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Albert Johnson 1927-2007 - johnnyboatshow
Albert Johnson 1927-2007
My Granddad was a wonderful man. Whenever I think of him, my heart fills with gratitude for the opportunity I’ve had to be alive. He was born in 1927, and had my father, his first child of five, at the age of 23. He then spent his life working and raising his children and making a better life for them than he ever had. The Johnsons basically clawed their way into the American middle class during his lifetime, and in the process became a joyful, boisterous, passionate, sometimes contentious but nonetheless loving clan of maniacs that I’m nothing but happy to be a part of. Granddad did everything you could possibly think of doing in order to consider yourself a man, a father, and a grandfather, and he did it with a stern, quiet elegance that I found protective, intimidating, and awe-inspiring in its depth and austerity.

He died on Thursday, mid-morning, and services happen today, Saturday. I imagine it will be a low-key but well-attended affair full of friends and relations. I imagine there will be many kind words spoken through teary eyes in an open forum setting, and that this will be followed by an increasingly raucous reception in which the bourbon will flow freely and hearts will be open wide.

I wish to God I could be there, but that was not the man’s style, to make me feel obligated to drop everything on this trip I’m on all on his account. He would be glad I’m out here doing well for myself, and he’d want me to know that he’ll be silently looking down on me from wherever I need him to be, just the way it was when he was alive.

Thank you Granddad.

And now here’s something I wrote before I knew he’d gone:

The child asks if his Granddad has ever been bitten by a snake and if so how much it hurt. The man delivers his answer (either yes or no) calmly after a deliberate but carefree negotiation of long memory. This in the face of dire circumstances, when just the thought of a snake is enough to make the child’s heart pound uncontrollably. The child thinks, “Here is a man who is bigger than snake bites,” and feels soothed abstractly as if by watching a single peaceful ripple gliding across an enormous black pond full of snapping turtles who won’t let go until they hear the sound of thunder.

The Grandfather doesn’t lie. There are snakes. And they bite. But his bemused demeanor wordlessly indicates to the child that this is not all. “Yes, there are snake bites, but none right now,” comes the subtext, sliding secretively from out of the creases of the old man’s sun squinted eyes. The answer is cool and helpful and incomplete because the question is insufficient for the task.

The child senses this and upon further reflection attempts a new tactic. “Granddad,” he pauses, “How many places have you been?”

Granddad answers with a smile that is cautiously not laughter. “I don’t know,” he says plainly, “more than I can remember. How about you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” Granddad punctuates this last with an affectionate pat and walks on. The silence begins again and deepens and becomes its own answer.

The Grandfather in this way teaches about silence. By walking slowly, perhaps gingerly, over pine roots and loose dirt, saying nothing unless provoked to by a question or the discovery of a common wild animal that can be shared with the child.

Grandfather has a separate silence. It is not the urgent, purposeful silence of mothers or fathers who must concentrate on the task at hand or else an unknown peril will somehow take over, some secret adult danger at parking lots and restaurants, sometimes with a name like “money” or “the tall man in the hat” but still having the same unknowable effect of good somehow becoming bad, of cookies unbought and scorned when, inexplicably, in other times praise may have rung. Strained voices whispering “be quiet” as if the whole world depends on it, which surely it couldn’t. None of that with Grandfather.

This distinct silence is the first silence the child can live in, even enjoy, without it being his own, without feeling overwhelmed by the towering fact of lost cookies and poisonous snakes. He will go to it often in times of need and silently thank his Grandfather for it each time.
9 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 20th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Ben.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 20th, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)


my condolences mr. ben. thank you for sharing that.

From: (Anonymous) Date: October 22nd, 2007 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)

we heard you!

Your brother Tom read your comments to the croud at the service. You definately hit the nail on the head! We missed you but could feel you there in spirit. We all understand that it was impossible for you to come. We cannot repeat the service but we can repeat the party! Are you going to be around for the reunion next year?

Aunt JoAnna
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 23rd, 2007 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
You were so fortunate to have such a great Grandad, I hope the memories will always leave you with a smile.
Aunt Marti
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 24th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sorry for your loss, Ben. I can't imagine the frustration of not being able to be there, but I appreciate your thoughts. Hope the rest is well. Come home safe.

From: (Anonymous) Date: October 25th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm so sorry to hear this Ben. I hope you are doing well. Your Grandfather story is really beautiful. I wish I could be there for you.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 25th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm so sorry about your grandfather. Losing grandparents is such a weird and emotional experience and I hope you're doing ok. Take care:)

-Lindsay (aka Denise)
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 30th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh no, friend! I'm sorry to hear about your Gramps! Big hugs to you! Miss you! --Carrie
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 2nd, 2007 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Dad (mine, that is...grin)

I have enjoyed your blog intensely. You express thoughts in a way that takes the reader along...either in humor or in other emotions. What a wonderful talent. Your Grandad was a poet of sorts and wrote Mom poetry when he traveled that expressed his longing for home and the family he so cherished. Mom always kept them, but when she died, I think he disposed of them. He never thought as much of them as she did, and I guess that's just a perfect expression in itself of who he was. He said what he had to say and why would anyone need to hold onto those pieces of paper?

This Saturday a smaller group of us will take his ashes onto the old homeplace on Fort Benning. He always felt that was his home and mourned its being bought by Fort Benning from the age of 14 on. I know we have access to the Johnson cemetery (#44 according to the officials), but we're not certain if we'll be able to gain access to the actual place where his home and its associated structures (there were 5 barns, a stable, and a store)stood. Of course, Dad didn't want to be in any damn cemetery, so we may be detouring (after sprinkling decoy ashes that Jimmy is bringing to placate any escorting officials)to the bridge on Hwy 96 that crosses Upatoi Creek. Dad always talked about Upatoi Creek, and it is one of the boundaries of the old homeplace. We figure that if we spread him there, he can float down and get out wherever he wishes.

I also wanted to let you know that I was there when he took his last breath and spoke your name as one of those who love him into his good ear (LOL). You were precious to him, Ben.

with love,
Aunt Janie
9 comments or Leave a comment