Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Grandma T!!


JULY 30, 1887—1970

Written by Lucille Kate Taylor Kinsella

It was a warm sunny day in the mid 1930's. Adin’s car pulled up to the side of the road, parked in the weeds along the bank of a slight hill and we walked up it towards the plain white one room schoolhouse, carrying our deviled eggs and potato salad. As Harold and I struggled up the grassy bank I heard a shout, then, “Miss Baker? Yes, I can’t believe it’s you.”–and watched as a big burly man enveloped our mother in his arms, salad and all!

Several more people came hurrying over to take her dishes and shake her hand, hug her–with cries of “haven’t seen you since I said my ABC’s to you.” We were attending the Caldwell school house students' picnic near where my mother had grown up on the farm in Center Lisle but this was crazy! They treated her like a best beloved teacher. Yes, she’d taught here for two years after she received her state certificate from Cortland Normal to enable her to do rural teaching—but this—she was just our mother!

Travel through the years of more Cortland Normal, teaching in Oakfield, NY and New Jersey, marriage, raising six children and fast forward now to the early 1940's. It was a playnight at our church. There on stage sat Momma, dressed in an old house dress with a crazy looking straw hat on her head, surrounded by several more members of her Sunday School Class dressed just a foolishly!

She had a scrub board held between her knees, and at a nod from the similarly attired leader she began wisking her stiff brush up and down the rippled exterior, creating a swishing sound, accompanied by someone with an egg beater in a tin pail, a zither sound from another friend blowing a comb covered with tissue, as though it was a mouth organ, another pounding the bottom of a washtub —the kitchen band played accompaniment as we all sang “You are My Sunshine” —that’s our mother? Yes—that’s our mother.

The amazement I felt as a kid at the respectful way her former students treated her, the surprise I had as I realized the warm, funny everyday side of her in the kitchen band, watching the daisy in her hat bob, as she “scrubbed” away to the music. All a part of my growing up and understanding that “Just our mother” was a warm talented, loving person, who lived her life listening and doing for others and yes, she was our mother, but not “just”— she was more than our mother, she was a person who stood out among the crowd. I carry her with me, in my heart, every day I live.

Picture One: Graduation from Cortland Normal in 1911
Picture Two: Ethel Riding Harold's tractor 1958
Picture Three: Ethel, 1940

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beloved Cousins: Too Soon Gone, Part Six, by Sue Kinsella

Robert Arnon Taylor

Son of Arnon, who was son of Nancy Ethel Taylor, daughter of Kate Baker
November 29, 1944 – October 4, 2002

Bob had a lot of tough times throughout his life, but my family was especially touched by how tender and devoted he was to his first wife, Dottie, as she fought a valiant but losing battle with Hodgkin’s disease. My brother Tom remembers a special week when he was about seven and went to stay with them all by himself. Bob taught Tom to play pool and Tom fell in love with both of them.

My brother Tim remembers Bob best from Men’s Weekends in the spring up at the cottage in Canada. Bob was especially involved with the traditional hockey game. As Tim describes it, “In the early days, the game was played in the front yard between the cottage and the lake. We took great pride in NOT taking down the clothes lines so you had to be very careful as you darted in and around the trees with the lines strung between them. The lake was also in play so if the ball went in the water the whole group would go charging in after it, splashing like crazy as we tried to whack the ball back towards the goal. Bob was often goalie and he got pretty adept at stopping the ball with a canoe paddle in one hand and a fish net in the other.”

In fact, Tim says, Bob was so competitive about the hockey game that when Tim’s team won one of their few-ever victories, Bob accused Tim of having stacked his team. Everybody thought that was hilarious, since Bob was captain of the other team and both had taken equal turns picking teammates before the game. Even now, when Tim’s team loses again, as it does most years, someone always yells out, “Bob was right! Tim stacked the team again!” I hope that makes Bob laugh, looking down from his celestial hockey field.

Picture One: Bob and Dottie
Picture Two: Bob, June 1968

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Beloved Cousins: Too Soon Gone, Part Five, by Sue Kinsella

James Lee Taylor
June 17, 1946 – January 10, 2007

Son of Arnon, who was son of Nancy Ethel Taylor, daughter of Kate Baker

Jim moved to Florida with his mother and siblings after she and Uncle Arnon split up and I didn’t see him again until he was grown up. Diana tells a story about when he came back up to New York to live with Arnon. She knew little about Arnon’s first family, so when her parents told her they were taking her for a ride and a surprise, she was sure it was going to be a pony. Instead, they went to the airport and stood by a fence until a teenage boy got off the plane. That’s when she first met Jim.

Jim loved the outdoors. Diana remembers the knee high rubber boots he wore when he checked his trap line. They had been Arnon’s, but Jim complained that they leaked. Arnon, always interested in scientific data, filled the laundry tub with water and put them in it to see where the leak was, but they couldn’t find one. Nevertheless, the next time Jim wore the boots, he came back complaining that they still leaked and he wanted Arnon to get him a new pair. So the next time Jim went out, Arnon tagged along and came back laughing. The mystery was solved when he watched Jim wade through a culvert to get to a pond. Jim tried so hard to keep from bumping his head on the ceiling of the culvert that he didn’t notice that the water was three inches higher than the boots.

Arnon did some more detective work to find out why the paddles on the canoe were looking so cracked and beat up. Jim couldn’t imagine what had caused it. So the next time Jim and one of his friends took the canoe out, Arnon took Diana along to see what they were up to. As she tells it, “One of the guys would stand by the edge of the pond where there was a pipe going to the creek. The other was at the other end of the pipe. When one would yell, ‘Fish!’, the other got ready because when the carp came through, it was his job to beat it to death with the canoe paddle. Many carp got away but the rocks and the ground took a heck of a pounding with the canoe paddle.”

Jim went to the Syracuse University School of Forestry, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I found out a couple years ago that he had ended up working in the paper industry. I had, too, but from an environmental direction. He was surprised, as well, that he hadn’t known about my work. He had been fighting cancer and told me in an e-mail, “I’m done with chemotherapy and received a clean bill of health. I only want to work for two more years until I’m 62. That’s long enough for me.” He almost made it. Ironically, after beating cancer, he died of a heart attack when he was 61.

Photo: Jim and Bob Taylor

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beloved Cousins: Too Soon Gone, Part Four, by Sue Kinsella

Joseph Francis Maffei

Son of Leona Maffei, who is daughter of Lillian Howland, daughter of Kate Baker
May 15, 1946 – August 12, 2006

Mom remembers Joey as a very good baseball player, especially good at catching and hitting when his dad, Neil, threw balls to him. She remembers one time in particular when she walked into Leona’s house, where the table was set for dinner. Joey, who was about 5 then, and Carol Ann danced into the dining room and grabbed black olives to slip onto their fingers, giving their mother devilish grins.

Kathryn remembers Joey as really sweet and special to her. They wrote sometimes when Kathryn was in her early teens and she so appreciated that her older cousin took the time and effort to pay that attention to her.

Carol Ann’s death, when Joey was a young teen, was terribly hard for him and he had a difficult time coping for the rest of his life. When he could, he worked for his dad. He was 60 when he died.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beloved Cousins: Too Soon Gone, Part Three, by Sue Kinsella

Jack Lloyd Taylor
Son of Arnon Taylor, who was son of Nancy Ethel Taylor, daughter of Kate Baker
July 6, 1948 – June 25, 1994

Jack was a firecracker, for sure, born two days after the 4th of July. He was three years older than me, which when we were kids seemed huge. I remember staying for a week with Arnon’s family when I was about seven. We picked strawberries, peeled sunburn from Nancy’s back, and played cowboys with a western frontier town scene set up on the kitchen floor after dinner. I thought all the Taylor boys were dazzlingly handsome. I can’t imagine Jack without a happy-go-lucky, rakish grin.

Diana tells about the first time she met Jack, when he came up from Florida to see his dad. It just so happened that Arnon was at that time trying his hand at making beer. Everyone was pressed into service to help and Jack was an eager assistant. Diana, having previously tasted some of the uncertain outcomes of famous Arnon concoctions, was a bit more reticent. After letting the mixture ferment, Jack was first in line for a taste. As Diana describes it, “Dad poured it out and he and Jack enjoyed a large and masculine slug. Dad smiled a bit and set his glass down. Jack . . . well, Jack turned several different colors, then spit and gagged. It smelled horrid and I hear it tasted worse.” Despite that experience, Jack stayed on for a few more months and, Diana says, he packed a lot of energy and practical jokes into a very short period of time.

That sounds like Jack. And that’s why it was incomprehensible to me when I heard that he had been found slumped over at work, dead of a heart attack just shy of 46.