Following is another guest post written by my aunt, Betty Haynes. This time, the subject is my great great uncle, Johnny.
My uncle, Johnny Clarkson, was really my great uncle. He was only a few years older than my dad, Jack, so he often stayed with his oldest sister, my grandmother. Thus, he and my dad became very close. When my grandparents moved from Blackland, Texas to Forney, Texas, my grandmother’s family moved with them. He and my dad made a funny picture. My dad took after his father: about 5’9 and just a tad overweight. Uncle Johnny and his brothers were all over 6 feet and very thin. They were true Clarksons.
Uncle Johnny was a gentleman and always showed courtesy to women by opening doors and doing small things to help. If he was working in the yard, he wore a long-sleeved shirt but left off his tie and his hat, which he wore every day. Driving in the car, he wore a napkin over his chest so his cigar ashes would not stain his shirt. He used a knob attached to his steering wheel to drive.
During World War II, as Uncle Johnny was too old to enlist, he took the post office exam and became a postal clerk in Forney. He was offered the job of Postmaster in New Boston, Texas, near the northern border of the state, and he and his wife moved there. One summer, my parents allowed me and my sister, Jackie, to visit them; we caught the bus following US Highway 67, the same route as Interstate 30 today. When we arrived in New Boston, there was Uncle Johnny to meet us. He and his wife had no children, so we were special to them. He proudly introduced us to every person in New Boston, or so it seemed, along with a story about each person we met. I don’t remember the stories, but some sounded pretty far-fetched. We couldn’t go to Old Boston because it was full of Yankees; I wanted to go and meet a Yankee, but Uncle Johnny insisted that this was just not a good idea. I later found out Old Boston was just a deserted town.
My aunt, Adabelle, had developed muscular dystrophy and so was unable to scamper around town with us. Uncle Johnny took us to Texarkana and he gave us a choice. We could cross State Line Avenue into Arkansas, but we would have to leave our shoes behind because people in Arkansas didn’t wear shoes. My sister was okay with it, but I had a new pair of shoes and there was no way I was leaving my shoes!
Johnny’s culinary excellence was homemade peach ice cream. He would get started in the early afternoon manually cranking the freezer. I thought it would never get frozen, and the best part was the first bite! Blue Bell had nothing on his peach ice cream. My mouth still can taste that great ice cream and those delicious peaches. I asked him where he got the peaches and his reply was “off that tree” and he would point to a tree in his back yard. He liked to make fig preserves that he picked “off that same tree.” I learned a valuable lesson that summer. People could make up stories and tell them with a straight face and fool the heck out of you.
After a while, Uncle Johnny had to resign from his Postmaster’s job because Adabelle’s disease was rendering her helpless. He took a rural route carrier job to enable him to finish his route and get home by lunch to care for my aunt. Uncle Johnny became a master cosmetician applying makeup, eye shadow, and mascara. He combed her hair and dressed her each day. She eventually succumbed to the disease and Uncle Johnny was left alone. He hardly ever talked about my aunt after her death, so I really don’t know how much grief he suffered. I should have asked.
After Adabelle’s death he was able to visit my grandmother and my dad more often. Not wanting to be any trouble, he would bring his own sheets and towels, which was another gentlemanly thing. By this time my dad did not drive at night anymore, so when we went to my son’s Friday night football games, I drove. It was the first time Uncle Johnny had ridden with a woman driver.
After both my dad and my grandmother died, Uncle Johnny didn’t return all that often to visit. Jackie and I would meet him in Sulphur Springs for lunch. One year, we went to New Boston and brought cake and birthday party favors for his 90th birthday. He said it was his first birthday party and couldn’t believe that we would surprise him like that.
He died several years later, and my sister and I were surprised that there was a “right smart number” at his funeral in New Boston because he had outlived many of his friends. His burial was in Forney, but no one was there because no one in Forney knew him anymore. The hearse had two men from the New Boston funeral home and so a quandary: Who would help carry the casket from the hearse to the gravesite? My sister, my daughter, my niece, and I carried Uncle Johnny to his grave. We laughed at the irony; he would have said “You girls shouldn’t do that,” and then would have smiled his sweet grin with a twinkle in his eye.