"A Man & A Woman"
" A Garden"
" A Book
"Mama Deer &
"A Cheeky Smile"
About the Author &
Coda: A Reflection
A MAN AND A WOMAN
Two strangers sat on a dusty church couch. The man was 87 years old and the wrinkled skin over his revealed a man who had lived his life in the sun. His graying blue eyes sat behind gold-rimmed glasses that he would adjust from time to time. Throughout their conversation, one could catch his stare fixed on something in the distance, caught in the vividness of distant memory. Then he would return and she would lean closer in, absorbing his words.
She was younger, a student. She sat with her recorder and notebook clutched tight, rarely breaking eye contact as she listened. The large window behind them allowed the morning sun to stream in, illuminating her young face while illuminating his bright white hair. They both crossed their legs and he began to tell her his story.
“I was born in a house on Virginia Street, in a rented upstairs apartment in eastern North Carolina back in 1929.” His voice was worn and he trailed his words as if to show her just how long he had lived. “So, that means I have lived in ten decades, ‘cause the end of the twenties, and now I’m into. . .” He laughed a jolly laugh and mumbled numbers under his breath. “That puts me at 87 years old, I’ll be 88 this coming August.”
“And I was born back before the Depression, that means I lived through the Great Depression and World War II and everything since ‘en. My early days, brought up on a farm. Basically, raised farming! Part of that time was sharecropping. My dad and mother, they started out with nothing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term sharecropping?”
She smiled and nodded, and he nodded with her, continuing his story.
“It wasn’t just blacks who were doing sharecropping, the poor whites did too.” He laughed again. “But we didn’t suffer.”
His voice deepened as he recalled the harsh times that many people had faced during his youth. “You hear about people having lost everything during the Great Depression, jumping outta windows, begging for food—we never lost anything, ‘cause we never had anything. On the farm, as long as you could raise your own food, you could make it. During the winter time, you had a collard patch, a potato hill, a smokehouse. . . you could make it.” He told her these things with a sense of urgency, as if they were advice. Feeling obligated, she grabbed her pen from her jacket pocket, and quickly jotted down his words.
He seemed satisfied, and continued, “So, we never suffered as far as having to go around for food or anything. We never considered ourselves poor because there was a division somewhere between the people who would contribute to others, as the need was, and those who received. Now, my dad always gave and so we never had to receive charity, so we weren’t poor. That was our philosophy.” He laughed, emphasizing the simplicity of the idea that their family had lived by. “The poor received and the ones who gave, well we didn’t consider ourselves poor. My mother and dad never raised me and my brothers and sisters as racists.”
Her gaze intensified, interested at where the older man would go with his statement. “‘Cause we lived and worked with blacks. . . See, I was raised in that era. When I first came to shipyard, the blacks and the whites didn’t even drink water from the same fountains or go to the same restrooms. It was all separate.”
“What was that like? It was just normal?” she asked.
“It was just normal! It was just normal to be separate.
“Because you see, in ’29, that was less than a lifetime away after the Civil War! We still had a long ways to go in those days. We freed ‘em but, the freedom didn’t automatically say that everything’s happy! Discrimination was still rampant; it still is now but not to the point. And then in the sixties, it became not-normal. The realization came up that ‘It ain’t really normal for us to always have to go to the back of the bus or drink out of a separate water fountain or go to a different restroom.’ And I don’t know how much you’ve read about that period of time. . . along that era, it got really really testy.”
She nodded, expressing her familiarity with that era of history. She had a question for him and quickly spoke up. “Around the time that integration began happening, in the sixties, were most of the people in your life, like your friends and family, were they supportive of that?” she asked, curious about this era in time that few remember directly.
“Some were cool with it and some… not. And some violently not. There’s still people to this day who’ve never really accepted it.”
He seemed to remember that it was Sunday morning and that they were in a church. Quickly, he addressed God.
“But, there’s been episodes in my life, as I grew up to enforce the Christian life. But, I hear people talk about, as adults, they became Christians. Well I mean, I was born Christian.” He laughed. “I was raised that way! I was raised with a complete faith in God. In fact, I remember days when I’d be out following that ol’ mule plowing out in the field and wondering if that was going to be my life. And accepting that as, if that’s what God had for me, well okay,” He paused, “. . . that’s what I would do."
She found herself looking closely at the wrinkles framing his blue eyes. She saw the lines created after years of squinting under the sun and skin that had been toughened from the heat. She looked closer, and with a slight tilt of the head, tried to see the young man in his visage who once plowed fields and harvested crops and found himself reflecting on God. Now, the sun was sitting behind this aging man, shielded by a window and veiled behind a tree. She smiled as he smiled, his graying blue eyes distant, celebrating the fields, collard patches and potato hills.
Next—Chapter 2: "A Garden"
“Hi, Mr. Johnson!” she yelled excitedly. She walked towards the aged silver gate, grinning as the man welcomed her with a wave. He slowly adjusted his baseball cap, his white hair peeking through, while he tried to calm the chaotic puppy at his side. She clutched her notebook and recorder and passed through the gate, entering his world.
The budding spring trees dangled above them, their branches blossoming with green sprouts. The ground was damp and the air brisk. With each gust of wind brought a wave of azalea perfume and a honey bee whizzing past. Today, he wore a denim jacket, its sleeves’ edges frayed from years of use. She, too, wore a jean jacket, yet hers was stiff and not yet broken in. The grass beneath their boots sank towards the earth as they maneuvered over the land.
Next—Chapter 3: "A Book"
“So, you have 1,000 some books in your house?” she asked walking through the doorway into his home. Bookshelves overflowing with novels covered the walls to their left and right.
“More than that!” He assured her guiding the way towards the nearest bookshelf. The dark wood created a cozy environment perfect for reading and he searched for his favorites.
A comfortable chair draped with a blanket sat next to the wood burning heater and a book lay on its arm.
“I must have several thousand books and that’s probably conservative. I’ve given away hundreds and hundreds at yard sales and things like that. If I’m sitting down somewhere, I usually got a book in my hand, reading.” He laughed, placing back a copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde onto the shelf.
“I don’t watch television at all, because it seems so . . . I don’t know. You watch one of those shows and you get up… ‘Did I waste that hour?’ And so, I’m book poor now! I’m a voracious reader! I will very rarely watch anything on TV.”
His aging hands found a large book sitting on a shelf.
“Right now, I’m in the midst of The Complete Unabridged Works of Mark Twain. I mean, I’ve read about all of Mark Twain’s stuff over the years. I just finished The Prince and the Pauper and I’m getting ready to go into Huckleberry Finn. Like I said, good writings are worth reading again and again! And I’m a Civil War history nut, I’ve got a ton of that kind of material.”
The iron heater that sat in the corner of the room emitted a steady warmth.
“I like historical novels, that kind of flash, the action stuff. I also like Biblical novels that flesh out a life of someone you read about in the Bible, like Joseph. There’s all kinds of novels on the biblical personalities. I like to read those! I know most of it’s all made up but it seems reasonable. I know I read one once, and I forget the name of it now, it covered Jesus’s childhood. From twelve on up to his ministry starting. It covered it in a novel fashion. And it all makes good sense if people have handled it right. I have complete confidence that Christ was who he said he was and what he said was true. And I base my life on it, I bet my life on it.” He turned to her, “Have you read The Shack?”
“Yes! I love that book!” She grinned, excited at the overlap in their reading interests.
“I read it, I don’t know, three or four years ago, when it first came out.” He added as they maneuvered through the next bookshelf. She asked him about when his love for reading began. He answered her as
“I was eager to start school. My burning desire was to learn to read! The Sunday paper would come on Saturdays. So, my dad would always send somebody uptown to get a copy of the Philadelphia Enquirer, and Sunday New York News. Each had a great bit of the Sunday Funnies, the comics, the colored ones!” Memories of a child’s joy for simple pleasure radiated through his smile. “So, Mama and Daddy would read those comics to me and I could hardly wait ‘til I could read myself.”
He guided her to the next room, books covered each wall. The never-ending stream of books caused the young woman’s eyes to grow in awe.
“Now for some reason, I don’t know it’s hard to figure, they made no effort at that point to teach me to read, they just read to me. And we did not have books, of course, in those days. But it instilled in me, ‘There are marks! There are marks on the paper and that can be translated into words!’ I’d look at something and see in it that it means something. Man, I could hardly wait to get to school and learn to do that! And before first grade was half over, I could read.”
“And when I was in second and third grade, I was reading scripture in Church and Sunday School better than a lot of the old folks who could read in those days.” He grinned, proud of his accomplishment.
They browsed over the titles together. Topics of Civil War, Native Americans, Birds of North America, and Jesus Christ roamed the shelves. The smell of old book pages seeped into the air and they continued to read.
She watched the man, surrounded by his books and imagined what the young boy who could hardly wait to decipher markings would think. The enthusiastic grin that beamed from the man’s aging face surely mimicked the youthful zeal towards reading that he held years ago; a child anxiously waiting for the day when the markings on a page would come to life.
Next—Chapter 4: "A Cheeky Smile"
MOMMA DEER AND POPPA DEER
He led her through his garden. Grey stones lined the pathway which he had constructed. Wooden logs encased the flora, vegetation, and berries. With a shaking hand, he pointed to each plant, describing to her its stage of life, the techniques used for growth, and the shortcake and collard greens he planned to cook. She smiled, hoping she would be allowed a taste.
The low growing strawberry patches were packed to perfection, their rows even and their dirt rich. Up ahead, leafy vines crawled up a white archway, and she wondered what would sprout from their buds. Together, they turned corners and continued to explore the garden. He eagerly enlightened her on each plant and she listened with admiration.
“And you have the deer statues over there?” She pointed to a band of ceramic deer poised in the garden, nestled in the grass.
He nodded, “I got a Mama Deer, Papa Deer, and a couple of Lil’ Deer back there.”
The doe sat curled up at the base of the tree’s trunk, resting in a bed of leaves. The buck stood in a proud stance, with a fixed gaze he overlooked the garden through a bush sprouting with pink flowers.
He pointed towards the buck. “He’s losing some of his comfy legs now. All these were nice, shiny, and colored when they were new!” The paint was fading and chipping, but the buck’s eyes remained bright, gazing through the bush. “Ruth got the buck and my mother got the mama deer and two little ones. She gave us that as a gift, the doe and the two fawn.” He laughed, “Worked out pretty well, we kept them together.”
Behind the buck lay two fawn, curled into the grass while the father stood strong.
“So, tell me more about your father.” She asked as they overlooked where corn was to be planted. She knew his father had been a farmer during the Great Depression, and the green thumb had surely been passed down to the man who walked at her side.
“You may have read some of the hard tales of the Depression. When people in town were losin’ their jobs n’ lookin’ for somethin’ to eat and beggin’, we were out there on the farm! Fat, dumb n’ happy!” He laughed, “‘Cause we had plenty of food and it wasn’t like we were poor ‘cause everyone ‘round us was in the same boat.”
He nodded with his smile turning up to one side, remembering his father’s character. “But my dad always gave! Oh! Some of my earliest memories of my father was loadin’ up the wagon or the cart with firewood to take to some guy who’d broken a leg. Couldn’t get his own firewood! And he continued that as long as he could. Of course, he graduated from the cart. Later on, it was the pick-up truck. He’d give the shirt off his back."
“Why do you think he was such a giver?” she asked.
“He was just that kinda guy.” The man chuckled, proud of his father. “I told you he was married once before, right?”
She was surprised—“No!”
He laughed, “It was a weird marriage . . . her name was Mary. When he got outta the Navy, he came back to his father’s farm, and evidently, the wife he had didn’t take too much to that farming life.” He laughed, shaking his head, “One day, he was out in the field and one of his brothers came out n’ said, ‘Ed! Mary’s getting ready to leave, she doesn’t want to be married anymore.’ So, I think Daddy took four or five dollars, whatever he had in his pocket, and gave it to ‘im and told ‘im, ‘Give it to her and tell her, ‘Good luck!’” The man’s chest shook with laughter as he recalled the story he had heard since childhood.
“He didn’t even say bye himself?” Her mouth hung open.
“No!” he wheezed at the memory of his father’s frankness.
“Evidently, she just didn’t take to the farming life.”
They walked further down the path, birds sang in the trees above them, flying to and from the many birdhouses floating throughout his garden.
“What was your mom like?”
“Oh! She was a very strong woman, she was a can-do, even if she got a cold or something! Nothing got her down! She had brown hair with little reddish tints to it. Back in those days, in the south, there were a lot of textile mills. She worked as she was growing up at one of the hosiery mills. She had sisters who stayed around and helped her mother with the housework. She went out in the fields with her dad. So, she’d rather plow than housekeep! She wasn’t one of those meticulous ‘vacuum every morning,' all that stuff. ‘Course out in the country, trekking in and out, you couldn’t keep the place sterile!” He laughed. “So, she was just as capable as going out and pulling one end of a cross-cut saw to saw wood or plow or drive a tractor.”
“‘Course we didn’t have a tractor until I left home. I told Daddy, he bought a tractor to replace me! Yeah, we just had Ol’ Rusty, the mule.” He cooed the name, like one would for an infamous pet.
“One mule. When we needed to do some work that required two mules to pull an implement, we would borrow a mule, I was often traded day-for-day for a mule. I would work for a guy and Daddy would use the mule. So, people have likened that to ‘trading one jackass for another’.” He laughed, and she laughed too. “That’s truth! Very few people can say they’ve been traded for a mule. I was! Part of my heritage!”
“During the war years, ’42 ’43, something like that, my dad, volunteered to get back into the Navy, the patriotic fever. Not so much like it is now. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, “Let’s go get ‘em!” He so wanted to get into it but he was too old. So, instead of coming on back home to the farm, he signed off at the shipyard over in Portsmouth. And so, he would send checks home. And like I said, I was a teenager at the time, so my mother and I farmed a whole year of farming without him.”
“Was that hard?” she asked, imagining a field that needed plowing and only your two hands to do it.
“It was.” His voice recalled the difficulty. “We raised tobacco that had to be harvested and a neighbor cured our tobacco for us. We did not have to cure tobacco and stay up all night and fire the barns like Daddy would normally have done. We just had a small acreage of tobacco. It was carefully controlled by the government; we were a small farm. But, we did all the plowing. Child labor laws didn’t apply out in the country, as soon as you’re able, you always had chores, you always had your responsibilities. See, we had livestock, we had a mule to keep up, a cow to keep up, chickens, hogs, n’ all those things.
“I remember one time, that I’m not particularly proud of, it was a hot hot day, and me and the mule was out plowing, and it was so hot I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I came home in tears. ‘Mom, it’s just too hot.’” He turned to her, “She took the plow and went out and finished the plowing.” Memories of a loving mother came flooding back. “Not my proudest day.”
He gazed towards the trees, “She was a strong woman.”
The Mama Deer and Papa Deer continued to watch over the garden, their gaze constant as the air shifted from that of winter to spring. The earth would soon be tilled, ready for a harvest. Bush beans, strawberries, corn, and peas would soon spring from its dirt. Papa Deer embraced the wind and Mama Deer lay resting in the grass, their sovereign gazes overseeing the man as he treaded through the garden, blue eyes shining as memories of his parents drifted through his mind.
Next, Chapter 5: "A Cheeky Smile"
A CHEEKY SMILE
A windchime dangled from a nearby swing, and its music would sing with each passing of the morning breeze. In his garden, the man and woman rounded a corner and strolled through the explosion of freshly bloomed azalea bushes. Petals of bright pink, warm magenta, spring white, and soft red crawled upward, creating an intimate walkway.
Posed and hiding a cheeky grin stood a statue of a young girl. She wore a bonnet revealing short curled hair framing her visage. And at her sides, small round arms grasped the ends of her dress in a blushing manner.
The young woman bent down in order to see more clearly the statue that stood in the flowers. The cement child hid a bashful grin snugged between chubby cheeks.
“It’s weathered now.” He tells her quickly, “We saw it years ago. She saw it and had to have it.”
“Ruth?” She asked, remembering the name of his wife.
“Yes!” He begun, “She said, ‘That reminds me of when I was a little girl!’” laughing joyfully, “She made me buy it. She said, ‘Clyde! I’ve got to have it!’”
“Tell me more about Ruth.” The woman’s gaze stayed locked on the statue.
“My high school sweetheart.” He began, the wrinkles framing his smile as it curved upward. “I saw her first time in ninth grade. I was sitting on the stool in biology lab when some girls came through the door and introduced us to the new girl, Ruth Bass.” As he spoke her name, the young woman could hear the echoes of admiration ring in the air along with the windchime’s song.
“She was a country girl, a four foot eleven-and-a-half-inch blonde. Beautiful, nice, good Christian lady and we had fifty-four years of great life together. We were raised under similar circumstances. Her folks were farmers also. Her mother had died of cancer and then the process of all the medical bills, had lost their farm. Her brother had gotten a job as a guard at the state prison up near Raleigh. Their father had gotten a job as a watchman at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, so that’s how they were making it.”
She asked him about what it had been like at school for the two of them, curious as to how Ruth and Clyde came to know one another.
“Well we were in country plays. One name of the play I remember was,” He paused, the dramatic side of his person coming through, “The Path Across the Hill. My future wife and I were the leads in it.” He turned to her and smiled playfully, eyebrows raised, “And I got the girl in that play.”
“What was the play about? Was it romantic?”
“About the path across the hill!” He exclaimed. “It had to do with hillbilly family and another hillbilly family and the path across the hill lead the boy to the girl! We even got to kiss.” He smiled, eyebrows raising higher.
“In the play?” she asked in shock, delighted by his youthful excitement.
“Yep!” With a nod of his head, he chuckled to himself.
“After I graduated, I came away from home to Newport News to enter the apprentice school. While I was away, she wrote to me every day. There wasn’t a day I didn’t get a letter from her. ‘Course she was down on the farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina. And at that time, the school did not allow married students. Then, the shipyard changed the rules! After two years, good grades, and permission – all those things – they would allow you to get married.”
He laughed, “Well, Ruth found out about that!”
“And so, one Christmas – Now we were pretty well settled, we were going to go to four years, of course my engineering apprenticeship eventually lasted five years, and she was in nursing school at the time. But I went down home, let’s see, around Thanksgiving I guess it was. And at that time, the Korean War was in full bent, and I was subject to draft. So, she told me on that trip, ‘Hey when you come home Christmas, I’m going back with you.’” Memories of his wife’s eagerness to marry brought a laughter that billowed from his chest.
“So, I came back and decided, well if she’s gonna do that, well why are we going to mess around? So, I found an apartment and called and told her, ‘Okay, we can get married now! I’ve got an apartment.’”
She leaned in, curious, “Did you have to ask her Dad for permission?”
“Oh, her dad. . . he was upset, because she had started nursing school and she was about six months into it. He said he wanted her to finish school. He said, ‘Well, what’s your hurry?’ What do you mean what’s the hurry? We’ve been courtin’ since high school!” The man laughed, his smile growing wider with each detail from the story spilling forth.
“She was going to catch the bus and come up here in early December. I went down to the bus station to meet her and she wasn’t there. They didn’t have a phone in their home at that time and so we finally made contact to find out what was going on. She says, ‘My mama says, if you want me, you can come get me!’”
The man laughed joyously, head tilting backwards and the young woman laughed with him. Images of a young Ruth on the phone ran through their minds.
“So, on the way home from the bus station, I saw one of the guys that I normally worked with, and says ‘Hey, tell the boss I won’t be in tonight, I’m going to North Carolina!’ So, I went back to the dormitory and drove to North Carolina and got down there fairly late that night. Went over to their house and told her, ‘Okay, get ready, tomorrow morning we’re going back to Newport News!’ I did pick up a friend, one of my fellow apprentices in an afterthought. I drove by and said, ‘Hey Rodney! Wanna watch me get married?”
“That’s what we did. We got married December the 9th, her 21st birthday was December the 6th. I had turned 21 in August, so we were both old enough to know better.” He laughed and looked at her, hoping she would appreciate his lesson.
“So, we got married,” He smiled, his wrinkles framing the joy that spread across his face. “. . . and lived happily ever after.”
The man told her about the later years that he and Ruth shared, laughing along the way.
“When we said, ‘til death do us part, we meant it. She birthed four kids. The last one died in childbirth. A daughter, a son, and another daughter. All my kids are senior citizens now. That’s something that will bring you up straight!” He laughed. “Years and year ago, when our kids were small, we’d travel up to the airport and watch the Sunday afternoon planes come in and go, you could drive right up to the fence.” He told her about his three children, Deborah, Alan, and Amanda. “At Yorktown, we rode our bicycles all up and down, the embankment inside the trenches.”
He told her about his travels to Israel with his wife and the delightful time they spent together. “But, just being in the Holy Land was. . .” He smiled. “Each day after our tour, we would have a session where we would just talk about what we’ve seen, and this one night, we said, ‘Okay tomorrow we’re going to Bethlehem’ and Ruth was just thunderstruck. She said, ‘All the years you read the Bible and you read about Bethlehem and this that, and to think, tomorrow we’re going to Bethlehem.
Tomorrow we’re going to Bethlehem!’” He laughed, “It just blew her mind. It’s like when you’re reading in history in high school, you read all about Jamestown and Williamsburg and Yorktown, just as if they were some place on another planet and then when we were married and she moved up here, right in the middle of all this. That’s the way she felt about going to Bethlehem.”
He smiled, “We took a tour through The Holy Land. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, during the ten or eleven days we were there, we went from one end of Jerusalem to the other – the whole bit. We swam in the Dead Sea, were baptized in the Jordan River, and just did the whole bit.”
The windchime sang as a breezed passed over them.
“She died in ’05 of sinus cancer.”
The young woman tilted her head and her gaze remained steady on the man as he retold his story.
“It wasn’t a long-lasting thing. In her last days, the doctor described to me exactly what was happening, what was shutting down. He had it nailed because the day he was here, we knew she was going to die that night. So, the night she died, all the kids were here and I had gone to bed. Everybody in the house was awake but me. So, Amanda came to the door and says, ‘Daddy?’ and I knew. . .”
“So, I got up, showered and made all the notifications to the medical examiner and the hospice people and all that stuff. The funeral home people came and. . . took her out. And I had no desire at all to face all that stuff, the condolences coming from all those people coming from church. I told my brother, I said, ‘Let’s go.’ So, that morning after she died that night, I took off for Goldsboro, North Carolina, and I let them all face the people coming in and telling them how sorry they were, blah blah blah blah blah. . . I was through with it. She was gone, I can’t help her anymore now. I just didn’t want to go through that stage of being the bereaved husband.”
“How did you children feel when you just left?”
“They understood. “He nodded and the two of them gazed out over the garden.
“How can some say God’s not a part of their life when He’s been nudging us every step of the way?” He asked, the clouds rolling over the sun.
“My wife, we lived together for fifty-four years and she’s gone. But now, I cannot imagine living a life that would figure that she was just gone. Like burying a dead mule or something. My hope, my trust is ‘Hey! I’m gonna see her again.’ Same thing when people lose a child, a mother, a father, if all you’re thinking is ‘Okay well that person is gone, that’s the end of that.’ I cannot imagine living that way.”
The woman’s gaze returned to the cheeky grin of the cement statue. And she pondered over what Ruth had been like and the laughter that husband and wife had shared. Had she held the same bashful grin upon entering the science lab for the first time? Had her lips curled into a smile as she leaned in for a kiss in The Path Across the Hill? Had her head tilted back in laughter as the two drove from Goldsboro to Newport News, euphoric over the idea of beginning their lives together?
The young woman smiled as the statue smiled back and she found herself thinking about where Ruth was now. Was she smiling from wherever she was?
The breeze sent the windchimes singing and the sun turned a cloud. ◊
The man and woman sat on a bench swing that overlooked the garden. Pillows supported their arms and her brown sandals and his brown loafers rocked them back and forth while the windchimes behind them sang with each passing breeze. The trees above scattered patterns of light on the grass, falling beautifully on the vanilla-colored dog that sat at their feet.
She looked up at the sky and asked him, “Clyde, what’s your favorite color?”
“Favorite color?” He laughed, his head tilting back. “Look around! Any color you see!”
The sky was a vibrant spring blue, dotted with early morning clouds.
The song of the windchimes sang in their ears while the steady gaze of a family of deer came from the bushes. The cheeky grin of young girl radiated out of a cluster of flowers. The man and woman gazed on, the sounds of spring washing over them.
The man spoke, “You asked what God means to me,” his eyes basking in the sky above. “Well there’s nothing really that He doesn’t mean to me.” The man’s greying blue eyes surveyed the garden—the flowers, plants, blossoms, and sprouts.
“He’s all and all.”
"A Garden, A Book & A Cheeky Smile: Clyde Johnson"
photos & nonfiction by Kerry Clingenpeel
In his garden is reminder of the country girl with a cheeky smile to whom Clyde Johnson was married for fifty-four years. Writer Kerry Clingenpeel spent a few weeks with Mr. Johnson in his garden, among his many books, and his four-footed, vanilla-colored companion, Cooper
Mr. Johnson lives in a lovely brick house that encompasses a garden bustling with flora. His home, constructed with his own hands, holds tales of a spirited life: a family of deer perched in the bushes, bookshelves of worn out biographies, a wooden swing made for a man and his dog, and one curious statue of a young girl blushing, smiling.
Kerry Clingenpeel's photographs and story help us tap into Clyde’s memories of a life begun on Virginia Street in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in August 1929, in a rented upstairs apartment.
Johnson Family on the Farm
Clyde and his family lived on several farms throughout his childhood. He is pictured here, presenting one of his favorite family photos. He is the young boy in trousers on the far left.
Clyde the Shooter
Clyde and I walked into his study shortly after he had cleaned his firearms. He is an avid gun user who, according to the liberal press, “is going to shoot up the world.” He is pictured proudly presenting a portrait of him as a young man posing with a firearm.
High School Sweetheart, Ruth Bass
Clyde holds a photo of his wife, Ruth, when she was of high school age.
Clyde 's Garden
Late into April, Clyde’s garden is alive with color. He’ll be planting a butterfly garden full of wildflowers this spring.
A Cheeky Smile
The statue that Clyde's wife, Ruth, insisted Clyde buy years ago is proudly on display. Her smile shines bright in the sun.
Clyde’s colorful azaleas are in bloom for only a short while. Their colors are like something out of a storybook.
His Father's Hands
Every once and a while, Clyde finds himself looking down and seeing the hands of his father.
Papa Deer stands proudly, overlooking the garden from behind the azaleas.
He's All in All
“He’s a real lover.” Clyde enjoys spending time on this wooden swing with his dog, Cooper.
Every morning at six, Cooper fetches the paper for Clyde. They eat breakfast together and read the news. On nice days, they spend their time outside tending to the garden.