Silent Scream

Mute and immobile, Alice Joy Taylor couldn't cry out when fire ants attacked her in her nursing-home bed, but would anyone have heard her if she did?

Carolyn Osborn vividly remembers the day in July two years ago when the nurse from Cross Timbers Care Center in Flower Mound telephoned.

We have a little bit of a problem with your mother, the nurse said. She has a couple of ant bites. Don't worry though; your mother is OK. It's nothing to get upset about.

Osborn, a longtime Lewisville resident, is not a particularly threatening-looking woman, but as the owners of Cross Timbers Care Center would learn, she's not somebody to be toyed with--especially when it comes to her mother's care.

Lewisville resident Carolyn Osborn cried after her helpless mother was attacked by fire ants in a nursing home. She's fighting back, she says, so that other nursing home residents aren't subjected to similar fates.
Lewisville resident Carolyn Osborn cried after her helpless mother was attacked by fire ants in a nursing home. She's fighting back, she says, so that other nursing home residents aren't subjected to similar fates.
Lewisville resident Carolyn Osborn cried after her helpless mother was attacked by fire ants in a nursing home. She's fighting back, she says, so that other nursing home residents aren't subjected to similar fates.
Peter Calvin photos
Lewisville resident Carolyn Osborn cried after her helpless mother was attacked by fire ants in a nursing home. She's fighting back, she says, so that other nursing home residents aren't subjected to similar fates.

The 59-year-old mother of two sits on a living-room couch with one leg tucked under her as she describes what happened to her mother at what was advertised to be an upscale and relatively new nursing home, just a five-minute car ride away from her middle-class neighborhood. To hear Osborn tell it, Stephen King might have dreamed up the nursing home for his latest horror novel.

After hearing from the nurse on that day in 1998, Osborn quickly drove from Dallas to the Flower Mound care center. What she found when she arrived would mortify her. She would cry about it first, then she would become furious. She's suing the owners of the nursing home where her 89-year-old mother, bedridden and unable to speak, was made prey to a mass of fire ants that stung her hundreds of times before anyone noticed. Carolyn Osborn tries to convey the sense that her mother was not just an invalid largely muted by stroke and abandoned in a nursing home. Her mother was not dead, a vegetable, abandoned, or deserving of her fate, Osborn says. No one is.


Sixty-five years before her daughter found her in a nursing home, propped up in a chair and wearing a look of terror, a 25-year-old Alice Joy Miller toiled in the cotton fields near Bowie. She was attending school at North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas). She majored in business and was engaged to be married. Her family wasn't rich, and Miller's father insisted that if she wanted a wedding dress and honeymoon clothes, she would have to earn the money and pay for them, so that summer she picked cotton.

On September 15, 1933, in a small Baptist church in Alvord, Joy Miller wed Ewell Taylor in what was supposed to be a quiet ceremony attended only by the couple, the preacher, and his wife. Taylor's new husband was a cotton gin supervisor and, at 33, was considered too old to be a bachelor. The ceremony went well, but before the newlyweds could leave for their honeymoon in Fort Worth, the groom's friends suddenly appeared. They grabbed Taylor and spirited him across the Red River and into Oklahoma, leaving his bride standing at the church in her hard-earned beige wedding dress.

"They just kind of swept him up in the car and took him off," says Betty Evans, another daughter. "On the second day, mother was just beside herself about what might have happened."

Ewell Taylor wouldn't return to her for two days. When he finally did appear, his bride was fuming. As part of what was known as a "shivaree," or a sort of predecessor to today's bachelor party, Ewell Taylor was held captive, and he and the boys stayed up playing dominoes (at least that was his story). So two days late, the newlyweds finally left on their honeymoon. Joy Taylor was wearing (also hard-earned) white gloves, a round hat, and a two-piece navy blue suit with a matching purse. The story of her wedding and of her husband's disappearance was one of Joy Taylor's favorites. As the years passed, she would retell the story to her children and grandchildren.

The couple would have three children, two girls and a boy. In 1958, Ewell Taylor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Three years later, he died. By then, Joy Taylor's son and oldest daughter had moved out, but Carolyn, a senior in high school, stayed with her mother, partly to help pay the bills.

While raising her family, Joy Taylor was a devoted wife and "wonderful homemaker," Betty Evans says. "She was very picky about her home, and she was that way with herself too," Evans says. "She took pride in what she wore, if it matched, and if she was made up."

As Joy Taylor's health deteriorated with age and the onset of diabetes, she and her three adult children, Carolyn Osborn, Betty Evans, and Robert Taylor, decided to move her into a nursing home in Bowie in early 1994. She was still in her hometown, and daughter Betty Evans was not far away. Taylor's health wasn't terrible, and she could still move around without a great deal of trouble.

But in 1995, Evans needed knee-replacement surgery, meaning that her regular visits to the Bowie nursing home would have to end. Osborn volunteered to take over care of her mother. A longtime Lewisville resident, Osborn decided to move her mother to a facility nearby. She and her mother visited several of the nursing homes in the area, and Cross Timbers seemed ideal. Not only was it merely four miles from Osborn's house, it was new, had room for another Medicaid patient, and seemed upscale and orderly. Osborn says she would have liked her mother to stay with her at her own house, but it wasn't possible to have somebody there with her mother all the time, which by now was necessary. Taylor's diabetes needed regular monitoring, and she had become incontinent. She moved into Cross Timbers in November 1995.

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