Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Albin Eugene Johnson
July 15, 1925 - November 17, 1996

I only had one living Grandfather, so it is a good thing that he was a great one! :o) The picture above shows him about 1950 with my Daddy. This is the fish they caught at Lake Hancock, which at that time was accessible by hiking and float plane. From another slide I scanned, it looks like they smoked all this fish to preserve it.

Grandpa had a difficult life. His father was born in Sweden, then immigrated as an infant to Ishpeming, Michigan and later emigrated to Arlington, Washington. His father was 19 years older than his mother and his father's family didn't approve of her. I wish I knew the love part of that story because I only know about the broken hearts at the end.

Great Grandpa Johnson (Albin Sven Johnson 1886-1962) owned a restaurant/billiard room in Arlington, Washington called "Al Johnson Cafe". If you live in Arlington, it's the building on the main drag that had the black marble on front. It has been a hardware store and a thrift store. It may have since been renovated. Al Johnson's Cafe was the first business to open there. One of Grandpa's jobs was to clean the spittoons after school. I'm sure he didn't really like that! Sadly, through this, he was exposed to tuberculosis and had to leave school at 8th grade to be treated in a TB sanatorium in Snohomish, Washington. While he was there he learned how to crochet and one of his crocheted items, a pineapple lace doily, I used in my wedding on the communion table, so that I could have a piece of him with me.

Grandpa's father was an alcoholic and their family split after several of Albin Sr's attempts to quit drinking. Great Grandma then married the milkman! No joking! They left Arlington and Grandpa was sad to leave his sweetheart Evelyn Hiett behind. He worked in Tacoma where his family moved, then felt the need to escape his stepfather and worked in the lumber mills in Raymond, Washington. When he came back to Seattle to find Evelyn, he was too late - she had married and moved away.

Somewhere along the way, he met my Grandma Dorothy. It wasn't discussed a lot since the dates didn't match up and she was separated from her husband when they met. Likely my Daddy was the result of a "fling". Since Grandpa's TB doctors told him he was infertile, he didn't think he had anything to worry about, but in September 1945, my Daddy proved them all wrong!

The hard experiences of his growing up years taught him that a real man fought to keep his family together. He didn't want to be the kind of father that he had. So he stayed with Grandma and after his death, I found out that they were not married until 1949, apparently that was when Grandma's divorce was final and they could legally marry. As a child I didn't know all the undercurrents of the relationship. Every time I watch Fiddler On The Roof (we just did this week), I think of them when Tevya and his wife sing "After 25 years... Do you love me?" There was a lot of affection between them, but they were two of the most stubborn people I've ever known - Grandma Irish/Polish/Slovakian and Grandpa Swedish/English. There were a lot of head butting matches!

Through it all they built a family. I'm sure that it was a comfort to my Grandma, who 15 months before my father was born, held her infant daughter Patrician Ann, who died of pneumonia on the way to the hospital. Likely that caused the demise of her first marriage as well. She brought a six year old son, Larry, to the marriage and Grandpa dug in to the role of husband, provider and father. He worked hard at a job that eventually caused his death - retreading tires. He came home covered in black rubber dust and it was permanently tattooed in his skin.

One of my most vivid memories as a young child with my Grandparents, was Grandpa coming home from work and taking a quick snooze on the floor while Grandma got dinner ready. My brother Danny and I would give him back rubs. We would eat dinner while watching "Bob Barker's Truth or Consequences"! Grandpa literally emptied the pepper shaker onto his food as we all sneezed! After he quit smoking, I remember chuckling because he complained that Grandma used too much pepper! LOL

Grandpa introduced me to the outdoors. My first camping trip was when I was about 3 weeks old with the Johnson family and Grandpa saved his money and bought a lot of land on the Skykomish River near Index, Washington. He would spend as much time up there as possible enjoying getting out of the city and exploring the river and woods. Many of my happiest memories from childhood are from camping there at "the lot".

Through the years he hunted deer, elk and bear to feed his family as well as fished. He loved getting out into the back country and away from people. Most of the time he did this on foot but a few times he went into the back country on horses or with other pack animals. The picture above is somewhere in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and is one of his. I wish he had labeled it so I would know where.

His camera went with him on these adventures and thanks to the old slides I have a glimpse into my Daddy's childhood. It also reminds me of all the things my Grandpa taught me about photography. As a small girl I was afraid of him (and most men), but as I grew older, we had more to talk about and the care of my Grandma who by then had Alzheimer's Disease, bonded us together. One of the last special times Grandpa and I spent together, I brought him some of my framed photography to share with him and he enjoyed seeing what I shot.

After Grandma died, Grandpa reconnected with Evelyn, his first love and they were later married. That was hard on our family because he expected us to treat her exactly like Grandma. It wasn't that we didn't like her but that we didn't want to be forced to treat her the same. She wasn't the same and that wasn't really fair for her or for us. His last year or so was difficult. He had advanced emphysema. Smoking for years didn't help but likely it was caused by all the inhaled rubber dust. He broke his leg shortly before he died. I took him to our Johnson family reunion in his wife's borrowed wheelchair. We had a short time at the reunion because he didn't want to leave her too long in case she had to use the chair to go to the bathroom.

Apparently it was long enough though. At his funeral service, his cousin Ray stood up and shared how he told Grandpa that his life had been changed by Jesus Christ. Ray then asked him if he would like to pray to accept Christ as his Savior too. He did. But he never shared that with us.

One Saturday in November 1996, Mom and Jack drove me down to Renton to see him in the nursing home. He and Evelyn shared a room together. When we walked in her bed didn't have sheets on it and we knew. She had passed during the night. Grandpa was grieving terribly. When he saw us in the doorway, he said, "Oh! You have made my life!" He was so thrilled that someone cared about him and that he had someone to share the burden of grief. We spent a difficult but precious hour or two together and he let my Mom pray for him. Even though my parents divorced 23 years earlier, she was still "his girl"! He loved her fiercely to the end and even walked her down the aisle when she and Jack got married. The next day we got a call that he had died during the night.

My Mother is probably the only reader who knew him or even really is that interested in reading this. But I write this so that I will remember and so that my children will one day know. These writings are like a skeleton sketch of his life. Just a framework with scattered facts and anecdotes. Words cannot capture the strength and depth of character of this stubborn old man I knew and loved.

I remember whisker burns, playing cribbage, his orange hunting hat, his love of German Shepherd dogs, his love of children, his "mountain pancakes", sitting in the pickup truck with him to scope out the deer's grounds, singing songs on the way to Naches (Grandma would say "How about #49 and they would start singing... from the imaginary songbook in their head), watching Lawrence Welk and Truth or Consequences, listening to the Big Band LPs and his father's wind up phonograph, the smell of Folger's in the old aluminum percolator in the mornings and last but not least his old black lunchbox and thermos bottle.

In my memorial rose garden out front there is a thorny red rose I planted in honor of him... Old Smoothie! It is fitting, both in name and his favorite color. I am so thankful that God gave me one Grandpa to know and love. And I am so thankful that He chose Christ, even though he was too stubborn to share that with me.

So, today, Old Smoothie, I salute you on what would have been your 83rd birthday! I love you!


Teresa said...

I enjoyed reading about your Grandpa. He was only 4 1/2 months older than my Dad! My Dad was born on Nov. 29, 1925. My nephew shares your Grandpa's birthday...only 53 years difference! :o)

Another thing we have in common: the only men I wasn't afraid of when I was little were my Dad and my Grandpa!

What a wonderful idea to write all this down for your kids. Precious memories!

Theresa said...

Wonderful post - thanks for sharing!