By Grumpy Gramps for CrossDove Writers

Most anyone that really knows me, knows that I am a ‘preachers kid’ and that I grew up doing a pretty darn fine job of fulfilling nearly any and all the stigma’s that seem attached to it.

But one thing I can say about growing up a ‘preachers kid’ is that I eventually learned to understand what a blessed life it truly was.

Yes, I have lots of stories which I can and can not tell, but the one constant I have had since as far back as I can remember (which is apparently around four years old), is my lengthy list of what I proudly call my ‘church parents and grandparents’ from those days living and growing up in Whiting, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Austin, Minnesota.

As I shared stories with my ailing father the last half of 2020 as he slipped into dementia, we often talked about those ‘church parents and grandparents’ that I so fondly remembered and unfortunately have so few still living.

One such man I walk about often was Art Taylor, a member of my Dad’s church in Lincoln during the 1960’s.

While I always called him Mr. Taylor, eventually when I entered my later 30’s and early 40’s, he finally convinced me that it was okay to call him ‘Art’, but I still called him Mr. Taylor.

Art Taylor was married to Virginia and had two children, Bobie Ann who was a couple of years older than I was and son Mark who was a few years younger than me.

The Taylors were two of my parents absolute best friends, even beyond the work they did together within the church.

Mr. Taylor had one major interest that was as strong as my Dads – a love for the Nebraska Cornhusker athletic program.

When you combine the fact that Mr. Taylor’s son Mark was not a fan of sports at all and my Dad being so terribly busy at times doing what Pastors needed to do with a flock of around 600 members, I became somewhat of a surrogate son at times.

I attended my only Nebraska Cornhusker basketball games as a youngster with Mr. Taylor back in the mid- to late-60’s.

In fact, due to his job, Mr. Taylor even had access to the locker rooms, and I remember going into the locker room after a game one night and getting the autographs of several of the Cornhusker players. Included among those autographs (of which unfortunately I no longer seem to have) were players such as Fred Hare, Stuart Lantz (who went on to play in the NBA for many years for the Rockets and Lakers before becoming a radio personality for the Lakers) and Nate Branch, the same guy who years later became a member of, and head coach of the famous Harlem Globetrotters.

It was with Mr. Taylor that I saw and experienced my first Saturday afternoon in famous Memorial Stadium in the fall of 1966. It was game with Charlie ‘Choo-Choo’ Winters and Dick Davis at running back, Bob Churchich as quarterback, Wayne Meylan anchoring the defensive line while Langston Coleman and Larry Wacholtz played behind him at linebacker and safety.

It was Mr. Taylor who I remember seeing in the stands when I was playing ‘Little Chiefs’ baseball on the fields by Mickle Junior High.

It was with Mr. Taylor, along with my Dad, that I attended a track meet and had the opportunity to meet an athlete named Charlie Green who at one time held a world record in like the 100- or 200-yard dash along with being a member of the United State Olympic teams.

It was at Mr. Taylor’s house watching a Cornhusker football game with him and my Dad that we now have the famous laugh over how my Dad got so excited about a touchdown by Nebraska that he did a somersault across the Taylors living room floor and nearly put his feet through their television. We laughed about it over the years, though at the time it happened my Dad as I recall may have gotten a bit of a scolding from Mrs. Taylor, who sometimes did a good job of acting like an adopted big sister to my parents.

I became the sports fan son that he did not have at home and yet his son Mark and I stayed friends. In fact, I did not realize how important that friendship was up until a few years ago when I had the chance to see Mark for the first time in maybe 40-plus years.

When I walked into his apartment, Mark introduced me to his wife as the ‘big brother’ he never actually had. It was in those discussions that day that I realized he was always okay with me tagging along with his Dad to those sports events for which he had no interest in at all.

Even after my Dad left the church in Lincoln, we stayed in touch with the Taylors and as I grew into adulthood, got married and had children of my own – I could always depend on one thing if I were ever to visit Lincoln, an opening for a place to sleep at the Taylors as their door was always open.

I know that Mr. Taylor had other good or even best friends, and he most likely had other folks my age that he took under his arm as a surrogate Dad, but to me – he always rated as near the top of that list I carried with me in my mind, that list of ‘church parents’.

My last memory of Mr. Taylor came in 2003, I think after the annual Nebraska spring football game.

Since my parents had moved back to Lincoln when my Dad retired, we kind of made it a family thing to get together and attend those spring games and have a one-day family reunion of sorts.

In 2003, Mr. Taylor was extremely ill in health and after the game my older sister, younger brother, Dad, and I took time out of our day to visit him in the hospital. It was a good visit and we cheered him up by telling him about how good the future Cornhuskers looked in the scrimmage that day.

The hardest part of the day was stepping up to the side of Mr. Taylor and taking his hand while I told him with tears in my eyes how grateful I was for his friendship over the years and for all those events we shared as his ‘surrogate’ son. He knew how important he was to me and my growing up. He knew about my list of ‘church parents’ and was appreciative of knowing he was right near the top of that list.

With that, I gave my good-bye to Mr. Taylor and told him I loved him as if he was my own family.

The hardest part of that moment was leaving the room and walking to the car, knowing it was the last time I would have moments to share with one of the most important, impressionable, and appreciated of my ‘church Dads’.

Since my own Dad passed away at the end of December, I have found myself thinking more and more about those ‘church parents and grandparents’, the blessings of my childhood as I do not know too many folks who can say they were cared for by up to 25 or 30 sets of parents or maybe even more.

So tonight, I say once again – thank you Mr. (Art) Taylor for being the kind of ‘surrogate’ Dad who filled my life with love, faith, hope, joy, and most of all, grace.

With that – hugs, prayers, blessings, and happy thoughts from Gramps.

(Copyright@2021, CrossDove Writers – no part of this posting may be printed, copied, or used without written permission by CrossDove Writers and Gramps.)