Local Author Spins Tales to Inspire Love of Reading, Writing
In 1960 there was an ice storm that swept the country. Randy Taylor and his friends spent 17 days out of school making the most of an abundance of ice and a lack of electricity. Taylor, who always liked to write, wrote a story about the ensuing hijinks.
His grandmother found his story about the ice holiday and told Taylor how she loved it before proudly hanging it for display in her home. That praise inspired him to continue writing. Taylor began taking articles from the local DeKalb Times-Journal and rewrote them, and his grandmother posted those around the house, too.
“I would write for myself, for entertainment,” he remembers. Taylor learned something more from his grandmother that he carried throughout life. He says, “I learned from Grandma how to charm the fleas off the family dog. She always had a way with people and passed it on to me.”
As founder of DeKalb County’s Pee Wee Basketball League, Taylor inspired many youngsters as a coach from 1973 to 2013. When Coach Taylor, as he’s known now around Collinsville, came to read to the elementary book club at the Collinsville Public Library, kids knew of him as the man who coached their parents in baseball, softball, and girls’ basketball at Collinsville High School.
After 10 years of teaching and seven years of coaching, Coach Taylor retired but he is always eager to share his stories with any crowd.
Beyond coaching, Taylor kept his grandmother’s inspiration in mind as he achieved his goal of writing a book in 2008 with the publication of his first book, “Three Goobers and a Nut.”
His book reads like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, as he uses everyday language you’d hear around his Southern hometown. The book started with a single story he shared with his sister-in-law, an English professor, about Ole Bob, the family dog. “I wasn’t sure if I needed to change colloquial language to proper language,” he admits. But he was told that changing the words would change the story.
“I just wanted to describe how I got by, and how other folks around me got by in everyday country life. ‘Goobers’ is just a compilation of people’s lives.”
His sister-in-law suggested he write a whole book with similar stories of growing up in small-town Alabama. He toyed with the idea in conversations with his three longtime friends, Rabbit, Dink, and Ollie Bay, who are recurring characters in his book. They happily tossed around plenty of ideas.
“It wasn’t just stories that I remembered—it was bits and pieces from each of our memories. We’d tell the same story from four different perspectives with a hundred different details.”
Describing his book as “99 percent true, give or take a lie or two,” Taylor says “Goobers” includes stories that alternate between funny and serious, with a few tearjerkers thrown in.
“The tales with my friends are the ones that mean a great deal to me. If we weren’t in school together a lot of this stuff might never have happened.”
Taylor introduced “Goobers” at his 35th class reunion at Geraldine High School. Mixed in with important news and announcements from other classmates, Taylor stood up and told the group, “I used some of you in this book: look for it, you’ll be in it.”
And the response was warm. “I’ve gotten messages from not just friends but older kids, younger kids, girls I dated, girls I wanted to date, kids who teased me, kids I teased. Everyone looked for themselves in my book.”
When Coach Taylor spoke to the library book club, he told the youngsters
that you can write a story of your own about things you’ve been involved in—fishing, catching frogs, whatever. Writing stories can be genuine and true or fun and fantastical.
Then, he shared some of his own stories with the attentive audience.
“I was about 10 when my dad took $250 and bought a bird dog puppy from Mississippi—a lotta money then and still a lotta money now,” he tells the group. “My dad bird hunted, and that’s how we got fresh game. He’d take a gun with three bullets and kill five birds with three shots. He brought the puppy home, named him Bob, and said ‘I’m going to make a bird dog out of him and then you can make a friend out of him’—which I did. And I would throw a ball as far as I could throw it and sometimes he’d catch it before it would hit the ground.”
“Well Ole’ Bob, we’d pull each other’s hair and wrestle and tumble. We trained him well, and folks were so impressed with Ole Bob’s tricks that he sired over ten liters. Puppies didn’t go any cheaper than a $100.”
Wiping away a nostalgic tear, Taylor continues, “We raised him and he was a good bird dog. I was 8 when we got him, and I grew older like we all do—and I was a sophomore in college when my grandmother called me and said, ‘I can’t find Ole Bob.’ And I said, ‘I’ll be home.’”
“What happened?” kids asked cautiously, thinking of their own dogs.
“I drove home that night from Jacksonville State and the next morning I got up and found the dog.” Taylor pauses to take a deep breath. “He tried to jump the pasture fence, and his foot got caught and he was just hanging off the pasture fence.” His voice catches.
“I carried him back to the house, and my grandmother and I stood in the pouring rain, and we buried that dog in the garden. And the reason he was buried there was because when Ole Bob got hungry, he’d go get him an ear of corn, a tomato, a head of cabbage, anything he could get out of there.” The kids giggle with tears on their cheeks.
Coach Taylor changes pace, turning to his book. “When I was little, my nickname was Tater—like my last name Taylor—I was Tater Bug. And that’s where A.T. Bugg, my pen name, comes from: A Tater Bug. I had two buddies who basically became my brothers. One was my first cousin and the other is Rabbit—my best friend now. It’s all anyone knew him by.
“My best friend growing up was Wild Cat Willie. He was few years older than I was—almost double my age—and he was my trainer and mentor as I began to learn the finer techniques of being a Goober. The three goobers were Ollie Bay, Rabbit, and Dink, and the Nut was…” and he points to himself.
He begins to read from his book with great innotations for each character, asking kids questions that could help them relate to the stories better. We learned about crawling under stores and finding nickels and pennies in the dirt, then treating friends to penny bubble gum and 5 cent Coca-Colas.
After the meeting, kids clamor around Taylor. “Coach, coach! Where can I get that book?”
The stories that resonated with children attending the library program, Coach Taylor believes, will help them imagine the childhood of their own parents and grandparents.
“I’m thankful for these stories that have enabled me to remember some of the best times of my life,” Taylor says with a smile.
Coach Taylor is currently compiling stories for his next book, “More Goobers and Nuts…The Good Ole’ Days”, with plans to publish it by August. “Three Goobers and a Nut” is available on Amazon.com.
By Shaye McCauley
Last Updated: July 02, 2014