Octogenarian ready to cast his first vote

Micanopy man decided it was time to stand up and be counted


Micanopy resident J.B. Taylor, 87, registered to vote for the first time in his life this fall.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 11:36 p.m.
Micanopy-Martha Taylor clutches six amber-colored bottles full of her husband's prescription pills, narrowing her eyes as she explains what drove her 87-year-old husband to register to vote this fall for the first time in his life.
"I tell you, we can't hardly pay for them," said Taylor, a tall, energetic woman whose hand motions make the bottles rattle like maracas.
"We are not babies in this house. I'm 71. It's a blessing from on high that we able to make it at all. We get four more years, things will continue to go downhill."
J.B. Taylor sits in his straight-backed chair and stares at his hands. He speaks without looking up.
"He done run up the medicine so high you can't even buy it no more," he said, speaking of President Bush and his administration.
Martha Taylor says the rising cost of J.B.'s blood pressure and arthritis pills and worries about Social Security funds spurred her husband to register to vote this year.
But J.B. Taylor will tell you something different.
He might have voted before now.
It's just that nobody ever asked him to.
A morning routine Every morning, Martha Taylor cooks J.B. a bowl of Cream of Wheat and fries him a catfish she catches from a nearby lake.
J.B. Taylor eats his meal in the kitchen, then moves to the living room, a small den with dark wood paneling where he spends most of his time.
He watches TV, waits for his wife to come home, then eats dinner with her and waits for the day to start again.
One day this fall, Rob Pierce, a retired journalism professor at the University of Florida, who the Taylors used to work for, knocked on J.B.'s door to convince him to change his ways.
"I always wanted to go vote, I guess," J.B. said. "I just didn't go. I thought about it, but I didn't do it. I always kind of thought it didn't make no difference."
In 1940, the first year Taylor would have been old enough to vote in a presidential election, "Jim Crow laws were very much alive in Florida, and so were voting restrictions," said Jack Davis, a University of Florida history professor.
J.B. Taylor said he isn't sure whether his polling place used the polling taxes or literacy tests commonly used to disenfranchise black voters before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He was too busy lifting crates at Franklin Crate Mill in Micanopy, where he said his employer forbid him from voting - a common practice in those days, Davis said.
Later, after J.B. Taylor had started work at UF's grounds maintenance department, he was too busy raising four kids to vote, he said.
"I'd think about it," he said. "I just never went."
Martha Taylor, meanwhile, was talking politics with her co-workers in kitchens of South Carolina and Tampa restaurants, where she worked as a cook.
Taylor has never missed an election she was eligible to vote in, she said.
She loved John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, she said, and is still bitter about Al Gore's loss in 2000.
"They done took that from us," she said, brown eyes wide. "Oh, yeah. This time, we need every vote we can get, or else things is going to go downhill real fast."
But for all her political involvement, she's never tried to convert her husband to join her.
Politics are as personal as religion, she said.
So when she learned that J.B had never voted when she met him in 1987, she kept her mouth shut.
"At that time, I thought 'Oh! What's he been doing with all his time?' " Martha Taylor said. "I've never pressed him. I always think that if someone got their mind made up, I ain't got no business pressing it."
A long journey Pierce said he didn't want to press, either.
He'd known J.B. wasn't registered for years, but never decided to approach him about it until this fall.
When he showed up at J.B.'s house to ask his friend to register, Pierce said he was careful not to endorse any particular candidate.
Pierce said he wasn't sure what kind of response he expected. But considering how many elections J.B. watched from the sidelines, Pierce said he was surprised it took so little to convince J.B. to get in the game.
"I made my little speech, and he didn't put up any resistance when we were through talking," Pierce said. "But I had to realize that for half of J.B.'s life, it would have been impossible or difficult for him to vote, even if he'd wanted to. But we never discussed that aspect of it. He's a man of few words."
Martha Taylor said she's itching for Tuesday morning to come.
She said she'll cook her husband a catfish and some Cream of Wheat, help him to their Pontiac Grand Am, then drive him to Micanopy City Hall for what she said would be one of the most exciting days of her life.
"I am very proud of him," Martha Taylor said. "I talk about politics all the time. Now, when we sit up and talk one-on-one, he can talk back at me. He can have something to say, because he voted."
J.B. leans back in his chair and closes his eyes. A smile dimples his gray-whiskered cheeks.
He said he's not nervous for Tuesday, and he can't say he's as excited as his wife is.
He does wish someone had asked him to vote sooner, he said.
"I never had one person come to me talking about it," J.B. Taylor said. "No one ever spoke to me about it. I might've would've voted before this if somebody had told me it was important sooner."
Amy Reinink can be reached at 374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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