FORT WAYNE – The signs are still there, some of them. White squares with Nick Taylor's name on them, as I drive through Decatur. White squares here and here and here again, springing up from lawns that were once drought-yellow but are now lush and April-green
It's the recent rains that have done this. And yet, it's also as if this small piece of remembering has breathed life back into the earth itself, strange as that it is to say.
And of course the remembering is not done.
It's never going to be and never should be, really, and so, tonight, down the road in Berne, on a football Friday in a small town where football Fridays still mean something, Adams County will pause to remember Nick Taylor again. At 6:55 p.m., right around National Anthem time, a memorial flag donated by the South Adams football alumni will go up the flagpole at one end of the Starfires field. The Berne American Legion color guard will first raise the American flag, then lower it to attach Nick's flag, then raise it again.
And then, Bellmont and South Adams, kids from Decatur and kids from Berne, will line up and have it. And if you think there'll be a dry eye in the place, you don't know small towns and football Fridays and how big a hole it leaves when the former loses someone who once gave his heart and soul to the latter.
Nick Taylor played anywhere they asked him to play for the Starfires once upon a time, and then he joined the National Guard and went off to Afghanistan and did not come back alive.
On July 16, somewhere in Kandahar Province, his unit was ambushed while clearing roadside bombs. Taylor was struck by shrapnel and died.
Two weeks later, they laid him to rest, filling the South Adams gym and then lining the streets as a horse-drawn carriage carried him the last mile through his hometown.
And now, it's football season again. And if football seems a curious vehicle for remembrance of things lost and things preserved, it's not really.
Out at Northrop, for instance, they're wearing the initials "PM" in a small black circle on the back of their helmets in honor of coach Tim Martone's mother, Patty, who passed away in July.
And, of course, not so long ago, there was a particular Saturday afternoon in a particular September over at Saint Francis, football players and fans and pretty much everyone wearing small silver stickers with American flags on them four days after madmen destroyed the World Trade Center.
I still don't know if playing football was the right thing to do that day. But I do know it brought people together in a familiar frame of reference at a time when they desperately needed both the togetherness and the familiarity.
So it served a certain purpose. As will tonight, in a different but clearly connected way.
The special flag, going up the halyard. The color guard. And then, halftime, when Nick Taylor will be remembered one more time.
"Right at the beginning of halftime, there will be a jersey presentation to the family," says South Adams coach Jason Arnold, who remembers Taylor as a coachable kid who'd do anything to help the Starfires win.
"He was exactly the kind of football player a high school coach wants," Arnold said last month.
And a football Friday in a small town, exactly the right place to remember him.