Sunday, May 11, 2014

An Admirable Friend

Everything is in bloom, the Western Tanager returned this week, and violent winds have given way to a sun that hasn't grown as merciless as it soon will.

One recent evening we watched some kids dancing. Young kids, maybe eight years old. The boys wore dark vests, Mexican hats, and false black moustaches, the girls Mexican dresses. It was part of a fundraiser for the J. Paul Taylor Academy, and J. Paul Taylor sat watching them, clapping his hands, smiling, often pointing or waving at a particular kid. It was nearly sunset, the first wonderfully mild First Friday Art Ramble we've had this spring.

This morning, as the quail wander in to eat the seed we've tossed out and drink from the water bowls, that Friday evening scene wanders into my mind.

I have tremendous respect and affection for J. Paul.

This is a man who grew up on a farm in the southern part of our county. He started working and teaching at a time when his peers at work could visit his home in Mesilla and shake their heads over his choice to live out there restoring an old house. “You don't want to raise your children out here, in this culture!?” they clucked. “Why not? I was,” replied Taylor, whose ancestors include the Spanish explorer Robledo, who died here centuries ago, giving his name to the nearby mountain peak.

After retirement at 66, he got talked into running for the State Legislature, served 18 years, and retired from that gig as “the conscience of the Legislature.”

In Mexican dress
the children dance as they've learned.
The village elder
has only to smile and clap
with delight he seems to feel.

I have seen J. Paul in a receiving line, greeting hundreds of friends from a variety of generations, ethnic groups, and economic levels. Many he taught in school. In some cases he's taught two generations from the same family, perhaps even three. What amazes me is that he recognizes them all, knows their names, and usually knows which class they were in. (I can barely recognize people I've met during the past year or two.) I have watched and wondered what it must be like to occupy such a prominent spot in so many hearts.

He has seen seasons
come and go, fought many fights.
Now they honor him.
His body fails more and more,
as they learn to control theirs.

Paul mixes a boundless capacity for love with a strict sense of what's right and what isn't. Gentle as he is, he stands up strongly for education, tolerance, and economic equality. Stricken now by Parkinson's, he suffers its indignities with rare grace. He still attends community and political functions. He can still walk through his marvelous home for hours, explaining to a visitor what everything is, how he and his late wife, Mary Daniels Taylor, came by it, and mix in some historical detail or a funny anecdote. He and Mary made a warm, personal home for their seven kids of their place on the Mesilla Plaza, then donated it to the public to be a State Monument after Paul finishes living there. (The State currently has someone working part-time with Paul on which pieces from the collection will stay in the Monument.)

He waves as they pass.
He knows all the village kids,
taught their grandfathers.
When a great tree dies, it leaves
a huge hole where its roots were.

It's not something we've discussed, but I think he lives each day with gratitude, as all of us should. He mourns his wife, one of his sons, and who knows what and whom else; but while J. Paul is alive he will not only enjoy each day but bring some joy to others.

Though he would likely demur, he has at every stage of his life been an example to his community. As a young man of mixed ethnicity in an unwise world, he got on with his work; was a loving husband and father, and a caring teacher; and (without a chip on his shoulder) said what needed to be said, probably in a way uniquely capable of being heard by those who needed to hear. Later, at an age when most are preoccupied with golf or bridge, he battled politically for what he believed. At an age most of us won't even reach, he continues to stand up for what he believes is right. Quietly, with an apparent humility that only makes his words more effective.

That's worth remembering and appreciating every so often. It's also a spirit worth emulating, if we can.

Thanks, Paul!

The Friends of the Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla State Monument will hold a party at Josefina's in Mesilla to celebrate J. Paul's 94th birthday on Sunday, August 24 (which is his actual birthday).


[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, May 11th.]

[Meanwhile, life in local politics seems particularly interesting these days.   
Notably, Magistrate Judge Rick Wellborn's "disappearance" remains a bit of a mystery.  No one has disclosed the accusation(s) against him so serious as to warrant a New Mexico Supreme Court session on what to do with him; and no one will even admit officially that any such thing is on tap.  Among the questions, as I read the law, are how it remains non-public information and whether that's lawful.  As I read the rules, a Judicial Standards Committee allegation, investigation, hearing, or recommendation is confidential, but when the matter reaches the Supreme Court it loses its confidential character.  But since the Supreme Court is the body authorized to take action, and to suspend someone pending a hearing, there should be public information -- unless Wellborn, knowing the accusations against him, took a "voluntary" leave pending a Supreme Court hearing, which would have delayed the need to make anything public.  However, with a hearing said to be imminent, one might reasonably expect some public information this coming week.  And, again, whatever the charges, Mr. Wellborn isn't legally guilty of them unless and until the New Mexico Supreme Court says he is.
The primary races (including the one in which Norman Osborne may or may not face Wellborn) are interesting.  Imminent columns will touch on at least a few of them.  There are a couple in which I see a number of credible candidates and one I wouldn't consider voting for.]
And will Mr. Pofahl meet his pushed-back deadline to bring the City Council a deal with regard to the possible plaza downtown?  Mr. Pofahl is interesting.  He says all the right things when one speaks with him, but a lot of other folks have plenty of questions about him.  The City of Hatch, of course, bought some investment land it now doesn't want, under the belief that if it wanted out of the deal it could sell the land back to Mr. Pofahl, then found it couldn't; and neighbors and other citizens strongly opposed the Pofahl proposal for the old country club property, and ware watching with interest to see how that'll play out.  I'm agnostic for now.]

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