Hands on the Railing
Hands on the Railing
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The Reverend W.O. Stone was a force to contend with.

When he and his family moved to Bemis, a small mill town south of Jackson, Tennessee, they knew that they were entering a community divided by history, by hatred, by race, and by stubborn Southern tradition. But Reverend Stone—a man of great and profound faith—reached out, risked everything, and did his part to forge a brighter future for his community by confronting the harsh realities of racism and segregation. There, Reverend Stone and his wife raised five children amid dark and dangerous times in American history.

As told through the eyes and memory of his middle child, Virginia, Hands on the Railing provides an intimate and personal glimpse into the lives of this brave and forward-thinking man and the people he loved, worked with, and prayed for. He survived the ugliest moments of a time when violence ruled the day, including the burning of a church, attacks on his dignity and person, and many unkind words along the way. Disillusioned by the seedy side of Southern pride and ignorance, his faith was sorely tested. But through experience and by the power of faith on bended knee, the good reverend struggled to find the strength, courage, and wisdom to confront the many demons in his life, both within and without.

Through it all, W.O. was a spellbinding preacher, a loving husband, and a good father, a man who made his mark in the world with dignity, faith, and honor.

At the age of ninety, pushing open the heavy wooden doors of the church, seemed to take every effort, especially since the hinges squeaked and the rust was so dusty it would fall off each hinge with every turn. Through her old grey eyes, she peered into this sanctuary getting a glimpse of what use to be.

She made her way down the aisle, one step at a time, trying with every muscle to make it to the altar. Her steps were short, and somewhat unsure as she made her way to the front of the church, using her cane for support. The shafts of light pierced the dust that lifted from the floor with each step. She could feel her every heartbeat, every breath, as she finally made it to the front. Somewhat short of breath she began to kneel on the soft green cushion that lay before the hand hewed piece of wood that had stood for a century.

She could feel the character of the wood, the markings left where hands had touched this railing before. The wood had dents nicks in it, and a worn patina that still shined in the morning sun as it broke through the windows creating a cathedral look, yet this was a simple church.

The church had been packed in pieces and moved from Boston to Bemis, Tennessee, around the year 1900. The pieces were numbered, and like a puzzle it was pieced back together, where it would stand and serve this mill community for over a century. It was Tudor Revival in architecture with a steeple and wonderful bell that could be heard throughout this sleepy town.

With her final bend, she made it to the cushion, her eyes elevated towards the beautiful handmade cross, and she began to pray. As she did so, she began to wonder about all of the people that had passed through this church and whether or not their lives had been affected by events that occurred during the life of this church?

How many asked for forgiveness, those who wept tears of joy or tears of sorrow. The ones who were looking for peace in their lives? What was said during times of war? The mothers that knelt and prayed for their husbands and sons, hoping their loved ones would make it through and return home safe after a world conflict.

Her hands were old and showed the years, the skin thin and wrinkled, she grasped that railing as if she wanted to make her own imprint in the wood. Time was of no consequence to her now. She had lived her life and it would soon be over. Nine decades of life had past. Memory begins to fade as the curtain falls, yet there was so much she wanted to relive in her mind. As she began to pray she drifted back in time, remembering when she was a teenager.

Virginia Stone was the middle of five girls, each very independent, all beautiful, yet mindful of their upbringing. The oldest had a way about her that made her somewhat temperamental, in fact Margaret Stone could be like the Three Faces of Eve, one never knew which face would show up.

The next to the oldest was quite different than the other four. . Professional in her manner, Lucille Stone ultimately became first a teacher then a principal at a local high school. Virginia’s two younger sisters were vivacious, Dorothy Stone, the outdoors type, worked hard her entire life on the farm and Sarah Stone, the baby sister, had a wit about herself that would bring laughter with her dry humor.

Virginia, it now seemed time had flickered by, and the candle wick was burning low. So much had happened in her lifetime. Two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, seventeen Presidents, flights around the world, and to the moon, television, talking movies, radio, and computers.

Her thoughts began to clear as she drifted back in time. It was another hot summer that would set record. At the age of fifteen she and her family had just moved to Bemis, Tennessee, a small mill town South of Jackson, Tennessee. Her father was a Methodist minister, as was the tradition; this was his new charge in the church.

Dr. Robert Sylvester has spent his life caring for the less fortunate, body and soul. His experiences as a country doctor and Methodist pastor in the rural South inspired him to write this book as a tribute his grandfather, W.O. Stone, a circuit-riding preacher. Sylvester currently resides in South Carolina.

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