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Sunday, June 21, 2020

In The Shadow Of My Giant

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 wavy 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 six foot three inch stature, 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 never noticed him do a single thing to dishonor my admiration. Dad epitomized ethics...honesty, integrity, and empathy. He moved and spoke with confidence, listened more than he talked, and I am most fortunate to have grown up in his large shadow.

Dad stuck with Mom through thick and thin, times when most other men would have buckled and bolted like a stray dog. Mom was what some would call, "high maintenance." But to my dad the words "for better or worse" were more than a flashy promise made on the eve of a honeymoon. 

Not that Mom wasn't drop dead gorgeous, too, you understand. But man-oh-man, she was complicated...had a way of commanding the "stage," pushing "buttons," and just wearing people down with her love for "limelight." But to my father's credit, well, he was always there to catch her when she fell off the stage. Somehow they balanced each other out.

The following is from a column I wrote for the Ouray County Plaindealer, a Father's Day tribute to My Giant, Everett Milo Johnson.

My Giant
A  Tribute To my Father

I was but a gleam in my daddy’s eye, till one sultry, summer night in Springfield, Ohio, this former tadpole got a shot at metamorphosis—a personified life on the outside. It takes a strong swimmer to overcome slim odds and turn a "gleam" into a dream come true. Of course, I was unaware of the nine months of amniotic purgatory—solitary confinement in an elastic bag that cramped long spastic arms and legs.

Finally, my "birthday" came, and I can assure you it was painful and neither Mom nor me enjoyed the experience. And don’t even get me started on the language debacle. It took over a year to convey, “I'm hungry, 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 and came with pint-sized milk spigots. Later, I would call her "Mom."  The other Giant was big and scary, and wrestled all day 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, most unexpectedly one fine Sunday morning, he “found the Lord." and it cost him nearly half his vocabulary. People said it was a miracle and it wouldn't last. But it did last, the rest of his life. Dad’s “salvation” led him to put aside worldly ways—he stopped smoking, gave up drinking and "F" bombs, and started showing up in church on Sunday. It was a pivotal metamorphic battle of willpower...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 auto garage, coal supply, and Cushman Scooter businesses. My brother, Dan, and sister, Sally Jo, shared the 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, but just know that there was “trickery” involved and I am living proof that the steel of male resolve melts like butter when the 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, anyway. 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. 

In his youth, Dad was bent a little to the wild side. The stories are the stuff of legends, one of which had him wiring the throttle of his Indian motorcycle in place so he could stand on the saddle (seat) with arms out, showing off for adoring girls. It takes a real man to bid male bravado and “glory days” farewell and take on less glamorous roles of husband, father, and provider. And that he did...eventually.  

Feeling the Lord's call to go west, Mom and Dad packed up and sold their business, just as it was beginning to thrive and provide them with surplus. Dad moved our family to Phoenix, Arizona, and started all over again. It would take well over a decade for "surplus" to find us again.

I grew up as Dad’s “helper.” Amid cars breaking down, leaking roofs, plugged sewers, and the myriad of day to day frustrating dirty jobs and petty annoyance breakdowns, I came to realize and appreciate the enormous self-control it took for Dad to retain his "composure" in my presence. 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. We were standing in our living room, holding hands—grieving—when Dad suddenly broke down and cursed God for taking his only daughter. It frightened me to the core.  

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 the drudgery of Ohio 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 short of retirement. I still miss him to this day...

Mom, my brother, Dan, and Dad...shortly before he died
Peace out,


  1. A wonderful tribute to your Dad...what a good man.


  2. I never get tired of hearing you speak about your Mom & Dad, just count your lucky starts.

    Ok the country is opening up, I guess we better start packing, Sept 23rd will be here the next time I check the calendar.
    Hope the Colorado governor doesn't throw a money wrench into our plans, as this may be our farewell tour across the West.
    Stay thirsty my Friends
    D & A

  3. I too never tire of your stories about your family and how you make them come alive for us readers so that we're laughing and crying with you. You are lucky to have had a giant in your life.

  4. That is a great remembrance of your father. I think he would be proud of the man you have become. Chris


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