John was 84 when he died June 5, 2014. He was vibrant, active, inquisitive, concerned about the world in general and individuals in particular until he fell May 17, 2014 attending the Mountain Laurel Festival’s parade in Clarkesville, Georgia. He was sent to Gainesville’s hospital because of his head injuries. He worked at coming back, exercising in the rehabilitation center, eating when he didn’t want to, and all the time asking for his car. But a second bleed in his brain made his recovery impossible and his sweet children called us, his siblings, to tell him goodby. Because of the wonderful opportunities hospice nurses give a patient and family, he was able to die in his home in Demorest with his children around him singing him to heaven where we know he’s talking to Jesus, Abraham, his dear Betsy, our parents, and so many others.
Though we know because of his testimony over the years that John is in heaven, we miss him keenly here on this planet. And, as his next to youngest sister, I’d like to tell you about my brother John whose life does keep going here, too, in the legacy he’s left behind.
I was a little tyke in pigtails when John joined the army. He served in occupied Japan 1946-47, and a lot happened to him there. I remember the worry wrinkles on my mother’s face and the gravelly sound of concern in my father’s voice when, day after day for a long period, there were no letters from John in our mailbox by the side of a country road. It turns out that he had polio and, as he told it later, he didn’t know how to spell the long word doctors had given him as a diagnosis. (Notice I didn’t spell it either, just used the shortened version!) Also, he didn’t want to worry our parents so he toughed it through until he saw he was going to live. When he finally learned that he hadn’t had the crippling form of polio and was going to be all right he wrote us. He also broke his leg in a wreck he incurred chauffeuring a general around. These and other events were fodder for many entertaining stories through the years.
John and Betty lived in our small guest house at the foot of the hill when they first got married. It was only a nice walk from our house so Suzanne and I aged three and seven found visiting our brother and his bride quite a diversion. John only showed his irritation a few times and Betty seemed quite charmed with our silliness–until Mamma found out what we were doing and put a sudden stop to those escapades.
John and Betty had five children. Emily, Joan, Paul, Carol, and Barbara. We almost died when that family left Habersham County, Georgia, and moved to Asheville. We loved them all so much! But John was a sales rep and that meant that every so often he was back in our area calling on schools and hospitals. Mamma loved the week he came to her house and used it as a bed and breakfast.
John “got us through” a lot of traumas. He was there at the deaths of both of our parents. He was there with my sister Jackie in Sebring FL when her husband died. He helped me enormously when one of our children had a medical difficulty that required round the clock care for a couple of years. He was always willing to make long drives to help folks out, or just sit down and listen to us when that’s what we needed. He was a mainstay for my brother Charlie in his carwash business. He had been a big help ever since he retired, but had become even more attentive since another brother, Stanley, and Charlie’s partner, had died. He didn’t consider himself wise or particularly smart and certainly not gifted. But that he was. He had gifts of compassion, of understanding and of encouragement.
John was good at giving mountain trips. He knew every ridge and hollow between here and the Shenandoah Valley (Maybe only a slight exaggeration!) He loved to hike the Appalachian Trail and engage in conversations with other hikers. He always went to Tallulah Gorge just north of our home place when they had any special event, or if they didn’t, and told us all about it.
He was a very good storyteller. Here’s one of his short ones. “I was talking with a client in a school lunchroom when she had to answer the phone. I heard her say to the caller, ‘No, Tom’s not here today. He showed up missing this morning.’ I could hardly keep from laughing out loud and determined right then I’d tell my next client about what she said. So at the next client’s I waited my turn to talk to him. He was on the phone. I kid you not, this is what that fellow said, ‘No, that crazy Sam’s not here today. Blest if he didn’t show up missing this morning.'” John would laugh so hard at his own story that, even if you’d heard it a few dozen times, you’d laugh uproariously yourself.
Come September, John won’t be bringing the sodas to the family reunion. He won’t be wearing his big straw hat while trimming the trails so that when we hike we don’t get tree limbs in our faces. He won’t be there bragging about his children and his grandchildren. And I won’t hear his voice a few days beforehand reminding me, “Wick, now, when you get to my place I’ll have the air on for you and the key will be under the mat. Be sure and lock the door because if you don’t the wind blows it open. Oh, and I’m putting Hershey bars in the fridge for Charles D. I hope he still likes chocolate because I don’t know what else to get.”
I’ve come to the end of my self-allotted space for this blog. And I’m not nearly through. But I hope you get the idea. I loved my brother John very much! And I still do.