Queen for A Festival Day
Story of Cotton Queen Sybill Nunn, told by her grandson, Nick Nunn
Sybil Nunn was elected to be Cotton Queen at the Cotton Gin Festival this year. For a lot of the members of her family, it is an honor that is well-deserved and a long time coming.
I agree, and not just because she is my grandmother.
Grandma has picked cotton – personally. And in a city that prides itself on its farming heritage, she has exemplified that life, from her birth as a sharecropper’s daughter to her life as the wife of a dairy farmer. Now, as a proud member of Bostwick’s close-knit community, she still supports the town’s heritage, volunteering for every event within the city limits.
I’ll get to the facts of her life soon, but, before that, these are a few of the things about Grandma that come to mind as I start to think about who she is.
When Grandma is watching a Braves game (or any other team she roots for) and the team comes back late in the game, she’ll lean back in her recliner, kick her legs back and forth, and let out a high-pitched giggle.
I swear, it’s worth two weeks of heartbreaking losses just for one of those comebacks – just to see that.
Or that she collects Santa Claus figurines, enough to cover several shelves. They usually come out directly after Thanksgiving (or before if she gets restless) and don’t go back into hibernation until weeks after the Christmas season.
And when we (her grandchildren) were being bad, her go-to threat was that she would, “cloud up and thunder.” We didn’t know what it meant, and I don’t think she ever showed us firsthand, but it was usually enough to get us in line.
Well, that might not mean much to you all, but it makes her who she is to me.
So here are the objective facts, roughly in chronological order.
“I was born in Walton County in 1936,” she began. To be exact, she was born Sybil Virginia Davis, on Nov. 25.
“My parents were Paul and Elizabeth Davis, and he was a sharecropper. We raised cotton, corn, vegetables, and other sorts of stuff.”
“We grew up on cotton farms, raising cotton. During the years where we had cotton, all of us children had to pick cotton, chop cotton, mop cotton.”
During her childhood, Grandma and her seven siblings moved several times, as was common among families of sharecroppers. However, there was no sense of loss caused by the frequent moves.
“We liked it! We would go from one to another; a new house, a different house. It was every one or two years, and there was no attachment.”
The farms were close together, so neither she nor her siblings had to change schools or churches after the move.
Working always took precedence over school during the harvesting season.
“All of us had to work. During the month of September, we had to stay out of school to pick cotton…but all of us graduated. I went to school in Good Hope until the 10th grade and then went to high school in Monroe.”
She graduated in 1954 and worked in a factory in Monroe for a couple of years, making denim jackets.
On April 9, 1956, an event of the utmost importance happened: Grandma met Earl Nunn, my grandfather.
“We met at a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs show in Good Hope, Georgia. He had just come home from the Navy, and I had graduated from high school. He was at the show with somebody else, or they came with him, and Earl told him that he had to find a way home. So, we went to this little restaurant on the other side of Monroe [The Purple Cow, Earl added later.] That was the first night we met, and we started dating after that.”
About a year later, on July 7, 1957, Earl and Sybil got married, spent their honeymoon at Daytona Beach, Fla., and moved to Bostwick into the house that was later remodeled and is currently occupied by their youngest son, David.
It didn’t take too long until the children began to come – four of them – all sons: Sammy, Steve, Keith, and David.
After Steve was born, Sybil and Earl built a house at 1350 Wellington Road, and they (among children, grandchildren, and in-laws) have lived there ever since.
Grandma went back to work after David started school, first working in the office at the middle school under Bill Corry, and then at the Bank of Madison.
“I went to work at the Bank of Madison in 1973, and I retired in 1998 after 25-and-a-half years. I was the head teller and assistant cashier.”
During her career and afterward, the family continued to grow. Sybil and Earl now have seven grandchildren (Lee, Ashley, Stephen, Nick, Ben, Chris, and Peyton) and four great-grandchildren (Claire, Mason, Amara, and Carolynn).
So, although Grandma has been retired since 1998, she has been far from bored.
“Retirement is wonderful. I stay busy. I’ve had to look after lots of children.”
Although she wasn’t born here in Bostwick, there is no doubt in her mind that it is her home.
“Bostwick is my hometown. I’ve been here 55 years. We are members at Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church, I work with the Fourth of July Barbecue and the Cotton Gin Festival.”
Grandma’s feelings about being named Cotton Queen were torn initially. She has never been one to ask for or expect praise for her contributions and shied way from the position.
By now, the announcement has sunk in, and she acknowledges that, “it’s a wonderful honor.”
Personally, I’ll find it strange that Grandma won’t be occupying her traditional place during the Cotton Gin Festival: at the front of the barbecue line, greeting customers, taking orders, making change, and hollering back at us for what she needs at the front.
Instead, she’ll be taking the place of honor riding in the front of the parade, finally getting the attention that she deserves for everything she has done for Bostwick.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Grandma personally for everything she has ever done for me. I won’t even pretend to be able to fully appreciate or even be able to remember it all, but she has been an irreplaceable influence on me. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
Printed in the November 1 edition.