That's him in the middle—the Big Guy, clowning for the camera with brothers, Milton and Harold, sporting white bucks, bell bottomed slacks, and waves of jet-black hair that drove girls crazy back in the day.
To hear Mom tell it, Dad was a "catch," a manly man that turned heads when he walked into a room or roared up on his classic Indian motorcycle, all decked out in leather. What with his Adonis looks and standing six foot three inches in stocking feet, Dad was "pedestal" material, and that's pretty much where I put him—right up there with the gods. I had twenty five years to observe The Man in our house, and, to the best of my knowledge, never saw him do anything to tarnish or discredit my admiration. He epitomized honesty, integrity, confidence, and empathy, and I am most fortunate to have grown up in his shadow.
Dad stuck with Mom through thick and thin, when most other men would have buckled and ran like a stray dog (me included). Mom was you might call a "high maintenance" woman, but I guess the words, "for better or worse" were more than flashy promises made on the eve of a honeymoon. Not that Mom wasn't drop dead gorgeous too, you understand, but man-oh-man, she had a way of commanding the "stage," pushing "buttons," and just wearing people down with her love of the limelight. Mom needed a spotlight and drama like a Hollywood actress. But Dad? Well, he was always there to catch her when she fell, and somehow they balanced each other out.
The following is from a column I wrote for the Ouray County Plaindealer. It's a Father's Day tribute to My Giant, Everett Milo Johnson.
My Giant…A tadpole turned man-child’s tribute to his father
I was but a gleam in my daddy’s eye until one sultry, summer night in Springfield, Ohio, I got my shot metamorphosis—a personified life on the outside. It takes a strong swimmer to turn a gleam into a dream come true, and patience, too. No one mentioned the nine months of amniotic purgatory—solitary confinement in an elastic bag while growing spastic arms and legs that would take years to master once set free. And don’t even get me started on the language debacle. It took almost a year to sign “Feed Me” to my Giants (that’s what I called my parents before learning the concept of “family”). One of my Giants was soft and cuddly. Later I would call her "Mom." The other was big and scary and wrestled with large automobiles that he cursed and threw wrenches at. Later, I would call him “Dad.”
There are legendary stories regarding Dad’s expletive laced fits of temper. Then one day he “found the Lord,” and it cost him nearly half his vocabulary. People said it was a miracle. Dad’s “salvation” led him to put aside worldly ways—he stopped smoking, gave up drinking, and started showing up in church every Sunday. It was a pivotal metamorphic battle, the Holy Trinity against angry-male DNA, Heaven against Heredity.
Dad and Mom started out as budding Ohio entrepreneurs, living on the cheap in a small two-bedroom apartment overtop their Garage, Coal, and Cushman Scooter businesses. My brother, Dan, and sister, Sally Jo, shared a second bedroom as they preceded my Immaculate Conception by nearly a decade. The I. C. is another story altogether. Suffice it to say that Mom wanted another child and dad didn’t. I will spare you the details, just know that there was “trickery” involved, and I am living proof that the steel of male resolve melts like butter when lights go down in Oh-high-oh.
I’m confident that if the Lord hadn’t stepped in to tame Dad’s temper and foul language, Fatherhood would have… eventually. He knew better. It’s just that “male metamorphosis” is damn near an oxymoron without intervention from a Higher Power. “Boys will be boys,” after all, and in his youth it is said that Dad was bent a little to the wild side. There are many stories, one which had him wiring the throttle of his Indian motorcycle, then standing on the saddle with arms out… speeding past spellbound girls. It takes a real man to bid bravado and “glory days” farewell, and take on the less glamorous roles of husband, father, and provider.
One day "The Lord" got to Dad, and it forever changed his life. In retrospect, I almost feel sorry for him—that in newfound Pentecostal piety his “relief valve” was lost. Certain trades, especially auto mechanic, should be exempt from piety, i. e., language etiquette. Those who ply the trade understand the mental and physical frustrations that arise within the coarse of a typical workday—when wheels come off best laid plans and nothing short of a good old expletive can circum-Vent the impending stroke about to strike them dumb and lame. Let's be honest, “aw shucks” and “darn it” just doesn’t get it when wrenches slip from bolt-heads and crush knuckles against steel. In such situations men who suppress urges to swear live highly respected, but much shorter lives. Being a mechanic is a tough fit after "salvation;" they need to swear, it’s how they get through the day. Maybe it's why Dad sold his garage business, moved his family west to Arizona and started over.
I grew up as Dad’s “helper.” Amid cars breaking down, leaking roofs, plugged sewers, the myriad of day to day dirty jobs, frustrations, and petty annoyances, I came to realize and appreciate the enormous self-control it took for Dad to retain his "composure." In fact, the only time I remember hearing Dad swear, ever, was when his daughter, Sally Jo, died at the tender young age of 23. I’ll never forget it. Dad, Mom and I were standing in our living room, holding hands—grieving—when Dad suddenly broke down and cursed God for taking his only daughter.
Everett Milo Johnson was the oldest of nine kids. He grew up poor in southern Ohio, mostly on farms his parents leased or sharecropped. As a boy he escaped from Ohio and farm chores by reading Zane Grey’s western novels. After graduating high school he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in order to go west and see the country Mr. Grey wrote about. He ended up being stationed in Oregon, where he built roads and trails, and fell head-over-heels in love with the west. He died of a heart attack when he was sixty-one years old, just shy of retirement.
The caustic irony to this tribute is that Dad ended up with a “wrench” in his hands most of his life. Maybe if he would have cursed more…