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When Mother wrote a column

Charlie Taylor and his sister, Margery Estelle, 1990 Introduction to the BY-WAYS, by Charles F. Taylor -

Having pretty much grown up with my mother's weekly By-Ways columns, I'm afraid I tended to treat them as just a part of the weekly routine at our house. Monday was wash day, Tuesday- ironing, and Sunday afternoon Mother at her old Royal typewriter while Dad lounged - with one leg draped over an arm of an over stuffed chair - as he listened to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's weekly broadcast.

As we got closer to mail pickup, Mother would draft all of us for proof reading, envelope preparation, while a courier (usually me) warmed up to dash off on my bike to the corner mail box. Wasn't it like that at everyone's house in those days?

Unfortunately - to use an old Pennsylvania Dutch expression - "We grow too soon old undt too late schmart." I was an English major at Kent State University, specializing in creative writing, yet I had no idea how gifted my Mother was. Week after week, year after year, she was able to put freshness into her human interest writings. Mother kept that up for over ten years.

I suppose I either enjoyed or suffered embarrassment when I was featured from time to time- depending on whether Mother portrayed me in her idealized style or as I really was. For example: I was once trying to enjoy a romantic moment one summer afternoon with Beverly Carnahan (my Salina, PA girlfriend), when Beverly laughingly quoted from a column that appeared in the Saltsburg Press earlier that year.

"Well, Charlie's in love again." Trouble was Mother wasn't referring to Beverly. That year I had added a Youngstown girl to my hobby list (my relationships seemed to last longer when I couldn't see a girl too often because she lived far away).

I was living at home again with Mother and Dad not long after I received my degree from Kent State, in their second-floor apartment on Urbana Road in Cleveland. And one day while I was warming up the driver-training car that I used for my job as a driving instructor for the Euclid Driving School, I looked up and saw billows of thick black smoke rising high in the air from what turned out to be a factory directly behind our house. As I watched the smoke, Mother rushed out onto our large front porch and screamed at me not to leave. I hurried back upstairs to find her busily gathering up scrap books, apparently the only items she was worried about losing- in case the fire were to spread to our house. Of course, I was more interested in retrieving my new personal car - a little Nash Rambler - from the garage than worrying about old scrapbooks.

Now, fifty years later, I understand that Mother knew exactly where her priorities were that day on Urbana Road. Those scrapbooks undoubtedly contained those priceless columns cut out from issue after issue of the Saltsburg Press. The Rambler surely wound up on a scrap heap years ago.

I believe I'm qualified to evaluate the By-Ways as a body Florence and Mary Burlingameof work. During the nearly fifteen years I was privileged to be a Dale Carnegie instructor, I learned that there were three criteria that determine whether a talk (or a piece of writing) was deserving of the audience or reader's attention.

  • Had the author earned the right to make this presentation through experience or study?
  • Was he or she excited about or had deep feelings about his subject?
  • Was he or she eager to share his message with the audience or readers?

  • I'm sure my mother must have asked herself one more question each time she sat down to the typewriter. Otherwise, her weekly column could never have lasted as long as it did. Why would the readers of the Saltsburg Press bother to follow the ordinary life of a suburban housewife? My family never did anything earth shaking. But Mother always seemed to inject a cheerful view of life as a small town woman raising three bewildering children in a Big City. She had the gift of transporting her readers from Salt Street in Saltsburg, to 4501 Lilac Road, South Euclid, Ohio, or to Avenue F in Austin, Texas, or out to 10th Street, Long Beach, California, or out onto the grimy concrete floor of a defense plant on Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland.

    As I reread fifty- or sixty-year-old By-Ways stories, they strike me as being as fresh as when they were written.

    I'm very proud of my mother. She rose above her rocky first seven years of life to become an outstanding journalist and human being.

    I wish I had told her so when she was alive.

    Charles F. Taylor