One of the first adages I recall learning was "you can't always judge a book by its cover." It's especially true about people, isn't it? My high school biology teacher was a tall, square-jawed, broad-shouldered lady with flaming red hair and a temper to match. She was all business, allowing no joking around, so I decided early on that I didn't like her and didn't much care for biology either. My first report card reflected my attitude, and that biology grade surely got my parents' attention.
My folks sat me down and explained my new mission in life was to find a way to like that woman. For the very young, that was because in 1965 the teacher was always right.
What a concept.
Grudgingly, I asked for a conference with my teacher, thinking it was a study in futility. As it happened, I was on the high school tennis team and as we talked I was amazed to learn that my teacher not only still played, but had been a star of some renown, having won the Georgia Crackerland Tennis Tournament in her younger days.
I realized I'd misjudged that book by its cover, for sure. I started sitting closer to the front of the room, listened for the wit and insight this woman couched cleverly in her commentaries and ended up with a decent overall average in biology. And, I learned from my biology teacher, the late Alice Chapman, that good people come in all shapes and sizes and you never know when or where you'll meet one that'll change your life for the better.
The years rolled by and in the 1970s my wife and I found our way to this neck of the woods. Having taught and coached in South Georgia, when looking for insurance I gravitated toward a State Farm agent who had also landed here after growing up in Sylvania, down in Screven County. He was Bill Taylor, a boisterous, jolly, charismatic man personifying a good neighbor - a guy I immediately identified with as both he and I struggled with middle-age spread, and a sportsman I held in awe as he could hit a golf ball a doggone country mile.
I don't remember what year it was, but it was so long ago that The Oaks was still just a nine-hole course. Having finished a round, I was watching the old eighth hole, a dogleg right over an elevated pond to an even more elevated green. I watched a foursome approach, three holding irons to hit short of that pond. But Bill Taylor had his driver. He teed up the ball, took a John Daly-type rip, cut the corner over that pond, and drove the green.
If he wrote the book on golf, I'd surely read it. I'd learned from Alice Chapman that you can't always judge a book by its cover, but I learned from Bill Taylor that sometimes what you see is actually what you get.
For like a good neighbor, Bill Taylor was always there.
Last Thursday afternoon I dropped by the old familiar State Farm agency, but for a bittersweet reason. Bill Taylor is retiring, you see, after 34 years of taking care of me, my family and countless others, and folks came by just to say "thank you."
Now that's odd, you might think. Insurance is insurance. People come and people go. It's just business.
Well, not quite. Last Thursday over at Bill Taylor's office, folks came from all over. Steve Jordan, once a pillar of our community before returning to serve his home town people in Monticello, was there. Car tags in the parking lot featured a smorgasbord of southern states because Bill Taylor is no ordinary insurance man. Many could say that he's my insurance man, but all could say that he's our friend. For decades Bill was there for all of his customers. It was etched in stone that no matter what terrible thing might happen, all you had to do was call Bill Taylor and he'd make it right.
That's called peace of mind, and it surely beats merely having insurance. Folks came from everywhere last Thursday because through all the years, Bill Taylor has exemplified what Southerners mean when we say: "he's good people."
True enough, you may not be able to judge every book by its cover. But last Thursday was sort of like a book signing, with an interesting twist. Bill Taylor authored the book by being there over the years for his clients, but folks dropping in to say thanks were the ones who did the signing.
I don't know how he plans to write his own unique chapter on retirement, and I don't know if he can still cut the corner and fly the lake to that elevated green out there at The Oaks. But for as long as he wants, it's my hope that Bill Taylor will be hitting them long and straight, and shooting his age.
Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His column appears in The Covington News on Sundays.