Posted by: bree1972 | November 13, 2011

Sylvester Songs 11/14/2011

It’s been such a beautiful weekend here in south Georgia, and with tons of college football on television, Ted has been out with the guys for many hours, watching and yelling and doing what good ole boys do during football season – acting like rambunctious teenagers and reliving their own glory days on the football field.

In his absence this weekend, I’ve had some hours alone to sit on the porch, watch the sun sparkle on the water, and get totally into the book “My Name is Mary Sutter”, a Civil War tale of a young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon in the days when females weren’t even allowed to enter medical school.  There’s a lot of history involved, and very graphic scenes from the deplorable hotels-turned-hospitals where the wounded were brought.  Not for the faint of heart – but, as a woman who once dreamed of nursing as a career, I always enjoy anything to do with medicine, whether it be medical shows on tv, medicine-based novels, or the work Bear and I do in hospitals now.

In some of those moments I’ve spent gazing out across the Flint River, my thoughts have turned to my home town of Sylvester, and I’ve begun to turn over in my mind doing a series of posts about the town and growing up there in the 50’s and 60’s.  Looking back even now, I still see it through the romanticized eyes of a young girl and teenager, before thoughts of “What next?” ever entered my mind.  Sylvester back then was an “Ozzie and Harriet” world where parents could allow children to play outside and roam the neighborhood, unrestricted by the dangers that lurk today.  As an only child, I was probably one of the most “protected” of the gaggle of children who grew up together there, but even with that, freedom was a luxury we all enjoyed and pretty much took for granted.

My parents moved back to Sylvester from Columbus, GA when I was in the third grade.  My mom grew up in Sylvester, and my dad spent his childhood in Poulan, a tiny community about seven miles east.  Even though they had spent some time in Maryland (Daddy was stationed there in the Army for a while, and Mama moved there and stayed while he served in Africa during WWII), Albany, and Columbus, Mama never wanted to live anywhere but “home” in Sylvester.

One of my earliest memories after moving to Sylvester was the day I “ran away” from school.  The elementary school I attended was only a few blocks from where we lived on Washington Street.  In Columbus, Mama had always sent my lunch with me to school, but in Sylvester she and daddy decided I would eat in the lunchroom.  I was a pretty picky eater back then, and my stick-thin legs showed it.  I rode my bike to school every day and rode it home in the afternoons.  I discovered pretty fast I didn’t like lunchroom food, and one day, after deciding the menu written on the blackboard was not to my suiting, I slipped out at lunchtime, jumped on my bike, and rode about half a mile down the road to Nelm’s Store, where I spent my lunch money on something I must have thought was a lot better than what the school was serving.

My third grade school picture.

As I came out of the store and got back on my bike, my first cousin Pat got out of her car in front of the store.  Pat was older by a few years than me and in high school.  In those days, if you had a car, you could leave high school at noon and go home for lunch, and Pat was on her way home, stopping at Nelm’s to pick up something for her mom, my Aunt Lois (they lived a block from us).

As in all little towns, news traveled faster than the speed of light.  Pat told my Aunt Lois about seeing me, and Aunt Lois called Mama, and Mama called Daddy (who worked in Albany at the time).  I don’t remember where I was that day that they had to pick me up that afternoon, but when I climbed into the backseat of the car and saw their faces, I knew I was busted.  What makes that ride home so memorable is it was the only time in my life my Daddy ever struck me.  He was so upset to learn of my “runaway” that he pulled over to the side of the road, turned to the backseat and popped me really hard (well, to me it seemed really hard) on the leg.  It was also the only time I can remember he ever raised his voice to me.  Mama cried, which Mama always did when upset (I’m just like her in that regard).  They went on and on about what could have happened to me – most of it related to the fact that I was on a paved road with traffic.

For the first time in my short life, that day I understood how much I was loved.  As a child before that day, I don’t ever recall thinking of how my parents would feel if something happened to me.  If I thought of mortality at all, it was to worry about what would happen if the unthinkable occurred, and one of them was suddenly gone.  There was no further punishment for my folly that day.  My shock at their distraught behavior was enough for me, and I remember promising to never do something like that again.

I don’t think the school ever even knew I left, which these days would be grounds for a law suit probably.  My parents blamed no one but me – I did wrong, and I got punished.  And that lesson on parental love came to me on many future occasions when making choices later in my childhood and teen years.

As I’ve written this, a voice has been whispering in my ear that perhaps my growing up in Sylvester is what drew me with such passion in my later years to the magic of Mackinac Island.  I’ve often thought, and sometimes written, about how we are drawn, as we age, back to what meant so much to us in our early years – that we seek to rediscover those same, almost sacred feelings and thoughts in our golden years.  I think we also seek the innocence we felt in childhood, and want to feel once again how carefree we felt growing up – loved, protected, surrounded by people who cared for us.  Some of that I’ve found on Mackinac – the small town, the close-knit community, the lighting speed at which news – good and bad – can travel, the sense of belonging.

Over the next few months, I’ll share more stories of Sylvester and those innocent days of long, long ago.  Maybe they’ll bring back memories of your own childhood that will make you smile – I’ve sure smiled a lot writing this today.

Oh, by the way, Pat – if you’re reading this – I forgive you for tattling.



  1. I…love this. Love you too!

    • Blake – didn’t know your mom was such a wild child, did ya!

  2. That is a precious photo! I would love to hear more about life in Sylvester.

  3. I love your 3rd grade school picture! I remember the haircut and the big collor dresses with bows (saddle shoes with short white socks, too?) so well. But it’s that smile, that big, beautiful smile, that identifies you. You haven’t changed at all!

  4. I am a nurse who would have loved to be a writer. Funny how life is..isn’t it.

    • It’s never too late to write, Gina. I didn’t start until I was 60.

  5. I wish I could remember my first 10 years of life better then I do but you definitly brought out certain memories. You have a way of doing that. Love hearing about your early life and what you were like. It’s very personal and I thank you for sharing that with us. Love your picture by the way and yup, that smile is still there! 🙂

  6. Oh boy, did reading this post bring back memories. I got talked into skipping my last class of the day at the start of freshman year and as I was crossing the street with my friends, my mom just happened to drive by. I tried to make up a story about a fire drill but I’ve always been a horrible liar. I got grounded from the phone for a week-at age 14 that was the worst punishment ever.

    Love that photo-that smile hasn’t changed a bit! Looking forward to more Sylvester stories!

  7. Your sweet smile is still the same. Funny, how some of our features never change. I think the 50’s were the best years to “grow up”. My mom always thought her young years were the best. I grew up in a small-type town not tiny) with a lot of farms in the county. AnnieR your post made me laugh out loud….a fire drill eh? Those were the days! I agree, I think memories are what reminds a lot of people visiting the island. Memories of when life was simple and the only thing most of us feared was the Russians and possible war with them.

  8. As a former Sylvester native, I’m so looking forward to your writing blogs about our hometown. I think they must have used the same photographer when I was in third grade….I have a photo of myself in nearly the same attire and pose! Nelms Grocery was the meeting place for my mom and me to meet when I walked from McPhaul Institute (grammar school before your day)–still remember the afterschool snack of an Orange Nehi drink and cheese Lance crackers. ( Still feel I have to have a mid afternoon snack all these years later.)

    When we went to Mackinac last year, I felt that same small town tug at my heart. Reading your blogs about Mackinac restored those memories of feeling so secure in the small town world in the ’50s and ’60s. Can hardly wait until you share another Sylvester memory!

  9. Love it,love you. I am hooked on your tales of your childhood. You must keep it up. I have so many memories too. My first ond only “hit” was on my leg,by my daddy,too. Given out of pure love.

  10. Great picture and yes, I would know you right away. I grew up on the east side of Detroit and we were given a surprising amount of freedom to roam. That wouldn’t be the case today. One of the things we loved about Mackinac as kids was the freedom we were given. It certainly seemed like simplier times.

  11. Such a great post, B! Of course I never knew your Daddy, but I can just picture how upset your Mama must have been. Bless her heart. I’ve written a lot on my blog about my childhood growing up in a very similar small town. It makes me so sad when I think that my grandchildren will never know the kind of freedom that we did as children.

  12. Brenda,

    Wow, you sure look like you. My middle son is like that. Look at a picture of him as a child and there is no mistaking who he is. My other two sons, my wife and I, on the other hand, bear no resemblance to our younger selves.

    I love to read about your childhood, your freedom and how “wild” you were. Please post more blogs like that. Speaking of freedom, it wasn’t necessary to live in a small town back when. I lived in Austin, Texas (pop. 150,000) in the 1940s. My brother and I took our lunch, walked about 2 miles to the swimming pool, and stayed all day. We took the bus downtown to the movies by ourselves. We played cowboys and Indians all over the neighborhood. We chose up sides with all the neighborhood boys and had mudball fights (I was good at that). Never had a problem and, believe it or not, we grew up quite well adjusted, thank you.

    I almost forgot, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I sold newspapers downtown on the corner of 6th Street and Congress Ave. during the evenings and until about 10:00 PM. Then I rode the bus home.

    My how times have changed! And, in that respect, certainly not for the better.

  13. Strange you should be telling the story of living in a small town and wanting to go back. My husband and I are in the process of looking for property in a small town about 12 miles south of Toledo, called Haskins. (You pass it on 75 between Toledo and Bowling Green.) As I grow older I am wanting to get in touch with ancestors from that small community, To be part of a small town has always drawn me near. Thanks for your thoughts. Love your 3rd grade picture. What a darling!!

  14. Brenda I believe you have shared that story with me before. I remember laughing when you told me and I’m laughing now. Love that story!

    • I think I’ve shared most ALL my childhood stories with you, Sonya! Love you!

  15. Hi Brenda! I love your story! I still live in my little hometown with about 2,000 people. My husband was my classmate & my high school sweetheart and I love living in our little town. We love to travel (especially Mackinac Island) but it is always nice to come home. Living in a small town does have it moments but it is great to have such nice people who are our friends and neighbors. Take care!

  16. What a great post! It reminds me of us growing up in a small town in the 60’s. Would love to hear more.

  17. Very cute story and cute picture too!

  18. Wow…as I had told you before I lived in Sylvester as well, back in late 70’s and early 80’s. I have very found memories of Sylvester. i live on Isabella Street in one of the older homes there….worked at ths ASC Office and then worked with Buddy Harden at Deriso’s Drug Store…loved it, then went on to Peanut Commissions. Can’t wait till I hear more about your life in Sylvester, and oh yes, I knew your Daddy. Give my love to everyone! Tedder

  19. Love your story, Brenda. Since I’m an only child also and from Sylvester, I can certainly relate! I remember a time Connie King, Davis King and I walked from the swimming pool at the park to Connie’s house along side the highway. We didn’t get in trouble! That was life in Sylvester in the 50’s. Keep up the stories…I love them!

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