Kevin Cummins


For John Taylor, my father-in-law
August 3, 1923 — October 5, 2008

Dreams are like quilts, colorful patches to soothe you, stitched together with threads of truth. I've been fortunate enough to show at the Artists House many times over the years, and I've enjoyed the support of family and friends. Joyce's parents John and Alma Taylor had attended every Sunday opening without fail. John would proudly stroll in like he was the mayor, dressed in a sport coat and tweed flat cap, friends in tow, quick with small talk and smiles.

Another show was coming up in October 2008, but John had been sick all summer and by early fall was not doing well. Usually before a show I'm many things: excited, exhausted, inspired, intense. But this year was different. John's sickness demanded a lot from Joyce and seemed to seep into everything we did. I was able to finish for the show but I wasn't into things at all — I hadn't even bothered to mail out invitations.

That Sunday, I left to go to the opening with my kids. Joyce had left early to go see John and would be coming down to join us later. This turned out to be the right choice for Joyce, as she was with John when he passed away in the early afternoon. I've thought of how unusual this was, that John passed away at the same time as the opening. Certainly I don't think it was a matter of some sort of other-worldly fate, as there were many things much more important to John and, for that matter, to me. But it was certainly enough to think about.

Over the past year I've wanted to write something about John but I wasn't sure what. I could certainly recite the facts of his life: growing up on the streets of west Philadelphia in the 1930s; his formative years spent in North Africa and the killing fields of Italy in World War II; his 61 year marriage to Alma and raising three children. All true, but not nearly enough.

And then one night it came to me in a dream. How could it come any other way? Very vivid for sure: it was a birthday party. I'm outside of our house in the front yard — a beautiful summer day. There's lots of people and sounds of laughter and breezy conversation. A neighbor walks over with his daughter, tying his tie as he walks. I say to him this is just like work, which sometimes I think parties are. I know Joyce is nearby but I don't see her. Someone hugs me who I don't know. And then I'm inside, downstairs. It's a small room with wood paneling like John and Alma's den. John's there, sitting on an old plaid couch, legs crossed with a yellow tablet on his lap. He's writing a list like he always did — he had a list for everything. I say happy birthday and he pauses and says thank you and we sit in comfortable silence.

So what's the connection? What's the thread of truth running through the dreamy patchwork of a wonderful summer birthday party? It's my wife Joyce. She's not in the dream, but the dream is about her. She's the connection, the force behind our relationship. John and I are the two men in her life. He raised her; I married her. We knew each other for a long time: through awkward first beginnings, through holiday dinners and weddings, family vacations and precious grandchildren, and finally in death. I once asked Joyce if daughters marry men like their father. She said yes and quickly added that yes, I was like her father. I didn't see it, and I still don't, but that's not important. We accepted each other, and as people who accept each other can do, we could sit next to each other, in comfortable silence on an old couch, just as in my dream.