Well before the time we were to move away from North Carolina, the nucleus of the family had grown. Grandpa had had a stroke during one of his performances (one of those classic instances where he had fallen on the stage and the audience thought it was part of the act) and retired. He and Grandma (nee Edna Little, then formally Edna Taggart) had moved in with us at some point. As far as I remember, though, they had always been with us. Charles Ross Taggart was over six feet tall, white-haired and craggy, with a perpetual frown that I hadn't learned yet to associate with pain and disappointment. I guess there was something of the dour Scot in him as well, and I think there was a mutual unease, though I know he made many efforts to overcome it on his side. His children had all been girls, and probably Grandma had had a good deal more to do with raising them than he. Knowing how I, at something past the age that he was then, feel about having to deal with small, imperfect children — both fascinated and repelled and definitely uncomfortable at trying to communicate — I can, far too late, sympathize (though I seem to mostly be able to evoke a shy smile from toddlers with their parents). Over time this difficulty would ease up a little, at least on my part, as I got to know his underlying sense of humor and his artistry, but it never really went away. For him, I'm afraid that things only got worse as I grew from a mischievous child to a troubled teen. But that may be yet to come in this recounting.
My grandfather towers over me. I'm four years old there, and I'm afraid I got over that cute stage before much longer.
|He had a Model A Ford, named Danny. It was tan, had interesting gadgetry at the dashboard that differed from that in the family's Ford (I have no idea now what model or year that one was, and as far as car names went, it was "Our Car"), and it had an exterior trunk on the rear. I only learned later that had been built just for Danny; it wasn't standard equipment on Model A's, though of course for the longest time I thought it was. I have no recollection of the incident, but he and I had an accident in Danny. All I remember of it was from afterwards, with a sharp pain when a gash in my scalp on the back of my head was clamped. I had a scar there that was eventually covered by my hair, and another on my cheek; both faded away with time. Neither are visible any longer, even now that my forehead has expanded all the way to the back, save perhaps for some small irregularities. I learned later that Grandpa had been reading a paper while he was driving, something I'm sure he'd become accustomed to while driving horse-drawn vehicles and thought he could manage perfectly well in the gas buggy — and probably had gotten away with for many years. (I think now of the ubiquitous cellphone users, and the women who primp in their rear-view mirrors, and I can see that the phenomenon hasn't really departed. At least the law addresses the cellphone thing these days.) Anyway, it seems he had either driven up onto an embankment at the side of the road and tipped over, or run into a ditch — I never was clear on that. But I never, ever, put any blame to him for it — at least not consciously.|
Besides the family I knew, there had also been visitors I learned to associate with family. Everybody was so happy to see them! And, shy that I was, I nevertheless got to love them too. I had three aunts plus peripheral people... Well, that's how I saw it then. There were my mother's sisters, Aunt Elisabeth and Aunt Bonnie (her given name was Miriam, but I'm not sure I ever actually heard anyone but Grandma and Grandpa call her that), and my father's sister Esther (though now that I mention her, I'm not sure that she traveled, so I don't believe I ever met her until many years later). Then there was Aunt Bonnie's companion, Dorothy, whom the grownups were allowed to call Dot. Elisabeth, the youngest sister, took after her father, tall, more striking than pretty, but always smiling and somehow more simpatico with me—and probably Hale and Elinor—than Bonnie, who was more compact, a sweet lady but more authoritative in style. Aunt Bonnie (the middle sister) and Dorothy were teachers (English and Typing, respectively, as I remember it) in Dedham, Massachusetts, and spoke with the flat a's and silent r's("Pak the caa in the Havaad Yad") of the region. Aunt Elisabeth was a musician (a violinist— rather than fiddler like Grandpa—and piano teacher), lived in Ohio, and had acquired a strong Midwestern accent. Mom and Dad, because of all their travels, seemingly never acquired any specific regional accent, though I, who apparently share that attribute, might not have had an ear for the differences. Nevertheless, while in North Carolina, I was apparently developing the local sound. I believe it was Aunt Bonnie who explained to me once, quite firmly, that the first-personal pronoun was "ah-ee" not "ah"...
Aunt Elisabeth was also the aunt who brought interesting things to play with, but wanted them back, much to my childish dismay. I think she brought with her on one visit the first walking dolls I ever saw—little doll figures that, when one stood them on a slightly tilted plane surface would totter down and have to be caught. Another doll she brought on another visit was "Scarey Ann," oh, three or four inches tall, which had this straight, longish hair. If one grasped the body in one hand and pulled on her legs with the other, her hair popped straight out from her head. What a fun thing for a kid; how unfair that an adult would want it for herself!
By the way, it might be worth mentioning to those who wonder, I was not a boy-child who played with dolls, though I did have a Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy set—ones, I might add, that actually looked and were dressed like the ones in the books (all others are fakes). I had the full complement of toy cars and trucks and trains and even a pop-gun and various toy pistols and stuff. Elinor had dolls, of course, including one that was about as big as I was, named Dora, after Grandmother Chamberlain, I presume, and others, including a cowboy doll named Wayne, after John, I assumed, though she told me once that wasn't the case. When younger, she had cut Dora's hair to a then-fashionable bob, not realizing that dolls don't grow their hair back. (Well, not in those days they didn't.) She had some horse figures, too, one of which—one of the more beautifully crafted—had a broken leg. I naturally became familiar with them all, but they weren't mine to play with. Besides those, Elinor had a collection of Dionne Quintuplets stuff memorabilia—magazine clips and paper dolls and so on. I had some trouble relating to her interest in those, though.
Hale had toys, too—the best I remember was a copper Buck Rogers water pistol. I really envied him that one. But he also had books. He had some of the Big Little Books that could probably have brought a fortune in recent years if he'd still had them—and had been willing to part with them. I remember first discovering the possibilities of animation there, since they (or maybe it was just some of them) had the flip-book corners with animated images printed there. And, in addition to reading, both my siblings began to teach me the joys of drawing, for which I shall ever be grateful.
Hale had some friends who came over from time to time—names like Pendleton Banks and Saint-Clair Austin have the echoes of legend to me, but he maintained correspondence with them for many years afterward, and in fact I got to meet Saint-Clair a decade or so later and got to talk to him as a person instead of this rather strange big guy who hung around with my brother. That, too, is another story. But for whatever it's worth, Saint Clair inspired my first poem, I think. Borrowing rather severely from A. A. Milne, I "wrote," with help from Elinor,