A Tribute to Wilma Johnson
Today I realized too late that she was
one of the quiet, unsung heroes of my life.
She was simply a housewife
living three doors downhill from me growing up.
She had twin girls who were my playmates throughout childhood.
She raised them to have good marriages and good jobs,
to make good choices and to love their children.
I always knew I cherished her
but now I wonder, did she know it?
I basked in her ample spirit and squishy hugs,
her unjudgmental attitude,
and her breezy brand of principled unconditional love.
There were things at her house that were not at my parent’s:
a color TV (Mary Tyler Moore)
and Rice Crispy treats with ribbons of peanut butter and chocolate in the middle
(I wish I had the recipe)
and most interestingly: there were peers slightly younger than me.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there.
We drove matchbox cars in chalk cities on the driveway
worked on girl scout stuff (our moms were both leaders),
rambled in Washtenaw woods,
incessantly played all varieties of twilight tag
and mutually and unselfishly shared our toys –
building, drawing and making things.
My first memory is
bounding down the steps out my front door
with the bright early morning sunlight
glistening in shards into my face
immersed in the sweet scent of wet summer dew still on the grass:
happy and free.
School was finally out for vacation and where was I so delighted to be going?
To this neighbor, of course.
I had to come home again when the street light came on.
Their mom was the first Christian I knew.
Overlooking my churchless home,
sometimes I went to their church youth group with them.
When my parents needed a resting place for my dad’s parents
Mrs. Johnson had the solution of her church’s garden
which now suffices for my dad as well.
She never talked about being Christian, but now that I am one
I can see it scribbled large as life all over her.
When I went to engineering school at University of Michigan
the twins did too, a year later.
Today they have stable salaried jobs as engineers,
together with straightforward lives with husbands and children.
I’m no longer an engineer, and nothing has been straight forward for me.
I always wanted more of a career than they did;
I seemed to have this need to explode limitations
balancing poetic sensibilities with personal power
and in doing so have ended up with less.
After taking many dubious detours
I am now just squeaking by
trying to make it as a Christian.
My big ideas of being somebody special
has brought me to this place of tearful humility.
I’ve learned that what I thought was important doesn’t matter at all.
Mrs. Johnson was so meekly gracious
that I took her for granted until now she is gone.
she had it right:
with her steadfast, unwavering focus on family and on faith
she was satisfied with simplicity
and there is nothing more heroic than that.