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April 17, 2014

Remembering Miss Mattie

The year was 1991.

My father and I were at McDonald's on Cleveland Avenue in Atlanta on the way to a Braves game. We were standing in line when a big man behind him just out of the blue started up a conversation.

"Did you ever play basketball?"

Dad was 6'5", so it was a pretty fair question to ask and one he'd been asked before.

"No, I didn't. Did you?"

"Yeah, I played down at Albany State."

"Did you know any of the Taylor boys?" Dad asked. Two brothers from Berrien had played for the Rams.

"You know Miss Mattie?"

Dad told the story for years. How in the heart of Atlanta, two total strangers bonded over tales of a woman from Enigma.

Mattie Ruth Daughtry Taylor died Monday at the age of 83.

If you've been around for any length of time, chances are you, too, know Miss Mattie. She was part of the Berrien school system for many generations. Her children and grandchildren were part of the athletic programs of Nashville High and Elementary, Berrien, Enigma Elementary, Tift, ABAC, Georgia Southwestern, Albany State and Valdosta State.

You could say basketball was in her bloodline. Her close Daughtry kin included Mack, who was an Albany State and Continental Basketball League legend who had a brief stint in the ABA, and Jimmy, who played point guard for Georgia.

Mattie would fall for Earnest Taylor, better known to locals as "Bo Weevil." They started their family, which eventually grew to eight children. There was Earnest Jr., Rita, Bobby, Wayne, Veronica, Susan, Marshall and Eric.

There were eight in number, but so many more. Most people who knew her seem to claim a special bond. Despite having two fine grandmothers, I myself repeatedly attempted to make her my third.

My father's teaching career began at Enigma. It must have been a doozy because at the end of the year, he was wanting to find a new career. That is, until Miss Mattie got wind of it. Custodian was her job title, but  in reality she was a combination of vice-principal, counselor and school mother.

She went looking for him and pulled him aside.

"Taylors don't quit," she said.

Dad stuck around 29 more years. It became his tradition to bake her a caramel birthday cake.

She guided her blood children, not to just to dribble a basketball, but to be fine human beings.

All of them were to be college educated. All of them would have been, if not for one tragedy. She lost son Bobby when he was 18. He had earned a scholarship to Albany State and drowned four days after graduating from high school.

Despite being long past normal retirement age, Miss Mattie continued working. When Enigma shut its doors, she rode the school bus to West Berrien. When it consolidated a few years later, she took the bus to Berrien Primary. Her dear Bo Weevil passed four years ago. She continued on.

Her service is Saturday in Enigma. Appropriately, it's at the gym, in the park dedicated to her husband.

Her family members will be there. The blood ones, of course, but I suspect there will be many more. Not just from Enigma, not just from Berrien County, but from all over.

There will be those there who know everyone, but there will also be those who know nary another soul. But they are united. Bonded together because they know Miss Mattie.

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