They Paved Old Norcross Category


“I remember back when they paved Old Norcross,” Mama said with a gleam in her eyes.

“Oh yeah, when was that?” I asked.

Lonnnng time ago – I was nearly grown – so I thought. It was just before we moved to Idlewood Road. I had a pair of roller skates and about the only place I could skate was at Betty Ann Cofer’s house – that big house with the magnolias on Lawrenceville Highway. I remember it like it was yesterday, Ms. Belle Cofer was so nice to us. She let us skate inside her house. I ate a many a peanut butter sandwiches at the foot of that big ol’ staircase. But it was an exciting thing to see a road paved back then. Those old cars used to ease  down the dirt roads, but with the road paved, they moved on – but what a perfect place to roller skate.”

“I’m surprised Memi and PawPaw allowed you to skate on a highway.”

Mama could not hold back her chuckles, “Oh Diane, you have no idea how strict they were, but everybody skated on that road.”

“You wouldn’t let us skate past our property line on Morgan Road. We couldn’t even skate in front of Don and Joyce Chewning’s house.”

“Times were different back then, well, maybe not really,” laughed Mama.

“What’s so funny anyway?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about how I met your Daddy.”

“When they paved Old Norcross?”

“Soon there-after. I knew who the Story’s were – everybody around Tucker knew of the Storys – a bunch of young’uns – nine in all – they were all tall with a full head of hair and everyone of ‘em with blue eyes. They lived down on the Gwinnett end of Old Norcross – we lived on the DeKalb County end. The Story boys used to fly up and down that road,” laughed Mama, “and my mother warned me a many a time to stay away from those Story boys. She’d said, ‘Polly, those Story boys are too good looking and in too big a hurry even for their own good. You stay clear of them!”

Mama laughed as she went on, “…never seen people in such a hurry – especially Gene Story. My daddy used to say that Gene Story must want to be a race car driver. And he did drive that car fast. I used to think the poor car wouldn’t hold together if he keeps that up!”

Gene Story

Gene Story

Mama laughed as she continued, “Then, one day, Gene Story’s car came down Old Norcross real slow. I thought – uh-huh! He’s got car trouble! But when he passed me, I could see it wasn’t Gene at all, but another one of his brothers. Gene was sorta blondish – but this brother had a smaller head with dark hair. He waved at me, and was in no hurry at all. One day he passed me and then stopped. He asked me if I wanted a ride. I said – Noooo, I’m roller skating! He said, I know – hold on to my bumper and I’ll give you a ride. He promised to go slow. So, I said – Okay!”

“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Yeah, he rode me up and down Old Norcross – with me hanging on to his bumper! One day I skated up to his car window and talked to him.”

“What’d he say?” I asked.

“He said, ‘Hello, my name is Tom, Tom Story. What’s your name?’”

“I said, Helen Voyles, but everybody calls me Polly.”

“Go on Mama, I want to hear this.” And from what I heard from Mama that day, their conversation must have gone something like this:

“Well, you’re a good roller skater!” Tom said, “I’ve heard of ya family – Wade and Lois Voyles. Ya’ll live near the Johnsons.”

And Helen said, “That’s right. Is this your car now?”

Tom said, “No, it belongs to my brotha Gene. I do his chores and he lets me borrow it sometimes. I’ve been saving up for my own car – I’ll have one soon.”

“Why does he drive so fast? My Dad says Gene Story wants to be a race car driver…”

Tom grinned, “Gene is always in a hurry – especially when he’s going to see Mary Bramlett.”

“Mary Bramlett?”

“Yeah, Gene has a good singing voice and when he gets a new song down, he goes to Mary’s house and serenades her – sings to her outside her house until she comes out to talk to him.”

“Floyd and Junior’s sister?”

“Yeah, y’ know ‘em?”

“Yes, I’m related to them – on the Maddox side…”

“Really? Gene is crazy about Mary. I have eight brothas and sistas. Gene is numba seven and I’m numba eight, my baby sista, Nancy, is numba nine. Caleb’s still at home too, he’s numba six – the rest of ‘em are married and left home.”

Tom had a hard time pronouncing the second “R” in his words. He also had a habit of squinting his eyes up at the sun – as though he was searching for something.

Helen and Agnes Voyles

Helen and Agnes Voyles

Helen told him about her family, “Well, I have two sisters, Mary Frances and Agnes – I’m in the middle. Frances is married and Agnes is a lot younger than me. I had a brother, but he died on the same day he was born.’”

“Oh no.” Tom answered.

“Yeah, one day my Daddy told me to go to the Cain’s house,” Helen turned and pointed to the log house just over her shoulder, “and stay there until I was sent for. I heard hammering part of the day and wondered who was building what. I went home the next day and there was a tiny coffin in the living room. Come to find out, it was my Daddy building a coffin for my baby brother. My brother looked like a little doll – asleep.”

Helen wasn’t sure, but thought she saw tears in Tom’s eyes. The other Story boys were well known for their strength and boldness. But Tom was soft spoken and compassionate, often he looked away to avoid direct eye contact, a humbling quality that was all his.

“So who is number one?” asked Helen.

“What do ya mean?” asked Tom as he looked down at the ground.

“You know, in your family, if you’re number eight? Who’s number one?”

Tom laughed as he lifted his head, “That’d be Grace – she’s numba one, numba two is Beau – my brotha Lawton, numba three is Sarah, numba four is Robert, and numba five is Miriam,”  he said proudly of his family.

“I don’t know your brother Caleb…”

“Cabe doesn’t get out much. He’s crippled. He got hurt playing football when he was sixteen and took a bad lick on the head. Every year he gets worse.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” answered Helen.

“No, it’s all right. Cabe all right with it too. Nothing gets him down. PaPa wants to keep him out of a wheelchair for as long as possible. Cabe walks a straight back cane chair around in the house. If he wants to go outside, he just walks that chair over to the side of the porch and climbs onto Daisy.”

“Daisy?”

Tom Story, Helen Voyles and Daisy

Tom Story, Helen Voyles and Daisy

“Yeah, she’s our pet cow. She stop giving milk a long time ago, but we keep her on ‘cause we love her. And, she gets Cabe around in the yard anywhere he wants to go.”

Then Mama looked as though she had said enough, “…and… it wasn’t long before Mama and Daddy bought the house on Idlewood in Tucker. Daddy thought Old Norcross had become a busy road since it was paved, but soon found out that Idlewood was just as bad if not worse. He thought the world had gone crazy with fast cars. He decided to build a picket fence to make sure no cars ran up on our yard.”

Mama smiled, “He started building that fence early one morning and Tom Story stopped by and said, ‘Mr. Voyles, it looks like you could use an extra pair of hands.’ By evening they had that fence built, and Tom had my Daddy’s blessing for us to marry. Of course, Mama did not approve. She thought the eight year age difference between us was too much and said, ‘My Polly still has some growing to do.’ But my Daddy stood by his blessing. Wade Voyles got a son-in-law and a new best friend.”