WARNER ROBINS -- When I visited Homer Taylor one morning last week, I got to see what a 93-year-old man has growing in his garden.
There were tomatoes, okra, butter beans and peppers. He must have noticed my mouth watering, because he sent me home with a sack of tomatoes. (I had a most delicious tomato sandwich for lunch that day.)
We talked about everything from the rainy weather to baseball to purple martins and rescue dogs.
His daughter, Theresa Donaldson, came over to the house. She and her sister, Elizabeth Cooper, and brothers Bobby and Kevin Taylor, call their dad a “rock.’’
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Their mother, Zora, died in 1999. She and Homer were married for 55 years. He has been a widower for 15.
Homer was waiting in the carport when I pulled into his driveway. I am glad I was five minutes early rather than 10 minutes late. Theresa told me her father’s pet peeves are dishonesty and folks who aren’t punctual.
“One of his favorite sayings is ‘you are no better than your word,’ ’’ she said. “He instilled in all of his children and grandchildren to say what you mean and mean what you say.’’
It is obvious Homer’s family is important to him. The Taylors get together regularly to break bread. They are so tight some of their friends compare them to the Waltons.
Homer quit worrying about the wallpaper in his kitchen long ago. His decor is much more colorful and entertaining. Almost an entire wall is covered with family photographs. He has 13 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
He keeps a photograph of Bobby Cox in his kitchen, too. Although Cox is not part of his extended family, Homer is a great admirer of the former Atlanta Braves manager. He was proud Cox was being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with former Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Like Cox, he has managed thousands of baseball games. All of his, however, have been the armchair variety. He watches the Braves on TV in his den every night. Homer is a perfect name for a baseball fan. “Homer the Brave” is Atlanta’s team mascot.
Homer shared the same night with Cox back on Oct. 2, 2010. Cox was honored in his last game as manager. Homer was honored, too. His family had a suite for the game to celebrate his 90th birthday. He was thrilled when they recognized him over the public address system.
He was born in 1920, the same week the Cleveland Indians played the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. He was far away in Mount Ida, Ark., where he was the seventh of nine children. By the time his parents got around to him, they were almost out of male names. They settled on Homer but didn’t bother giving him a middle name.
His father ran a saw mill, and eventually the family moved south to Hope, where he played high school basketball on a team his older brother coached.
There wasn’t much to Hope at the time, but two men came along later and put it on the map. Hope is the hometown of former President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who hosts a show on Fox News.
He joined the Army in 1938, serving as a first-aid technician. He was sent to Cochran Field with the Army Air Corps during the war. He met his wife on a blind date in the spring of 1943. Zora was from Vienna and was living in a boarding house on Walnut Street in Macon. They went out for ice cream, and it was love at first bite. They married a month later.
Homer received a medical discharge because of his asthma, and he applied for a civil service job at Robins Air Force Base doing aircraft repair. He retired in 1972, drove a school bus for Houston County for a few years and worked at a men’s clothing store on Commercial Circle owned by former Warner Robins Mayor Walter T. “Deke’’ Giles.
In the years since his wife died, Homer has lived independently. He has stayed busy. His rescue dog, Harley, is a constant companion. He has tended a summer garden for 44 years. He grows gourds and makes them into homes for the dozens of purple martins that return to his backyard every February.
The purple martins usually stay until near the end of summer. But this year’s flock left two weeks ago, migrating to Florida before heading home to Brazil. (I told him they probably were waiting for all the crowds to leave after the World Cup.)
He had a health scare with his heart at Thanksgiving last year. But he pulled through three blockages and three hospitals, and came back just as strong -- and sweet -- as ever. He is always trying to “win people over.’’ It is one of his favorite expressions.
He certainly won me over. Don’t tell me a good man is hard to find. I know where Homer lives.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.