Posts Tagged ‘tuckerdaysremembered.com’


I wrote my first book in the little white house. The little white house was a building next to Tucker High which took care of the overflow of Tucker Elementary, the whole second grade.

The second grade teachers encouraged us to participate in an autumn art project. Anyone wanting to do so could use the desks lined up on the front porch. I liked the idea of getting outside and viewing Main Street downtown Tucker.

I took the first desk.

All the week, I worked on my project. Another second grader, Gwen, sat next to me. She had a square freckled face, always the best dressed girl in school, and her soft brown hair sported a fresh perm. Gwen was very interested in my project.

“Looks like you are making a book of some kind,” commented Gwen at least ten times a day.

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not,” I did not want Gwen or anyone knowing what I was doing. No copycatting my work. I wanted to be the only author.

“It’s easy to see that’s a book, Diane. You have a bunch of pages tied together with red ribbon. I know a book when I see it.”

“Maybe it is and maybe it’s not,” was my only answer. This served to intrigue her all the more. Gwen became all about my business. I worked hard drawing pictures of birds; all kinds of birds. And at the bottom of the page, I wrote a line or two about each species.

“That’s a book alright,” said Gwen knowingly, “a bird book.”

I ignored her.

At the supper table when asked what I did at school today, I informed my family that I was writing a book. I also told them that I planned to be a famous writer or artist when I grew up. I had not yet decided which, maybe both.

Mama agreed that I did have talent, a talent I did not inherit from her. I was proud of my artistic talent and explained to my family that I was the best artist in the whole second grade, this project would be an easy A+.

“Pride cometh before the fall, remember that Diane,” was my mother’s response.

What in the world was Mama talking about? What did being a great artist have to do with pride or falling down? I think Mama was confused and I chose to ignore her. Actually I thought Mama ignorant for saying something like that to me. She reminded me a little bit of that girl, Gwen.

Of course I kept this information to myself and looked forward to my outdoors class. I took close notice of the trees and pinecones. I wanted to create a natural environment to show case the birds.

And every day, Gwen interrogated me, “How many pages does your book have? What’s the title?”

“How do you know it’s a book?” I snapped back. That Gwen was tricky alright.

“What do you think you are? An author? Or an artist?” laughed Gwen.

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not.” (Dealing with Gwen was getting harder by the day.)

Just as I was finishing up, my teacher, Mrs. Keith, came out and said, “Okay children, you have five minutes left to finish your project and turn it in.”

With a knowing smile Gwen rubbed it in. “Now we’re all going to know the title of your book!”

Still ignoring her I tweaked my cover page with my best effort, a beautiful red cardinal. I waited to the last second to write the title across the top of the page. Now it was time to reveal my work. It was a simple title, “Birds.” And that was it. I took a fat black crayon and wrote the title. There! It was finished and perfect. No doubt Mrs. Keith would show my book off to all the other teachers, and no doubt they would marvel at it as they displayed it for all the second graders to witness.

I, Diane Story, was about to known as a great artist and author right here in Tucker, Georgia, in the little white house.

“Brids? What’s a brid?” Gwen asked.

“Gwen, it is Birds, not Brids!”

“Oh yeah, take a good look at that Diane.”

I looked at my manuscript and could not believe my eyes! In my haste, I wrote B-R-I-D-S.

Mrs. Keith held out her hand. I held the book close to my heart with both hands. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Keith. But I have a correction to make.” I was devastated. The blood left my body.

“Sorry Diane, time is up.” Mrs. Keith took my book as she glanced at the cover. “And by the way, that is a good looking cardinal.”

But it was not perfect and I did not have time to replace the cover page. To truly correct it, I would have to draw another cardinal. It made me sick.

That afternoon, Mama was waiting for me on the front porch.

“Let me see it! Let me see that easy A+?”

I was not at all enthused. Daddy walked up and said, “Let’s see it Donnie! We’ve been waiting all week. I took off from work early to be here for this event!”

“Oh, it’s not that great, it’s okay, I guess. I got an A- not an A+,” I said discouragingly.

“Oh no, no way, but you are the best …” said Mama.

“A- is nothing to sneeze at, Helen,” Daddy pointed out.

“I should have gotten an A+, but I wrote a word wrong,” I tried to explain while choking back the tears.

Mama examined my book.

“Diane, you know how to spell birds. I know you do.”

“I know, but at the last minute, I rushed and got it wrong,” I sobbed.

“I like brids, just as much as birds. I think I’ll start calling them brids too,” said my father. He was like that. He would rather change Webster’s dictionary than to see his children disheartened.

“You’ll do not such thing, Tom Story. The correct word is birds, not brids. Diane got it wrong and that’s a lesson learned.”

That was just like Mama, she was a realist while Daddy was a creative dreamer. Mama often said that being a creative dreamer was why Daddy was such a good musician. And yes, pride cometh before the fall – even in the little white house in Tucker, Georgia.

I never got over admiring birds. And to this day, I  love trees and pinecones. And I will never forget how my father on occasion whispered to me, “Donnie, that’s a beautiful brid.”

“Yes, Daddy, that is possibly the most beautiful brid I have ever seen.”

It was our secret.

 

 

 

 

Diane Story

Diane Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Barbara?” asked Patricia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went limp and silent.

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

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

 

~ Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr.

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

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

 

 

 

Polly Voyles

Helen “Polly” Voyles

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

Mama put the book down.

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

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

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

 

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

Horace Lawton Story

Young Lawton Story turned over in his bed and buried himself deeper in the linen and quilts, hoping he was dreaming. But the knock on his door returned. He was not dreaming. It was time to wake up.

Life on the Story farm was a huge responsibility for an only son. At the time, Lawton had four sisters who stayed busy learning to sew and sing. The older two girls loved reading the family bible and poetry. All the girls were interested in making hats.

But as the oldest child, the hard work of the farm fell squarely on young Lawton’s shoulders. He dressed quickly in the dark and made his way through the hall and downstairs as quietly as possible. He was a thoughtful brother who did not want to wake his sisters. Downstairs in the kitchen, his mother, cut open hot biscuits and slipped a thick slice of good Lincolnton country ham in them, as she greeted him, “Good morning sleepy head!”

Lawton sat down and downed his breakfast. He had wasted a good part of the morning. It was almost five-thirty.

“Good morning son,” said Rad Story as he entered the room and poured himself another cup of hot coffee. “I’ve already fed the horses, couldn’t wait for you any longer. Better bundle up! It’s brutal out there; one of the coldest mornings yet.”

Lawton finished up breakfast quickly. It was time he headed out to the barn. An hour every morning before going to school, he twist corn.

“Son, if you don’t get with it, we won’t have enough corn seed to plant this spring. How many seed bags do we have now?”

“I’m working on the second one Papa,” answered Lawton.

“That’s not nearly enough. Go on out there and get started. I’ll help you if I can.”

“Thanks, Papa.”

Sallie Story wrapped four more biscuits for her young son to take to school for lunch. “Do like your Papa says and bundle up. It is cold out there.”

It was cold for this part of Georgia and the wind made howling sounds, not to mention, it was dark as night. And the sisters were still snuggled in their beds nice and warm. Truth be known, Lawton really enjoyed the company of his sisters and their reading and singing and creative sewing. Growing up in a household full of “women” made Lawton a natural socializer.

Young Lawton Story was no stranger to responsibility, even on Sundays. The Rad Story family belonged to the Arimathea Methodist. Young Lawton took care of the horses and buggies during the service. He stood by an open window of the church to hear the singing and preaching. Sometimes he watered and cared for as many as sixty horses during the worship service. Lawton loved the social world around and about Lincolnton.

And now here he sat in the dark barn, freezing cold, with a single lantern. He must have wondered, “What is wrong with this picture?” But he did not want to disappoint his father and so Lawton slipped off his gloves that his mother forced on him. No one could twist hard kernels of corn off the dried cob with gloves on.

Being a farmer in the 1890s was a tough job all year round. In the spring-time, it was cultivating the ground with plows harnessed by livestock; then came the planting. Summer-time was weeding and irrigating.  Late summer and fall was harvest time which brought in the fresh crops and started the job of drying, canning and curing. Winter-time was just as busy. It was the time to plow up the fields to make room for the next crop, and replace the seed supply. Without seed, there would be no spring-time planting.

Young Lawton would not let his father down. So, he twisted the corn until his callused hands almost bled.

“How’re you doing in here, son?” asked Rad as he slipped in between the barn doors.

“I’m alright, sir.”

Sallie and Rad Story

“Need some help?”

“Yes sir,” replied Lawton with a big smile on his face.

Rad Story seldom had time to help his son with the seed process, but this cold morning he made an exception.

“My hands are almost frozen!” said Rad Story as he rubbed his hands together. “This might warm my hands up, what do you think?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay, Lawton, throw me a few of those corn cobs, careful now.”

Lawton would one day grow up to be six feet and five inches tall, just like his father. This morning he was just a tall lanky kid not realizing his own strength. He carelessly threw a corn cob at his father too wild to catch. The cob hit his father’s frozen hand sending horrendous throbs of pain throughout his hand.

With that the tall stout father stood and turned Lawton’s backside around. Rad swatted his son a couple of times. Rad quickly regained his composure and said, “I’m sorry son, but it hurt so bad; I just had to whoop you a little.” Rad Story held his hand close to his chest and went round in circles until the throbbing stopped.

Lawton twisted the corn alone until school time. Lawton was not happy. Never in his life had his father laid a hand on him. But today on this cold and dark morning, Lawton had his first and only “whooping.” More than anything, his heart was broken.

Lawton did not do well at school that day. He did not want to socialize with his friends, not even his special friend, Nancy Bentley. Lawton had a lot of thinking to do. After school, he twisted corn for another hour. Then the tired lad went to bed right after supper. He did not even want to listen to his sisters read that night.

Nor could he sleep. The warmth of his mother’s quilts comforted him, but he could not relax enough to fall asleep. He was hurt, angry and most of all, he felt disconnected from the most important person in his whole life, his father. Yes, this little boy cried.

Then, he got to thinking. He would not be treated that way by his father. Nor would he work for him. Nor would he ever set eyes on him again. Papa could twist his own corn. Papa would be sorry.

Lawton had a plan.

Lawton would rise earlier than his father. That meant he had to get up before four o’clock in the morning. May as well call it night-time. May as well leave now, since it’s a long walk to the Thomson Train Station. Who knows? Maybe he’d get lucky and catch a ride on the back of some buckboard. He would quietly ease through the sleepy house and take a bag full of left over cornbread and biscuits. He would pour all of his hard earned coins into a sock and stuff it into his pocket. He would then set out for the train depot. He would not be here when Eugene and Mr. Goat stopped to pick him up in the goat cart; he would not go to school today. Eugene and Mr. Goat would have to go without him. He would catch a train to where ever and be gone before anyone could find him.

And that is exactly what he did, well maybe not exactly. Lawton did make it to the Thomson Train Station. All the biscuits and cornbread were gone by the time he got there. Just as he was about to purchase a ticket, he spotted the candy jars. Why not? So he purchased a piece of candy, then another, and another. Before long, Lawton was out of money and could not purchase a ticket to anywhere but here.

What was he to do?

Lawton sat down on an old church pew in the depot and stared into space. He watched the movement of the day as his eyes followed the sun up through the cracks of the wall. He knew his father was looking for him, and by now was frantic. Heck, not just his father. His sisters were out of bed, running around and screaming his name. As unpleasant as the situation was, the thoughts of his sisters out in the cold calling his name brought a little smile to his face. But he could not allow himself to think of his precious mother. Funny thing, he had not thought about what Mother would do when she realized her only son was missing. His heart broke as he fought back the bitter tears of regret. And when he thought of his cousin, Eugene, going to school without him, it made him sad. Who would help Eugene out of the cart and hand him his crutches?

Young Lawton sat on the pew. It had been a long day. He was tired and his feet hurt.

But what could he do now? He could not go home. And he still felt anger toward Papa.  He did not know what to do, so he did nothing. Young Lawton sat still as a mouse and hoped to disappear on that church pew in the train station. He sat there all day, and occasionally caught himself drifting into sleep. When awake, he followed the sun through the cracks in the wall as it made its way back down. It was about “eventide” now. Then he got a glimpse of something he would know anywhere, his father’s white stallion.

Lawton froze. His eyes followed the horse through the cracks in the train station wall as it made another circle, then another circle, and another. Twenty minutes passed and he continued to see the white horse circle the train depot, walking very slowly. Then the white horse stopped and did not circle again. Lawton sat there for as long as he could stand it, then stood to his feet. He knew that his father was waiting for him. And anyway, he had missed lunch and supper. It was time to face the music. It was time to face Papa.

Young Lawton slowly walked to the door and opened it. He mustered the courage to lift his head and look up. And there in front of him was his father, Rad Story, sitting atop his white stallion.

And for some reason, the young lad was not angry at his father anymore. In fact, Papa and his white horse was a “welcomed sight for sore eyes.”

Rad sat still and Lawton stood still for a few moments. Lawton knew he had to make the first move. He slowly approached the horse and stopped.

Rad Story made the next move.

“Son, are you ready to go home?”

“Yes, Papa,” whispered young Lawton.

Rad Story lifted himself up and sat down behind the saddle. He leaned down to offer his hand and said, “Here son, you sit here. It’ll be past your bedtime by the time we get home.”

Young Lawton took his father’s hand and was lifted atop the horse. With the movement of the withers, and the darkness of night for a blanket, young Lawton relaxed and lied against his Papa and fell asleep.

He awoke the next morning in his own bed. And he was allowed to sleep late, just this one time. Had the boy been awake last night when he arrived home, he would have known that it was Papa that held him in his arms like a newborn baby and carried him upstairs to bed. He would have known that his little sisters ran breathlessly and opened doors for Papa as they squelched their excited giggles. And that it was Mother who placed an extra quilt on her son as she kissed his head.

Many years later at my Aunt Sarah’s home on Morgan Road in Tucker Georgia, Lawton Story and his sisters, met for a long over due supper and fellowship. Four of his sisters were there. Theo had long since passed away and was buried in Decatur, Georgia along side her mother and Uncle Charlie.  They were all there in spirit for their names were mentioned often.

The elderly ladies were fascinated by the Story family crowd that showed up to greet them. They were proud of their big brother’s nine children and “so many little grands!”

PaPa Story’s sisters were Annie “Maude” (b.1888), Theodosia “Theo” (b.1892), Eddy Gaines (b.1893), Marion Pierce “Reesie” (b.1895) and baby Ruth Radford (b.1901) Story. It was there that my sister, Patricia, heard that Radford Gunn Story and Sallie Elizabeth Gunby-Story’s first born child was a son, stillborn. Their second child was Lawton, our grandfather, and then the five daughters.

The conversation went from the present Storys to the long gone Storys. The sisters laughed as they recalled their millinery shop in Lincolnton, and which sister was the most creative. My grandfather, now our “PaPa Story,” talked about how hard the work was on that Lincolnton farm. He could never get rid of all “those rocks.” He smiled often as he recalled the fun he had with his “little sisters.” He teased them about “getting to sleep late.”

“Oh sure, Lawton, six o’clock was late!” They teased back at their brother, and laughed the night away.

PaPa Story spoke with regret that with all the grandchildren he had, not one was named, “Sallie,” for his precious mother. And of course, they all recalled “Papa’s white horse.” And even Baby Ruth remembered Papa on the white horse, and she was but three years old when Rad Story met an untimely death.

But my grandfather, Lawton Story, Sr., was most touched and could not hide the tears in his eyes when he spoke of his kind and gentle father and the day he ran away from home. The sisters listened with compassion.

“I had nowhere to go since I spent my train ticket money on candy. I stayed there all day. About eventide, I saw Papa’s white horse walk slowly round and round the depot, and then it stopped. I knew Papa was waiting for me. I slowly gained courage to walk out of the train depot. When I looked up and saw Papa sitting atop that white stallion, my heart melted. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Papa sat on his horse looking straight ahead, a perfect profile – looked like a portrait. I wanted to run up and cry out – I’m sorry Papa! Please take me home!”

Then PaPa Story looked about at all of his grandchildren and laughed with pure pleasure. He knew that whenever he mentioned the white horse, he had our attention. That’s when he would say, “And it was a beauty of a horse, a Saddlebred; a horse that could be ridden all day. Papa said that horse was so smooth, he could’ve been sitting on a comfortable chair. I wish you could’ve seen Rad Story sitting on that white stallion…”

Author’s Note:

The portrait of Sallie and Rad Story was damaged when Lawton Story’s young children poked their grandmother’s eye balls out with a pencil. My sister, Patricia Story-Logan, had the eyes replaced.

Horace Lawton Story was born in 1886 on the Mistletoe Farm owned by his grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story. They later moved to a house that Rad Story built in Lincolnton. Both farms are now under water, Clarke’s Hill Lake sometimes called Strom Thurmond Lake. The Buck Story farm was also a part of what is now known as Mistletoe State Park.