One listened, one spoke, two drew closer

schandler@newsobserver.comAugust 11, 2013 

Jake Taylor, right, of Chapel Hill, interviewed his grandfather, Jack Taylor, and wrote an essay that won the grand prize in the Legacy Project's Listen to a Life contest.

COURTESY OF CAROLINA FRIENDS SCHOOL

For most of his 13 years, Jake Taylor knew his grandfather, Jack Taylor, liked to go to the movies. But it wasn’t until he interviewed his grandfather for a class assignment at Carolina Friends School that he found out why.

“Theaters were the only place a small-town Indiana boy like Jack could pilot a fighter plane, solve a murder mystery, or raise a faun, all from the comfort of a bright orange, thick plastic chair,” Jake wrote in the 300-word essay that resulted from that interview.

The essay, submitted to the Legacy Project’s national Listen to a Life contest by Jake’s language arts teacher, Lisa Joyner, earned the grand prize – and a big dose of pride from his grandfather.

The original assignment from Joyner was to interview an older person about what their life was like when they, like the students in Jake’s seventh-grade class, were 13.

“I didn’t really know a lot about my grandfather,” said Jake, who lives in Chapel Hill, less than an hour away from his grandfather in Durham. “I just kind of accepted he was there for most of my life. I really was interested in learning more about who he was.”

They talked about all sorts of things during the interview, but a mention of the movies is what stood out in Jake’s mind. In his first attempt to write the essay, scribbling in a notebook, he tried to cram an awful lot into the 300-word requirement. But when it came time to type it into the computer, he “just completely threw it out and wrote straight from what I was thinking about, not trying to overanalyze it from the interview, just what I felt and what I learned,” he said.

“I just wanted to focus in on one topic and make that about his whole life, so that’s where the idea for the theater came from.”

‘An incredible moment’

At his school’s annual Grandparents Day event this year, Jake was asked to read his essay aloud to attendees, among whom was his grandfather.

“He came up to me after and told me that reading that essay, I’d given him one of the best experiences of his entire life,” Jake said. “And that is a bigger grand prize than the whole winning the contest. That’s what this project is about. Not about the things you get from winning, not about the grand prize or the plaque; it’s about the deeper relationship with your grandparents and the next generation.”

Jack, 78, described the reading as “an incredible moment for me.”

“It was just a wonderful experience and I just felt a bond to him when he did that,” he said.

Another way these two Taylors, as well as the rest of the family, bond is, of course, by going to a movie. Last winter they went to see “Les Miserables” together, which got a favorable review all around.

But most of their visits take place at home, they said.

“There’s a lot of gathering around the family table,” said Jack, who has four grandchildren, including Jake and his older brother, Max. “We’re always listening to what each other are doing and I’m always interested in the courses they’re taking.”

Jake said sometimes old photo albums are pored over (the past “is a favorite subject of mine,” Jack said) or a game of Scrabble breaks out. But, Jake said, “we mostly just talk.”

“Now I kind of see him in a different way,” he added. “It feels really good because I have a deeper understanding of him, a deeper appreciation of having him as my grandfather.”

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