I will try to lift you up

I know I said, at first, I wasn’t going to write about the terrible events that I covered as the crime reporter, but sometimes there are stories about real people that need to be told.

Back in the ’80s, someone killed a couple of crack-head hookers. Those women took a special place in my heart. When the body of the first one was found, frozen in a plot of woods in Auburn, N.H., naked, the night crew at the paper handled the original, breaking story. She had tattoos which, because the newspaper published them, identified her.

I was working days, and got her identity: Rose Miller. I tracked down her brother, who talked with me on the phone about her hard life.

When she was about 12 years old and living in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, someone came to their front yard and shot and killed their father. Rose saw this happen and never really recovered from the trauma.

And, according to the brother, the shooter was not convicted of killing their father. I wasn’t able to track information that far back, but I had little reason to doubt what the brother was saying.

Just after I got off the phone with the brother, my colleague who had worked the nightside of the original story walked into the newsroom.

“Hey, just another dead hooker,” he said.

I grabbed his shirt at the throat and said:

“No one goes to eighth grade career night and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a crack-head and a hooker.’ ”

We don’t have any idea where circumstances will lead us.

So, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for those who became, for whatever reason, the short-shrifted, marginal folks in society. It has not always been your fault. There are those of us who back you.

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Memorial/Decoration Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend. My dear friend, Susan, traveled with some of her family today to a bridal shower in Maine, stopping along the way at several southern Maine cemeteries to visit family graves, places she hadn’t been to in a couple of years.

With them were another daughter and one of Susan’s granddaughters. The idea to visit came from Susan’s youngest daughter, which means she has passed that importance on to her children.

Although I have not been “home” in Kentucky for Memorial Day in years, I do still honor the family passed with a visitwhen I am in town. I travel to Battle Grove Cemetery, stop first at the parents’ site just past the mausoleum, who are buried alongside Daddy’s parents, and just downhill from three of his brother, Howard’s, wives. Uncle Howard outlived them all and was buried with his fourth wife elsewhere.

In the next family plot to the right are the Kings, cousins of my father’s, including the Methodist minister, Frank King, who performed my wedding ceremony.

Then, I drive up the hill to my mother’s family’s burial plot: my grandmother, my great-aunt, my Aunt Pat, my great-grandparents, a great-uncle I never knew, my grandmother’s sister who died in as an infant.

Next, I journey around to the backside, where my father’s brother, Bus and his wife Dal, and their eldest son, Lindsey, are buried. Lindsey, a lifetime ago one of my best friends, died days short of his 2oth birthday in an auto accident. His parents (and two younger brothers) survived him. His death left a hole in everyone’s heart.

Across the road from Lindsey and his parents are the Jennens, Bush and Sara Frances, parents of more dear friends. I walk over there because I can, because I know where their gravesites are.

Sometimes, I visit other graves: the Carrolls, Aunt Sara Newton, Richard Slade (a funny, handsome, loveable classmate who died in a tractor accident when we were in our 40s). He had just come to the class reunion that summer, as I recall. Then, just like that, he was gone.

It’s my personal observation of Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day. It was so named to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the War Between the States. It ultimately became Memorial Day, not just in memory of all the soldiers and others who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. It now honors all of those who went before us, who helped show us the way, teach us to love and cherish, teach us patience and faith.

And because I find so much solace in music, I offer you this from John Lee Hooker on this Memorial Day weekend: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEGYYbRRB_8&quot;

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One summer in Leeslick

I spent a week one summer with my Aunt Sara Newton, one of my father’s sisters; her husband, Uncle Buck, and their five daughters, all older than me. I don’t recall if all five were still living at home. I’m pretty sure that B.T., Helen and Wiley were there, and maybe Peggy.

I suspect Yancy had already left Leeslick, the small rural village where they lived in a two-story brick house.

It was probably in July, in the mid-1950s. I was still in elementary school, maybe second or third grade. My family lived in northern Harrison County, in the village of Berry. The Van Derens lived in southern Harrison County. When Aunt Sara Newton married Edward Van Deren, her parents also lived north of Cynthiana. When she told her father they were going to set up house in Leeslick, his response, according to her, was, “I was hoping you’d at least stay in the county.” Well, she did, but it was a distance in those days.

Let me tell you about Aunt Sara Newton. In the 1930s, she graduated from college with a degree in mathmatics and taught high school math for years, something unheard of in those days, a woman teaching math. She was smart as a whip and could cook up a Sunday dinner or New Year’s Day dinner with the best of them. To the amazement of all of us, she would stand over a cast iron skillet filled with frying chicken, with a cigarette hanging in her mouth, ashes curling downward and never once did I see them fall into the skillet. It was always a miracle.

The summer I was visiting, I attended vacation bible school at the Leesburg Christian Church. That was when I first met Barry Carroll, who would eventually become one of my best nearly lifelong friends. That summer we were just two little kids who hung out together at church. Barry and his folks lived on a farm across the road from Aunt Sara Newton’s and up on a hill. It’s the Conner place now.

I was, quite frankly, thrilled to be in the Van Deren household. As the only girl in my family – the rose between the thorns – I often wished for a sister. These cousins became the closest I would get as family to a sister.

That was the only summer I visited. My older brother, Win, I recall, spent time during a couple of summers so Aunt Sara Newton could help him with his math.

My own experience with mathematics was tortuous at best, but I never got the tutoring Win received.

It’s okay. Years later, after both my parents had died, Aunt Sara Newton insisted I stay with her whenever I visited my hometown.

One night, sitting in the log cabin she had moved into after her husband died and her daughters all left home, she said to me, “You know, I always liked you, but I already had girls.”

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Derby day and chocolate

Technically, yesterday was Kentucky Derby Day. As I have done for mostly 38 years (I missed one because my now ex-husband agreed to tend bar for a friend’s daughter’s wedding), I had my annual Derby Party. This year, because of finances, I decided not to invite the first 300 people on my email list. If you were offended that you didn’t get an invitation, I’m sorry. But you could have shown up anyway. I wouldn’t have minded.

Because of my finances, I didn’t rent a tent and get extra tables and chairs this year. And quite honestly, yesterday was one of my more memorable Derby parties.

There were probably 50 of us here, in the house, and we chatted, my friends introduced themselves to each other, enjoyed conversations and found common ground beyond their connections to me.

And as my friends are wont to do, several of them brought birthday gifts because it is my birth week (and month).

This early morning, my favorite are the chocolates that Arthur, the major foodie in my life, brought me. You have to know Arthur to appreciate his fine appreciation of good food. This is a man who has dined at some of the world’s best restaurants: Noma in Copenhagen …. declared the No. 1 restaurant in the world last year.

And Arthur yesterday brought me someone’s homemade chocolates. Oh my goodness. After everyone was gone earlier tonight, I … the woman who rarely eats any sweets … ventured into this little box. Arthur had said I had to eat them within 10 days because they have no preservatives in them.

Mostly they are covered in dark chocolate, which is my favorite.

The first one was a burst of flavor, somewhat sweet with a hint of raspberry. The second one was a dark chocolate-covered date. The center of the third was a molten lava of unbelievable caramel. The flavors blended with this luscious dark chocolate have been orgasmic, truly.

By then, I was wondering why I was drinking scotch when these chocolates demanded Courvoisier. So, I poured a snifter of Courvoisier and just consumed the fourth piece of candy in a very civilized manner: chocolate-covered chocolate with a crystalized sugar topping. Oh my goodness.

My sweet tooth is satisfied for now. Happy Mother’s Day to all my dear friends who are mothers! You are the light that shines the way.

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In memoriam: For the victims of 9/11/2001 and their families and other friends

The following appeared as an op-ed piece in the New Hampshire Union Leader on December 3, 2001. I wrote it in mid-November, just two months after the horrendous attacks on 9/11, when more than 3,000 souls left this Earth, violently,  because of an unrelenting hatred.

Meteors, mysteries revealed in the cold, pre-dawn air

By Cissy Taylor

——

“EVERY NIGHT I go outside and look for a shooting star.”
— Richard O’Leary, on the occasion of the sudden death of his wife, Mary, at the age of 45.
—–
On the morning of Nov. 18, I arose at 4:15, prepared hot cocoa (decaf, of course), bundled up in fleece and down and ventured outside. It was late November in New Hampshire when bare trees, stripped of their leaves, silhouette the landscape. The air was crisp and cold, cold enough to see my breath and cold enough to remind me that the truly biting, bitter cold is yet to come.

I was hoping for a simple glimpse of shooting stars, the meteors that are officially known as the Leonids. My wish was granted, over and over again, and once again I was reminded just how much I love the night sky and how little I really know about, oh, almost anything.

The night sky where I live is stunted by ambient light, but I can still see some stars. The Big Dipper hangs upside down to the left of Jupiter, I think, a “morning” star in this changing season.

Look to the south, the news stories said, to see the Leonids.

South, I thought, where the lights of the northeast seaboard’s megalopolis glow, diminishing the brightness of my night sky.

Then, almost as quickly as it came, a light flashed across the sky in front of me. Oooh, I thought. Directly overhead, almost out of my peripheral vision, was another. Ooooh, I thought again. A smile broke on my face.

Damn the eastern seaboard and full steam ahead.

Over and over again, meteors streaked past my house in the peaceful night. In the distance, I could hear the hum of motors traveling up and down the interstate highway. Otherwise, the air was only broken by my gasps and aahs.

A car engine kicked to life nearby and a neighbor drove past. A few minutes later, a neighbor from across the street slipped quietly out of her house, got into her car and drove away. Where were these people going at 5:00 on a Sunday morning? And when they both returned, half an hour later and 15 minutes apart, they drove quietly in, parked and eased their doors closed behind them.

Where had they gone and why had they come back so soon?

We live in a condo complex, sharing walls and streets and lawns. We are physically close, but in many ways so far apart. I’ve often smiled, waved and said hello to those two people, but I honestly don’t even know their names. And yet, here I was in the pre-dawn hours watching them drive away and return. Had they seen me? Did they wonder what I was doing sitting on my front step at that hour?

Across the way, I could see the light on in another neighbor’s den. Unlike the first two, he actually is a friend, someone with whom I’ve shared laughs, wine, good times and bad. Was he awake? Was he, too, outside watching the meteor shower? Should I walk over and say good morning?

I stayed on my stoop, by now sitting on a pillow and wrapped in a blanket, still sipping cocoa from an insulated cup, oohing and aaahing as flashes of light clipped across the sky. A star moved, no, not a star, a plane, headed east. An early morning flight to Europe? A military jet? Not so long ago, I didn’t put that much thought into an airplane in the distance.

When I was a teenager, I was camping with other Girl Scouts on a mountain top in Kentucky, far from Milky Way-robbing city lights. We lay in our sleeping bags, outside of our tents, and watched billions of stars crowded into the night sky. And suddenly, a shooting star, then another and another and another. I recall that we saw seven that night. Seven shooting stars gave us plenty to cheer about.

Today, I can’t even remember who I was camping with, but it takes little effort to see once again that pitch black sky, those almost connect-the-dots stars, that seeming river-of-stars called the Milky Way and those celestial shooting stars.

There has always been something very special, even mystical about shooting stars, but for me, that mysticism was tempered with a little grief and a little peace. When I was a child, someone in my life, probably my grandmother, told me that when I saw a shooting star, it meant someone had died.

As a child, I thought the soul of the deceased took the form of the star and raced across the sky. Although I felt sadness that someone had died, I felt joy that he or she had come into the light.

That’s how I felt this morning. Warmed by fleece, down, cocoa, blanket and the lights of shooting stars. Awed by the sheer majesty of the dark sky, its blazing lights, the very opportunity to even see the stars, the souls, blaze across my night sky.

Cissy Taylor is a copy editor for The Union Leader.
Copyright 2001, 2002 Union Leader Corp.

Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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Missing my grandfather

I never knew my mother’s father. He and my grandmother were divorced when my mother was two years old. After that, John Paul Osborne left town and worked his way across the country. I know he worked as a laborer on the Hoover Dam. And he ended up in San Francisco, living and working, as a janitor, I think, at Mount St. Mary College. That’s where he died in 1952 of a heart attack.

The photo on the right is of my grandfather holding my then-7-month-old mother when he and my grandmother were living at the Hazard Coal Company, Roan, Ky., in 1921.

But, let’s go back. Here’s what I know: My grandmother, Mary Blanton Collier, was an ancient 32 when she and my grandfather wed in the study of a Lutheran minister in Metairie, Louisiana, in 1919. She and her sister, Edith, had traveled by train from Kentucky, to connect with my grandfather, who had traveled by train from Arizona, where he was working at the time. They had known each other, however, since at least high school.

Fifteen months later, my mother was born. And two years after that, my Aunt Pat was born. This is where things get a little dicey. My grandfather was a “periodic drunk.” It’s my phrase. It means he would go on a binge and disappear for a few days, then show back up at home, sober. For reasons unknown to me, my grandmother was at her father’s house in Kentucky when Aunt Pat was born. My grandfather was on one of his benders, and when he returned, my grandmother’s older brother, Tom, and her older sister, Edith, told my grandfather that my grandmother never wanted to see him again. Uncle Tom then drove him to the train station.

My grandfather never saw his wife and children face-to-face again. They were divorced and he kept moving on. My grandmother and Edith (who never married) raised my mother and Aunt Pat.

Throughout the years, my grandfather’s sisters kept in touch with my family. There’s a great photo of me sleeping on my father’s shoulder as we had arrived at the aunts’ house in Pineville, Ky., several hours away from ours.

And, I never missed my grandfather because I never knew him.

Fast-forward to 1952. My grandmother receives a letter from the nuns at Mount St. Mary College saying my grandfather had passed away and asking if she wanted his personal effects. She declined, as did Aunt Pat, but my mother said, “Yes.” A few weeks later, a shoebox arrived that contained his rosary beads and dozens and dozens of photographs … of his daughters growing up, getting married, having children and his grandchildren growing as much as we did until he died.

His sisters had been sending, all along, over all those years, photographs of his children and grandchildren, which he carried with him across the country. I started, in 1952, to miss my grandfather.

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UK is always a champion in our eyes!

There are some naysayers out there who believe OSU will defeat UK Friday in the Sweet Sixteen. But you know what, if points were fans, UK would always win, hands down.

Take the brilliant Buick promotion posted on FaceBook as March Madness kicked off. UK fans have always, always, been No. 1 out of 68 teams.

Because we are more rabid and dedicated to the Wildcats than any other school. As of 9 o’clock on Thursday night, UK had more than 14,000 fans. OSU had more than 4,000. Really?

I don’t have a real explanation for why UK fans are so dedicated. They travel to away games, center court seats at Rupp Arena are inherited, Coach Calipari posted on FaceBook today that the gym in Newark, where the team was practicing, was filled with Wildcat Blue!

And I don’t just say this because I grew up in Joe B. Hall’s hometown or because his sister is a dear friend of mine…this is just the way it is.

One of my cousins used to have a New Year’s Eve party and she served many drinks in red plastic glasses. But come the UK-Louisville game, those glasses disappeared, and the Wildcat Blue glasses came out. And you didn’t even think of wearing a Cardinal Red shirt or sweater or you didn’t get in the house.

I am hardly a major sports fan, but I can tell you I’m sorry John Wall dropped out of school last year to join the NBA, and I can tell you that Coach Calipari will work with his freshmen Friday night to do their best.

And when it is all done, UK fans will still see them as champions…if they are defeated, well, 16th out of 68 in the entire country is not to be laughed at!

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