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Aunt Sybol

Aunt Sybol
Amber with Aunt Sybol
Aunt Sybol
Amber with Aunt Sybol

Several times a year, I burst into her room unannounced and take her by surprise.

“Well, look who’s here — Little Amber!” my Aunt Sybol roars, a big smile stretching across her face. I bend down and hug her neck — one of those embraces that takes me back to my childhood and the many kinfolk who helped raise me in a cocoon of unconditional love.

She was born Frances Sybol Lanier in the Union Community outside of Metter in February of 1924. She was known as Sybol Olliff when I was a youngin. After my Uncle Lewis Olliff died, she remarried and became Sybol Toole.

I’ve written about her beautiful skin and her Hollywood starlet hair, and how she could apply lipstick perfectly without the aid of a mirror. I’ve written about how during a visit to her home many years ago, she and my mother confused a cordless telephone and a TV remote control (I can’t remember if they were trying to talk into the remote or turn the channel with the phone, but it was funny).

And I’ve written about the long Southern goodbyes at her house, as she and Uncle Lewis stood outside my family’s car as we pulled away from their home. I can see them in my mind’s eye — Uncle Lewis in his loose-fitting denim overalls and Aunt Sybol, with her perfect hair and apron. I remember the jingle of coins in their pockets. They both reached inside the car windows and dropped quarters and shiny silver pieces into our hands, telling us they loved us over and over again. My siblings and I left their house feeling rich with handfuls of clinking coins and the assurance that we were cherished.

She’s attended the major milestones in my family’s life. She was at both my wedding and my sister’s wedding in 1990. A few years later, she and my mother boarded an airplane for O’Fallon, Illinois, to visit my sister and brother-inlaw just after the birth of their first child. Throughout my life, I’ve seen her at family reunions, funerals and “I-was-just-in-the-neighborhood- and-wanted-to-dropby” visits to her house.

On February 15, my aunt will celebrate her 100th trip around the sun — the first in the Lanier clan to hit the big 100. Her grandfather, Math T. Lanier of Candler County’s Union Community, died just a few months shy of his 100th birthday.

And so today, I want to share a few more things about my awesome Aunt Sybol. She and Uncle Lewis married when she was 16 years old and raised two children: Martha Ann, who is now a Farrow, and the late Buddy Olliff. They lived continued from page

in a house situated on 100 acres of Olliff family land in the Rosemary Community — just off what is now Sugar Road.

My aunt was an entrepreneur and worked from home before it was “a thing.” She cut and styled hair for women in the community in a room adjoining her house. When we would visit, her beauty shop was like a magnet to my sister and me. We loved climbing in the styling chair, looking at all the colored rollers in the sink, sitting underneath the big, clunky hair drying hoods, and watching her tend to her customers. She worked and talked, and talked and worked — constantly moving on her feet.

“Mama started doing hair in the 1960s,” her daughter, Martha Ann, told me on the phone this week. “She had worked at Twin City Manufacturing and Metter Manufacturing [setting collars on shirts], and of course, she helped Daddy a lot with farming, but then in the sixties, she decided to go to beauty school in Swainsboro and learn to do hair.”

As for me, I remember begging her to cut my hair when I was about 12. Aunt Sybol didn’t want to cut my long blond locks. She was concerned I wouldn’t like the haircut and that I would get upset with her. I persisted, and she gave in. She trimmed a tiny amount from the ends of my stringy hair, whirled me around to the mirror, and said, “Here you go. Curl the ends under a bit and you’ll have a perfect page boy.” It was the first time I ever had a real haircut or style with an actual name.

And Aunt Sybol could cook! Going to her house for supper was a treat, and her desserts were the stuff of legends.

“Don says that Mama has about 100 recipes for pound cake,” Martha Ann laughed, referring to her husband’s comments. “But I think most people remember her multi-layer caramel cake. It was really something!”

I’m pretty sure I remember eating a slice of it in her kitchen one time and feeling like I had died and gone to heaven to be with Jesus.

Six years ago, we celebrated her 94th birthday at Rosemary Primitive Baptist Church, where she’s been a member almost all of her life. And in just a few days, we will return to Rosemary Primitive Baptist Church to commemorate her 100th.

Dear Aunt Sybol, You’ve been a bright beacon of love and kindness for me through the years. Your presence has made my life infinitely richer, and I am so thankful for you. I wish you joy on your birthday. Love, Little Amber

From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

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