Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Johnson

Ninety years ago today, on April 30, 1919, Harvey Melton Johnson was born; somewhere along the line he became known as “Dick.” To me, though, he was always Mr. Johnson, because that just seemed like the proper thing to call my father-in-law.

His sixth and youngest child consented to start taking me seriously in January of 1977 and it was not too many weeks after that when she took me home for the first time. We were in college in Macon, Georgia and I had never in my life visited Southwest Georgia which was where her hometown of Leary is located and so I frankly thought we would never get there but we did.

Before we left Macon, though, Debra told me that Mr. Johnson had asked her if I liked to fish and when she said that she thought that I did his follow-up question concerned my ability to swim but, I am happy to report, he never tried to dump me from the boat although he did eventually dump me from his fishing excursions when he realized that I was bad luck—in regard to catching fish, not in regard to his daughter, gratefully.

Mr. Johnson was a good man, a simple man, a hard-working man, a dependable man, and a trustworthy man. He didn’t say much but you could count on what he said. His wife suffered through some twenty years of suffering stroke after stroke and each one took more and more of a toll on her and on him but he was strong and faithful through it all. He loved his children and his grandchildren. He worked several jobs over the course of his life but during the years I knew him he was the foreman of a peanut mill and during peanut season he worked incredibly long hours and seemed to enjoy doing it.

Mrs. Johnson died in May 1997 and Mr. Johnson followed her in October of that same year. During the last few weeks of his life he showed again the kind of man he was. Sensing his decline, he checked himself into a nursing home, I assume because he wanted to take control of his own life and did not want his children to have to make such decisions for him. He wasn’t the kind of man who wanted or needed other people to be proud of him, but I was.

To my wife he passed along a common sense approach to life, a willingness to confront life as it comes and things as they are, a deep commitment to family, and a healthy work ethic.

The greatest gift he gave me was his daughter. At our wedding rehearsal, when the minister asked Mr. Johnson if he knew what he was to say when he was asked “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” he said, “Her mother; I want nothing to do with it.” But at the ceremony he came through and shared in the giving and in so doing he entrusted his baby girl to me; I will be forever grateful.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Johnson—and God bless you.

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