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Where not all roads less traveled are roads...

Header Photo: Table Mountain, Golden, Colorado, with views of downtown Denver.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

In The Spotlight once again on Mother's Day...

In trying to understand who we are and why, sometimes we need look no further than our parents. Everett and Hilda Johnson certainly shaped my life, genetically, as well as environmentally. The lead photo represents the fondest memories I have of childhood, traveling and camping. Mom and Dad led a wandering life not unlike Moses and the Israelites, always searching for a better place, a higher purpose, and God's will.

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.

On a grey, chilly January morning in the Village of Oak Creek, Arizona, amongst a magical surround of red rocks and twisted cedar, Mom slipped from this life into the loving arms of her Heavenly Father at the age of 84. My brother Dan, Bobbie, and I stood bedside as her rhythmic, shallow breathing began to falter. She inhaled deeply, her chest visibly rising, one last last breath... then slowly exhaled never to draw another.

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. 
Peace out, 

mark and bobbie


  1. A lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Oh, Mark, what a story, what a Mom, what a treasure to read this today. Makes me remember that we all have these stories lying around in wait to open up someone's heart and memory, if only more of us were willing and able to write them the way you do.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your Mom.....Thanks for sharing this.

  4. I have a feeling your mom touched many of God's children in addition you or your siblings. Who cares if you were or were not an "accident"? You had a mom that cared for you, especially you. The fact that you posted this tribute to her, and have in the past, speaks volumes about you and the impression she left in your hands. Your a good son Mark. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. A nice post. Your Mothers Day is always a different date to ours but the sentiments the same.

  6. Very well sais Mark. I so agree.


  7. Mike McGuire
    May 9 at 7:53am

    Well done, Mark - you may or may not remember how important your Mom and Dad were in the lives of the McGuire family, as neighbor's, leading us kids to the Lord even before our parents, who eventually followed and became missionaries to those same Pima Indians. When I was invited to work on the ranch in Hereford the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I once again experienced the Johnson family. As a family, we are eternally grateful for the way God used the simple "articulation" of your godly mother to persuade our family of five to follow Christ. Mom, now 95 and still a prayer warrior, will be reading your tribute as well. Larry and I visited your Mom with our wives at one of those facilities about two years before she went home to be with the Lord.
    Mike McGuire

  8. A fine tribute to your mother and some good old pictures. I saw the Assembly of God on the school bus once before and also knew that you had spent some of your 'growing' years in Herford/Miracle Valley. What I kept forgetting to do is tell you this.

    The Pastor, Reverend D Dale Stoner, of the Church of Palominas an Assemblies of God church in Hereford, AZ is my cousin. He is about your age but I think I asked you once before if you remembered any of the Stoners from that area and you said no.

  9. I always enjoy reading the writings about your mom!


  10. A heart warming beautiful story and perfect for any Mother on her day. Still enjoying all your passionate blogs, and of course the pictures of Lovely Ouray.


  11. What a wonderful tribute to your mom -- heartfelt and humorous. I bet she would love it. That last photo of you -- OMG hilarious. That should be the cover photo of your book, when you write it.

  12. What a great way to honor your mother and your family. For a guy raised by gypsies you turned out pretty darn good! I like that cowboy in high heels look, you don't see that too often.

  13. What a lovely posting, great memories of Mom, loved the video.

  14. What a beautiful tribute to your mom and family--very well written!

  15. Great post. Thank you for sharing. The story and pictures are amazing.


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