May 25, 2018 08:18AM ● Published by J. Chambless
The book was largely developed through a collaboration between novelist and book coach Michele Chynoweth and the author's son, Ron. (Photo by Richard Gaw)
By Richard L. Gaw
“Vince” Taylor was born June 5, 1912 in Earleville, and for
nearly the entirety of his 91 years, he was a copious taker of notes,
a habit that he somehow managed to wedge in between the duties of an
extraordinarily busy and purposeful life.
Born and raised in the Sassafras Neck area of Cecil County, Taylor explored the fields, woods, waters and marshes of Sassafras Neck as a young boy, and later worked on several farms, and for a local blacksmith. After graduating high school, he was a boatman with the U.S. Engineer Department in Baltimore, where he worked on hydro-graphic surveys in the Chesapeake Bay Area.
He was later a welder in the Posey & Jones shipyard in Wilmington, where he helped build liberty ships for World War II. In the 1940s, Taylor joined the U.S. Navy, where he became a quarter master in piloting and navigation, and went overseas during World War II to work on a destroyer escort ship for convoy duty to New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa.
For the next 28 years after coming home, he did construction work on bridges, tunnels, turnpikes and dams along the Mid-Atlantic coastal area from Connecticut to Cape Fear, N.C. After his retirement, he was as a carpenter and painter in Sassafras Neck.
Taylor married his bride Susie in 1935 and together they had three children, four granddaughters, and numerous great-grandchildren. He loved hiking, trapping and wild duck and rabbit hunting in the woods and marshes. He carved many old style decoys, miniature geese and marsh birds and made small Chesapeake Bay model boats. He loved music, especially the accordion, on which he played various hymns and ballads, which he sang often to his wife.
And toward the end of his life, in the 1980s, Taylor would sit in an armchair beside an old library table on winter evenings, open a large red notebook and, with the clearest of penmanship, conjure up the sweet, rich history of a world he once lived in and loved.
The results of Taylor's memories have been published in “Sassafras Neck: A Special Place in Time,” (CreateSpace, 2017), a 176-page memoir that was produced by his children Vincent L. Taylor, Ron Taylor and Susan Lynn Taylor-Reed, under the guidance of author, teacher and book coach Michele Chynoweth, who has taught for the past several years at Cecil College.
“We knew Pop was noting his past history and at some point, he decided, because the old-time life that he loved and the land and the water was disappearing, he wanted to document that for his grandchildren,” said his youngest son, Ron. “That was his thought process. He would recall all of his experiences of growing up, especially the ones that were disappearing, like farming, going to church suppers, the one-room schoolhouse and the country doctor. That whole way of life had disappeared, or was disappearing.
“It was a time of cooperation and simplicity, and he relished that time.”
Over the course of hundreds of pages, Taylor spun stories that eventually became chapters in the book: “Hunting, Fishing and Trapping,” “Education in Sassafras Neck,” “Occupations in Sassafras Neck,” and even a chapter entitled, “Hog Killing Time.”
Understanding why someone who would never define himself as a writer would spend several years of his life carefully writing in a notebook was made more plausible, Ron said, by the fact that during his father's career, Vincent documented everything. When he was a resident engineer on a bridge project, he wrote down the names of the contractors, the daily temperature and humidity – all of the scenarios and elements of the project, on a daily basis.
Taylor never instructed anyone in his family to publish the book, but several of his friends who knew he was writing had encouraged him to finish the book and publish it. While he was writing, several local historians consulted Taylor for answers on farming in the Sassafras Neck area during the 1930s and 1940s.
After Taylor passed in 2003, the manuscript sat idle for several years before it continued its journey toward publication. Although it was eventually transcribed by Taylor's niece Michele Reed Cole and typewritten copies were made, the disk on which the book was stored became obsolete after several years. Ron then had the original manuscript transferred to a new disk via optical character recognition process.
“Everybody had an eight-and-a-half-by eleven stack of papers called “Sassafras Neck,” and it was still in the back of our minds that we really should publish this for Pop,” Ron said. “Eventually, I told my sister that I was going to try and publish it.”
After spending several months searching for a publisher, Ron Taylor picked up a Cecil College course catalog, and in the Spring of 2015, he walked into Michele Chynoweth's “Getting Your Book Published” class, carrying the manuscript of his father's unpublished book.
The class syllabus read: Are you writing – or maybe have written – a book (novel, memoir, non-fiction book, children’s book, etc.) and want to get it published but aren’t sure how to go about it? Unsure if you need an agent, whether to self-publish or try to get a traditional publisher or even how to begin? Wondering how to write a good query letter or synopsis? Award-winning author Michele Chynoweth will share her experience – the do’s and dont’s – so that can get your work “out there!”
Everyone else in Chynoweth's class was a writer, but with each class, Taylor's confidence and knowledge grew. When he learned that Chynoweth was not only a published author but a book coach who could help in turning pages into a book, he asked her if she would be interested in working with him. It wouldn't be the first manuscript-to-book projects Chynoweth would be involved in; in addition to publishing three novels of her own, she has served as a book coach on “Cecilia's Satchel,” by Norman L. Gaither, and “God's Hand in My 'One'” by Gigi Williams.
“I thought, 'This is going to be a labor of love,' Chynoweth said. “I have always enjoyed helping writers see their work come to fruition. When I saw the manuscript, I thought that this is a cool story about Cecil County, but it's a bit out of my wheelhouse, because I tend to work with fiction writers.”
Chynoweth agreed to join the Taylor children, and the year-long project began. While she helped carve the book into the shape it needed to be in, Ron helped verify the facts of the book with visits to the Cecil County Historical Society, the Elkton Library and several other resources. Together, they embarked on a mission to make the book readable to the public, but also keep the integrity of the original manuscript intact.
“I wanted to rewrite the whole thing at first, so I told Ron, Vincent and Susan, 'Let's take it and really add some zing,'” Chynoweth said. “I was met with some resistance from the family, who said they wanted to keep their father's writing in his voice. We ended up marrying the two goals together, and hopefully, we have come up with a book that is universally marketable, but also stays authentic.”
“This book is very close to what my father wrote,” Ron confirmed.
During the editing process, Chynoweth gained a true appreciation of Taylor's surroundings, and his place in the culture of Cecil County and Sassafras Neck. She called Taylor “a real American at heart.”
“There were times when I was editing the book that I could actually could hear Vincent and gotten to know him,” she said. “I became immersed in it, and it took me back to my grandparents' and parents' time. His words confirmed to me that life was simpler, and even better and easier back then.
“It took me back to the days of simply going out to play in the schoolyard, or having cake parties, versus everybody being on their cell phones. This book makes us remember that we need to preserve some of that.”
The book was published just before Christmas last year, and and individual copies were given to members of the Taylor family. On the last page of “Sassafras Neck: A Special Place in Time,” Ron convinced Chynoweth to include the following send off to the book's author: “Dear Pop...We finally got it done!”
It was signed, “The Kids.”
To order “Sassafras Neck: A Special Place in Time,” by Vincent Taylor, visit www.amazon.com. Cecil County resident Michele Chynoweth is the author of the novels “The Faithful One,” “The Peace Maker” and “The Runaway Prophet,” and is currently at work on new novels. To learn more about Chynoweth and purchase her books online, visit www.michelechynoweth.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.