It was hot, a brisk 105 degrees, as Meghan and I stood over the tombstone. The epitaph read “Raymond M. Johnson”. We haven’t purchased grave plots in anticipation of death, if that is what you are thinking; we went to visit the grave site of my grandparents on my father’s side of the family.
Recently, Meghan, Abigail, LBJ (Lil Baby Johnson), and I had the privilege of spending time with some of our family. My Aunt Sandy and Uncles Bobby and Kevin (they comprise 3 of the 7 children in their family) were in Louisville for a mini vacation and to visit their parents’, my grandparents’, graves. We took pictures, we laughed, and we ate – like all good Johnsons do!
After lunch, my Uncle Kevin asked if we would like to visit my grandparents’ graves. This was fortunate since I didn’t know where they were buried – my father, while he was alive, could never remember the proper cemetery that they were buried in. We agreed and road to Calvary Cemetery off Newburg Road.
After leaving the cemetery, it struck me that I have returned to the city my family began (my immediate family) unaware. So, I did a little more research and learned that my grandmother, Mildred Johnson, was born in Louisville in 1926. My grandfather, Raymond M. Johnson, migrated to Louisville, KY with his family as a young boy from Mobile, AL in the 1930s since the Great Depression was so rough on his family; they were searching for work.
While my grandparents’ families lived in Louisville a lumber company was started on the Johnson side of the family before they met or were married. Apparently, Joe Johnson, the owner of Coast to Coast Lumber in St. Matthews today, is my great uncle.
Later my grandfather would heroically serve in World War II as a young man. He was captured and tortured in a POW camp for an extensive period of time (his family and commanding officers thought that he had been killed; when he returned he weighed only 70 lbs). After the war my grandparents met in Louisville. At that time my grandfather was in his mid twenties (he was roughly my age). When he met my grandmother he had no teeth, they were pulled out by force while he was incarcerated in the POW camp during WWII (this reality nearly brought me to tears – when he was 26 he had no teeth from the horror of war but I, as a 26 year old man, think I have problems when gas cost over $3). As a result, the first time they talked in person he held his hand over his mouth because he was so embarrassed. They married in 1946.
About one year later my Aunt Sandy was born in Louisville, KY at St. Joseph’s Infirmary on September 1, 1947 (the hospital no longer exists, it was razed in 1980). Interestingly, to me at least, 63 years later another female Johnson would be born in Louisville on September 1st, Abigail, our daughter, at Baptist East Hospital. Two years after my Aunt Sandy’s birth, my Uncle Bobby was born on August 21, 1949 in Louisville also at St. Joseph’s Hospital. While in Louisville my grandparents and their two children lived in St. Matthews off of Grandview Ave while several others of their immediate family lived of Oak Street in Louisville or in New Albany, Indiana.
In 1952 my father’s family migrated South to Fort Walton Beach, FL where my father and four more children would be born (Kathy, Kevin, Mary, and Tommy).
In 1963, my Uncle Bobby would return to Kentucky from Florida for high school seminary in the Catholic church and two years of college seminary to be a Catholic priest. Interestingly, to me at least, 44 years later I moved to Louisville, KY from Hattiesburg, MS to attend seminary at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in preparation to be a pastor.
I wasn’t the first Johnson to move to Louisville; I’m not the first Johnson to try to establish a familial legacy in/from Louisville. Great men, like my grandfather and father, have gone before me. I’m proud to be stand on their shoulders. I’m thankful that their story is my story.