Monday, August 31, 2009

My Aunt Johnnie: A Tribute

Actually she was my great aunt, sister of my grandmother Ollie. Aunt Johnnie is a woman who loved a good story as much as anyone, with a gentle laugh I'll always remember. Sometime years earlier, grandma Ollie and she had some sort of falling out. Sometimes I'd hear uncles say derogatory things about her. Daddy just said the difference was between her and grandma, and nobody else's business but theirs.

One early story was shared by my grandma. Aunt Johnnie was little girl at the time, maybe 4 or 5 years old. She had wandered out into a corn field. Someone sighted her coming towards them, and what they saw made them scream. "Johnnie you put that down right now! NOW!" She dropped it and it crawled away. "It" was a rather large rattle snake. She had been dragging it by its tail and it had coiled back and was about to strike.

Aunt Johnnie finished the story. "I didn't know what a rattle snake was. Good thing it was a cool day. Apparently the snake had come out to take in some sun. It's a wonder I wasn't bit. Momma wore my butt out for that."

Her husband Luther had been gassed during WWI. He suffered with chronic problems with his lungs for the rest of his life as a result. One day at a family gathering, he was sitting there. He had false teeth and I noticed he didn't have them in. He grinned at me. "Want to see what those teeth look like?"

I nodded yes, moving closer.

"Here, I got em here." They were wrapped in a piece of cloth. Unwrapping them slowly, he proceeded to set them on the table. I moved even closer, to get a good look. He set them on the table. CLACKETY CLACKETY the teeth opened and closed making a loud clacking noise and I jumped backwards. They were trick teeth and they sure tricked me. He laughed out loud, and red faced, I joined right in.

Back in another time, Aunt Johnnie and Uncle Luther lived in Amarillo, Texas. My daddy finished the tenth grade which was as far as school lasted in Petty in North East Texas. The photo of that old school house is the one I chose to post above. Grandpa wanted him to work on the farm but daddy would have none of that. He was planning to move to Alaska to make his way there. Then he received a letter from Aunt Johnnie. She told him he would not do so well without an education, and asked him to come to Amarillo to stay with them. "You'd have to get a job to pay your way, but you can stay with us and finish your highschool.

Well he did, and entered college there where he studied until WWII broke out. It was in Amarillo that he met my momma, who worked there for American General Life Insurance. He saw her in the second floor window working as a typist and when he got off from his job at a service station across the way, walked over and yelled up to her. On the spot he asked her out. She said no, but he kept coming back, and finally she said yes. Which created a minor problem because he already had a date for that night. No problem because it was momma he wanted to go out with.

Daddy always felt a great sense of gratitude towards Aunt Johnnie. She came often to visit us, more so after Luther died. During those visits, she showed her own wit and intellect, encouraging me to take my education seriously. When I had my accident in my senior year, she came to sit with me. She discouraged talk by some that I should just wait and make up what I had missed the next year. She and my parents agreed I should use homebound training and I'm so grateful for that.

She slowed down a bit as she got older. I recall one day when she was about 85 or so, complaining because when she mowed the front yard, she had to rest a bit before tackling the back. "Must be arthritis," she said. The last time I saw aunt Johnnie was when she came to visit my mother in Louisiana. She arrived with Aunt Willobeth, and my cousin Alice Jean. We had a wonderful visit, then went to walk through Hodges Gardens before they headed back. Sadly all three are no longer with us. Alice had an accident a year or so later and did not survive, taken way too soon. Aunt Willobeth died just this past year. Aunt Johnnie lived to be 101, active until near the end. She was around long enough to touch not only daddy's life, but my own as well.

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