From my earliest days, I heard the family talk about Sylvester, GA. My Grandfather Golden's family lived there for many years as did my Grandmother's family, the McCord family. Sylvester was always like a little fairyland to me. I heard so many stories about the times when both sides of my family lived there that I felt, when we visited there, I was going to a make believe place that had some special attraction attached to it.
Granddaddy Golden's mother was a noted person in the little town of Sylvester, the county seat of Worth County, GA. Her name was Della Wilder Golden. She had been married to Herschel Vespucious Johnson Golden or HVJ Golden until his untimely death in 1895 from a medical condition. He was a Baptist preacher and died at age forty. Della Golden was well known in the community and right wealthy. She owned several houses in Sylvester. I recently went and took a picture of the house my mother, Martha Raye Golden Harrell was born in back in 1920. It is right across the street from the First Baptist Church where they were members. Granddaddy Golden had a business named the Sylvester Tire and Vulcanizing Company. It did extremely well until the three depressions in the twenties. He told me that one day he went out in front of his store, and burned sixty-five thousand dollars in notes owed to him that people could not pay him because of the depression. Sixty-five thousand in 1920 dollars is a lot of money in 2015 currency. He was a very successful business man. Granddaddy moved his family to Tifton in the early twenties and they never left. Grandmother Golden, Mattie Jo McCord was a pretty girl and one day Ben Golden, my Granddaddy, saw her in a dry goods store on Railroad Street. She was working in the store. He said, "I am going to marry that girl," and he did even though he was ten years her senior.
The McCord family was a solid part of the community and I can remember going there to visit Uncle Watt (Watson McCord), Uncle Lewis and Uncle Ralph and their families. Uncles Lewis and Ralph McCord operated a barber shop on Railroad Street for many, many years. Uncle Watt was the Fire Chief for a number of years until his retirement. I was taken to their barber shop one day to get my hair cut when I was a small boy. I remember the atmosphere of the barber shop. It had that clean barber shop smell. Right across the street lay the railroad track that bisected Sylvester. I remember them telling some interesting stories about things that happened around those railroad tracks. I thought it was so "cool" for my Uncle Watt to be the fire chief of Sylvester. I was mesmerized by the big red fire trucks as any small boy would be. And to think, my Uncle Watt was the Chief of the fire department! I knew we were special! These men were my Grandmother Golden's brothers so they were actually my great uncles although I always viewed them as my uncles without the "great" attached. I loved these men. They each had characteristics I liked. Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bessie lived just down the street from Uncle Watt and Aunt Bertie while Uncle Ralph lived a few blocks away in a big white "town" type home so common in those days. While I loved all of them, I grew closest to Uncle Watt. He was a lot of fun. Always joking and laughing. Uncle Lewis was rather demure in his personality. Or at least it seemed that way. Business like. Aunt Bessie was the same way. Disciplined and rather formal as I remember. Great people. Uncle Ralph had a warm personality. Smooth demeanor. He loved to fish as did Uncle Watt and Uncle Lewis. I remember going to their house when I was a small child to visit with Uncle Ralph, Aunt Thelma and Louise their youngest daughter. Her other children were somewhat older but we knew Louise well. Back in the kitchen, Aunt Thelma always had some cake or something sweet to eat. I remember going back to the kitchen and there on a table in the middle of the room would be some cake or something which was a real treat. I always looked forward to going to the kitchen. Uncle Ralph died suddenly with a heart attack. I remember going to his funeral in Sylvester. Several years after Uncle Ralph died, we went to visit Aunt Thelma one day and she took me to Uncle Ralph's little shop out behind the house. All of his fishing rods and equipment and all of his tools were left just as he had left them the day he died. She had disturbed nothing. Aunt Thelma told me that no one had moved anything since Uncle Ralph had died. I remember looking at those fishing rods and thinking that the last person to touch them was Uncle Ralph. I kept my hands to myself. It was sort of "holy ground" to her.
I remember going to my Granny's house one time. I was about five years old, I think. Grandmother Golden, my mother and I were there as well as my sister, Marty. I don't recall anyone else having made the trip. We ate with Granny that day. She made something we all called "Granny Bread." It was really good. It was a lot like some kind of porridge and had a wonderful taste. If one puts a lot of Saltine crackers in potato soup and lets it get soggy they would have the basic taste of "Granny Bread." In later years, Grandmother Golden would make it for me. I remember Granny's house was a little white house on the left side of the street travelling from downtown Sylvester. I remember how the living room and the little house were laid out on the inside. A humble dwelling. I loved my Granny McCord. I thought she was the most wonderful person. When I was seven years old and in the first grade, Granny died. I will never forget it. My first grade teacher was Ms Young. I remember crying in school about Granny's death. Ms Young asked me what was wrong and I told her that my Granny McCord had died. I said that when I was grown and had plenty of money, I was going to erect a beautiful monument over her grave. Of course the family took care of that but it shows just how much she meant to a little boy of seven.
I remember Uncle Watt was very good at carving things. He was always making something. I have in my possession one of the little monkeys he would carve out of a peach seed. It is precious to me. Unique little thing. He made himself a little fishing tackle box out of very thin marine plywood. It was about ten inches wide by eight inches long and about ten inches high. Inside were two compartments for all of the fishing gear. After Uncle Watt was tragically killed in an auto accident, Aunt Berdie gave me that little fishing tackle box. I treasured it and used it for years. Many years later, I realized that Bill McCord, their son, might like to have it. He lives in Augusta where we live and I called him one day and told him what I had. I asked if he would like to have it and of course he was delighted to know I had it and wanted to give it to him. I cleaned it up real good and delivered it to him. It is a real treasure.
I remember we used to go to Sylvester and have a family gathering. We held a couple of them at Uncle Lewis' house. Aunt Bessie's house was always as neat as a pin and I have often wondered just how she must have felt with all us younguns running through her very well kept house. Plenty of little figurines on the living room furniture. Everything had a doily on it. Neat. One time all the guys were in his back yard talking about fishing and such. There was an ice chest which was made of Styrofoam and it had a hole crushed in the corner of it. Someone got the bright idea of putting some tape on the hole and pouring in some Elmer's Glue All to fill up the hole. We thought it would dry and fix the hole. So, we filled it up with the glue. We gave it time to dry and when we checked on it after lunch, we found that the Elmer's Glue All and Styrofoam didn't get along too well. It had eaten a much larger hole in the Styrofoam. Melted the Styrofoam and made the hole huge. Now there was no doubt about it. We threw it away. We all got a big laugh out of the whole thing. The joke was on us.
Sylvester has a city park. In the park they have an old steam engine and coal car which have been restored. When I was eight or ten years old, I remember going and getting up in the engine when we would all go to the park. We sometimes had a picnic there. Bill McCord was a little older than we were and he would be the leader of the pack. I remember one day we were walking through the yard of a house around the block from where he lived and we were talking about things and stuff. He told me that he wanted to be a doctor. Of course later on, he did achieve that goal in life and was very successful and respected in the medical field. Anyway we always enjoyed our visits to Sylvester.
My Great grandmother Golden, Della Wilder Golden, was a big worker in the Sylvester Baptist Church. She was also quite well off financially as indicated above. She was a leader in the WMU and evidently distinguished herself as the Christian Index printed a large article commending her upon her death. The house my mother was born in is across a side street right next to the Sylvester Baptist Church. I went by there in 2013 and took a photo of the house. She was born in 1920 and passed away in 2009. She was fun and feisty, always in the process of being "Martha Raye." As I stood in the street in front of that house, my mind went back 93 years to a day when a little baby girl first uttered her cry into the world. The world just didn't know what was coming! My mother made her debut on the world stage from that humble dwelling across the side street from the Sylvester Baptist Church.
So, to me, Sylvester, GA is a very special place on the globe. My roots are there and I feel a magical attachment to that little community even today. I have occasion to drive through Sylvester. I'm usually driving from Albany to Tifton after a preaching engagement somewhere. I've watched as Sylvester has changed over the years but it still retains that magical, fairyland image in my mind. Sylvester, Sylvester...the name just did something to me then and it still does something to me now.
William F. Harrell