Tucker Category


My Aunt Irene never owned a home or car, but believe me, she got around. A downtown person who worked at interesting places like the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She knew the bus routes by heart. Seldom called to announce visits, rather surprised us by stepping off the bus at the corner of Lawrenceville Highway and Main in downtown Tucker. Up Main Street, left onto LaVista, final destination, my house on Morgan Road.

She brought news with her. Her daughter, Doris, lived in a log cabin in Decatur. Cousin Anna and Aunt Tillie, lived in West End in a big high ceiling house. Exciting to hear about Atlanta and Decatur. Irene also had a fashion model daughter, Evelyn, who lived in the D.C. area; Evelyn’s husband, an editor for a news magazine. And Irene’s son, Danny, was a career soldier who traveled the world, married a pretty German lady.

Irene had worldly  connections.

Never got in a hurry. Irene was slow yet deliberate. Thorough and methodical. Whether cool or warm, she wore a long sweater with over-sized pockets. Sometimes a dress, but always big pockets. Her eyes sharp for a four-leaf clover, special acorn or an unusual rock. I loved to sit on the front porch listening to the goings on in my yard. I never saw it, until she pointed it out, then it was clear as a bell.

One spring I discovered something on my own. A robin building a nest. Mother Robin worked for days carrying twigs to construct a nest on my swing-set. I anxiously waited for Aunt Irene’s next visit to show off my find. I watched daily for her coming down Morgan Road, but no Irene.

One day three tiny blue green eggs appeared. A beautiful sight to behold, still no Irene.

One Sunday afternoon, I saw her strolling along, not a care in the world. I ran to meet her, grabbing her hand to hurry her along. She laughed.

“What in the Sam-Hill? Diane, don’t you want to see what’s in my pocket?”

“Not today! Wait ‘till you see what I found!” I led her cheerfully around to the backyard, by-passing the front-door greeting. “See that? Three eggs – robin eggs – not two – but three! I watched the mother build the nest and everything, and now, there they are, three tiny eggs!”

As I reached for the nest, Irene grabbed my hand.

“Must never touch.”

Sensing something wrong, I explained, “I waited for you. I waited a long time.”

Irene relaxed as her smile returned, though she held my hand firmly. She admired my rare find, then asked me a question.

“Where’s Mother Robin?”

I shrugged my shoulders. Then Irene led me to the back-porch steps. We sat there for a few minutes while searching the sky for the mother. It sprinkled rain. She sat there just like it was a sunny day.

“They’re robin eggs alright, Diane. What a treasure! But you know, you must never touch a bird’s nest …”

“What about the eggs?”

Especially the eggs.”

Why?

Irene didn’t answer right away, but turned her face up allowing the drizzling rain to wet her face.

“Have you ever wondered why it rains?” Irene asked.

“No, not really.”

“Everyone needs to know why the sky weeps. She spoke in a soft whisper. I drew close to hear.

“Well, Diane, sometimes the sky rains because the world loses precious beings, you know, the little ones.”

“Like robins?”

She nodded her head in affirmation.

“A mother robin will build a nest in anticipation of her children. Just like your mother prepared for your birth a few years ago. Those eggs are babies, but not until she sits on them for a good long while. That’s her job – the job nature gave to her. Oh, she may fly away, but she’s never far. I’ll bet you by George, she never takes her eyes off those eggs. But even if she’s not looking, she knows when a human has touched her nest. And when that happens, she will desert the eggs. They will never hatch, never become little birds.”

Why?”

“She senses danger and will not sit on a touched nest.”

Irene pointed to the fast moving clouds, “The clouds quickly spread the news.”

What news?”

“That a mother has abandoned her young …”

“She’s not ever coming back?”

Irene ignored my question as she spoke of the sky.

“And finally the winds cannot take the sadness any longer, and the sky opens up and down comes the rain.”

My heart was breaking.

“That is sad for the sky.”

Aunt Irene and I sat there on the back door steps in the rain, both sad. For we knew the world was less three robins.

Irene Voyles-Allen (my PawPaw’s sister) was a wonderful storyteller!

One summer day in 1955, my father and I went for a ride in his car; just the two of us. Up our Morgan Road and then left onto Chamblee Tucker Road. He turned right near the “Pittsburgh” area and then stopped at a four-way stop which put up across the road from a spooky Confederate cemetery.
I always dreaded this part of the trip, because the cemetery took my breath and my heart stopped until he hit the gas. At night when the car’s headlights flashed across the cemetery it seemed as though the old headstones jumped out at us; not so much during the day.
Still Tom Story said the same thing every time he put on the brakes and we were face to face with the old worn stones of death, “Haunted!” After a moment of being mesmerized, he hit the gas and made a hard right turn onto Tucker Norcross Road, down the road deep into Gwinnett County.
That is where his sister Grace, and his two brother’s Robert and Lawton lived; all within a farm or two of each other. I had seven boy cousins and one girl cousin who lived down that road.
That road is now known as Jimmy Carter Boulevard, a place over populated with people and stores. But back then, it was farmland with a house dotted here and there. At night, it was darker than my home town of Tucker. The only light was from the moon and stars, God’s country to all my Gwinnett County relatives.
Daddy’s sister Sarah lived on our road, Morgan, while Miriam lived on Bancroft and Nancy lived on Henderson Road, all in Tucker. His brother Gene lived at the edge of Tucker on Lawrenceville Highway.
We were a close knit family who looked for opportunities to visit each other, and today was no different.
Today, Daddy and I were on a mission to get my haircut. My sisters had long smooth blonde hair while my hair was short, dark and wiry. I needed a haircut about every six weeks. My father’s sister, Miriam, usually cut my hair, but she was not feeling well.
I loved any excuse to visit with my older cousins, Ann and Ted Graves.
Their brother, Junior, was grown and married to Rena who lived near the Confederate cemetery.
Daddy and I arrived just in time to help Aunt Grace shell butterbeans. She was too busy to stop and cut my hair and insisted that Daddy let me spend the night. He could pick me up tomorrow morning and my hair would be beautiful when she got finished with me. He agreed.
I was disappointed that Rena and Junior did not come by to visit, since Rena allowed my sisters and me to wear her high heeled shoes.
After dinner Ann and Ted had plans with friends and went their way. I was hoping for a chance to catch fire flies with them, but I was left to spend the evening with Uncle Lester and Aunt Grace. They scurried about cleaning up my hair on the floor like we were about to have important company.
It was imperative that we get the kitchen “set to right” and to the front porch by night fall. We sat there; Aunt Grace and Uncle Lester on the porch floor with their feet on the steps. I took my seat on the next step closer to the ground.
The only movement was the fire flies, too bad there was no one to help me catch them. The sound of hot bugs grew louder the longer we sat there. The full moon and stars lent light to the surrounding grounds. All about us were farms; cornfields everywhere.
“Do you hear something?” asked Uncle Lester.
“Listen,” said Aunt Grace in anticipation.
“What? I don’t hear anything,” I replied.
“Shhhh,” they both said to me, “Listen!”
I took a deep breath and wondered what in the world was going on with those two. Maybe this was their way of keeping me quiet. You know, the children should be seen and not heard thing. But then I heard it too.
A voice of a man in the distance began to slowly surround us and give the hot bugs some competition. As the bugs grew louder the man’s voice seemed to grow louder as well, until I realized it was a familiar voice.
“Follow me, I will make you fishers of men,” the man’s voice went in and out, and I could not get all he was saying.
“He’s saying something about goin’ fishing!”
“Shhhh!” snapped Aunt Grace.
Again I quieted down and strained my ears to hear.
Uncle Lester quietly laughed and whispered, “Diane, if you will listen, you will know what Preacher Johnson is going to preach on this Sunday.”
“Shhhh, Lester!” Aunt Grace was having none of this conversation. “How can a child learn to be quiet if you, a grown man, can’t be quiet?”
Again, we sat there on the porch of my relatives’ farm, all quiet. Then I heard a different sound that made me jump up and into Uncle Lester’s lap. It was their cow mooing in the pasture just behind the house.
Uncle Lester could not help but burst into laughter.
“Lester!”
“I’m sorry Grace, but did you see how fast Diane jumped into my lap?” he whispered through his laughter. “She’s not used to life on a farm.”
“Shhhh, Lester, shhhh! We’re gonna miss the whole sermon!”
When I realized it was the cow, I returned to my seat on the steps. We listened and heard the fading in and out of Preacher Johnson’s voice.
“Why is he preaching what we are going to hear Sunday?” I could not help but wonder out loud.
“He’s practicing,” answered Uncle Lester.
“Lester! Diane!” Aunt Grace reminded us both to quiet down again.
And then Preacher Johnson’s voice faded completely away, and I thought the show was over.
“Okay, can we go inside now? When will Ann and Ted get home? I don’t know why I couldn’t go with them.”
“Diane, they’ll be in before long. They’re out with some friends,” explained Uncle Lester. “They’re nearly grown, you know. You’ll understand that way of thinking when you’re a big girl. I know it’s tough being five.”
“Alright you two, quiet down,” Aunt Grace reminded us.
What? Will Preacher Johnson come back with an encore? And then I heard it, a man’s voice swirling through the ethers. It was out there somewhere, but where? I listened hard and studied the sound.
From our hill top view, we sat on the steps looking down across the road at a gigantic cornfield. I strained my eyes and tried extra hard to adjust my sight to night vision. All the full moon would allow me to see was the shadows of the cornfield. I did not know the voice, but I knew it was not Preacher Johnson.
Uncle Lester chuckled and whispered, “I knew we’d hear from him tonight, I just knew it!”
“Yes,” replied Aunt Grace in a whisper.
“Who?” I asked.
“He’s gonna make a good preacher,” said Uncle Lester.
“Yes, he is, pretty good one already,” whispered Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again.
The mystery man began to bemoan the fact that he had lost his sheep.
“Oh no, he’s lost his sheep! Who has sheep out here? I’ve never seen any sheep,” I was puzzled. “I know about the haunted cemetery, cows and corn and walnut trees, but I never knew about any sheep!”
“Diane, will you please be quiet and listen? And no one has any sheep out here,” explained Aunt Grace who was getting a little testy with me. “And there is no such thing as a haunted cemetery.”
“Yes there is! Just down the road…”
“Shhhh, Diane!” Aunt Grace meant it this time.
“He’s on the lost sheep tonight, Grace,” whispered Uncle Lester.
“Sounds like it,” replied Aunt Grace.
“Who?” I asked again, this time a little more defiantly, “And somebody does have sheep out here! Why don’t you want me to know who?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb!” Aunt Grace snapped back.
What? Really? I had never heard Grace Graves speak broken English and was not used to her disciplinarian side.
“I wish I knew what that meant!” I answered back a little sharply. “I just want to know who you are talking about. Who is that man?”
“Yore foot don’t fit no limb,” was her reply for the second time.
Okay, if that’s the way you want it. I turned my back on the both of them.
Uncle Lester joined me on my step and put his arm around me.
“Diane,” he whispered, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb, means, you are not a hoot owl, so stop saying – who. Grace wants us to be quiet so we can hear a new preacher make his mark on the world.”
“Okay, but who is he?” I asked, saying the “who” word again.
Of course Aunt Grace said, “Yore foot don’t fit no limb.”
Uncle Lester tried to squelch his laughter as he whispered, “Tilman Singleton.”
“Alright, you two, quiet down over there. He’s about to really get into it now,” replied Grace in anticipation.
Yes he did get into it. When he finished, I knew all about the lost sheep and how to be found. Mr. Tilman Singleton attended our church, and had a lovely wife and a bunch of kids. They all sounded like a flock of little song birds.
As Tilman Singleton’s voice faded away deep into the hot night’s summer air, the sound of a piano took over. The music was beautiful and went on for some time. It was very peaceful and comforting, and then again it was fast, up and away.
Aunt Grace did not have to call me or Uncle Lester down again, because we listened intently as we leaned forward trying to be as near to the music as possible. None of us wanted to miss a beat. The music had a way of capturing the mind and not letting it go. It was beautiful.
Then the piano music slowed down as though it was a train waiting for someone to get aboard. And that’s when an incredible thing happened. The cornfield sang.
I sat there with my aunt and uncle for a long time that night. At five years of age, I learned a lot about my family. Grace Graves was a hard working woman who refused to miss an opportunity to hear the Word. Lester Graves was a kind man; the kind everyone wanted to be near. And for sure, the cornfields in Gwinnett County were the gittin’ place for praise and worship for our Pleasant Hill.
Author’s Notes:
The Confederate cemetery was replaced by Wendy’s, a fast food restaurant.

“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.

In March 2008, I found myself sitting by the bedside of my mother at the Dekalb Medical. It was about a week before she passed away. Just two weeks earlier, Mama was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Our visits were reduced to sitting by her bed while she slept. One such evening, I stood to leave. The chair made a little noise and Mama opened her eyes startled. She lifted her head and glared at me.

“Mama it’s me. Oh Mama, don’t you know me?”

She relaxed and laughed, “Of course I know you! You’re that little Diane Storyteller!” She chuckled, then closed her eyes, and fell back into her deep sleep.

I sat back down in that chair. I found a piece of paper and scribbled down details of the day I was first called Diane Storyteller back in 1955. I thought about how I ran away from the first grade at Tucker Elementary School all the way home to my mother’s arms. When she saw me, Mama threw down her daffodil bulbs and held me tightly. I called that story, “Diane Storyteller.” In the following lonely months when I could no longer talk to Mama, I found a new way to communicate.

I recalled the “old days of Tucker” she so loved to talk about, I wrote it down. I called it “Tucker History According to Mama” and “Semi-Centennial.” When I recalled the love and pride she had for her children, I wrote “Three Kittens and a Tucker Tiger.” When I remembered how she cared for her Aunt Annie on Old Norcross who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, I wrote “Poor Side of Tucker.” When I recalled how much she respected Tucker historian, Roy Hutchens, I wrote “Tucker Historical Society.” I remembered the gleam in Mama’s eyes when she told me how she met my father, Tom Story, while roller skating. I wrote “They Paved Old Norcross.” When I thought about young Helen “Polly” Voyles graduating from the seventh grade at Tucker, I wrote “Ms. Herndon.”

When I was four years old I was pulled out of Clarke’s Hill Lake unconscious. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was Mama’s face. I wrote about that day and called it “The Chariot.” When my spirit reached an all time low, I thought about how Mama coped with the death of loved ones. I wrote “The Forgotten Valentine,” “A Christmas Snowflake,” “Passed in Love,” and “Gwinnett’s Finest.” When I recalled how Mama cared for me when I was an invalid, I wrote “Snake Doctor.”

Every time I am tempted to advise my sons on how to live, I hear Mama tell me for the ten-thousandth time, “Diane, sweep around your own back door. Pull your own little red wagon.” I wrote “Law of Nature.”  When my mind replayed the moment Mama’s spirit left her body, I wrote “Angel Band.”

When the “five story” house sold on Morgan Road, I let the house do the talking in “Treasure Chest.” In all I have written over fifty such stories and entitled the collection, All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia. I dedicated the book to my mother, Annie Helen Voyles-Story.

I think often of Mama’s dedication to her family and community. I think of her every day, but now with a smile rather than tears. And yes, sometimes I just have to sit down and drop my mother a line or two.

March 6, 2012

Dear Mama,

It is springtime again and the daffodils are in bloom. They are lovely. And just last night, four years after losing you, I found my place at the Tucker Elementary School once again, after all these years. I was nervous about being there. When my name was called, I knew it was time to kick the ball. I gave it my best shot. I stood there in Ms. Purcell’s seventh grade classroom with my back to the kick ball field. I peered out at friendly faces consisting of family, dear friends, acquaintances, and total strangers. And I was honored to tell the Tucker Historical Society about you.

Ever yours,

Diane Storyteller

P.S. Mama, I didn’t look up to see if you were there sharing my joy. I didn’t have to. I knew you were there.

Author’s Note:

Tucker Elementary is now known as Tucker Recreation.

All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia (c) copyright 2012  by H. D. Story All Rights Reserved

“But Lawton, we want to do something that we are not supposed to do when Mama and PaPa are not here!” the others exclaimed in protest.

“No, put them back in the pantry where they belong,” urged Lawton, “Grace is right. Mama will know, and be upset if she doesn’t have peaches to make cobbler on Sunday.”

The younger brothers and sisters slowly conceded and gave up the peaches. It was hard raising a family – especially a large family during the Depression years. PaPa farmed and Mama raised prize winning Rhode Island Reds. Her egg money was the only cash crop except for harvest time. And it was a long time until the next harvest. The family bank was in the barn, pantry and egg money. The children learned how to get along, but once in a while, they were left on their own and wanted desperately to test their limits. Like all kids, they wanted to have fun.

Grace Truman Story

“Mama knows how many jars of peaches she has canned,” went on the eldest child, Grace. “She has enough saved up for when Uncle Ben and Uncle Charlie come by, and she’ll know if a jar is missing.”

Of course, Grace was right. The others stood back in obedience as Grace put the peaches away. “Now don’t fret so, you can think of something else to do. What else? Any suggestions?”

Several things were mentioned, but always overridden by Grace. Finally one of them suggested jumping off the balcony into the hallway. That could be tricky and Grace and Lawton studied it carefully. “Well, if we pad the floor below, maybe,” said Lawton. Grace disagreed and thought it too dangerous, but Lawton took the side of the younger children, this time it was eight against one.

“Yes,” said Lawton, “we could drag out a couple of mattresses and pillows – that’ll pad the landing.”

Off the children went running through the house gathering pillows, quilts and anything that would pad their jump. When a big pile was made, the children ran up the enclosed stairway to the opening in the upstairs hallway. There they hung over the rail studying the fall. Yes, everything was in order – all except for one thing. Who would go first? After some debate, Grace hesitantly stepped forward, after the others acknowledged she was firstborn and the decision maker. Again, it was eight against one.

Grace tied her dress between her legs, carefully mounted the rail, and she jumped. Grace landed square in the middle of the mattresses – feather mattresses that is – and made a loud thump as she hit the floor.

The eight children all hanging over the rail in fascination called out, “Grace – are you all right? Did it hurt? Was it fun?”

But for some reason Grace was slow to answer. Her back was to them and so they could not see her face. The truth be told, Grace had the breath knocked out of her. She did not want to show her pain – but every bone in her body ached. When she finally got herself together, she said very quietly, “I’m okay. It was fun. Come on Beau (Lawton’s nickname), it’s your turn. You’re the second born, you’re next.”

Lawton studied his sister and knew something was not exactly right. “Grace, are you all right? Sis, are you hurt?”

After a deep breath, Grace answered, “I’m fine—-now jump—-it’s your turn.”

When Lawton waited a long time to decide, some of the other children began to argue about who would jump next. The smaller kids, Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy wanted to jump, but Sarah said – “No, Beau is next and you little ones can’t jump, it’s too far for you. Only the big kids are jumping – today.”

With some grumbling from the smaller ones, Lawton agreed with Sarah. “If anyone jumps, it’ll be me. But I want to study Grace a little bit longer. I think she’s hurtin’.”

“Grace, are you hurtin’?” they all began to ask and take note of her slow movement.

“I’m not hurt. I tell you it was fun. You wanted to jump, now jump. Come on Beau, you’re next.”

“Jump Beau!” demanded Robert.

“See Beau, she’s okay, now jump!” the others coaxed.

“She doesn’t sound right. I think she’s hurt,” Lawton did not budge.

Robert had had enough, “I’ll jump next! I’m not afraid! Let’s get on with it.”

“No,” said Sarah who was as capable as any of the boys,” Robert, you’re fourth, I’m third. You’ll have to wait your turn. Beau goes next, and then me.”

“Grace and Sarah are right, Lawton goes next,” noted Miriam.

“Well, I’ve decided not to jump,” said Lawton, “Grace doesn’t sound right.”

“I’ll jump!” demanded Robert, “I’ve jumped out of trees higher up then this! I can go next!”

But the next eldest, Beau, said, “No, Robert, you are not jumping right now.”

So, who would jump next? Caleb and Gene argued with their older siblings- they were both ready to go. They rambunctiously tried giving each other a leg up – so they could reach the top of the rail. Tom never spoke a word, but kept a sharp eye on the situation. Baby Nancy was so disappointed, she could not help herself – she cried. Her heart was broken. After all she had run her little legs off dragging pillows for the pile. All the while Grace was quiet and slowly moved over to the bottom of the enclosed stairway and closed the door – and locked it. “Beau, it’s your turn.”

“Come on Beau! I’m gettin’ hungry!” demanded Robert.

All the children protested the locked door. Miriam the fifth children – the bridge between the older and younger children – quieted the others down as she appealed to Grace. “Now Grace, we’ve decided not to jump. And you need to unlock that door. And anyway, Sarah won’t let the little ones jump. And Baby Nancy is upset. So at least let them come down. Please open the door for the little ones, Grace.”

Miriam had struck a chord of reason with her eldest sister. “Miriam is right. I’m gonna unlock that door—in just a minute.” Then Grace disappeared into the kitchen. When she returned she had that jar of peaches. She opened the jar and then took her time eating them. She laid an extra spoon in front of her.

“Mmmm, mmmm, these peaches are really good.”

The others could not believe their eyes – as they hung over the rail – watching Grace eat those peaches.

“Grace, that’s Mama’s peaches!”

“You said we couldn’t eat ’em!”

“Grace, surely, you are not gonna eat the whole jar!”

“Save some for us!”

“Open that door!”

“What about when Uncle Ben and Uncle Charlie come over? How’s Mama gonna cook a peach cobbler for them?”

“Grace you’re gonna get in trouble, if you eat those peaches!”

“Come on! Let us down from here. Unlock that door!”

“I thought you agreed with Miriam! Let us go!”

“Grace, save us some peaches!”

Grace ignored their demands and reasoning. She ate another slice of delicious sweet peach.  Finally, she held up one hand to quiet them down. She had something to say. They listened.

“I do agree with Miriam. And I am gonna unlock that door for the little ones and the big ones, just as soon as I finish eatin’ these peaches.”

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.

Bruce Wheeler at Georgia Tech 2011

He drove his shell colored Toyota down Britt Road; a road in Tucker Georgia – between DeKalb and Gwinnett County. It was late; the Frat party lingered on into the wee hours of Christmas Eve morning; 1983. It was a downhill stretch of road that bore to the left; he did not make that curve. His tires hit the ditch throwing the driver from the car. The Corolla kept going – turning and rolling over and over. The wrecked car was found. But where was the driver? He was found three hours later as the sun began to peep through the sky. It was eight degrees; it had been a long and cold night.
This Georgia Tech student spent the next fifteen weeks in a coma. Just a few weeks earlier, on Thanksgiving Day, his dream of a lifetime had come true. By most anyone’s standards, he was the luckiest person in the whole wide world.
And for the past three years, he followed the footsteps of his father and brother, who received degrees as Industrial Managers from Georgia Tech. His mother’s first cousin, Pepper Rodgers, also added to the family tradition of the Yellow Jackets by coaching football at Georgia Tech 1974-1979. And now, this young man had been elected to drive the white and gold mechanical mascot of Georgia Tech – the 1930 Ford Model A dubbed the Ramblin ‘Reck. His first and only drive was on Thanksgiving Day.
His life was divided into four categories: studies, Sigma Nu, girls and intramural sports – until now.
Now, he struggled to live. Now, everything had changed. Old man winter proved to be his friend. The freezing temperature did not allow his body to bleed out. When found, he was almost frozen. And finally after fifteen weeks of unconsciousness, he accomplished the hardest thing ever. Bruce Wheeler opened his eyes.
With that single act, he said to the world, “I’m not done yet.”
For another ten weeks Bruce was comatose. He was surrounded by family and friends the entire time. His parents refused to leave him. Tucker friends and Smoke Rise neighbors kept the family in good food and good company. Reynolds and June Anne Rodgers-Wheeler stayed with their son.
Then there was recovery; it had its ups and downs. At DeKalb General Hospital, Bruce worked so hard at physical therapy, he stretched an inch taller. He worked just as hard at Emory Rehab and the Gwinnett Head Injury Association, to learn to speak again and to adjust back into the community. He soon realized that his ears were good, but had to over enunciate to have his words understood. He had a lot to learn and embraced it.
As Bruce returned to the community, he was disturbed to find people did not speak directly to him, but spoke to whoever was with him. He felt separated from the community. He felt the sting particularly at restaurants. He thought to himself, “Please, speak to me. I am here. At least give me the opportunity to point to the menu. Please, don’t ask someone else what ‘he wants to eat.’”
Frustrated of being told what he could not do, he said, “Tell me what I can do; not what I cannot do.” He began to realize that there must be others out there in the community who felt the same way and was soon asking, “How can I change this? What can I do?”
Bruce Wheeler organized the group, HIPs; Head Injured Pals. The purpose of the organization is to educate the community. He wanted everyone to realize that Head Injured Pals live in a normal world, and are the same as everyone, except for the fact that they have a head injury.
And Bruce called on his Georgia Tech family to help him. Georgia Tech Basketball coach, Bobby Cremins stepped forward. That was only the beginning. Pete Babcock, general manager and vice president of the Atlanta Hawks, treated one-hundred-ten HIPs to the best seats in the house to enjoy a Hawks Basketball game. John Schuerholz, president of the Atlanta Braves, would not be out done. Schuerholz treated one hundred-twenty HIPs to a Braves game. Tennis professional, Bjorn Borge, spoke on behalf of HIPs, as did Congressman Ben Jones, President Jimmy Carter, and Muhammad Ali. Senator Max Cleland, who at the time was Georgia’s Secretary of State, decided to hold a meeting to support HIPs. He provided eighty chairs and one-hundred-twenty supporters in the community showed up. And much to Bruce’s surprise, at an event, he was kissed squarely on the lips by Miss America, Carolyn Sapps.
Bruce and six-hundred-plus HIPs reached out to their community. They spread the message in the United States, China, Japan, South America, Great Britain and Russia. The message was a plain and simple one.

“Talk to me, not around me. I need your assistance, not your help. Please, don’t do it for me. By assisting, you help me to help myself.”

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, Bruce Wheeler rolled his wheelchair out to the edge of the Georgia Tech Football Field. Bruce took his cane, stood up, and steadied himself – all six foot three. He stood tall and smiled when his name was called out over the loud speaker. Bruce Wheeler had a lot to be proud of. He held his head a little higher as he remembered he was a point guard for the Tucker High School Basketball Team; a school where he maintained a 3.9 grade point average. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1986. He drove the Ramblin ‘Reck, a 1930 Ford Model A Cabriolet Sports Coupe, on one Thanksgiving Day. Today he walked out onto the field and proudly stood with the other Ramblin ‘Reck drivers to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Georgia Tech tradition. The Georgia Tech and North Carolina fans stood to their feet in a standing ovation to recognize and honor the Ramblin ‘Reck drivers as the beautiful antique car made its way onto the field for the 50th year. The roar could be heard all the way past the Varsity to the Fox Theater on Peachtree Street.

Bruce Wheeler took his place in history, and waved back to the enthusiastic crowd.
And that is how we do things down here in sweet Georgia!

Tom and Helen Story’s children: Diane, Barbara, Patricia and Tommy

I have spent the last year putting together a lot of little stories I have written over the years – which were scattered in disarray all about my house. One day my son, Jonathan, said, “Mom, you really need to put this stuff on the web.”

Today I completed that book, All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia. Most of it is on my website, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com. Thank you Jonathan for being an excellent (and patient!) internet technician.

I want to thank my son, James, who insisted I write my little stories down. He has done this for many years, while it be sharing a meal or walking at the mall. He is the first to read my stories, and to give me an ‘atta girl!

I would also like to thank, Jillian Hudnall, a two time Teacher of the Year Award recipient, for happily helping me with my questions about grammar. I might add – Jillian is a Tucker teacher!

I would like to thank my mother, Annie Helen Voyles-Story, for instilling the love for “the old days of Tucker” in my heart, her care while I was an invalid, and her up and at ‘em attitude.  I can hear her now, “Take the bull by the horns and go girl!” “Put your ears back and go to it!” and the one I like least, “Sweep around your own backdoor!” Thank you Mama for tea-time. All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia is dedicated in loving memory to my mother.

I would like to thank my father, Thomas Jonathan Story, Sr., for always being there; ever so soft spoken in the background. He brought the sense of family first, love of history and good bluegrass music to our home. Daddy took a sledgehammer to my fears and illustrated just how big God is to me with the moon and stars.

I want to thank my brother, Tommy Story, and my sisters, Patricia Story-Logan and Barbara Story-Williams for their unending love and support. You will never know how much I have gleaned from our relationship over the years, or how much you mean to me.

I want to thank my sister, Patricia, for her hard work as the family genealogist. I am grateful to Patricia for sitting at the feet of our PaPa Story, listening and locking away stories of old. Her notes and memories of the Storys, Jenkins, Palmer and Voyles families are endearing as well as invaluable.

Special thanks go to my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for keeping family memories alive.

I want to thank the community of Tucker, Georgia, as well as my Morgan Road neighbors, Pleasant Hill Baptist (DeKalb County), Tucker Historical Society, teachers, friends, and family for contributing to the life of this Story.

THANK YOU!

Coming soon:

All Roads Lead to Southern Charm

All Roads Lead to Stone Mountain Georgia.

Everett Home

“You can drive, Di,” said my mother. Mama had that determined look in her eyes. “If you don’t, then I’ll have to walk to Suwanee, Georgia. I’m worried to death about Frances. I have to see her and let her know I am there for her. She’s the one who brought notes to me at school from ya Daddy. Frances and I were baptized together at Pleasant Hill. Frances and George mean the world to me.”

 

“I know, but Mama, I just got my learner’s permit two weeks ago. I haven’t had a chance to read the manual yet…”

“You’ll do fine. I’ll be right next to ya, and I’ll tell ya what to do as we go.”

“Okay, but Mama, you don’t have a driver’s license…”

“I’m ya mother, this is an emergency.”

And yes, this was an emergency.

Since the war (WWII), my father had a problem with his stomach. He trained out in Texas in an open field while planes flew over head and dropped hundreds of pounds of white flour from the sky. The flour was a pretend bomb. At the end of the day there was a sergeant there assessing the flour damage. As the soldiers in training filed by, the sergeant pronounced them dead or alive. My father was pronounced dead every time, and never alive. This took a toll on his nerves and suffered from a “nervous stomach” to the day he died.

And today my father was worried sick about his niece, Frances. Tom Story’s stomach had him laid low. He could not leave the house, let alone drive a car.

My older sister, Patricia, had not shown any interest in driving. The week after I got my driver’s license, she got her’s. She said, “If Diane can get her license, anybody can.” But that was a year away. Today, we needed to get to Suwanee, about an hour away.

This was my second time behind the wheel of a car. The first time was across the street at the Williams’ house. Frances Williams showed me how to back out of her driveway. That’s all the practice I had gotten round to.

With Mama’s encouragement, I backed out of our driveway and slowly crept up Morgan Road. I took a left onto Chamblee Tucker Road. From there, we hit Tucker Norcross Road, and after a long while, took a right onto Buford Highway. We made our way through Duluth. All the while, Mama looked out for me; she was my defensive line. She told me in advance when to slow down and then when to speed up. I was nervous and drove a little jerky, but slowly gained confidence in Mama’s “driving.”

While on Buford Highway in Duluth, to my left, we passed the Frosty Bar. I remembered that place. I had been there a few years before with my cousin, Frances Sexton. She took me there for a milkshake.

I loved going anywhere with Frances in her ’57 Chevy. After leaving her house on Bancroft, I soon realized we were not going to the Dairy Queen in Tucker.

“Frances, where are we going?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” she answered with an all knowing smile.

We pulled into the Frosty Bar. She ordered milkshakes from a friendly woman, Lois.  Soon, a handsome man in a police uniform approached us. When they saw each other, I could tell they were good friends. Lois’ wink let me know, she knew it too.

That was the first time I met George Everett. He was a “don’t mess with me cop” but to Frances, he was “Georgie Porgie.” To George, Frances was “My Every-Thang.” They married.

And as Mama and I passed the Frosty Bar on my maiden drive, my throat ached to think I was about to see George again today at his parent’s home – the home George grew up in. Our destination was 4055 Stonecypher Road – just off Main Street – in Suwanee. We arrived to a crowd of people standing in the yard; people on the porches of the house. People everywhere, yet so quiet, not a sound was made, not even the sound from a bird or dog. Mama and I slowly made our way up to the front porch.

There I saw Frances and George Everett. George greeted me on the steps and asked, “Diane, what in the world are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you,” was all I could say. He hugged me and I felt his body jerk as he cried inwardly. Frances hugged Mama and then me. Frances could not speak.

Mama and I shook hands with the folks as we passed and received their welcome nod. Most were not able to speak. As we made our way inside the home, there were many with their backs to us. Mama joined them, but I veered off and avoided that group. The house was so crowded, I was easily lost. I made my way to the kitchen. Along the way I heard muffled whispers.

“…see his bottom lip?”

“He’s got three kids…”

“…a little baby.”

“…never hurt a soul.”

“…brought his brother a guitar.”

The kitchen was full of policemen standing and sitting around the table. The policemen looked sad beyond sad. They could hardly hold up their heads. No one spoke. At age fifteen, this was a lot to digest. I did the only thing I knew to do during a time like this. I poured coffee and tea. I cut pie and cake. I put it in front of the officers. I did not give them a chance to say anything. I just poured another cup of coffee and found a taker.

That’s what we do down here in the South. When our minds and hearts hit overload, our hands get busy.

Suddenly the police officers stood and shook hands with a dark haired man who walked into the kitchen.

“Judge Merritt…”

“Keep ya seats boys! Stay where ya are! Just wanted to let you know I’m here.”

The officers nodded with respect. The judge’s small daughter stayed in the kitchen and without hesitation, grabbed a handful of paper napkins and passed them out. “Hello, I’m Marilyn. I’m nine,” she said with a delightful smile.

For just a brief moment the officers forgot about their grief and returned Little Marilyn’s smile. She could not stay long. The Merritts had two other families to visit in the Suwanee-Buford area.

While passing out refreshments, I saw a man sitting in a straight chair in a room across the way. He was dressed in trousers and a sleeveless undershirt, no shoes. He was about four feet from the wall; he stared at the wall. His fists were clinched in anger while his face revealed a broken heart. To this day, I have never witnessed such grief. On the other side of that wall was his twenty-eight year old son, Jerry Reed Everett, lying in a coffin.  Jerry was found handcuffed to two other police officers. All three officers had been shot to death.

I returned to the kitchen knowing that was my place. I did not wander out again until Mama came for me when it was time to go home. She wanted to get back to Tucker before it got “good and dark.” I made sure I did not look upon the face of Jerry Everett’s mother. My hands stayed busy in the quiet kitchen and when I left, I kept my eyes down.

But just before I left, the kitchen silence was broken again by a plain clothed policeman who entered the room. It was a relief to hear someone speak. He declared to get whoever did this horrible thing. He patted the others on the shoulders and back. They were not to worry. He would get to the bottom of this. He would not rest until justice had been done. He went on and on.

I handed him pie and coffee. He thanked me, and continued to talk about the day of reckoning that was coming. He was going to get ‘em.  And I might add; he kept his word.

Mama and I left the Everett home and made our way down the long roads back to Tucker. We hardly spoke. But driving home seemed easier and the long country roads seemed shorter going home.

Days later, we all heard that that take charge – nice man – who was doing so much talking in the kitchen – had become a target. He had been shot in the leg while driving his car.

The question now: Is someone out there trying to kill Gwinnett County policemen? That was a scary situation for all concerned, but especially for the Everett family. The slain policeman, Jerry Everett, had two other brothers on the force, Kelly and our Frances’ George.

Whoever was targeting Gwinnett County’s police officers had to be stopped. How could anyone do such a thing?

If only the killer could have seen the face of Mr. Everett sitting in that chair; only able to look at the back of the wall where his deceased son lay. If only the killer could have seen Jerry’s widow holding a baby with two little tots clinging to her dress tail. If only the killer could have known the love and devotion the Everett family had for one another. If only the killer could have known how the three Everett police officer brothers loved their community and served with pride. If only the killer could have known this, perhaps he would not have been able to do this awful thing.

As the case developed, the recently wounded man’s story began to unravel. He decided to speak the truth. This is how I remember it.

The day of the murders, one of the officers did not feel well, and was being taken home by the other two. The three received a call about unusual traffic on a somewhat isolated country road. While taking the ill officer home, they decided to make a stop and check out the call. The three officers got out of their car and drew their weapons as they walked down the dirt road. They were met by another policeman, who evidently responded to the call sooner; the three holstered their weapons. That’s when the lone officer drew his gun.  At some point in time, the three were handcuffed and taken to a nearby wooded area, and there the unthinkable happened. Two other persons participated on some level. I don’t know who did the shooting, but fourteen shots were fired to end the lives of three good men.

The reason? I heard it was to avoid having a car stripping ring exposed.

It was hard to believe. The man doing so much talking in the kitchen, the man who would get all the answers, knew the family, wore the same uniform, and admired family photos of the children. He was a friend.

Mid April 1964 happened a long time ago. It was the day I served coffee and pie to pure evil; not a day I will likely forget. And as hard as it was, I learned some things of great importance. Beware of someone doing all the talking. Beware of someone who will “fix everything.” But more importantly, I learned that no one can keep good people down. Good does overcome evil.

Since the passing of their beloved brother, Jerry Everett, the Everett Brothers Band was formed by Roger, Randall and sister, Pauline Everett. Their talent landed them on a local radio station to play bluegrass music. Folks gathered at the radio station to hear and see the Everett’s play music. Their gig was not long enough to satisfy their fans, so they followed them home to the Everett’s home – there on Stonecypher Road. There the Everett’s played for hours. So many came over the years – it’s humorously said – Mrs. Everett had to run them out to the barn in the backyard.

The Everett Brothers Music Barn is a place where the community can enjoy bluegrass music. Today, the house is a place where anyone can bring their musical instruments to learn and play. East Dixie Band, Counterpoint, Maple Ridge, Potter’s Clay, Heaven’s Echoes, Back to the Cross, Tim Graves and Cherokee, and many other accomplished bands play on the stage at the Everett Brothers Music Barn. The best local players like homegrown Tucker boys, Charles and Wally Alford, have graced that stage. And on occasion you can see a Nashville singer’s trailer parked there. In 1992 the Everett Brothers Band was inducted into the Atlanta Country Hall of Fame.

A framed photo of Officer Jerry Everett resides over the Everett Brothers Music Barn, and rightfully so. Jerry was the one who saved his hard earned money to give the gift of music to his brother Roger, a guitar; a gift that is well woven throughout the Everett family, as nieces and nephews carry on the family tradition.

Everett Brothers Music Barn

Today I write this story and dedicate it the memory of the three slain police officers, Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Reed Everett, who are known to me and many others as Gwinnett’s finest.

Today, the Fourth of July mid-day, was the first time my heart allowed me to return to the Everett homestead. After forty-seven years, I walked about the grounds of the house and music barn. Today I noticed the house sets on a corner of Stonecypher and Blue Grass Trail, and it felt different. The heaviness of the air was gone; it had given way to the sounds of birds singing and children’s laughter.  I followed the American Flag hanging near the front door of the music barn. There I peeped into the glass window door and eyed the stage lined with microphones. A friendly cat joined me and brushed my leg looking for attention. How nice everything is here today. No doubt, the good honest bluegrass music played here has melted away the cobwebs of sorrow and deceit.

I got back into my car and to drive back home – not to Tucker this time – but to Forsyth County. As I drove down crowded Highway 20 and “claimed” my spot on the 400 Autobahn, I thought about how different things are now, especially the roads.

Well into my first year of driving, I refused to attempt the expressway – 85. One Sunday afternoon, my father took me out for a practice drive. He forced me to get on and off the expressway at least a dozen times. As I drove down the ramp, he would say, “Eye your spot, claim it, and then take it.” I would hesitate and he would say, “Donnie, take it – that means – hit the gas!” Over and over I practiced “eying, claiming, and taking” my spot, until I got it. When I drove back to Tucker that Sunday evening, I was over my fear of the fast highway, thanks to Daddy.

And even though I’m now on a fast highway in Forsyth County, my mind is on the first time I ever drove a car out of my hometown of Tucker.

I wanted to go to Suwanee that day to give Frances and George a hug, but I was afraid to drive. I reminded Mama that I just three weeks ago, I was fourteen years old. I was just a kid. I could not drive. I did not know how to get to Suwanee, Georgia. Mama hadn’t been to Suwanee in years, but thought she could “figure it out on the way.”

Mama told me to put the key in the ignition. When the car started, she said, “See there, Diane, you can drive. Now put it in reverse – the ‘R’ and slowly back up. When you get out of the driveway, stop,” Mama said as she threw up her hand like a traffic cop. “Then put it in drive – the ‘D.’ When you get close to the end of Morgan Road, put your blinker on, and start slowing down, and then come to a complete stop,” Mama again threw up her hand and waited for me to acknowledge her signal before going on.

“Okay, I got the stop signal, Mama.”

“Good! Then, wait for me to give you the all clear,” Mama said as she pointed her finger – again just like a traffic cop. “Now, don’t worry girl, you can drive, and if you think we’re lost – no matter! If there’s road in front of you – you can’t be lost – you just keep going. All roads eventually wind up in Tucker,” Mama said with a chuckle. “Yes girl, you can do it! And we’ll be in Suwanee and back in Tucker before you know it.”

Yes, it was like just yesterday when Mama and I set out on that journey that put me behind the wheel on those long country roads leaving Tucker and then back again;  the day I saw how cruel the world can be, and learned to drive. No matter how many years go by, no matter where I go, every time I think about that day, I hear Mama telling me, “Put it in ‘D’ girl – and get on down the road. Diane you’ll never be lost, because you know All Roads Lead to Tucker.”

Gail Lineback

“That lipstick is too bright,” said my good friend Gail.

“Really? I don’t think so. Maybe I need to blot…”

“You can blot all you want, won’t do any good. The color’s too bright.”

I have had a lot of best-friends at different stages of my life. But when I think on my very best-friend, my mind will time wrap all the way back to the sixth grade at Tucker Elementary. I returned to public school mid-year after an on-and-off illness of four years. The first person to greet me at the classroom door was Gail.

“Welcome back Diane! I know you don’t know me, I’m kinda new, I’m Gail Lineback,” Gail said with a big smile. But I know you. I signed some of the get well cards. It’s okay if you don’t remember my name. If you get tired, let me know. I can carry your book bag. My father is a doctor, and he told me how to look after you,” Gail assured me, “I know what signs to look for.”

Before I could speak, she said, “My parents are divorced. I live with my mother and little sister, Little Nancy – just off Chamblee Tucker Road – not too far from where you live – just off Chamblee Tucker Road. I have an older sister Ellen; she’s moved out and doesn’t live with us anymore. My father has re-married and has another family. My mother has a boyfriend, but she probably won’t marry him. Little Nancy collects Barbie dolls…”

Gail could go on for hours. She was determined to be my friend, and did her best to look out for me. It was Gail that I talked to during the seventh grade dances. We were the two tall girls in the class. It seemed that all the boys were short and did not really grow tall until late high school. The most popular girls were short; makes sense. We would dream about how different our lives would be if only we were “short girls.”

High School came and Gail was still looking after me, on occasion, remarking about my skin tone. “You look pale, want something to drink? How about a piece of cheese? Maybe it’s your lipstick. It’s too bright. Honestly, Story, the birds know it’s you that’s coming down the road, when they see that lipstick.”

“Well, I look paler with lighter lipstick, Gail. When I look pale, they think I’m sick!”

“Just take it down a couple notches.”

“Well quite frankly, Lineback, I like this shade.”

“You need to get your eyes checked out.” And on and on the conversation went. Gail Lineback could never offend me, nor could I offend her.

In our eighth and ninth grade, we had Physical Education together. One cold morning after walking out to the practice football field behind Tucker High School, Gail said, “You look flushed, sit down, Story.” Gail instructed me as though she was a real doctor. “Here, sit on my purse so you won’t get wet.” She stood tall and gave a big wave to Miss Bell and Miss Curtis our PE teachers. They gave her the “yes” nod. “See, it’s okay, you sit here until you feel better.”

I was never allowed to run laps around the field with the other girls, I walked one lap. If I walked too fast, Gail would pass me and yell back, “Story, slow down!”

In the tenth grade, Gail and I did not have any classes together. She was also busy with drill team practice. It had been a while since I talked to her, so I decided to call her at home and catch up. I was met with an unfriendly voice.

“Well hello Diane.  Why the sudden burst of friendship?”

“What?”

“Diane, you haven’t spoken or had lunch with us in weeks.”
“I know I’ve seen you around, I know you’ve been busy with the new girl…”
“Of course, I’m busy with the new girl. I want her to feel welcome. You should be busy making her feel welcome. By ignoring your friends, you make her feel unwelcome. She thinks you don’t like her.”

“Oh no, I didn’t mean to do that. I’ve been busy and thought y’all were doing a good job taking care of her…”

“That should never be the case. You should go out of your way to speak to a new person; have lunch with her.”

“You’re right, I just didn’t think…”

“Dee Dee’s funny. You’d really like her. Join us Monday in the lunchroom, you know the table.”

Gail was serious about her friends. I was very fortunate to be included in that list. The other thing she was serious about was her French. If ever she had a moment to spare, she had her nose in that French language book. Her accent needed to be “authentic.” She wanted to impress her father and make her mother proud. She worked hard to strive for perfection.

We graduated from high school and went our separate ways. I found myself soon married and living in the Canal Zone where my husband urged Green Berets to jump out of helicopters into the jungle; jungle training for Viet Nam. Afterwards, my life became focused on my two sons. Gail became a school teacher. Her life became focused on her children; her students.

I saw her once at a THS reunion. Gail met me at the door. She was still pretty, but I was concerned about her eyes since she wore glasses with very thick lenses. She was married briefly to a British man.

“What? Not French?”

“No,” she laughed, “but he could sure speak French! It was an authentic accent! I couldn’t resist. Oh, by the way Story, your lipstick is too bright.”
Gail missed the next reunion.

The years slipped away quickly and again, I prepared for another class reunion. Hopefully Lineback would come to this one. I would look for her at the door and this time, I would introduce myself to her. I was certain she would not recognize me since the years had changed me so much.

When we graduated, I was five seven and weighed just under a hundred pounds. My dark brown hair had given way to — shall I say — platinum blonde. Some would say — almost white. My Twiggy short hair was grown out pony-tail length. I had gained over forty pounds. No one would recognize me tonight, not even Gail Lineback.

I walked in alone – divorced. Before entering the ballroom, I looked for my senior photo button pin. I walked about a long table looking for it. As I made my way around the table, I happened to look up and saw Gail’s photo framed – on the Memorial table. My heart almost stopped and I could hardly breathe. I walked over and stood before her smiling face. As I looked at her smile, I had a silent conversation with her.

“You’re still meeting me at the door, girlfriend…”

I had seen enough. Just as soon as I get my bearings, I will turn and walk out that door. I will slip out and not talk to anyone. There were a few people about, but no one had spoken to me yet. I’m sure no one has recognized me. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was not prepared for this. Why had I not heard about her death? Why couldn’t I have been a good friend and stayed in touch?

“Diane, here is your pictured down here!” called out Brenda Martin from the other end of the table.

Steve McLeod walked into the hallway from the ballroom, “Diane! I thought I saw you come in.”

How in the world did they recognize me? I know I look like a stranger.

 

Then I thought…uh oh! I need to check my lipstick. I hear you girlfriend!

As I walked down the hallway to the lady’s room, I thought, I don’t want to appear unfriendly to my friends. I will finish in here, and then I will enter the ballroom, where I will speak to each and every friend here tonight.

Yes, Lineback, I still hear you – loud and clear!

 

AJC Obituary 2007: Gail Lineback was an artist, a teacher, and an avid and accomplished gardener. She pursued a wide range of interests, including St. Matthew’s Handbell Choir and Cajun dance. She was active in the spiritual communities at St. Luke’s Episcopal and St. Matthew’s Episcopal churches. She was a passionate advocate for women and families in need, giving generously of herself. She will be remembered fondly by friends and family. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Family Promise, to Bethesda Elementary Care Team, to the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association.

And Gail Lineback was my best friend.