Those of you who read my previous post Revelations of My Ancestors, were briefly introduced to my grandfather John W. Johnson, also known as “Eighty-Six” to those close to him. That post only revealed a specific chapter of his life. I’d like to now share the experience of my time spent with him as well as lessons I learned from him. As a child there were many aspects of my grandfather’s behavior or actions I didn’t understand. Until a certain age, most were only stories, rather complaints I’d overhear from my mother and her siblings. Once I was older I was able to witness some of those behavior’s first hand. I never felt my grandfather wasn’t a friendly person, but I noticed he didn’t care to be in the company of others unless he was attending church. He seemed extremely stingy when it came to food or money and always talked to me about how important it is to get an education.
Between my grandfather and his second wife after the passing of my maternal grandmother, there were roughly eleven kids living in the house with them or at least that’s how many I can account for by name at the moment. Therefore; growing up I’d hear the stories among the siblings about how my grandfather kept locks on the kitchen cabinets and the old rotary phone to stop them from running up the phone bill. He also didn’t believe in spending money on fast food. Even after fleeing the south and settling in the city, he continued to utilize the land to offset cost. He kept chickens for their eggs, planted a garden along with various fruit baring trees in his back yard. I never knew exactly where he’d get them, perhaps they roamed the neighborhood at night, but I hated when he’d ask me to take the baking pan with a cooked opossum across the street to the reverand. There were also stories of his distrust of banks and how he kept his money in an old church suit tucked away in the back of the closet. Going through his belongings after him passing, to my surprise, it was true!
By the time I reached adulthood and had learned more about not only my family history, but history as a whole, it led me to realize much of my grandfather’s behavoir was a direct result of not only his environment but also his experiences along with the struggles of his parents during the “Great Depression”. As many of you are already aware, the “Great Depression” took place between 1929-1933, which means my grandfather was eleven years old by the time it ended. Between the stock market crashing along with the overall economic downturn, I came to the conclusion that it was safe to assume his mindet and actions were a result of the challenges they faced during that time. An extremely harsh reality for poor blacks in the south with little to know education. During my time with grandaddy I learned many lessons mainly by merely observing. One was to never sit behind him with the window down while he’s driving and spittin’ tobacco out da window. The main lesson however, which he constantly expressed, was how vital it is for survival to achieve an education or in his words “stay in schoo’ so you can learn ya self sumthin’ girl”! Fishing was his absolute favorite hobby. I never cared for it much because I didn’t have the patience to sit quietly waiting for the fish to bite. What I did enjoy and still treasure today was the long talke we had during those trips and learning that he wanted me to learn from his trials and recognize the roads that were paved for my generations so that I would prosper in the future. Thanks you grandaddy for all your blood, sweat and tears. I love you!!!