs. Story took the coconut and milk and made a Japanese fruit cake. The Story Christmas traditions were formed in the very first Christmas while living on Morgan Road.

I became close to this little family. Mr. Story was ever so soft spoken; a man of very few words. He looked upon his family as pure gold. I especially loved being with Mr. Story in the evening hours when he picked up his Gibson guitar, and played music. He played bluegrass and sometimes hymns from an old Baptist Church Hymnal. It was quiet time and all seemed well with the world. I loved my new family and they loved me. I especially loved it when they called me “Home.”

And that was the beginning of a long relationship with the Story family. The baby came April 3, 1949 – another little girl – Helen Diane.

Mr. Story teased Mrs. Story, “Now Helen, you know I want a son,” he grinned and winked at her, “On second thought, I have two boys right here; I’ll call ‘em Pat and Donnie.”

“Tom Story you’ll do no such thing, it’s Patricia and Diane.”

They were still having that conversation when two years rolled around and another April baby was born – another girl – Barbara Gail. Mr. Story called her “Bob” and sometimes “Bobtail.”

Mrs. Story bought dolls and tea sets for the girls, while Mr. Story bought cowboy outfits, cap guns and farm sets. Mr. Story built his three little girls a sand box to play in – right out my back door.

Patricia, Barbara and Diane Story

On a cold snowy winter day in 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Story brought home another baby; this time in a blue blanket – a son – Tommy. And Mr. Story never let up with his dry sense of humor, “Now, I have four boys,” he laughed.

And his girls, now fourteen, twelve and ten still played the game, “Daddy, we’re not boys! We’re girls!”

Mr. Story laughed with his girls as though it was the first time he’d ever heard that story. He so loved to tease his girls.

Little Tommy loved kicking footballs around and spent hours playing with cars and a fast racetrack. Mr. Story got busy flooring in part of my attic, so Tommy could have a good place for his racetrack town. Mr. Story found ways to use every inch of my space. Even before the little boy came, Mr. Story found all kind of ways to change me.

Mr. Story eventually enclosed my open back-porch and made it a laundry-room, then added a little porch to the new laundry-room. He also built another screened back-porch off the middle bedroom. The knotted pine kitchen cabinets Mr. Story built have survived to this day.

Lots of changes! And not just within my walls. Eventually the Johnson home on LaVista was torn down. The pasture between me and the Johnson’s was done away with, and they built St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on that piece of property. The swamp land next to the Johnson home was filled in and Tucker Elementary was built there.

Mrs. Story was happy about the new school so close by, but Mr. Story was not happy about the new road that came with it. The old wooded logging trail next to my property line was made into a “highway” as Mr. Story put it. He often said, “Helen, we may as well be living down on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.”

Mrs. Story went to the woods with a bucket and shovel. She came back with pieces of privet hedge. She worked hard for days planting them along-side the property line between me and the new school house road, to keep the cars out of sight and hold down the sound. Mr. and Mrs. Story loved the peacefulness of the quiet sleepy little neighborhood of Morgan Road and worked tirelessly to maintain it.

Mr. Story loved living far away from the city lights. He loved the rural nature of Tucker Georgia. On a clear night, he could be found sitting outside studying the stars. Sometimes the three little girls joined him. They too were mesmerized by the black blanket of a sky with tiny sparkling lights. They were delighted to be able to find the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Then the questions came.

“Daddy, how did God get to be God?”

“Daddy, who made God?”

“Just how big is God, Daddy?”

Mr. Story was not quick to answer his daughters, but took a good long while and did not allow those questions to interrupt his concentrated study of the sky. Then, finally he spoke, “Well girls, I can’t tell you how God was made. And I can’t tell you who made God. I can tell you how big He is.”

“How big Daddy? How big?”

Mr. Story smiled as his eyes continued to search the sky. “Well, God is big enough to hang the moon and stars in the sky.”

“Wow, Daddy! God is big!”

And as much as Mr. Story would like for his home to remain in the country without the glare of city lights, Tucker grew. New homes, churches, stores, schools, parks were built, and the street lights came. Many years later Tucker Elementary was changed to Tucker Recreation Center. And the Browning District Courthouse was moved to the front lawn of the Tucker Recreation Center.  And Aunt Mae Moon’s acreage with the Christmas trees became part of a development called Smoke Rise.

The roads around Tucker became busy paved lanes. Chamblee Tucker connected to LaVista, LaVista  connected to the little school house road, and the little school house road connected to Morgan Road, and Morgan Road connected back to  Chamblee Tucker where Tucker High School is –  forming a school time traffic loop. I still recall Morgan Road when it was just a little dirt road cut through the woods that by passed the old logging trail. The homes on Morgan Road were not separated by curbs or pavement; they were essentially little houses in the woods.

Mr. and Mrs. Story enjoyed taking the girls to Grant’s Park and the Fairgrounds. And most every summer, they packed up the car and headed for the Great Smoky Mountains. There they listened to good blue grass music at the Grand Ole Opry. Mr. Story would come home and practice new songs on his Gibson after each trip to the Opry. Just such a vacation ended as they returned during the wee hours of the morning.

To their surprise, Morgan Road had been paved. They walked up and down Morgan Road by moonlight, laughing all the way. I heard the two older girls ask for roller skates. The next thing I knew, Mr. Story had torn up Mrs. Story’s butterfly garden in the front side yard.

I spent many days watching little Patricia chase butterflies, and I was a little sad to see that garden go. I wondered what Mr. Story was doing as he outlined a long space with boards and then filled it in with concrete. When he finished, he called his girls, “Pat, Donnie, Bobtail! Your mother has something for you.”

Mrs. Story brought out boxes of roller skates, and laced her daughters’ feet up. “I don’t want you girls skating on the road. I want you to skate here on our new driveway,” explained Mrs. Story.

“Listen to your mother girls and stay out of the road,” added Mr. Story.

When the girls were not skating, Mr. Story parked his car on the driveway and did away with the horseshoe drive. I was so proud! I was the first on Morgan Road to have a “paved” driveway, and with the paved roads on two sides of me, I had a well turned out look. Morgan Road went from a wood-land to a suburb seemingly overnight.

There were many more changes on the way. I learned to trust Mr. Story and know that whenever he got his tools out, it was for the best. He took a sledgehammer to me once.

Patricia and Diane had a “little kitchen” in the closet that opened up to their mother’s kitchen. They had their own miniature stove, sink and refrigerator as well as a double stacked doll’s bed. They cooked what Mrs. Story cooked; they held a baby as Mrs. Story held a baby. The pantry ceiling had an open place where things could be stored away in my attic. Little Diane took issue with that pantry.

One day Mrs. Story found her second daughter standing frozen in the pantry. “Diane, are you alright? What’s wrong? Tom! Come here! Something’s wrong with Diane. Diane, speak to me,” shouted Mrs. Story as she held on to baby Barbara.

Mr. Story rushed into the kitchen and grabbed Diane up in his arms, “Donnie, what’s wrong?”

“Oh, she’s okay,” explained Patricia, “she’s just scared. She thinks the boogey man lives up in the attic and he’ll get her when no one is looking.”

Mr. Story went straight away to his carpenter workshop out back. He returned with a sledgehammer and took that pantry down along with the whole wall. Mr. Story explained to Mrs. Story that he had been thinking about opening that wall up anyway. He liked the idea of the kitchen and the family room being open; that way no one was ever alone in the kitchen. He replaced the wall with a planter; a planter with round bars that connected the ceiling to a waist high narrow cabinet with holes in it for flower boxes.

Funny thing, he never got around to putting the flower boxes in the holes. It became a place for the little girls to hide their unwanted food. The girls were not big eaters, and Mrs. Story insisted they clean their plate before leaving the table. Those little girls were quick to stash away their unwanted dinner into the planter holes.

Whitie, their over-sized Tom-cat would jump on the screened back-door and cry out. He clung there with his claws until he got the chance to get inside that kitchen. Whitie ran through the kitchen knocking whoever was in his way down as he made a mad dash for the planter opening.

“That’s the craziest cat I’ve ever seen in my life!” Mrs. Story could not bond with that crazy cat. As soon as Whitie finished with the clean up, he was just as wild about going back outside and jumped on the screen holding tight with his claws, crying out.

“Will someone let that crazy cat out?” Mrs. Story called out; she kept her distance from Whitie. It makes me chuckle to think about it. I don’t believe Mrs. Story ever knew that the planter was Whitie’s main feeding ground.

But the planter was not a permanent fixture. In many years to come, the Story family would grow with in-laws and grandchildren. The sledgehammer was put to me again, and a long and wide bar replaced the planters.

Goodbye Whitie!

Mr. Story also moved the kitchen wall back to make the back bedroom a small room giving the kitchen space for a larger table. Mr. Story wanted each person in his family to have a place to sit for a meal together.

But I am getting ahead of myself; first things first. The large back bedroom was used for Diane to recover from Scarlett fever and rheumatic fever when Diane was only seven years old. That was a sad time for me, I so wanted the Storys to be happy. It broke my heart to see them down. I remember one conversation that I wished I had not been privy to.

“Patricia, you will go to G.A.s tonight. I insist,” said Mrs. Story.

“But I don’t want to leave Diane.”

I’ll take care of Diane. I have not once left this house since she’s been ill. Now, no more arguing from you; you need to get out and do things with your friends.”

“I’ll go next year, if Diane is not sick again…”

“No, you’ll go this year,” Mrs. Story was firm as she looked Patricia in the eyes. “There is something I have to tell you. You know, your sister may ——- pass away. You have to know that. You must get on with your own life —- outside the walls of this house. You will go and participate in G.A.s – I insist.”

Diane recovered after three episodes of rheumatic fever spanning over a period of five years. It was Mrs. Story who figured out why she was relapsing. Mrs. Story made a temperature chart on a clipboard. She took Diane’s temperature three times a day for a period of five years. Mrs. Story noticed that Diane’s normal body temperature was 97.1. When Diane had what seemed to be a normal body temperature of 98.6 or so, she was running a low grade fever. She needed a doctor then, not later. When the doctors realized that, Diane was treated within the proper time-frame. And at age twelve, Diane became well, and the sick-room went back to being a regular bedroom.

The doctors from Emory and Grady thought highly of Mrs. Story’s methodical, practical approach to healing. They said, “Mrs. Story wrote the book on excellent home-care.”

A few years before Diane became ill, Mrs. Story’s paternal grandmother, Emma Voyles, lived in the front bedroom adjacent to the living-room.“Granny” loved making quilts. For weeks she cut colorful cotton squares and triangles. She sewed the colorful pieces together on an old treadle sewing machine. When finished, she had one big square; the “top.” Granny lined a huge metal square frame with a “bottom” piece of material – her favorite color was navy. She placed white cotton stuffing on the bottom; then Granny topped it off with the colorful top piece.

That’s when Mr. Story screwed in four hooks to the front bedroom ceiling, and hoisted Granny’s quilt square up in the air. Granny then sat comfortably and hand quilted her masterpiece.  It was a joy to watch the perseverance of such an elderly woman. I heard she was born in 1869 – in April.

It was a sad day for the Story’s when Granny passed away in her sleep that night in 1957. The whole family was together – that is all but the little boy. Tommy had not come here yet. It was a celebration of sorts, Valentine’s Day. The family enjoyed red heart boxes of candy, and the girls showed off their highly decorated cigar boxes full of valentines from friends. Many stopped by to give Granny flowers, cards, and her favorite, red Jello.

Granny retired as usual, but her breathing changed during the night. Of course, I stayed up with her – just the two of us. I was with her when the angel came, and asked Granny if she was ready for the journey to Heaven. Granny being a pioneer sort, of course, said, “Yes.” Mrs. Story found her grandmother the next morning. Granny had a smile on her face. Mrs. Story spoke often of that smile for years to come.

I miss Granny. I also miss Mr. Story. One October day, Mr. Story left for a contract job, and never returned. I know it was a fall day, because he stopped and admired the beauty of my trees. He never took my colorful gold and ruby leaves for granted. No matter how much of a hurry he got in, he took time to admire them. That very morning, I heard him mumble to himself, “I’m a rich man.” My gold and red leaves have come and gone thirty-eight times since I last saw Mr. Story that morning. I heard he fell off Avondale Elementary while fixing the roof.

And I miss Mrs. Story perhaps most of all, maybe because we were together – alone – for so many years. She had breathing problems and all sorts of ailments. But the last few weeks that we were together, she became very sick. She poured over her Dick Frymire book reading home remedies. She read up on diabetes in her medical book; the book was still open to that page when the “children” came home a few weeks later.

I’ll never forget that early Monday morning when Mrs. Story drove herself to the doctor in downtown Tucker. I’ve not seen her since.

I remember the day Mrs. Story moved in and was in a hurry to get inside to see me.  But before entering my front door, she planned her daffodil bed. She was very young, still in her teens. I can see her now walking up my front steps holding little Patricia’s hand. Over the years I have watched Mrs. Story go from five-four to just five feet tall. I heard her tell someone she was shrinking because of deteriorating arthritis. I saw her beautiful blonde hair turn dark and then to solid white. And though she sometimes got lonesome, she always had me. I comforted her with my roof and walls as much as possible; I kept her safe and warm. I have seen Mrs. Story’s daffodils come up through the ground three times since I saw her last. Yes, I miss Mrs. Story.

I miss the girls and the little boy too. One by one, they grew into fine adults. And one by one they moved away and started their own family. Each of Mr. and Mrs. Story’s children had two each. Those were fun days when they came back to visit. It was little ones all over again: Lowry and Kimberly, James and Jonathan, Brian and Christopher, and Emilee and Katelyn. And to this day, if you look closely, you can find two unfound Easter eggs. I know where they are.

There are no secrets between me and the Storys.

While growing up, most every Sunday, the Story grandchildren made their way up my front porch steps to “Nanny.” Only the first four grandchildren felt the arms of “Grandee.”

The grandchildren entertained themselves playing touch football in my leaves, and games and puzzles on rainy days. The living-room was headquarters for Risk tournaments. They quickly outgrew the Risk game map so the oldest grandchild, Lowry, taped paper together in order to cover the entire open space of the room. Then he drew a map of the world from memory.

Yes, he became a world traveler and went to places like Massachusetts, New York, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, France and the Bahamas. He never forgot his “Nanny,” sometimes making phone calls to her at three o’clock in the morning just to say “Hello Nan, are you awake?”

I saw a spark forever extinguished in Mrs. Story’s eyes when her grandson, Lowry, went to Heaven. It was near Christmas time and Mrs. Story could never bear to have another live Christmas tree in her home. She eventually displayed a ceramic Christmas tree on the big eating bar. Not as many lights as I would like to see. But I supported Mrs. Story in her decision, though I do miss being lit up each year.

Long gone are the years when Mr. and Mrs. Story poured over the kitchen table studying their budget; wondering how they would ever pay the eight-hundred-sixty-nine dollar loan they owed for their home. But it always worked out; they managed.

And long gone is the day Mr. Story cussed me. He filled a wheelbarrow full of concrete. He then rolled the wheelbarrow in through the kitchen, family room and then finally to the bathroom. There he used the mixture to stick ceramic tiles to my walls. Mrs. Story told him to stop cussing me, because the neighbors would think he was cussing her. For some reason he told me I was “not doing right.” I was glad when that day was over.

My scariest moment with the Storys came about one o’clock in the morning on a cold winter night. It was near tragedy. Patricia came home in the wee hours from Habersham County where she performed with the Tucker Drill Team at a play-off football game.

That night all was quiet within my walls with soft sleeping sounds, along with the occasional distant lonesome sound of the Tucker train. Patricia quietly closed the front door and left the lights off; she did not want to wake anyone. She began to undress while standing quietly in the family room before the flame to warm. Just as Patricia took off her tasseled boots, a super strong wind blew the front door open – crashing the door against the living-room wall. She screamed and ran to Mr. and Mrs. Story’s bedroom, yelling, “Someone’s in the house!” Startled by the crash and hearing Patricia, Mr. Story grabbed his rifle – his loaded rifle.

At the same moment, Diane woke from a sound sleep to the door crash and Sister screaming. She leapt out of bed, hiked her flannel gown up and ran down the hallway to her parent’s room. Mr. Story took aim in the dark and shot at Diane. He thought Diane was the intruder. Fortunately, the bullet whizzed over her head. I took the bullet in the chimney. That’s okay. I’d take a bullet for any of those Story kids.

So much has happened within and outside my walls. I was a popular place for the neighborhood children to play: roller skating, kick ball and playhouse. Mrs. Story played outside with her little girls showing them how to build playhouses with pine straw and sticks. She showed them how to furnish their pantry with different types of soil and berries, and how to make sofas and chairs with brick and planks from Mr. Story’s workshop. Mr. Story taught the girls how to build and paint bird houses. And that Story boy became a phenomenal football kicker. Mr. Story stayed busy taking his son to play ball at Fitzgerald Field. Yes, a lot has happened here, but then came the years when I was all alone.

Alone, I watch for Mrs. Story’s daffodils to pop through, and remember how she planted them when she was a young bride. Through the years I so enjoyed watching her admire her daffodils. It brought her so much pleasure!  As the years passed, Mrs. Story was forced to watch the progression of her flower garden from her chair in the family room, not able to walk about much anymore. I remember how she watched my trees drop their red and gold leaves to the ground each October. I’ve seen the tears stream down her face. Oh, it’s not for the beauty of my leaves, but the beauty of her husband – long gone now.

Yes, for a lot of years, Mrs. Story was alone – but not really – I was with her. I knew she would never leave me – until that day – that March day she left and never returned. As she backed out of the driveway, she stopped and took a moment to enjoy her daffodils that were just peeping through the hard ground. She took one last look at me, smiled, and then allowed her car to roll backwards into Morgan Road.

“Home” 2011 marks the end of 65 years with the Story Family

When Mrs. Story had been away for three weeks, the Story kids came back to me, but only for a short while. It was not like before when we were happy together. They seemed much older and perhaps a little sad or tired. They worked hard to clear out all of the furniture, china, books, everything. I was cleaned up and painted down. And then something happened to me that never happened in all of my existence; Diane put a “FOR SALE” sign in my front yard. What was she thinking? I took a bullet for that kid.

Many people made appointments to see me. Not many really liked me. They made comments to my face.

“Needs a new kitchen.”

“Not enough closet space.”

“Needs new bathroom and new kitchen.”

“Needs work.”

“Wonder how old that roof is?”

“Needs new light fixtures.”

“Porch needs screen.”

“When was this house built? Did you say 1946? Wow, that is old.”

“Pretty  nice, yes, pretty nice.”

What? Yes, he said I’m “pretty nice.” But he left and others came; more negative remarks. I heard one man tell Tommy that he wanted to cut down all my trees. When Tommy asked if the man would like to see inside the house, the man said, “No, I’d tear that down too.”

Tear “that” down too? What is to happen to me? Oh how I missed my Story family. If only Mrs. Story would come home, she’d straighten all this out.

Diane came in one day and walked through each room and told me goodbye. She told me I had served the Story family well, and that they would always remember and cherish me. “Good job,” was the last thing she said to me. She laid an acorn on the window sill in Mrs. Story’s bedroom. It wasn’t just any acorn, but a perfect acorn – one with the cap still nice and secure. Then my electricity and water got turned off.

I guess Mrs. Story is not coming home after all. I sit here on Morgan Road now a tiny house by today’s standards amongst the big trees, and wonder. What will happen to me? I’ve been alone for so long, Mrs. Story’s voice is but a faint memory. I struggle to bring the sound of her voice forward, “Breakfast is ready, hurry up; you’ll be late for school.” It would be such a joy just to see Mrs. Story’s little ceramic Christmas tree lights. I try hard to remember everything, but each day I forget a little bit more.

I am empty and useless, not a heartbeat around except for the squirrels who play on Mrs. Story front porch swing. Occasionally I see them drive by slowly; I’d know those Story kids any day of the week. Yes, I’d know that “Bobtail” anywhere.

One morning I heard a car door open and close. Someone is here. Is it the man with his chainsaw? Is he here to cut down my magnificent trees, and tear me apart – piece by piece? I hear more car doors. He’s not alone.

They slowly approach my front porch. The man says, “Wow, boys look at the red and gold leaves! Aren’t they beautiful?”

“Yes, they are! And lots of them Daddy! Maybe millions!”

“Come on up to the porch boys, you can play in the leaves later,” Daddy said as he waited. “Well here it is boys, I promise, we will not have to move again. No more leaving friends behind; no more starting over. This is home.”

Then I heard something I haven’t heard in a very long time, children running through my rooms, children laughing, children playing. I noticed something familiar about the man; yes he’s the one who said I looked “pretty nice.” As the days pass, I learned that “Daddy” is a soft spoken man of few words. He looks at his children – four boys age five to ten – as though they are pure gold. He has big plans for me, “upgrades.” Not sure what that means, but I will find out.

Hmmm, I wonder how “Daddy” feels about – Christmas lights. I’ll just have to be patient, wait, and see.  I can’t help but smile to see the squirrels on Mrs. Story’s swing blaze a trail back to the woods. Those four little boys are awesome!

Now I remember; my name is “Home,” and I am a treasure chest.