Thursday, August 03, 2006


Great-grandpa Johnston remains one of the most memorable characters I ever met. He was in his nineties, wore a black wide-brimmed felt hat - adjusted evenly over each ear, black wool trousers – held up with black suspenders, and a white dress shirt most days; all of which contrasted with his snow-white handlebar mustache.

To me, he was a legendary artifact out of the old west and could have easily been since he was born in 1866. I suppose it was the black hat he customarily wore that first put the cowboy ideas in my imagination. I have since discovered, besides running a large farm, he supplemented his income by driving freight and supplies between Lexington, AL and Lawrenceburg, TN by wagon. Therefore, this just seems to cement my idea of him as being from the old west days – I can see him now, black hat and all, hollering “Gid’up there!” as he traveled a dusty road through the badlands of northern Alabama!

I also heard tales that he took no crap from anyone in his youth, so he could have easily lived up to my expectations. I do not think they actually carried sidearms in little Alabama towns as they did out west, but with his usual attire, all he needed in my imagination was a silver star over his heart, and a Colt 44.40 strapped to his side.

It is purported that Jesse James rode through Lexington once; some say he actually robbed the bank there, but a holdup in Muscle Shoals is all that is documented.

I was born in his bed, quite an honor for me, on his farm near the Alabama/Tennessee state line, and we must have stayed with great-grandpa and my grandmother (his daughter) for several weeks after my birth. My mother was raised on this farm and, as the story goes, my dad walked fourteen miles (round trip) from his home in Tennessee to see my mom several times a week while they were “courting.”

At meals was the only time I saw great-grandpa take that black hat off. I remember the red ring it left behind on his skin just below the snow-white hair that matched his mustache.

He loved his coffee, biscuits, and gravy, both of which caused him considerable trouble with this “tache!” He always “saucered and blowed” his coffee, never using the cup, and then he ritually wiped each side of the handlebar with his napkin, tweaking each end before returning to eating. The gravy, of course, cost him much more effort, but he only slowed briefly to wipe and twist it clean.

I can remember his slow bites, how he chewed long, savoring each morsel, and a little skin tag on one of this eyelids that I watched go up and down when he blinked. Strange the things we remember sometimes about those we love.

Great-grandpa was also a thumb twiddler, he would sit for hours on the front porch, with his fingers interlocked - the thumbs circling around and around, only touching at the last joints, as he watched grandchildren, the traffic, and the day go by. Mostly, he twiddled his thumbs toward his fingers, but sometimes he would reverse them, and on special occasion, when he knew I was watching ask, “Can you do each in opposite directions?” It can be done, but that causes stress instead of relieving it!

If you never tried thumb twiddling, then you are missing a very therapeutic activity. Those that used to know me when I worked know that I often sat and listened to their ideas, rantings, and circumlocutions as I slowly twiddled my way through the BS meetings. What they did not know was that my great-grandpa Johnston saved them from many an emotional tongue-lashing!


Goddess said...

Hey, my grandma used to 'saucer and blow', too! I've never seen anyone younger than her do it, though. Must have been a generational thang;)

Mushy said...

I tried it once, spilled the coffee all over me!

Goddess said...

It reminded me of how different folks are when I first saw my grandma do that. Grandma was a very unpretentious, down to earth person. But her neighbor was an uptight school teacher, WHO to her dying day (she was 85 when she passed away about 3 years ago) refused to let her grown children put their soup bowl to their mouth to drink the last of the soup! LOL...

Mushy said...

Post Whore? Where did that come from? She favors you.

My wife bought some new bowls a while back that have 1 inch lips all the way around and it makes slurping very difficult - I hate'm! You kind'a have to suck the left over cornbread out with your tongue, which is much more gross!

Tarragon said...

My grandfather saucered his coffee too. Your post has reminded me that when I was a kid I used to watch him do this. The first saucer full would be for himself and the second one was always for his dog. :-)

Mushy said...

Thanks for the read Tarragon - interesting comment about the dog. That is special.

Sort of reminded me of The Green Parrot Bar in Key West, where a local customer sits at the bar with his dog and both have their own draft.