Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sister Johnson

When I was around five, my mom's cancer went down hill.  It was her third year post diagnosis and even though they knew she was doomed from the beginning, she'd been able to pursue a fairly normal lifestyle for a while.  Those were the good years.

That all came to a terrible halt during 1st grade.

My father had to make some decisions - how to support his bed-ridden wife, how to raise two toddlers and how to grow his infant ophthalmology practice.  All on his own.  In the end, my mom was put in the care of her parents (my grandparents) serving as Mission Presidents in the Los Angeles LDS Mission.  My dad went to work.  

And my brother and I got Sister Johnson. 

Sister Johnson was a godsend.  A saint who brought warmth, food and stability to my shattering world.  She was a tough-loving woman who cherished my brother while keeping strides with my Type A attitude.  I don't remember what I rebelled against, but I remember getting mad and yelling more than a few times.  

Her cooking was stellar - except when she decided to experiment with nuts or peanut butter or some obscure vegetable like tomatoes.  Then it was awful.  But otherwise it was heaven.  Lots of lard, butter and oil.  Ironic in a way because Sister Johnson was a one-snack-policy-after-school kind of woman (something I despised).  But I was young, insanely active and blissfully unaware.

Her french toast fried in oil still makes my mouth water.

Game shows took on a whole new meaning with Sister Johnson.  She introduced me to The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy because she'd watch them while folding laundry.  One year my Dad took a trip and Sister Johnson stayed over for the weekend.  I stayed up late with her, watching late night game shows while putting together a complex 1000-piece puzzle on a card table - I loved it!

If she had one fault (aside from her experimental cooking) it was that she couldn't do hair. 

Specifically... my hair.  

The one and only time she styled my hair was for my fourth-grade photos, and my dad was horrified with the results.  After that, Sister Johnson only worried about brushing my hair.  Not styled or braided or put up in cute bows.  Just brushed.  And most days I was lucky if it was clean.  I didn't have a clue (still don't) how to handle curly hair - a fact that many mean-spirited girls made obvious as I grew older.  It wasn't until my second nanny (Sandy) came along that things began to turn around.  Sandy is another story for another blog post.

As I got older, and especially after my grandparents got home from their mission, Sister Johnson's time with us grew less frequent.  And the year my Dad finished building our new home was the year Sister Johnson declared her time with us had come to an end.  I was 11 by then - my brother 8.  We had long reached the point of getting ourselves up and ready for school without assistance.  A nanny would only be needed for late afternoons.

I let Sister Johnson slip away from my life with all the naive ignorance of a child who doesn't understand the permanency of each passing year.  I adored her and thought her resiliency in my day-to-day routine would never diminish.  Why didn't I make more of an effort to stay in touch with her?

When my brother and I attended her funeral in 2003, I thought I had cornered the market on my personal insight into Sister Johnson's rare and wonderful qualities.  Turns out, of course, I was wrong.  Her life influenced hundreds of people for good.  Her immediate and extended family.  Children (now adults) from all corners of the country.  Her warmth was clearly a building block in so many lives.  

I'm so grateful mine was one of them.     

1 comment:

Sammie said...

Your kids look so happy. :) Such a lovely family, have a lovely week.