All Roads Lead to Sweet Georgia Category


Lunch time at the credit union – best part of the day. A lot got said during twelve years of lunches with my co-worker friend, Joyce. We developed a kinship that distance nor time can erase. It was a sad day when my lunch buddy retired leaving me to fend for myself, forcing me to reach out to others.

Joyce and I kept in touch for a while but as life kept us busy, we seemed to see each other less and less. It was during my trips to Lincoln County that I began to think – I need to call Joyce. Yes every time I passed the road sign: Greene County, I thought of her.

She was born Joyce Greene (Greene with an “e” she always said) and grew up in South Georgia on a farm. She was a high school basketball star and oldest sister to three brothers. She married a military man and traveled the world, living in places like London, San Francisco, and her favorite! Myrtle Beach. To make extra money for her growing family, she donned a skimpy cowgirl outfit (boots too!) and spun a roulette wheel while stationed in Reno – or was it Vegas? That girl got around!

So, I called Joyce. We met at our favorite place, Norman’s Landing. It was just like old times. Joyce looked great with her beautiful smile, nails freshly manicured. She wore a scarf with a touch of hot pink that brought out the pink in her cheeks. This woman was and is the epitome of well put together glamour!

On a chilly November day we sat in front of a fireplace in a log cabin sharing lunch. We caught up on our news worthy lives. Then the waitress dropped the check on the table.

“Joyce, we have met here on my birthday several times and you always buy my lunch. Today, we are going to pretend it’s your birthday and I’ll take the check.”

Joyce’s smile disappeared as she leaned in with her eyes big and round. “Well, Diane, if you are going to do that, I will tell you my real age.”

We laughed and after careful consideration of both of our ages, declared not to miss another birthday. Suddenly Joyce put her hands up in her little girl way and whispered. “Diane, I want to tell you something and then we never need to speak of it ever again.” She took a deep breath and said, “About four weeks ago, my granddaughter died …”

As sisters, we shared a moment, never to speak of it again. Albeit, it was a good day to share lunch with a friend.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock City

Rock City 2015

Tanasi is a Cherokee word for the river. And a beautiful river it is along with the hills and valleys of Tennessee – especially in October when nature bursts alive with color resembling my Memi’s homemade quilts.

But first things first. Whenever this Georgian makes way for Tennessee, it is by Look Out Mountain – first stop – Rock City. A hiker’s dream come true filled with gnomes and fairies. And once at the look out – seven states can be seen on a clear day. All this while reminiscing about the Cherokee lovers who partook in forbidden love. The young man was thrown off the mountain. The young woman jumped after her lover; truly a Cherokee Romeo and Juliet. That site is called Lover’s Leap. But before Lover’s Leap, the swinging bridge will take your breath away while walking suspended in air two-hundred feet only to be met by an eighty foot waterfall – breathtakingly beautiful – and I am proud to say that part of Look Out Mountain is in Georgia.

It’s been a while since I have been on Look Out Mountain, but as a child it was an annual trip. My interest in real estate surely started there as we drove through the Look Out Mountain neighborhood picking out the houses my sisters and I wanted to live in. My favorite was Little Red Riding Hood Trail. My sister, Patricia, loved Mother Goose Trail and my sister, Barbara loved all the roads including: Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Elfin and the Fairyland School. We just knew that if we found a house available, we could talk our parents into buying one, but nothing was ever for sale.

Ruby Falls is the next stop, though still on Look Out Mountain, now in Tennessee. And the trees and foliage are just as inviting as on the Georgia side. Now to board an elevator and drop two-hundred sixty feet underground. It’s about an hour hike through the somewhat dark cave to the waterfall. It’s different now since they have the lights on a timer. Upon entrance into the dark falls room, water can be heard as a cool breeze greets you. After a moment the lights come on and music from heaven plays – and there before me is a waterfall located over one-thousand twenty feet underground – awesome.

But the real reason for being in Tennessee is the Grand Ole Opry – this year celebrating their ninety years anniversary – so it’s off to Nashville. My father, Tom Story, lived for the Grand Ole Opry and it was a part of our annual trip to Tennessee. We were the first to arrive at the Opry and the last to leave. While there in the Ryman Auditorium, we drank cups of hot chocolate while enjoying the show. My favorites were Minnie Pearl with the price tag hanging from her hat and the square dancers. My father played the guitar (Gibson only!) and was into everything at the Opry.

While at home every Saturday night (very late!) Daddy could be heard fidgeting with the radio in the dark. He tuned in Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. After a while, static took over and the fidgeting started again until he had Little Jimmy Dickens coming in loud and clear, then the static returned. But always heard was Flatt and Scruggs singing about Martha White biscuits – ending with “Goodness gracious, its pea pickin’ good!”

Every so often, my mother Helen Story, could be heard saying, “Tom, the girls need their sleep!”

Did that deter him? No.

And here I am at the new Opry where the journey began some fifty (sixty?) years ago. Tom Story would be amazed at how beautiful the new Opry is, but I know my father. He would have his eyes glued to the center stage floor that was cut from the Ryman – the spot where all the greats stood while singing. He would enjoy the new acts, but in his mind, he would hear the talent he so loved listening through the static of his radio.

And tonight, I was thoroughly entertained by the Swan Brothers, Del McCoury Band, Easton Corbin, the Willis Clan, Connie Smith, David Nails – and Rascal Flatts honestly brought the house down! The music was a nice mixture of bluegrass, traditional country and the new guys.

Other than the Opry, my father’s favorite Nashville place was the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. When we were not in the shop, we were “camped out” at the restaurant across the street. The front window was the only table he would have and we had to eat slowly while he watched for Ernest Tubb to enter or exit the record shop.

Often Mama coaxed Daddy into giving the table up. “Tom, see all those people? They are waiting on a table. We’ve been here too long, we need to go.”

“Helen, as long as we’re eating, this table is ours. Girls, have another piece of pie.” He continued to stalk the record shop.

I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but the walls were covered with china plates and they had the best lemon meringue pie, though three pieces in one meal was much for little girls. The restaurant is no longer there, but that giant Ernest Tubb guitar still marks the spot of the record shop.

And if Daddy was here in Nashville today, he would spend an entire day in the Johnny Cash Museum. I can see Mama rolling her eyes.

And it was not a Tennessee vacation until Daddy pumped the car brakes pretending the brakes were “gone” as he drove recklessly down a steep mountain road. We girls had him figured out and laughed between screams though Mama did not find it amusing. Nor did she find it amusing when we talked Daddy into stopping to feed a cute little bear.

“Tom Story, look there! Do you see that sign? DO NOT FEED BEARS!”

Did he listen? No.

And we had such great fun! After all that’s the real reason to go to Tennessee – to find bears. Yes, we attracted a baby bear, the mother bear joined him and we fed them both carefully from inside the car. When we had no more food – the mother bear swiped our car with a big paw putting a dent in the door, jamming the door closed. For the rest of the trip Daddy crawled in and out of the car on Mama’s side. When we returned to our Tucker, Georgia home, Daddy pried the door open and it made an awful noise. He immediately told us what key the sound was in. I wish you could’ve seen how Mama rolled those big brown eyes.

So, that’s why we are not supposed to feed the bears. Lesson learned. Now today, as I travel with my son, James, we will not stop for any bears, not even the little cute ones.

Leaving Nashville behind, we headed to Franklin, Tennessee, the cutest little town in the world, also the place where the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War was fought – the place where six Confederate generals died in one day at the Battle of Franklin.

The Lotz House and Carter House are must sees if you enjoy old homes – especially homes shot full of holes by rifles and cannons. The road from Nashville separated these two homes. As I stood on the Lotz front porch I wondered, “What in the world did Mr. and Mrs. Lotz think as they watched twenty-five thousand Union soldiers pass by their five acre farm?”

I received a mental answer to my question from a distant ghostly being, my great-aunt Dieudonne Bentley-Steed. She was a school teacher back in Lincolnton, Georgia, and was always in her teaching mode. Aunt Donn came in loud and clear with her aristocratic Southern accent, “My deah, the end was neah.”

Yes the end of the war was near and no one knew that better than little Matilda Lotz. Just two days after her sixth birthday, she left a neighbor’s cellar where she hid trying to muffle the sound of constant gunfire and cannon booms. She hid out on the  Carter farm. Tough for a child, but the hard part came when she crossed the road to return home. She had to climb over dead soldiers stacked ten deep. Her beautiful home had one side wall splintered off and a cannon ball set in the front room parlor. Bewildered, the child walked the halls and rooms. Just yesterday, she and her nine year old brother played hide and seek there. Today the same rooms were filled with soldiers bleeding out on the hardwood floors. The blood stains remain to this day. This had been a happy place for little Matilda where the most conflict she experienced was the trouble she got into from drawing on the walls with pieces of cooled coal; she could not resist drawing the farm animals.

After that dreadful day on December 1, 1864, little Matilda lost herself in paint and coal, drawing her place into the new world. As a single young lady she ignored disapproval of traveling alone to Paris, France, where she studied art. Today her little artistic treasures can be found in the William Randolph Hearst mansion in California, the Lotz House, and museums throughout the world. If you happen up on one of her pictures as someone recently did at a flea market (purchased for five dollars), you will find that it is worth millions.

The best entertainment in Franklin is the Ghost Tour, really a way to get the skinny on what went on behind closed doors back in the day and the result being: souls that cannot find rest and walk the streets of Franklin, Tennessee, streets adorned with Garden Club floral arrangements, pumpkins and scarecrows.

Yes going to Rock City, Georgia, and Tanasi, is always a trip down memory lane with a little history lesson. It’s a place I love to be. And still! No house for sale on Little Red Riding Hood Trail!

Author’s Note:

Robert Blythe, at the Lotz House Museum, is a great historian who brings the Battle of Franklin and the Lotz family to life.