Beyond the Smoke Rise Category


Rock City

Rock City 2015

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

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

As a child it was an annual trip. My interest in real estate surely started there as we drove through Look Out Mountain neighborhood picking out houses my sisters and I wanted to live in. My favorite was Little Red Riding Hood Trail. My sister, Patricia, loved Mother Goose Trail and my sister, Barbara loved all the roads including: Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Elfin and the Fairyland School. If we found a house available, we were certain we could talk our parents into buying one. Nothing was ever for sale.

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

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

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

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

Did that deter him? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did he listen? No. The real reason to be in Tennessee was to find bears. The mother bear joined him and we fed them both from inside the car. When we had no more food – the mother bear paw swiped the door jamming it closed. For the rest of the trip Daddy crawled in and out of the car on Mama’s side. When we returned home, Daddy pried the door open. It made an awful noise. He immediately told us what key the sound was in.

Now today, as I travel with my son, James, we will not stop for any bears, not even the little cute ones. Lesson learned.

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

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

I received a mental answer to my question from a ghostly being, my (great) Aunt Donn. She was a school teacher  in Lincolnton, Georgia. Aunt Donn came in loud and clear with her aristocratic Southern accent, “My deah, the end is neah, that is what the po’ man thought.”

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

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

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

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

Author’s Note:

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

 

 

Polly Voyles

Helen “Polly” Voyles

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

Mama put the book down.

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

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

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

 

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

Rufus_Cooper_1“James let’s walk down that street today.”

“Really, Jill, we never go down there?”

“I know; that’s why we should try it – you know – do something different.”

James laughed and agreed, “Yes we could do something different, let’s go for it.”

After walking down the street near the horse park, they happened up on a big homemade sign in the front yard. The sign had a photo of two dogs attached to the sign. The sign read: Our owner died. We need a new home.

“Jillian, is this why we are walking down here?”

“Well…”

“Two dogs? One dog is all we can handle.”

“James, what if we died and Ally had been left alone?”

“I’m sure a relative would have adopted her. In fact, they woulda fought over her.”

“Well, they need a home and we have a home and no dog.”

“Jillian, someone will adopt them. I know it. We agreed to wait a year or so. Ally hasn’t been gone that long and we decided to travel for awhile, remember?”

“I suppose. I just miss having a dog in the house.”

“We’ll get another dog one day and he’ll come the way Ally came to us. But not now, we need the time to grieve for our Ally.”

Then there was the time when a friend of Jillian’s house burnt down. The family had to relocate out of state until their house was rebuilt, and they needed to place the  dogs until the project was finished and they could move back.

“Two dogs?”

“James, what if our house burned down and we had to board Ally in a kennel? Wouldn’t you want someone to foster care for her?”

“Yes, of course. Go ahead and call her. We’ll take ‘em – just temporarily.”

When Jillian called, her friend had already placed the two dogs in a caring home. Jillian was happy for her friend yet disappointed that her home remained without a pet.

“What’s wrong Jill? You seem sad today.”

“Well, James, for the last couple of years, a lot has happened. My grandmother was sick. I stayed busy with her after work and on the weekends. And then she died. And then Ally got sick and I was busy with her, then she died. Then Mother was sick and in the nursing home. I stayed busy with her and then she died. Now, I come home from work and I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Well, Jill, why don’t we get another dog?”

And so the hunt was on. Jillian immediately opened her laptop and introduced James to dozens of applicants.

“There’s Lucky, how do you like him? And here’s Dutchess, what about her? And look, there is Bullet and this one is King….”

“Looks like you’ve been looking for quite a while Jill,” laughed James.

Every weekend they traveled to towns all over Georgia in a search of a new dog, a new family member. After much looking they decided they were partial to labs and retrievers. And that’s when they heard of an elderly lady looking for a home for a young golden retriever. She had three other dogs and the fourth one was too much. That is when they drove to Newnan, Georgia, and met Rufus.

At first sight, Rufus was everything they wanted. He was a beauty with a golden coat with white under frost. He had been to obedience school, but not yet neutered. They paid the lady, promising to have Rufus fixed as soon as possible. As they walked Rufus to the car the dog looked back at the elderly lady and curiously turned his head. She tried to give back part of the money to buy him a new toy. They refused the money and assured her they would buy Rufus many new toys. Rufus barked at the lady. Again he had her attention. He sat obediently and extended his paw. She squatted down and shook his hand as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Mam, do you want us to leave him with you and pick him up in a couple days?” James asked. “That way you have plenty of time to say good-bye.”

“Oh no, if you do I will not be able to give him up.” The elderly lady looked sweetly at the couple and said, “Whoever said grief was the price for love, was right. Now take him before I change my mind.” With that the lady turned and walked away not looking back.

Rufus went to his new home.

Neither really cared for the name Rufus. Jillian thought Cooper was a good name for him. When Rufus ignored them, they tried Rufus-Cooper.

Rufus-Cooper could have won a beauty contest with that face and those big brown eyes. Those eyes were to die for and they let you in on a secret about Rufus-Cooper; he was somewhat manipulative. He had a way of turning his pretty little head and gazing at you. In an instant,  you wanted to give the world to him. James and Jillian soon learned that his obedience school instructions needed reinforcement, as well as the backyard fence.

When Rufus-Cooper takes to the yard, he rounds the trees until he becomes a centrifugal force. There’s no slowing him down. That dog has energy!

James and Jillian are amazed! In fact, they could not believe their eyes. They were accustomed to Ally who came to them as an adult. She was as laid back as a queen upon her throne and adored the love they bestowed upon her. Rufus-Cooper was a young upstart with keen sight and hearing. He was ready for anything in an instant. It took two nights in a cage before he remembered the meaning of the word, settle. Jillian thought it unkind to place him in the cage, but also realized Rufus-Cooper could not bounce around in the house during the night. Apparently, Rufus-Cooper thought he was a tennis ball.

The two nights of restriction helped, but James thought the young dog needed some rough housing to release some of that energy. Out in the backyard they played tug-a-war with a toy. They went round and round. Jillian watched and wanted in on the fun, after all, that was her dog too.

“James, let me rough house with him.”

James laughed, “Jillian you don’t know anything about this rough housing. You’d better not.”

“Nonsense, I want to rough house with Cooper, too.”

With that James handed the toy over to Jillian. In just moments Jillian screamed and twirled around in circles. She protected her face with her hands and cried. James went after her as she ran into the house. James was afraid to look at Jillian’s face fearing the whole side of her face destroyed.

“He clawed me! That Rufus-Cooper! Oh my gosh; it hurts so much. I know he didn’t mean to, but oh my gosh; it hurts! It’s burning like fire!”

“Let me take a look Jill!”

Jillian bravely revealed her face and there it was: a wound at the base of her nose. It was clearly visible – with a magnifying glass. Yes, James was right; Jillian did not know anything about this rough housing stuff.

“Maybe we need to get him a playmate…”

“Jillian, we don’t need two dogs. If we get another one like Rufus-Cooper, we’ll have to move out of the house and let them have it.”

“I know. I just don’t think you can do all that rough housing alone.”

They persevered with reinforcement and Rufus-Cooper settles – from time to time. He has had two successful neighborhood play-dates. He has earned a “good boy” but not a single “good boy.”

Rufus-Cooper is well behaved at the Varsity as he anticipates his Frosty Orange with a wagging tail. He is also on his best behavior when Jillian takes him to PetSmart where he gets a new toy – if he walks with her. But playing on the Stone Mountain Park is still in the future.

“James, let’s take Cooper to play Frisbee at the Stone Mountain Park today; he’ll love the grassy Mall.”

 “Are you kiddin’? Jillian if that dog takes off, he will not stop until he hits the Atlantic Ocean. He’s not ready for free range yet. Stone Mountain will have to wait, maybe next year.”

“Oh, Cooper will love the mountain! I’ll be glad when that day comes!”

James laughed, “Yes, me too!”

Until that day, Rufus-Cooper will stay busy playing in the backyard and taking his walks. It is just a matter of time before Rufus-Cooper is a well trained good boy! James and Jillian look forward to many happy years with Wild Thang, excuse me I mean, Rufus-Cooper.

AllyPillow2 I was sunning in a cage on the sidewalk when I heard the voice of a young lady in the distance.

“What’ll this puppy look like when he grows up?”

“Well, his mother is over there if you want to take a look at her.”

The lady walked over to me and knelt down. I was on. I sat up straight and crossed my two front paws. I tried to look as dignified as possible. This could be my only chance. Most shoppers overlook me and go straight for the puppies and who could blame them? I lifted my head. And boy was she impressed.

“Well, what’d you think ‘mam? Do you want that puppy?”

“Now why in the world would I want that puppy when I can have her?”

“Yes, she is pretty and good natured too.”

The lady looked deep into my eyes and talked to me.

“My goodness you are a pretty girl! Savannah, you’re mine – I hope you know that. Oh how I wish James was here to see you!”

As a couple moved in closer to take a look at me the lady became defensive.

“She’s mine; I just need to finish the paper work.”

They moved on and the sweet lady smiled and winked at me.

“You are mine, you beautiful girl!”

The lady’s voice was sweet and her touch sweeter. Who was she? And why did she pick me? I don’t know, but I sure was happy! I am going to have a home, a real home. I had lived most of my life as a guard dog – whatever that’s supposed to be. Apparently I was not a very good one. My master tried to teach me words like:

“Get ‘em girl! Sic ‘em!  Come on! Bite it, bite my arm girl!“

I wondered…what kind of language did that man speak? And why in the world would I want to bite a blue thing on a man’s arm?

 I stayed at home in an apartment all day guarding it, and then all night in a bicycle shop guarding it. I rarely had human contact and that made me sad. My heart told me that I was a people dog not a fierce guard dog. I tried hard to please my owner, but even he knew I was a mistake and that is how I wound up here at PetSmart, along with a few of my puppies.

“So it’s the mother you want! Good choice. I was worried about her; it’s the puppies most people want. I’ll get the paper work so you can take Savannah with you!”

But it was not to be and the lady left in tears. She promised me she would return because I belonged to her. She said she would not give up until she had me. The lady ran away crying.

I thought of her for the next few weeks. I dreamed of her sweet voice. Who was she? I know, she must have been an angel sent to rescue me; yes, my angel. I looked for her to return, but soon gave up when I was moved to another store for more exposure, and then another and another. She would never find me now.

On the weekends I was placed in a cage alongside many other four legged creatures, much like me. Many were “adopted” but I was left unnoticed, that is until that young lady bent down to speak to me. She was a pretty gal with blonde hair, and oh what a sweet voice she had. I had never in all my life felt such kindness. I will never forget her words that day.

“They won’t let me have you. I live in an apartment and don’t have a fenced in yard. Oh, Savannah, I hate to leave you,” she said to me as she fought back tears. And so away she went. I called out for her to return, after all I was used to apartment living. But she kept running. I was so close to having a real home.

Then one Sunday afternoon, I heard a familiar voice.

“James! There she is!”

Yes, it was the pretty blonde – my angel – and she found me!

“Look at her James. Yes, this is my dog! I told you! Just look at her! Oh my goodness! I can’t believe we found her!”

The big guy laughed as he opened the door to my cage and let me out. The two bent down and loved on me.

“So you’re the one I’ve been driving all over Georgia looking for? Do you have any idea how hard it was to find you, Savannah? Jillian, she is perfect, except for that name. She doesn’t look like a Savannah. Let’s call her Ally.”

With that “Jillian” snapped a leash to my collar and said, “Let’s keep Ally with us. I don’t want to lose her again.”

They took me inside PetSmart and gave the manager a notarized statement from J.B., Jillian’s father, stating that Jillian a responsible person and that he would see that I got plenty of exercise. The manager looked skeptical and was about to say something when the assistant manager walked by.

“Are you that woman who has been calling every PetSmart in Georgia looking for a black lab?”

“Yes, I’m the one and here she is! I found her!”

With that the manager smiled.

“So, you’re the one? In that case, I will accept your father’s recommendation. Savannah is yours!”

I went home to a small apartment and lots of walks through the woods and a special place called Stone Mountain Park. We eventually moved to a house in the Tucker-Decatur area. The house had gigantic trees in the yard and a creek in the back and a fenced in yard. Best of all, there were squirrels in those trees just waiting to be chased. We spent many years together in that home. I even learned how to open closed doors. That James and Jillian could not lock me out of a room. And when I found them we laughed and laughed.

And J.B. made good his promise of seeing that I got exercise. I ran around in his tennis court playing ball with Charlotte; Charlotte and I became best friends. His parents up in North Carolina, made me a special running place. Papa Roy used to smile at me and say, “Whenever something happens to you, they’d better dig two holes. My granddaughter’s not likely to ever give you up.”

I got to know Gramma-Di by spending the weekend with her, and boy was she a basket case trying to “baby-sit” me. She just knew I was going to disappear into thin air. She figured her son would forgive her, but what about Jillian? She kept me on a tight leash when we went for a walk. One day I spotted the handsome border collie who lived next door. I took off running; just wanted to say “Hello.” Gramma-Di screamed and held on for dear life. Unfortunately she fell down and could not get up. A moving company man drove by and asked her if she needed some help. She said, “Just get that dog! The black one!” The nice man put me in the house and allowed Gramma-Di to use him as a crutch. From that day forward, Gramma-Di allowed me to go outside alone while she stayed behind the closed door holding the leash.

At Christmas time, we decorated the house. I liked all that, but I could not help but be a little jealous of the attention they gave to that tree. When I could not take it any longer, I moved in and pushed them away from the tree. Hey, it’s me you dote on, remember?

James traveled and left me sometimes for days. When he returned, the big guy looked stressed and worn out. I greeted him each and every time. I was so glad to see him. He smiled and loved on me and spoke tenderly to me, actually he talked baby talk to me and I loved it. I noticed that after a few minutes of playing ball with him, he loosened up and was his old self again. James really needed me to keep him healthy.

Jillian spent every night with me, though she left me regularly during the day to teach the kids at school. I always came first, but the kids came in at a close second. We did spend every weekend together grading papers, clipping coupons and drinking coffee. Well, Jillian drank the coffee and I enjoyed my “good girl”snacks.

One night, Jillian dressed up in a fancy dress and James wore a suit, tie and all. They celebrated that night at an award dinner; DeKalb County honored Jillian as Teacher of the Year for her school.

James went through a time of non-stop traveling; seeing twenty-two states. Twenty-two states! That was too much!  

I could not help myself; I sank into a depression and could not eat; my hair fell out. I could only look for James, until one day I could not lift my head. I heard her on the telephone.

“I think she is pining for you. I think she is dying. I’m going to take her to the hospital.”

The very next day, James walked in. I was so happy to see him, but could not make myself stand to greet him. He knelt down before me and spoke.

“What’s the matter with my good girl? My Ally girl, what’s wrong baby?”

I weighed close to eighty pounds, but the big guy scooped me up in his arms as though I was light as a feather. They took me to the hospital where the doctors gave me fluids. I stayed for a few days and then I perked up. James and Jillian took me home and he carried me around like a baby for days. They were both attentive and best of all, James stayed; he quit that foolish job. He never left again, except for short business trips now and then. And then there was the day I really got sick and had to have surgery; my old pancreas was acting up. The doctor discussed my options. Yes, I was gonna be a goner without that surgery. No one spoke for a moment. Then James asked, “Do you take Visa?”

One day while alone at home, someone broke a window in the basement and walked up the stairs and broke open the door. The intruder entered our home. It frightened me and I was reminded of my training as a guard dog. I was lying on the sofa in the living-room when the crime took place. So, what was I to do? I started to bark and put up a fuss when I realized it was an older woman who seemed harmless. And anyway, it was nap time.

The woman went into the kitchen and made herself a sandwich with James and Jillian’s ham and pickles.  She did take some things including family jewelry and a computer. She left and later we found out that she was a homeless person.

James and Jillian were not upset at all, because the woman did not harm me.

“Yes, my Ally-good-baby, you’re all right now girl. We won’t let anybody get you! You’re our good girl!”

I was not good at being a guard dog, but I had that “good girl” nailed down.

They both loved on me overtime that night and they thanked God for keeping me safe. They never mentioned the family jewelry or the computer to God, just me.

The years passed and there was another celebration. Yes, they both dressed up in their fancy clothes and Jillian was again DeKalb County Teacher of the Year for her school. I know that if she cared for her students half as much as she did for me, she was the best teacher in the whole wide world. But she did more than teach them, she cared for them.

Jillian and her sister camps out all night for “black Friday.” Jillian says they can buy more on that big sale day and they had to be first to get the best bargains; gifts for needy children. Jillian wanted all children to have a “good Christmas.”

The three of us were happy for so many years. They were good years of walking in our Decatur neighborhood saying hello to other neighbors walking their loved ones; lots of nurses, teachers, Cocker spaniels and boxers there. When we approached a neighbor, I tried to lift my head a little higher so that James and Jillian would be proud of me. I also tried to be on my best behavior, but that was not always easy. It was the squirrels I tell you; always taunting me. When I got the chance, I chased those rascals!

I could run for hours on end. My black coat was thick and shiny. I was bathed and brushed. They even cleaned my teeth and slipped meds in little pieces of cheese to me. Yes, we enjoyed each other’s company. But the day came when I wanted to chase those squirrels and my legs did not want to cooperate. When we went for a drive, I had a hard time climbing into the car. James gave me a little push and I was able to get by with that little bit of help for a while, until finally he had to pick me up and put me in the car. James never complained.

“That’s okay Ally, I don’t mind helping you. You deserve it! Ally-good-baby!”

Yes, I slowed down with my old legs giving out. Then a strange thing happened; everything was getting dark. It got darker and darker until one day I could not see at all. I sometimes managed to hobble across the living-room only to get stuck in the corner. My old legs could not back up and I could not see a thing. I stood there patiently until I was noticed. No need to bark. I was not abandoned, just stuck in the corner. And yes, James or Jillian always came to my rescue and gently guided me out of the corner.

“That’s alright my Ally girl! That’s all right. You’re a good girl, my Ally-good-baby!”

Home alone, I tried to wait as I always do, but I could not hold it. I did a “no-no.” For sure, they would be mad at me today. But when James and Jillian found my “no-no,” it was cleaned up without a word of admonishment.

“What’s the matter Ally? Are you sick or tired? That’s all right. You couldn’t help it. It’s okay girl, it’s okay.”

I tried hard to please, but from then on, I could not control myself. They took me to the doctor again and they got more pills to hide in little pieces of cheese. That helped for a while, but to tell you the truth, I could not control myself. I was so ashamed and tried to hide, but the big guy always found me.

“It’s okay my Ally-good-baby. It’s okay, you are a good girl!”

He loved on me and Jillian loved on me. As time went on, they gave me most all of their attention. I was thankful because I really needed care now. I could not see. I could barely walk and my hearing was leaving me.

Oh how I enjoyed going to Gramma-Di’s home where I could survey her backyard secret garden. But now when at the bottom of the sloping yard, I can no longer make it back up to her house. I waited until James missed me and then as always, he came to my rescue. He picked me up in his arms and carried me back to the house.

“That’s okay my Ally-good-baby. You are a good girl! I can carry you. You deserve it!”

Keeping watch over Jillian as we traveled to North Carolina to visit with her grandparents was becoming a faraway memory. I can still occasionally remember how the air felt on my face as we drove down the highways.

Not too long ago, I stayed with Pop for a week so James and Jillian could go on a much needed vacation. I’m afraid I was too much for Pop, though he never complained. The truth of the matter is – I have become old and sickly. And my hair is falling out all over the place. And forget going to Jillian’s father’s home; too many steps. I wish I could tell them how tired I am, but I don’t want to complain, nor do I want to worry them. I know they all love me.

A day came when I sensed sadness in James and Jillian, although they kept their voices happy when speaking to me. I knew when they entered the room although I could not see them. I tried my best to hide the tiredness I felt inside. I really tried to lift my head and smile at them, but that was getting harder and harder to accomplish.

One day I did not realize James was in the room. Unfortunately I allowed him to see how I really felt. I know he saw me because his voice was different. When he tried to speak to me, his words were cut short.

I heard Jillian say, “It’s time.”

“I’m going to see if we have any mail. Jill, please stay with Ally.”

James walked to the mailbox and when he returned he spoke to Jillian.

“Tonight at seven, it will be over.”

They loved on me as they laid down beside me and rubbed my coat. James carried me in his arms to the car. Jillian sat with me in the backseat. That car ride to the vet’s office was of great comfort to me, eventhough I was so sick. I cannot explain it, but I knew things were going to be okay.

When we arrived, straight away they took me to a room and put me on a table. James and Jillian told me how much they loved me and that I had made them the happiest two people in the world. Then there was a long silence until James finally spoke.

“Jill, do you mind if I step out for a minute?”

“No go ahead James. I’m with her.”

With that, Jillian and I were alone. I could not see her, but I could feel her hands gently touching me. My heart beat slowed down and I could feel myself slipping away.

 I felt a face next to mine.

Who was it? I don’t have to have eyes to know – she’s the angel who found and rescued me. I wish I could say to her: “I’m ever yours.”

I was left that night lifeless on that table.

“I don’t want to go home yet, James. I can’t bear the thought of going into an empty house — without Ally.”

“I don’t want to go home either. I have an idea. Let’s drive around to our favorite places for a while. We could both use a drink.”

“Yes,” said Jillian as she wiped away the endless stream of tears from her face. “Let’s get a drink.”

James and Jillian drove straight away to the Varsity and got their usual: Diet Coke and Frosty Orange. They then drove by the Fox Theater to see what was playing. For a brief moment their grief was relieved as their attention went to the marquee and rush of theatre goers.

 And then it was on to Ponce de Leon where they took their short cut to Stone Mountain.

James and Jillian first noticed the fire flies as they drove through the West Gate of Stone Mountain Park. They turned right and drove slowly around the mountain all the while admiring the trees and lake through the moonlight. The steadfast solidarity of the mountain hiding in the dark shadows somehow comforted them. They pulled over and stopped at the Covered Bridge where they rolled the windows down and listened to the croaking of the frogs. Occasionally they heard a quiet plop in the water; no doubt a turtle in search of a better resting place. They slowed to an almost stop at the Grist Mill to hear the water gently splashing over the big mill wheel; they slowly left the park.

And then it was on to Hugh Howell where James parked the car at their church, Mountain West, another place where Jillian teaches the children. After checking out the building progress of the new sanctuary, they continued up Hugh Howell and found themselves on Main Street – Tucker. As they drove past Matthew’s Cafeteria, they acknowledged it as the place of the best fried chicken in Georgia.

 From Main Street they took a left and drove down LaVista past the Browning Courthouse and made a right which took them to Morgan Road; Nanny’s house. James stopped and admired his grandmother’s house for a moment, watching a squirrel run across the yard. He tried to ignore the squirrel as it made him think of Ally.

“Helen Story lived here for sixty years.”

James spoke of his grandmother in order to ignore his painful thoughts, only to burst into tears. Jillian rubbed his shoulder to comfort him.

“I think I’m ready to go home now; how about you, Jill?”

“Yes, I’m ready James. Let’s go home.”

They drove across the Tucker train tracks near Lawrenceville Highway where James slowed down at Sherry’s Produce Market.

“Nanny used to buy her vegetables there when her legs hurt too bad to walk. Sherry handed whatever Nanny wanted through the car window so she didn’t have to get out of her car.”

“That was kind of Miss Sherry to care for your grandmother like that.”

“Yes, it was.”

They drove past the school where Jillian taught.They looked at each other and smiled. He drove onto Highway 78 as they finished their Diet Coke and Frosty Orange.

Yes, it was time to go home. Tonight would be the first time in fifteen years that Ally would not be home to greet them. Though James and Jillian could never again embrace their good girl, she remained in their hearts – ever yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took one look at my report card and knew I was in trouble; all A’s and one blank with teacher’s comment: “Diane simply talks too much.” Yes I was in trouble with a blank for conduct. I walked home slowly hoping somehow the blank would change by the time I got home. My mother met me at the front porch, and I handed it over.

“Diane, you didn’t get a grade in conduct? What? Diane simply talks too much?” Mama was not happy.

“I know…”
“This is unacceptable. You know your father is good friends with Ms. Keith.”

Yes, I knew that. Ms. Eula Keith was one of only two people that ever called my father “Tommy.” He thought the world of Ms. Keith and the feeling was mutual. That made it all the worse.

“I can tell you one thing young lady. Next quarter, you had better have a grade. This is your warning; you have one quarter to work on it. I hope I do not have to punish you,” Mama said and she was not fooling around, “but I will if I have too. Severely punish! You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I was ashamed and tried hard to please Ms. Keith.

But Ms. Keith was not hard to please. She was an elderly gentle woman and excellent teacher. I met her on the first day of second grade, in what folks in Tucker called the little white building. It was on Lavista Road next to the old Tucker High School. The little white building took care of the overflow of Tucker Elementary.

Ms. Keith’s sister, Ms. Hattie Pryor, taught a class right next door. Ms. Pryor looked to have been a blonde at one time. She wore her hair in braids that disappeared around her head in the back; she had a stiff smile. Ms. Keith looked to have been a brunette at some time and had a soft smile. They were both short on height.

And that is how Ms. Keith broke her arm; taking a tumble from a chair while reaching high to decorate our second grade classroom. Ms. Pryor made us all promise to knock on her door if Ms. Keith tried climbing up on a chair again. We all loved Ms. Keith and looked after her. We signed her cast and celebrated the removal of the cast with cookies and juice.

Time march on and second quarter came around. The week before the report cards came out I told Ms. Keith that I had to have a grade in conduct. My mother would not accept a blank grade. It had to be a letter grade. “If I get another blank I’ll get punished – severely.”

Ms. Keith looked deep in thought and said, “Very well Diane, if I must.”

I was thrilled thinking that I was much improved. And the big day came.

I scanned my report card quickly; all A’s and one F – F in conduct. I was shocked. I went straight away to Ms. Keith’s desk to talk to her. My heart pounded as I thought about the walk home down Morgan Road to Mama. Ms. Keith was busy with another student and as I stood there waiting my turn, I saw her ink pen. My mind was racing. I was under more pressure than a seven year old should ever be in. I made a snap decision – one that I would regret. I picked up her ink pen and made a straight line – making the F an A.

There. That will make Mama happy. But Helen Story was not happy, not at all. As she studied my report card she questioned me. “Well, I see you made all A’s this time. But, Diane, why did Ms. Keith make all round A’s and one square A?”

“I guess she wanted it to stand out,” I explained, “so you can see I made an A in conduct.”

Stand out, that was for sure. And within two minutes Mama had broken me and I confessed; after much sobbing Mama spoke.

“Diane, this is what is going to happen. Tomorrow morning I will walk to school with you,” explained Mama, all the while, I was thinking that was the last thing I ever wanted to happen. “And you will go to Ms. Keith and tell her what you did. I want you to tell her that you took her pen and changed your grade in conduct. I want you to tell her you did a dishonest thing. And then you will apologize. And when you get back home, I’ll spank you. Tonight I want you to think about what you have done. No TV.”

For real? All that? This was too much for a second grader. I did think about what I did and was truly ashamed and prayed the morning would not come. But it did. And Mama and I walked to the little white building. Mama stopped at the door and remained in the hall. I walked up to Ms. Keith. She gave me a warm smile and a pleasant “good morning.”

I burst into tears and handed my report card to her. I pointed at the Diane made A. All I could get out was, “I’m sorry.”

Ms. Keith looked at the report card and put it away quickly. She hugged me tight until I stopped crying. Noticing Mama at the door, Ms. Keith took me by the hand and we walked to Mama. As Ms. Keith spoke to Mama she made “there there” pats on my head and shoulders.

“Diane has done wrong and has made it right. Honestly needs to be rewarded, even if it comes late. She has whipped herself. Helen, please forgive her.”

Mama and Ms. Keith forgave me that day. I tried to repay them by being as quiet as possible in class.

I was certain that I would make an A in conduct the third quarter, but instead of getting better, I got worse. I could not stop talking. I was failing conduct again. I wondered what in the world would become of me.

And then my eyes started twitching and I cleared my throat in an unusual way.  My head jerked and the jerking descended my body. I dropped things and when I tried to take a step to walk, my legs wanted to run.

I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Sydenham Chorea, a physical symptom of rheumatic fever. I was placed on bed-rest. I finished the second and third grade at home in bed.

The only contact with Ms. Keith and my friends was through cards and letters. Ms. Keith always wrote: “To an A+ young lady.”

And there were many days when I found the confinement unbearable. I cried. Mama held me until I stopped crying, all the while giving me “there there” pats on my head and shoulders.

I thank the good Lord for our teacher, Ms. Keith.

 

 

 

 

Wow, I’m finally on the plane; a miracle. Just yesterday I was in a four car collision. When I saw the black Beetle bounce toward the hood of my car,  I thought, I’m spending my vacation in the hospital. When I looked to my left and saw the SUV aiming out of control at my car door, I thought I may not be here to be in the hospital.

I missed that hair and nail appointment.

I wanted to look polished while in London, England. I wanted to look forward to my birthday and was not sure how I would accept becoming fifty. So, I decided to leave the country when April 3rd rolled around.

“Too busy,” was my excuse for avoiding parties with family and friends, “lots of packing to do. Gotta get my passport.” I wanted to be in London no later than April 3rd.

I met with every roadblock imaginable, one delay after another, and the trip kept getting pushed up. But here I sit next to my son, James, on my way to see the sites of London and take in a few plays.

After checking into the Lime Tree Bed and Breakfast, we took a quick walk up the street to Westminster Abbey. So anxious to see the burial sites of Elizabeth I and her cousin, my favorite heroine, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. I was astonished when I overheard a priest doubling as a tour guide, brag about how Edward I was known as Edward Longshanks Killer of the Scots.

“ The greatest Scots killer that ever lived! He hammered the Scots to death! My dear, wouldn’t you like to see the grave of the famous Longshanks, Edward the…”

“No thank you,” I snapped back. Imagine the nerve of that guy, and wearing a collar of the priesthood.

James pulled me away and whispered, “I’m sure the Scots have something to say about the Brits on their tours.” James chuckled and said, “This is tourism Mom!”

That priest and the jet lag were getting to me. We stepped out for some air. There we were met by another priest in an open corridor offering hot tea. Looked like a priest, sounded like a priest and acted like a priest.

“Well thank you Father, thank you so much. I will have a cup if you don’t mind.”

James anxious to move on wanted to go his own way. “Mom, you stay here and rest awhile, I’ll come back and catch up with you here.” James smiled mischievously as he teased me, “Now Mom you are staying here? You’re not gonna circle back and straighten that Longshanks priest out are you?”

I promised James to stay put and behave. The kind priest nodded in agreement.

So James and I parted ways and I thoroughly enjoyed my nice cup of hot tea in an outer hallway of the Abbey. I found an uncomfortable bench and looked out through the open arches and watched the rain drizzle onto the lawn on the Large Cloister.

I’ve been trying to get here for so long, not just weeks but years. My nephew, Bubba, was our family traveler. He regularly flew to London, Paris, Boston, New York and the Bahamas. But it was London that he spoke of most often.

Robert Lowry Logan III

“Aunt Di, you and mother must see London. Whole regiments march through Harrods playing bagpipes at Christmas time. If you think you love the Highland Fling at Stone Mountain Park, wait until you hear the bagpipes at Harrods.  And the museums and plays are the best in the world. You can’t imagine how beautiful the palaces and castles are.  Pictures don’t do them justice! The school children wear snappy uniforms and flags are flown everywhere. I want you to go with me sometime. Promise me you will go to London with me! You and Mother must come!”

“I’m here Bubba, I’m here. Mother wanted to come but she couldn’t.”

Fatigue gave way to sadness as I remembered the days long gone in Tucker, Georgia. I thought of Bubba and how we celebrated our April birthdays together along with my younger sister, Barbara. My older sister, Patricia, would have us over to her house on Woodcreek Court in Tucker. It was always a surprise, and of course, we all played along.

I could see it now. I walked around to Patricia’s back porch about sundown and could see nothing but the blaze of candles. Not just one cake with a few candles, but three cakes, one for each of us, and a candle lit for every single year of life. At first glance, it looked like the house was on fire, and then came the singing and laughter. Then the drama of the children falling to the floor gasping for breath as the smoke rose to the ceiling. And even more laughter.

Young Robert Lowry Logan III

That was before Bubba left us. At the young age of twenty-six, Bubba went to Heaven. It was a sad day and without him, we stopped laughing.

Our birthdays were never the same. And it was too hard for his mother, Patricia, to carry on the spring birthday tradition.

That’s the real reason I was hot to get out of town. How could I celebrate such an important day without Bubba? So I flew all the way over here – Bubba’s favorite place. The place we were supposed to visit together.

The rain came down harder and the wind blew me back inside the Abbey seeking shelter. I roamed around looking for James. As I strolled about and admired all the marble work, it occurred to me that England does not want to bury their dead. Rather they place the remains in crypts with lifelike images of the deceased made of stone on top. Every date and critical moment of life is carefully recorded near the site. Famous authors, scientists, musicians, kings, queens and military men and women. If they were somebody in the Kingdom of Great Britain, they were here.

I found myself in a very large room. People from all over the world could be spotted here, all reverent and spoke in hushed whispers.

A long line formed up ahead and I slowed down to see if I wanted to get in there with them. I did not see or hear of any priests swearing out the Scots, so I got in that line. Must be something special; I smelled incense burning. The closer I got, the quieter the crowd became. I waited in anticipation. Who could it be? As the line veered slightly to the right and around a corner,  I saw a huge rack of candles, most lit and some not. The people would take a candle and light it and then drop coins in an offering can.

I managed out a few pounds from my pocket and got them ready to drop. I had a few more minutes to think and I decided to light a candle for my family and thank God for allowing me to finally make it to London. When it was my turn to light a candle, I closed my eyes and said a little prayer. As I opened my eyes for just a moment, I was in another place and time.

I was no longer at the Abbey, but at my sister’s back porch on Woodcreek Court in Tucker, Georgia. I was looking at the huge blaze of fire on the three April birthday cakes. And though I was over four thousand miles from home, I was celebrating my fiftieth birthday with my family.

As I gazed at the candles beyond the smoke rise of the incense, I could almost see my nephew smiling back at me.

About that time, someone’s conversation intruded into my thoughts.

“What’s the date please?” I overheard a man ask with a thick British accent.

“April 13th,” another man replied.

Of course it is, April 13th. Happy birthday Bubba!

All Roads Lead to Stone Mountain Georgia is dedicated to my dear nephew, Robert Lowry Logan III – our “Bubba.”

All Roads Lead to Stone Mountain Georgia  © 2012 by H. D. Story All Rights Reserved