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Canzano: The easiest team to root for is always at home
"I get scared sometimes."
The email arrived in the wee hours of the morning, all those years ago. It was sent by a reader who wasn’t happy with me. JT Taylor told me he’d read my column on the struggles of his favorite team, the Trail Blazers.
“They’re going to be OK,” he said.
JT was a co-worker, too. I wrote the columns. He delivered them. He’d pile his three young children into the family car in the middle of the night. Then, he’d pick up a stack of newspapers from the loading dock, roll them up, and deliver the paper to 112 addresses in the Southeast Portland neighborhood known as “Felony Flats.”
“I don’t tell the kids,” he said, “but I get scared sometimes.”
Taylor was on food stamps. He made minimum wage. A few months earlier, he’d lost his job at a manufacturing plant. I read his email, thought about the children who went to work with him, and asked: “Where is your wife?”
The answer came: “She died.”
The following day I found myself driving toward the family home through a pair of glassy eyes. This was 2006. When I parked out front, a 6-year-old boy named Payton was playing in the yard. He came running up to the window of my car wearing a giant smile and pair of Spiderman underpants on his head. His older sisters, Josie, age 8, and Jade, 11, stood in the doorway, arms folded, watching and giggling.
“I see you’ve met Payton,” their dad said.
Their mother, Roxanne, had lost her fight with myelodysplasia a couple of months earlier. She endured hundreds of blood transfusions and spent the final 37 days of her life in a hospital bed. In the end, that terrible blood disease left three children and a husband to face the world without her.
On the day I visited, the 11-year-old daughter cooked the family dinner. She stirred a pot of noodles on the stove. The 8-year-old poured a snack-size bowl of cereal for her little brother while they waited. She leaned in and picked a few ants out of the cereal before adding milk.
Their father and I sat on the sofa, across the room, talking about how difficult things had been. He was behind on bills. The rent was late. Money was a source of stress. But he stayed positive. At one point, JT leaned in and confessed that he’d sometimes take a pillow into the closet, bury his face in it, and sob into it so the children didn’t hear him.
Then, he’d emerge from the closet and announce: “Who wants to listen to the Blazers game?!?”
They never actually went to the games. It was too expensive. But they’d sit together in the garage, listening on the radio. The NBA franchise was coming off 61-loss season. Owner Paul Allen had thrown the franchise arena into bankruptcy. There was little to cheer at the time, but the Taylor family did anyway.
“It gave us something else to think about,” JT explained.
A lot of years have passed since then. I find myself thinking often about the Taylor family, wondering what became of those children. After my visit that day, I wrote a column, detailing their predicament and pointing out how much joy I felt in their home.
The kids remained hopeful.
Their father was determined.
My readers put their arms around the Taylor family. They paid the overdue bills. They donated money for gasoline and groceries. One family sent JT a $500 check with a note that read: “You know what you need, please go buy it.”
A real estate investor who happened to have a vacant house in Lake Oswego offered to let the family live in it, rent-free. Two other business owners offered JT a job. And a line of Blazers season-ticket holders wrote and insisted the Taylor family use their tickets to go to a game together.
“The generosity was mind blowing,” JT said.
Sporting events sure are a treat. Athletes are gifted and fun to watch. Coaches are constantly strategizing. But the “glue” of sports will always be the fans who show up to root — sometimes even for each other.
I still hear from JT, all these years later. We’ve kept in contact. He’s remarried and is working a union job at a shipyard. When I left the newspaper last March and launched this independent writing endeavor JT sent me a note of encouragement.
“Your new venture is awesome,” he wrote, “like when Howard Stern went to Sirius. Are you going to use profanity in your columns?”
We shared a laugh about that.
I’ve bumped into the Taylor kids over the years at softball fields, shopping malls, the airport, and the Moda Center. It’s amazing to see how fast they’ve grown up. If you’re like me, you’ve never stopped rooting for them.
At Thanksgiving, JT and I exchanged texts.
“The kids are adults now,” he wrote.
Jade is 27 and has three children — a boy and two girls — just like her mother. Josie, 24, got married and has a 5-year-old son. Payton, 22, has a young son, too. He’s working as an electrician and was assigned to the campus at Intel.
Life hasn’t always been easy. Especially without their mother around. But that father and those three children always had each other. It remains one of the most inspiring teams I’ve ever seen.
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