TOMMY TAYLOR by Cheryl McGuire
My name is Tommy Taylor. I’m the one standing in the middle behind Frankie. Frankie was a nut to grab hold of Mrs. Edgerton’s face thataway. Mrs. Edgerton was our teacher. A good sport. It was May 1903, a hot day. Too hot for thinkin’ much. Anyway, we’d just finished our last day of high school freshman year, and for a treat, Mrs. Edgerton rented a bus and hauled us all to the Jersey shore. Her kids got to come too.
I’m surprised, now, lookin’ at this picture. Where’d you get it? That was such a long time ago. Look at Jeffrey. He hated his hair the way it’d stand straight up in the air like that. But we didn’t care. We were like brothers, all of us. There wasn’t a mean one in the bunch. We were a good group of boys. Close.
Of course, we’re all dead now. Yes, siree, Bob. Every one, that’s a fact. Dead as doornails, Shakespeare liked to say. The Great War claimed a lot of us, and the ones who survived with afflictions, well, their lives were changed forever. But they had strong spirits and managed to make somethin’ of themselves, somehow. I managed to come outta the Great War okay and return home to Toms River in Ocean County, New Jersey.
Toms River was a peaceful place then, a true part of God’s green earth. Somewhere’s about 1712 a group of folks started this small settlement along Goose Creek. Later, the town changed its name to honor old mister William Toms, a river boat captain and an Englishman. His way of speakin’ was different than the rest of us. It kinda fascinated the town and made townsfolk feel sorta special, sophisticated like, to name the town after him.
Times was sure different then, in 1903. There was time for things, like picnics and courtin’, or sittin’ on the porch whittlin’ sticks. My girl Miss Mary Ellen and me spent lots of time next to that fresh water estuary at the edge of Toms River. We’d lie in the grasses under the broad beamed trees, talkin’, makin’ plans. Eventually, Mary Ellen and me got married and had a batch of six kids, four girls and two boys. My prides and joys I called ‘em. I counted myself a lucky man. I survived a bad war so I could marry and raise a family, and I made a good living at the hardware store and got all our kids to adulthood and weddin’s and younguns of their own.
I had my Mary Ellen on nigh 65 years. She went to the Lord just a few days after her 85th birthday. She kissed me a sweet kiss goodnight as we went to bed, and that was it. She passed away peacefully in her sleep. I gave thanks I had her that long.
As for me, I waited five more years before finally joining my Mary Ellen in heaven. I was in the middle of my 92nd year when I went. I wasn’t sorry to go. Life was speedin’ up, leavin’ me behind. People got to rushin’ round. No time for things. Factories crowded in. My beautiful estuary got polluted and townsfolk started dyin’ of cancer. I couldn’t figure things. My heart ached all the time, hankerin’ for calmer days. When you start yearnin’ for the past more than you live in the present, and you can’t see any future, it’s time to pull your buggy to the side of the road and turn the reins over to the younguns.
But that picture sure did take me back. I appreciate seein’ it again. Look at us! All our dreams ahead, for some of us, anyway. Life was too short for others. Jeffrey didn’t make it outta the Great War and didn’t have to worry none about that cowlick of his. I was sorry to hear that was so. He was a good hearted young fella and would have made a fine family man. When my time came around, I’d seen enough of life. Maybe too much. The world felt wrong somehow. Inhospitable, un-neighborly. That’s not the right way for the world to go. I was ready, happy to turn my soul over to the Lord, tired of worrying over modern things. Anyway, I missed my bride, my Mary Ellen. It was time.