Family History, Greatest Generation, Memoir, Veterans, WWII

FAMILY TIES — REMEMBERING DAD JOHNSON

 
Colonel Leslie H. Johnson  
November 3, 1916 – December 28, 2002

If my father-in-law were alive today, he would be 97 years old. Although he’s no longer with us in body, he lives on in our hearts. Colonel Leslie Harold Johnson was a man’s man, who understood integrity and courageous living.
Puppy-Dog Eyes at three
 

Dad grew up during the depression. As the oldest of four children, he often worked alongside his father at manual labor to help support the family. Through the years, he regaled us with stories of standing chest-deep in a river to move logs to shore, and how at one point, they put newspapers over the walls of their house to keep the wind out.


He and granddad also worked with the CCCs. During that time, Dad was given the nickname Pistol by someone who thought he was from Pistol City. An online article by Teri Maddox of News-Democrat sheds light on the moniker. 

The coal-mining town of Coulterville must have been a rough-and-tumble place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. People called it “Pistol City.”   “I had an uncle who used to talk about who got killed on this street and who got killed on that street,” said Sam White, 70, of rural Coulterville. “He said everybody carried a gun when they came into town at night.” 

Terry’s dad was not a violent gun-toting guy, but he knew how to stand up for himself and for others. At his funeral, a younger friend remarked that even at 86, he had been the most macho man in the congregation. We figured he had heard  lots of Dad’s stories about flying bombers over Europe during WWII, racing cars and in later years, confronting a would-be robber at his travel trailer door by getting the drop on him. 

Because there was no money for college, the Army Air Corps must have looked good to Dad. He was a career airman and made the most of every opportunity that came his way. He retired with the rank of Colonel from the United States Air Force. With all his accomplishments, he never forgot his humble beginnings nor the fact he didn’t have a college education. Both of his boys had that opportunity. 

Dad & Mo around the time they married
 

Les Johnson could be tough, but he was also tender and affectionate. He adored his wife, Eloise. She had been his secretary, and with a twinkle in his eye, he’d allude to stealing kisses behind the file cabinet. I often think about Dad riding shotgun in our car and how always at some point in the trip, he’d reach back to pat Mo’s knee. 

                              Even when they were octogenarians, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her.                                      
 
Dad and Mo enjoyed people and socializing. After they retired, they were part of a group that dined out, round danced and traveled across the country in their travel trailers. He was quick to tell a joke and usually engaged others in conversation wherever he found himself.
 
The Johnson family in the early years — He was proud of his boys, Jerry and Terry.
I feel blessed to have been Dad’s daughter-in-law. I guess you could say we had a mutual admiration society, which speaks volumes, considering I came into the family as a package deal – a divorced mother of two. He and Mo took Gary, Maria and me into their hearts completely, as did the rest of the family. I’m proud to be part of the Johnson clan and its rich heritage.
We miss you, Dad, but your high standards of integrity, courage and love still guide us.
Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment],
but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4 Amplified Bible
Cousins, Family, Family History, Family Proverbs, Memoir

MORE FAMILY TALK

Earlier, I wrote about some expressions our family uses to make a point and asked you to share yours. A couple of folks responded with cute stories about their own family sayings. One group blamed everything on the brother away at camp, and the other’s involved the statement No Karate in the kitchen. In both cases, the phrases are still in use. Both made me smile. Thanks for sharing!

Here are a few more things Terry and I say on a regular basis.

I’m happy to say that both boys have grown up to be kind, polite young men!

Someone has two toys entered our vocabulary when some of our very young grandchildren were playing together at a holiday dinner. One particularly impulsive young’un had a habit of grabbing toys away from the other children. I can still see the earnest face of his cousin looking up at me as he tactfully voiced a plea for adult intervention. Now when one of us appears to be hogging something, you’ll hear the other say, Someone has two toys. It’s a great way to make a point without having a row.

 
No thank you. It doesn’t look delicious originated at a Christmas dinner when our young grandson politely stonewalled his aunt’s efforts to get him to try gravy on his mashed potatoes. (His response was accompanied by a small “Stop” hand signal to assure that none of the suspicious dish made it onto his plate.)  Now, if I’m offered a piece of coconut pie (which is not my favorite flavor), I will politely say, “No, thank you.” If you see me make a little “Stop” signal with my hand, I could also be thinking, It doesn’t look delicious. (Our neighbor, Cissy, has adopted this remark!)

  •  It’s just right is one of my favorite things to say to people apologizing for what they consider to be disappointing outcomes from their efforts. If the cake was lopsided or the roast not so tender, you could always count on the Dale women to employ the phrase It’s just right – stretching out Juuust for emphasis. Consequently, in our family if you’ve worked hard at something but are a little embarrassed by the results and try to apologize, you are bound to hear someone cut off your apology with the words It’s Just Right! (My cousin, Larry, uses it and my husband, Terry, has taken it up.)

The person I associate most with the phrase is my Aunt Dorothy. She and her sister, Betty, were champions of their nieces and nephews. Memories of her inspired this poem.

Family Motto
 
 Just right, she said,
when you’d done your best
but made a mess.
Just right.
Just right! She knew the
impulse of the deed was
greater than its final form.
Just right!
‘Though long she’s slept,
when efforts somehow disappoint,
in my heart I hear her voice,
It’s juuust right!
Cousins, Family, Family History, Memoir

THINGS FOUND IN THE COMPANY OF COUSINS

Terry and I recently had the pleasure of entertaining my cousin, Rod, and his wife, Dorothy, who live in Arizona. His dad was my mother’s baby brother, and although all nine Dale siblings were close, those two had a special bond. Perhaps it was because Wayne was the last boy to leave the farm.

My mother never left home. Even after she and my daddy married, they stayed on Oak Dale Farm to help my grandmother. I was two when they sold the home place and we moved into Searcy. Grandma Dale went with us to a brand new home in a new neighborhood, and Rod’s dad built a house down the street.

Our older brothers, Will and Ted, were just a few months apart in age and inseparable. They were amazingly tolerant of my tagging along, but when I couldn’t follow them, I had Rod. My earliest memories are from when I was five or six, and he, at three or so, was developing the mischievous personality that still charms me.

I must have been in the second grade when they left Searcy and settled in California. It broke our hearts, but fortunately they came back often enough that I maintained a strong emotional tie to them. Being with the Dale boys –Ted, Rod and Rick — still holds the comfort of home for me. (Rick was a baby when they left Searcy.)
 
 

Rod and Dorothy planned this trip to coincide with the appearance of the lightning bugs. He wanted Dorothy, who grew up in California, to experience the magic he remembered of fireflies at dusk. They were not disappointed. The two evenings they were here (the Dale boys don’t stay long any place when traveling) the lightning bugs presented a magnificent deck-side show. (Thanks to ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent, we were able to exchange Dale lore well into the night.)

Rod also wanted to go back to Searcy to show Dorothy our old neighborhood. I warned them that the street didn’t the look the same. It’s in an old, rundown part of town now and nothing like Rod remembered. He was undeterred, so we went.

These are some things we found.

  • A “For Sale” sign in an open field with just a few remaining oaks out of the grove that inspired the name Oak Dale Farm where our parents were born.
  • Gum Springs Cemetery, the well-kept, rural resting place of our loved ones with the town  growing out around it.
  • Pear Street (called 7th Street when we were neighbors), shabby with more houses in disrepair than kept up.
  • Another “For Sale” sign in the yard of my childhood home, one of the few houses in good repair. It was empty so we explored the yard. The frame house boasts new siding and the addition of central air and heat. My dad’s roses are long gone, but the flat rock patio he built, gathering and hauling home every stone, is still shaded by the pecan tree he planted when I was a child.
  • Only a sidewalk and driveway remains where Rod once lived — the house burned some time ago.
  • The houses where the Rubles, Millers and Batsons once lived. (Later the Chapmans and Dunnams.)
  • Aunt Mary’s last home a few blocks away. NEVER would she have painted it that color!
After we ate fried green tomatoes and fried cat fish at a new-to-us Whistle Stop Café, we returned to Little Rock without taking one picture.
 
We didn’t need them. We have snapshot memories of the neighborhood in better days when we were young and free to roam from house to house.  They were enough.

We did take this picture of Rod and Dorothy the morning they left for Memphis to visit Elvis.