When you run into forever Fair Havenite Ray Taylor, you’re always met with a smile and a lot of gratitude. Never a complaint — unless the 97-year-old is told to slow down.
The conversation may have been had days, weeks, months or years ago. Yet, if it’s a conversation with Mr. Taylor, it will usually come back to bless you at the strangest of moments, make you smile and motivate you to be a better person, a bigger part of your community. A little mazeltov, if you will.
You may be feeling a bit jaded, old and weary. All you need to do is remember, for instance, this Taylor chat scenario from August at the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair:
The scene …
Mr. Taylor, relishing every moment of tradition at the fair, is sitting on a bench with family and friends, smiling ear-to-ear. When he is approached with a “good to see you, Mr. Taylor. You’re looking well. I understand you are now 96?”
“Oh, no, I’m 97!” he says with a grin and a nod. To tell him he looks great, offer blessings and a “Wow! You’re amazing! How have you been doing?” is to hear a complaint that usually doesn’t come with the pings, pangs and pains of aging, never mind rounding a century’s corner.
“Oh, I’m just fine,” he says. “But, do you know they won’t let me push my lawn mower?? They won’t let me do it anymore! I always liked to push my mower! Oh, well. I guess I’ll just get by with walking around the town.” And he does.
A mere three years from a century old, and Fair Haven icon Ray Taylor, a World War II and Korean War vet still walks his own brazen walk of optimism. He’s always walked it, mower pushing or not. As if war wasn’t enough, the man, with a sigh of contentment and gentile demeanor, fought his way through discrimination and racism, not even allowed to attend Knollwood or then Willow Street schools in his own borough.
You see, he’s been walking that walk since he was a Fair Haven boy. And he has set a comfortable, invigorating pace, nary a complaint about being winded from the uphill struggle in the stride. Always walking, smiling, persisting in learning a trade, after being schooled at the Fisk Chapel’s school in the borough, “earning” attendance and playing football at what was then Rumson High School was his comfortable pace.
Denied in his youth what are givens for most, Mr. Taylor never winced, according to his own account. He, instead, shone a light into his own world’s window, well-earned happy creases at the corners of his eyes, and kept trucking. He has gladly shared his soul. Happily. Still is. He’s always trucking up and down River Road and around the town, chatting, offering to help with something, like gathering and placing fair signs or flags, and getting that walk in with an endless forging of connections. Always a new moment to savor and smile about. Always letting others in. Mower aside, he is always a presence. A townie presence that should be preserved.
The kind of presence to which every human should aspire. I have often heard that when old folks pass away, funeral attendance is usually sparse, because most of their peers have passed.
Mr. Taylor defies that theory, not that he is, in any way, ready to test it. Certainly not! Why the defiance ? He IS community. People naturally flock to him, age or diminished kinships be damned. He keeps himself connected through the generations, never judging, always appreciating the littlest of things and spreading the wealth of them. He cares. He is undaunted by pretense. He is one of the reasons why there is a fair in everybody’s little haven.
He is what some are missing while fussing over the monetary worth of their back yards and, dare I say, donuts, instead of offering a chair, a cup of coffee and conversation. Who ever eulogized the upscale worth of a person’s property at a funeral? No one.
Live by Mr. Taylor’s example and get behind the mower, not under it. Push it along, and gently, oblivious to the stubborn, nasty weeds. Walk his walk. Remember the talk, the lesson to pass the mower and the moments, please.