(Sabbath Blog #10)
When you marry someone, so they say, you also marry her family.
I’m an only child. I married a girl who is the youngest of six siblings. Debra has two sisters, Jean and June, and three brothers, Buddy, Jimmy, and Clint. They are a good family and they have been faithful and true to each other over the years. I have appreciated and even envied their relationship.
Debra’s oldest brother was Walter Pierce Johnson; he was named after his father’s father and after his mother’s father. But his family members called him “Buddy.” There is a red-haired and freckled gene in Debra’s family that is recessive in her but that comes out in our daughter Sara, especially when she stays out in the sun. That gene was very obvious in Buddy, whether he was in the sun or in the dark.
He was almost sixteen years older than Debra and when I came into the picture he was in the Air Force, which he had joined as a teenager. If memory serves me correctly, he was stationed in England when I met Debra; in later years he was stationed in Turkey and in Spain. In fact, he and his family were living in Spain when we married in 1978; his wife Patsy and he sent Debra a Spanish lace veil for our wedding. His Air Force career and the travels it brought him made him an even more interesting man than he was by nature.
Two conversations that Buddy and I had stand out in my memory. In one he told me that his son Walter Jr. had once asked him if he had ever killed anyone as part of his military service. He said, “I told him ‘No.’ And it was true that I never directly killed anybody. But I know that the bombs that I loaded on planes in Vietnam probably did kill some people.” He had an interesting look in his eye when he told me that, a look that somebody like me who never had to do what he did could never understand.
The Johnson children’s parents, Dick and Kathleen, both died in 1997, Mrs. Johnson in May and Mr. Johnson in October. Some of the men were sitting on the porch in the days after Mr. Johnson died. Buddy said, “Well, there’s one good thing—at least Mama and Daddy didn’t leave us a lot of stuff to fight over.” He laughed even as he spoke that truth. But my in-laws did leave their children the virtues of hard work, honesty, and commitment to family that have stood them in good stead. And I think that in a way, that was what Buddy was saying.
Buddy died last Tuesday, March 20, 2007, in his adopted home of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He had experienced many health problems over the last few years. He suffered a massive heart attack as he tried to drive himself to the hospital. He would have been sixty-six on April 7. He leaves his wife Patsy, his children Walter Jr. and Doris, and a grandson, Pierce. He also leaves his siblings, among whom is numbered my wife.
She says that one of the things that she will miss the most about Buddy is the way that he hugged. She remembers his hugs as being big, sincere, wrap himself all around you kinds of events. I’ll have to take her word for it; I was just a brother-in-law and never had the pleasure. But I will remember his loyalty, his sincerity, his sense of humor, and especially his love for his baby sister.
May God grant peace to him and to his family.