Imagine a comfortably settled family of five, uprooting, selling out, and bidding farewell a la "Grapes of Wrath" to their Ohio livelihoods, relatives, and friends… all in order to follow the sun and begin anew. "Selling out" indeed; there was no safety net. On faith, instinct, and grit, Mom and Dad hunted Life like it was prey, sometimes devouring, sometimes being devoured. "The heart is a lonely hunter."
What follows is a Mother's Day tribute to Hilda Johnson—wife of Everett, and mother of three fine children—and some of the good that came as a result of the time she spent on this earth. Hers was a complex, emotive life, full of ups and downs—a mix of melancholy and joy, struggle and repose, a little blood, a lot of sweat, and enough tears to fill a sea.
|Mom, in her early 60's. An Arizona Cowgirl with a closet full of boots and western attire, still wandering, still chasing life and God's will.|
I’m staring at a priceless and befitting photograph for a Mother’s Day tribute... gleaned from an eight millimeter home movie shot by my "Spielberg" dad, Everett. It's a noir frame of Hilda Mable Johnson, parading against the backdrop of a ’56 Chevy… both destined to be “classics.” Mom’s beautiful face and smile filled the lens of Dad’s heart, as much or more than his prized hand-wound Bell and Howell movie camera.
It was1938 when Hilda Mable Carder accepted Everett Milo Johnson’s proposal under an Ohio moon. From their union came three children, starting with my brother, Daniel, ten years my senior. A year later Sally Jo came along and evened the gender score. A near decade would tick by before I debuted, likely an "Oops," but not to hear Mom tell it. Over the years she vehemently denied that my late-comer birth was accidental… as if being “unintended” might somehow bruise my tender psyche.
Mom was a tad eccentric (imagine Edith Bunker times ten). As a youngster she was sensitive and shy, ended up dropping out of school in the eighth grade to avoid ridicule and teasing at her struggle to properly enunciate words... something she would struggled with her entire life. In compensation, perhaps, adult Mom went overboard the other direction, growing ever more fond of the “spotlight.” By the time her “golden years” rolled around, Hilda Mable Johnson had crawled so far out of her shell it couldn’t be found, as if trying to make up for all those years of feeling inferior and socially disadvantaged. In her 80's, Mom’s "drama queen" antics got her kicked out of two retirement centers… unbelievable scripts right out of “Days Of Our Lives” (insert organ music here).
Aside from bailing Mom out of trouble (and moving her to new facilities) my cross to bear in her company was to listen to the “particulars” of my conception re-told to complete strangers. For confounding reasons I could never understand nor undo, that story became one of her favorite subjects—at the park, in the supermarket, church! Lord, have mercy. Anywhere Mom could corner an audience, I suffered that story over and over and over again. She would go into "tsunami mode" and couldn't be stopped. Eventually I learned to just smile and nod, endure the embarrassment, and let her command the “spotlight” she so adored.
In retrospect, I suppose Mom was being a mom, trying reassure me (and the public at large) that I was not an accident, that, by God she wanted another child so bad she willfully “tricked” my reluctant Daddy into giving her one. The fact that I was well into my 50’s—that I couldn't care less whether I was accidental or on purpose—mattered not in the least to her. It was at times mortifying. I developed a sixth sense for sabotaging potential "opportunities," especially in supermarkets.
“Mom, did you hear that? Come, there’s a sale on ice cream over on aisle three!”
I learned to replace the trappings and close proximity of restaurants with "Take-out."
It’s oddly funny and sad now, and brings both a chuckle and a tear.
|Ready for church. Note the washing machine outside on the patio next to our 8' by 40' trailer. Clothes were hung out to dry on a clothesline.|
Mother’s Day is a good time to reflect on Mom’s wonderful attributes. She had incredible energy and physical endurance. Her work ethic was without peer and a fine example for her children. Mom was devoted to God, husband, family and friends. As a missionary, she gave of her time, as well as her "pocketbook," to a nearby tribe of Pima Indians. She always treated them with affection and respect, as if they were family. Her empathy for the downtrodden was bottomless. One of my earliest memories is of Mom taking a drink from the “Colored” water fountain in a grocery store. It was her way of drawing attention to a "wrong," and a lesson in human dignity I never forgot.
|Mom smothered her Pima Indian "flock" with love… especially the children.|
One day, out of the "blue," our family received devastating news. Sally Jo had died at the tender young age of 22. Her death snuffed the light from Mom’s piercing blue eyes; she grieved that loss for the rest of her life. "You never get over the loss of a child, you just get by with the help of God."
In her darkest hours, Mom continued to reach out and help others. For all of us, the loss of Sally Jo left a nasty wound, the kind that scabs over, but never really heals.
I'll never forget that moment, as brother Dan leaned down and gently whispered in her ear, “Mom, you’re going to heaven now. We love you.”
With those precious words, she passed from this life. We gathered in a circle at the foot of her bed, held each other close, and wept.
What a “classic,” Hilda Mable Johnson… unforgettable, just as you'd like it. This little "spotlight" is for you on Mother's Day. We love and miss you.
Here is a link to a one minute 8mm movie memorial to Hilda Mable Johnson, shot by my dad. I'd be honored if you'd take a look...
|Mom with her parents Sally and Sam Carder. My dad was fond of Oldsmobiles…|
|Dad and I, building a church on the reservation. Thick mud was poured between the lumber forms to make walls|
|Dad and Mom and the church they built on the Pima Indian Reservation|
|Family photo, again getting ready to go to church|
|A candid photo of Sally Jo and Dad|
|Sally Jo with her new Oldsmobile Convertible. Note Dad's 1960 Olds in the background. This was our magnificent front yard… unblemished desert stretching all the way to Papago Peaks between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Az.|
|Off to church again… embracing our new western lifestyle|
|Dad and I, on the way to Arizona… I believe the car is a 49 Ford convertible. Note, "Arizona or Bust" was written in the dust on the car's exterior.|
|Me and Sally Jo, not long before she died|
|My sister Sally Jo on the Indian Reservation… probably about 14 or 15 years old here|
|Before I came along…|
|A family photo, from the left: Bobbie, sister in law Elaine, Mom, Dan, my brother, Chuck, whom mom married after Dad passed away, and yours truly.|
|My mischievous son, Caleb, gives his reluctant Grandma a shove down the slide :)|
|On a lighter note this is me, going through a brief "Gender Identity Crisis" phase :))|
Don't forget to honor your mother, or her memory, by remembering her this Mother's Day. Thank her for the millions of things she did for you and your family.
mark and bobbie