I’m not a dad. This isn’t a lament but a fact. It’s neither good, nor particularly bad. It simply is. I will admit taking some comfort that during my journalism career I might have helped someone along the path when their own dads weren’t readily available. As I got older I often thought of young reporters as not really brothers and sisters anymore but first nieces and nephews and every so often as sons or daughters.
My personal founding fathers are also gone. They were special men I’ll remember on Father’s Day in lieu of the ability to actually pay a visit, share lunch or watch the U.S. Open golf tournament on TV. That was always what I did with my own dad on Father’s Day. If you’re up there listening today dad let me tell you they turned the U.S. Open this year into the Greater Milwaukee Open.
First my dad, Ed. M. Taylor Jr. was a man who loved to laugh, but didn’t offer a smile all that often. He liked good times, he liked good drinks, he liked Danbury and Stokes County. He loved his family even when we were a pain in the ass. He helped produce cigarettes for a living. Not sure he liked that too awfully much — but he did what he had to do. He was a Wake Forest fan who became so nervous watching games he had to go into another room. The day in 2006 when the Deacons defeated Georgia Tech to win the ACC football championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl, I called him as time ran out in that tight game to let him know it was safe to tune in and celebrate. A heart transplant survivor in 1992, he passed away in 2008. He lived to see me get married to a woman he loved like the daughter he never had until then.
Then we have his father, Ed. M. Taylor Sr., who died in 1962 before I could really know him. He was a businessman, politician and notably picky eater of whom my father once said, “He would go into the finest restaurant and demand pinto beans.” Small in stature, he had failing kidneys for years. He left much too soon, in his 50s, but looked much older. He served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives. The one toy I still have from my childhood is a Texaco tanker truck he gave me. It is never for sale.
My mother’s father, W.H. “Boley” Tuttle was the oldest resident of Walnut Cove when he passed away in the 1990s. Everyone in our family called him “Papa.” Everybody else called him “Mr. Boley.” He was a veteran of World War I, attended Elon College and owned one of Walnut Cove’s longest-serving businesses — Tuttle Hardware — which is still operated by my cousin Bill. A master gardener before there was such a thing, he had a profound influence on us all and at one time could almost certainly name every resident of his town and who their daddies and granddaddies were and where they lived. His most unusual event, on the day after the most notorious murders in the history of Stokes County — when Charlie Lawson offed his entire family at Christmas — he carried the dead infant out of the house. He loved country cooking by my grandmother’s hand, working outdoors in a garden that was more like a farm, going to his store each day and drives on Sunday afternoons following church. He loved a cigar — any cigar — it didn’t have to be good or bad. He liked to tell jokes — delivered in a manner that was drier than toasted bread — they were almost always good.
And finally there is my spouse’s father, Guiseppe (Joseph) “Papa Joe” Papandrea. An immigrant from the Calabria region of Italy, he was a front row spectator to World War II before coming to America as a young man in the 1950s. He was a laborer who became a tradesman and later operated his own business — the embodiment of the American dream. After I met and married his daughter Roselee, he treated me as he would a son. His gardening skills reminded me of those long established by Papa, and I often told him so. We sold Christmas trees from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, we ate pasta, we laughed and we yelled. He left us far too soon.
All of these men are in my head in one way or another. I thank them all.