My mother was born at home in south-central North Carolina in 1920. Her father was a farmer. Her mother, Jennie, was mostly a farmer’s wife, but was also a seamstress, taking jobs sewing things for neighbors far and near. She kept up on fashionable patterns. As a teenager, my grandmother painted a very respectable picture of a mother and child, which was hanging in my mother’s room at her death. She and Fred, my grandfather, often enjoyed discussing bible stories and texts in quiet, thoughtful tones. For rural folk in the depression, this was the light of culture.
My mother had two brothers and a sister, who did a number of remarkable things. Both brothers, James and Fred, worked playing minor league baseball for a while. Both brothers published well regarded novels. Her sister Jean married poet Donald Justice and published a volume of stories.
In 1943 my mother married my father, Peter Taylor, who went on to write stories and plays and won the Pulitzer Prize for one of his novels. He was from the city – or several, as his family moved a few times. I should de-emphasize him in a piece about my mother, but he was very sociable and introduced mom to many people she came to love.
My mother was a teetotaler. At the many parties she attended with my father, mom would stand happily conversing with her arms folded, not even disguising her abstinence with a glass of soda. Some partiers admitted feeling intimidated by this.
Many readers note, rightly, the unflinching determination to face truth in my mother’s poems. I think the flip side is that she had courage in the face of real fear. She was physically small, and, having recently watched her go through the diminutions of old age, her second childhood, I have become more aware of the country girl child in her. She was inquiring (she saved stacks of clippings about astronomy, the brain, physics, paleontology) and she knew the world was a great and terrible place.
She also loved watching cloud formations. Most of her poems tell stories about people, but around the edges is an awareness of the creeks and mountains. I feel her interest in gardening, birdwatching, even in people’s cats and dogs was a conventional expression of her love of the natural world.
Perhaps a well known quote by Flaubert helps to explain her conventional life: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” As a mother, she was lovably predictable. As writer, all bets were off.