Time approaching for Let the Stories Be Told: Part IV

Lone Leonidas Sisk (1900--1994), oldest child of Robert and Zollie (Scott) Sisk and a veteran of both World War I and World War II

It’s the first of July, the time of year when plans start falling into place for the Newport Plain Talk’s annual special edition Smoky Mountain Homeplace.

Published in October, the eagerly anticipated issue features stories pertaining to Cocke County’s history.

For several years, we have adopted a theme. In the past we have focused on Cocke County’s Civil War history, our moonshine heritage, church histories, and schools.

Last year, we chose the theme Let the Stories Be Told and asked our readers to share their family stories.

Old, new, long, short, happy, sad, bizarre, inspirational—the choices were endless. We urged readers to share the stories “that always get told” when their clan gets together at holidays, funerals, reunions, and other occasions.

To our great pleasure, the results were astonishing. Many of you took the time to tell your family stories. The results were remarkable. We had a story about Jesse James’ visit to Margie Lunsford’s great-grandparents, the mystery of “Gunter’s Gold,” and my personal favorite, the spotting of a Democrat in the Rankin community in 1894.

Normally Smoky Mountain Homeplace has been printed in two installments: one in October and a follow-up in January. Last year was so successful, we added Part III in February.

So now we’re ready for Part IV. Several of you told me last year, “I meant to share our story but time got away from me.” Well, here’s your chance to be included!

If you don’t feel comfortable writing the story yourself, just call me and we’ll get together. You can tell me the story and I’ll take if from there. Pictures to go with the story will make it even better.

Today I’d like to share a story from my mother’s family.

She was one of seven children, fifth in line. By the time she was big enough to remember, her oldest siblings were nearing high school age and were soon out of the nest. But the family remained close all their lives.

Oldest of the bunch was Uncle Lone. He was born in 1900, exactly nine months and two days after his parents’ wedding the previous January.

He was a brilliant man, whose extraordinary intelligence became apparent very early. He walked at nine months and throughout his nearly 94 years he rarely slowed down.

He set the bar high for his younger brothers and sisters. My mother, in particular, thought he hung the moon and often used him as an example of how I should be as a student. Somehow I never quite got the knack of Uncle Lone’s academic achievements, but as I grew older, I did try.

Eventually he earned numerous degrees, including an honorary doctorate from his beloved Milligan College, where he taught chemistry and physics for several years. (I told you he was smart.)

He was a master gardener before the term was even coined. His was the first garden I ever saw that had broccoli and eggplant growing.

He was a deeply religious man, a pillar of Johnson City’s Central Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School for years and years.

His wife, one of two Aunt Albertas I had, was also a teacher, and they became the parents of three children, all of whom taught.

He wasn’t a tall man—probably about 5 feet 7 inches or so, but his presence certainly filled a room.

He was a very patriotic man, one I think about especially on holidays like July 4. You see, he was a veteran of both World War I and World War II.

My mother told the following story.

During World War I, as the question of whether or not America should enter the fray continued to be debated, the subject came up at the family dinner table one night. My grandfather vehemently opposed American involvement, while Uncle Lone, then nearing his 18th birthday, was equally as fervid in his support of such action.

Neither father nor son gave an inch in the argument which became very heated. Suddenly Uncle Lone jumped up, knocking his chair over, and yelled, “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, I’ll just enlist!”

Mama said there was dead silence as she and the rest of the family waited for God to strike Uncle Lone dead. “No one,” she explained, “EVER talked to Papa like that.”

Well, Uncle Lone did enlist but his time of service was short. The Armistice was signed just a few weeks later.

When World War II erupted, he was 41 years old, but his knowledge of flight and aerodynamics was greatly needed and he was called back into service as an instructor.

His teaching career was long and dedicated, eventually passing the 70-year mark as he spent the last few years in Milligan College’s alumni office.

When I entered the teaching profession, he was very supportive and always quick to encourage me to become involved in our local Cocke County Education Association and lobby for higher wages and better benefits. He certainly didn’t mince words when speaking of Nashville’s often blind eyes to the needs of teachers and schools.

One of my principals and I often disagreed, even to a time when he called the superintendent of schools and demanded she fire me. At the time, my mother was very ill. One afternoon, as I sat by her bedside, I bemoaned my situation and said, “If I could just learn to keep my mouth shut, maybe it would be better, but I just can’t seem to do that.”

My mother turned her head toward me and proudly said, “You’re just like Lone. He’s the same way.”

As I watch my child, who will soon turn 36, I see the same traits. One never has to ask Amber what she thinks about a particular situation, and I have a strong feeling her son, Connor, will be the same way.

And that will supply fodder for many more family stories in the coming generations.

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