“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”—George Bernard Shaw
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My mother was the oldest of five siblings and the first to marry. Before the wedding, her father offered her advice for a happy life in a letter. Among other things, that letter included three admonitions. Remain faithful to God, devoted to your spouse, and close to your family by getting together often.
Mom died in 2010 at the age of 87 years and six months. She and my father had been married 62 years and eight months when he died in 2007. And, she remained a lifelong faithful member of the church of Christ.
Indianola Johnson Aldridge, better known to most as “Inky,” had three sisters and one brother. That “little brother,” Bill, and a sister, Jo, are the only ones still on this side of eternity. Bill is 86, and Jo is 90.
My Uncle Bill and Aunt Jo were among the little more than 100 family members and friends who gathered in Sweetwater last Saturday to celebrate the life of Bill’s son, Danny Johnson. Danny was only 61; far too young to be saying goodbye to anyone. But dreaded diseases don’t seem to respect any boundaries, including age.
The gathering out in West Texas reminded me once again of the family spirit that mom’s parents, Arthur G. and Bernice Conlee Johnson, instilled in their children. Both of them were educators. They had six children, five of whom reached adulthood. Although they were living in Tennessee when mom met my father, they lived most of their lives where my mother was born and graduated from high school in Winchester, Kentucky.
Follow that advice to stay close, they did religiously although they were spread out geographically. My parents settled in East Texas, where my father was raised. Two of her sisters settled in West Texas and one in Ohio. Bill went into the Navy in California, married, and started a family there before eventually moving to Sweetwater some years ago.
Despite the distance, family reunions in Kentucky every summer were priority. They all made the trip from where ever they lived as long as they were able to travel. Also fond memories are Christmases at each other’s homes or long weekends together for the Texas-based sisters where the living room floor doubled as a kid’s dorm.
Good memories also include many Saturday meetings for one-day picnics and swimming halfway between Seymour, where we lived before moving to Mount Pleasant, and Kress up in the Texas Panhandle where mom’s sister, Amy, lived. The location was a roadside park with a creek and waterfall known as Silver Falls. And let’s not forget the times when delegations from Texas and Ohio, where mom’s sister Kathrine lived, banded together to make the trek to California while Bill was living there.
The point to sharing all of that is to say that if any family ever heeded a father’s advice, it was mom’s. And they each did it while hauling a car full of kids across the country to be together at every opportunity. Of that generation of kids, I am the oldest. With Danny’s passing, 11 remain. I have two sisters I love dearly, but our clan of cousins regard each other in many ways, more as brothers and sisters than as cousins.
We missed a reunion or any kind of get-together last year as the result of the CCP virus. We did manage a couple of Zoom meetings, but it just wasn’t the same. Someone noted last Saturday that our gathering to say good bye to Danny was sadly, “one of the best family reunions we have had in a while.” To that, they quickly expressed the need to resume the gatherings, but under better circumstances. And before we left, conversation was underway about where we were going to get together this summer.
Family is indeed an earlier version of heaven, and I’ve also heard it said that we don’t choose our family; we are God’s gift to each other. For family like ours, I am thankful. And I’m also thankful God gifted our family with Danny.
(Photo at top of the page: Johnson Family members doing what they do best when they get together—eating. Gathered at Allen’s Family Style Meal’s in Sweetwater, Texas in October of 2017 were (left to right) Michelle (Johnson) Rybacki, Jo (Johnson) Scott, Teri (Johnson) Brown, Danny Johnson, Judy Scott, Fred Scott (better known to most as “Derf,” Leon Aldridge, and Sean Rybacki.)
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