May 31, 1958
It was Primary Day in North Carolina. Back then it was held on Saturday, which seems odd today. After all, who wants to vote on Saturday when most people are usually trying to rest up from the work week, catching up on chores at home, vacationing or tending to family events like, well, a wedding. Besides, the liquor stores are closed on election days, which on a Saturday might put a serious dent in the weekend.
And this Primary Day was an important one for the Danbury Taylors of Stokes County. They had a long history in politics. John Taylor was the county sheriff for 20 years and served in the state House. His brother Ed Taylor was also in the state Legislature for one term. Both were helped in their quests by sister Grace Taylor Rodenbough, an educator and former Red Cross director who became so well-known in the county campaigning for her brothers that in 1952 she took up the gauntlet and won her first term in the state House. She would go on to win seven more terms — almost unheard of back in the day. She’s still the most successful woman in Stokes County’s political history — would have to be.
For the Taylors of that era, politics became the family business. Taylors who weren’t running for office were usually operating to influence those who were. They worked the precincts, took people to the polls, supplied liquor — whatever it took. The supplying liquor part is why the stores are closed when people go to the polls. This was easily dodged. My father just bought a lot the day before.
On Primary Day one of my father’s jobs was to help get out the vote (thus the boxes of hootch). In a political family it’s what was required from its younger men, the ones not ready to run for office yet. On Primary Day 1958, he was supposed to deliver willing voters for his Aunt Grace. But on this particular Primary Day Edwin Madison Taylor Jr. had another piece of business to attend to. It’s the day he was to wed Miss Barbara Sue Tuttle of Walnut Cove.
The timing was controversial, my father said, retelling the story in 2008 on their 50th anniversary and as his health rapidly declined. He would only live a few days longer. But he had great strength that day at Forsyth Memorial Hospital, recounting Grace’s irritation with the scheduling of his wedding. A smart politician should expect to lose and fight like hell to win. Grace wanted all her forces out there on Primary Day. And the wedding also took her away from the polls, a place where someone with her popularity could do a lot of good.
As it turned out, Grace had nothing to worry about. She won her way to the November election — and would win in 1960, 1962 and 1964 — en route to being one of the most influential women in North Carolina during that time.
And her nephew would marry a fine young woman and decide that politics probably wasn’t a good fit, at least for him. By the early 1970s Ed would come to believe that politics was an ugly enterprise and removed himself from it as best he could. Getting out the vote became a distant memory. As time passed, fewer would-be candidates came by the house he and Barbara built on the side of a hill just outside historic Danbury, to receive his blessing to run.
Politics was no longer the family business.
He and Barbara raised two boys — both hardened skeptics, contrarians and cynics on the outside but soft as warm chocolate pie on the inside. They were raised to believe in right and wrong — something that made them unsuited for a life begging for votes. But it made them perfect candidates for the job of questioning the motives of politicians.
And so it goes.