One of my most unforgettable ‘coastal’ characters was Elijah ‘Dan’ Golphin. The grandson of slaves, who lived and died within a few hundred feet of his birthplace in eastern Liberty County. Born in an unknown year, Dan worked for our family on Maxwelton Plantation, off and on, as long as I can remember. Strong, wise, and witty – this old man ‘from another time’ introduced me, through his stories, to life on the coast as it once was – mules, wagons, kerosine lamps, basket weaving, crops, and “food from de ribber – scrimps, crobb, and de fishes.” All told in thoroughbred ‘Geechee.’
He was very old and I was very young when we first became friends. I admired his strength and energy, yet another quality drew me even more – his joy. He was the happiest man I’ve ever known – he seemed to never stop smiling. At the end of a long hot day in a hayfield…manually loading bales on a trailer…still smiling…old as the hills, sweating like a dog…still joking, still laughing. I can see him now in that field, drenched by the humid August heat…grinning and glistening from the shinny perspiration…a ball of elderly energy like I’ve never seen before or since…and those ugly rubber boots.
As the years passed, my friendship with him deepened. There were times upon returning home from school, I would ‘hot foot’ it to his house before going home…I so enjoyed our visits that included hours of countless stories. Dan was known to make a little ‘shine’ and share it…and yes…we sipped, right there in his back yard sitting on coca cola crates. “Jar Whisky” we called it, cause that’s what we drank out of.
Dan died in the late 70s, but before he did, I was able to convince Georgia Educational Television to do 13 hours of crucial interviews with Dan and others, some the actual children of slaves. These interviews captured the story of coastal Georgia in the post civil war era. Recognizing that this part of living history was soon to vanish forever, I interviewed from the stories I had heard most of my life. Priceless! The tragedy, no one can locate this video.
Elijah Golphin, my buddy. Every time he would see me he would address me as “my buddy.” Not as Clay; in fact never as Clay…but always “my buddy.” I miss him terribly!