Wednesday, January 10, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge

The idea of highlighting and sharing the stories we have collected about our ancestors has been around for several years. did it in 2014 and Amy Johnson Crow has resurrected it for 2018.

As Amy says "Those discoveries don't do much good just sitting in your file cabinet or on your computer. "

So here goes...

Lawson Warren Johnson

My dad.

Picture of my Dad from my 1977 wedding.
It was the only time I ever saw him in church.
He must have loved me a lot!

Dad was born 21 May 1927 in Marion County, Ohio to Lunas JOHNSON and Stella Belle BARRY. I used to say he was their third child. But that was before I found the death records for stillborn twins born in 1921.

Stella Belle and Lunas Johnson
taken around the time of their marriage.
Lunas and Stella (AKA Belle) were married in 1918 in Gallia County, Ohio where they both were born and raised. They first had Donald Wesley, born 1920.  And then the twins. In 1925, Martha Jane was born.  Shortly after that, the small family moved to Marion, Ohio where Lawson was born in 1927.

Why did they move? Mostly likely it was to be closer to Lunas' father who had moved to Marion in the 1920's. Both men worked at the Marion Power Shovel.

When Dad was just a year old, Stella took the three children and moved back to Gallia County and lived near her parents. Most likely, she left because of Lunas' infidelity. Around this time, Lunas had begun an affair with Stella's sister-in-law, Nellie Barry. They had a daughter, Mary Jane.

Lunas has not been found in the 1930 Census, but Belle (Stella) is listed living next door to her parents in Guyan Township in Gallia County. Don and Martha are with her, but Lawson is not listed, as such. But there is a son listed, Sherman, who is listed as 9 9/12 years old. This is confusing. Fractions of ages are only listed for children under the age of 1 year. There is no birth record for a Sherman Johnson. I believe "Sherman" is actually my dad, Lawson. It is possible that Stella had given a nickname instead of a given name to the census taker. The age is just totally wrong.

Dad, sitting on a dog house.

Dad said living with his Mom was hard. He often didn't have shoes to wear to school and it was cold in the one-room school house. He didn't go to school much. And every fall at harvest time, he would get yanked out of school to help on the farm.

Rare school photo
of Dad

One story he told was about a sympathetic teacher. Knowing that Dad wasn't able to attend school often, the teacher asked Dad a question he was sure that Dad could answer, "What do you call a female dog?" "A bitch," was Dad's swift reply. All of the other kids in the class gasped!

During this time, Stella had an affair with a man named Rose and had a daughter by him named Nellie. However, Lunas is named as the father on her birth certificate and she used the name Nellie Johnson.

Stella finally filed for and received a divorce from Lunas in 1937, claiming non-support. Lunas counter-filed claiming Stella had deserted him. However, as he did not show up for the court date, Stella was granted the divorce.

When Dad was 8 years old, he and his brother Don ran away from home and hitch-hiked up to Marion County where his Dad was living. I shudder to think of all the dangers the two boys faced as they headed north.

Lunas with his second wife, Della
Dowdy and her two children, Bud & Cork.
Lunas had married a young widow with two young children, Della Marshall DOWDY.

Dad didn't talk much about what it was like living with his Dad. But Uncle Bud (Ed Dowdy) has given me some insight:

Lunas and his second wife, Della Marshall Dowdy, would go off partying for the weekend. Dad would be left in charge of the younger children. That would be his step siblings, Cora (Cork) and Ed (Bud). He would be in charge of caring for and feeding the others. And cleaning the house. If everything wasn't spotless when they got home, Dad would get "the shit beat out of him."

Dad at upper left, with his half sister, (Mary) Jane.
two Lumpkin kids and at the lower right,
Bud (Ed) and Cork (Dora) Dowdy

Dad was raised to believe that all women were faithless. Ironic considering how faithless Dad was to Mom, and how faithless his Dad was to any woman.

Dad played the guitar. I never knew this, but Uncle Bud told me so.

Uncle Bud said that basically, Dad raised him.

Dad never finished school.

He was too young to be drafted for World War II. But in August of 1945, he said he could tell WWII was winding down, and not wanting to get caught up in the draft for "the next war", he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His boot camp was at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Then he went to Florida and the Jacksonville Naval Air station. He said that he repaired PT-109 boats. In 1947 he was released from the Navy (2 year enlistment.) It was enough service to qualify him as a WWII veteran.
Dad at Jacksonville NAS

When he first got out of the Navy, he returned to Ohio and worked at Timken Roller Bearing. But he hated the monotony of factory work. When the circus came to town, he quit his job and joined up.

He "worked with the ponies" which would have meant feeding and caring for them and training them. He also "went with" the tattooed lady. After about a year of being underpaid or not paid at all, he left the circus and came back to Marion.

Undated photo of Dad
Perhaps taken during his
time with the cirucus?

For several years he worked with a surveyor. During this time, he surveyed the Marion Airport and got flying lessons in return. Dad had his private flying license.

Dad carried this photo in his wallet. It was very
creased and had to be Photoshopped.

At some point, he had an affair with a cousin that resulted in a baby boy, David. Dad said that he was "too closely related" to this cousin to get married. He kept a picture of David in his bureau drawer at home.

Dad with his brother Don, circa 1953

Sometime in 1951, he met Mom, Jeannette Kathleen Mason. Jeannie. Mom had a friend introduce them, because Dad was so good looking. Mom was known as "a tease" but this time she got caught. In January 1952, she gave birth to David (Dad picked out the name)  and six days later she and Dad were married.

They lived first on Canby Court and then on Farming Street in Marion. Dad was still working with the surveyor, which required a lot of travel. He went to night school as a stationary engineer. This qualified him for a job at the Marion Power Shovel, running the furnaces that kept the place running. He held this job for the rest of his life. Two more children were born, Kathy (me!) in 1955 and Paula in 1956.

Dad used his veteran's benefits to build a home on the west side of Marion. 1117 Woodrow Avenue. It was a small 2 bedroom house.

The house on Woodrow Avenue
during construction. This view
is from the back
In 1959 he lost both his father, Lunas, and brother, Don, to massive heart attacks.

Dad knew how to fix and make just
about anything.

The house on Woodrow Avenue
before Dad had poured the concrete
pad and steps.
Soon, more children came along. Darrell in 1959 and Sara and Doug, twins, in 1960. The 2 bedroom house was too small when they moved in. Now it was claustrophobic.

They put the small house up for sale and bought a 40 acre farm with an 80 year old dilapidated farm house 3 miles south of Caledonia, Ohio, on Roberts Road. The burgeoning family moved in in August 1961.

The Farm on Roberts Road.
Dad continued to work at the Marion Power Shovel, 7 days a week. The power house he ran did not have days off. In the 1960's and 70's The Shovel was a busy place, turning out large diggers and equipment movers. It was one of the top employers in the county.

An example of the type of equipment the
Marion Power Shovel turned out

Another example. Why, yes. That is a NASA
shuttle in the background.
This is the power house where Dad worked. Sometimes, he would hang
out one of the upper windows and talk to people below.

Dad got busy making improvements on the old farmhouse that did not have indoor plumbing or water. The first winter, an outhouse was the only toilet. A hand pump in the kitchen brought water from the well outside. Water had to be heated on a stove.  Small coal burning stoves in two of the downstairs room provided heat for the 6 room house. Now there was a separate bedroom for the boys and the girls, as well as one for Mom & Dad.

When they moved in, a floorboard in the living room had been torn up and trash had been thrown into the basement. That had to be cleaned out.

The yard had been allowed to go wild in the back and was full of snakes and other vermin. Mom insisted that had to be cleared out, for the sake of the children.

Dad putting down linoleum on the farm's
kitchen floor.

Dad replaced the old wooden doors that covered the cistern with a concrete top with an opening. Of course, first they had to dredge out the bottom of the cistern of all the muck and dead small animals that had accumulated at the bottom. He had his step brother Bud and other male relatives help him place the concrete lid on top of the cistern.

He set up a water heater, and an electric pump to bring water into the house. And he fashioned a small bathroom in one corner of a downstairs bedroom. A few years later, a oil burning furnace was installed.

He worked the small farm, putting in crops in the 20 acres that was field. And there were cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and even horses for the kids for a number of years. A fairly large garden was put in and the family never went hungry, thanks to the hard work of Mom and Dad. And we kids helped as much as possible, though not willingly.
Dad putting in drain tile in "the bottom" on the farm

Dad cleaning and trimming Shy Boone's

One year, Dad decided that the old horsehair plaster had to come down. Weeks were spent demolishing the walls and hauling the heavy plaster away. It was probably hauled to a trash heap Dad created at the back of the farm. One room got wood paneling. The living room got new wall board. But some parts never were finished.  Years later he took off the walls that enclosed the stairs to the second floor, but he never finished that job. The wall board stopped at spot where the living room and kitchen met. He did get new kitchen cabinets for Mom that she had admired at a local cabinet shop. But they were never varnished and quickly became grimy with dirt and cooking grease.

Two more children joined the family, Lawson in 1963 and Amy in 1971.

Dad, who had always been a heavy drinker, as had all the men in his family, slowly slipped into alcoholism.

A local farmer took over planting and harvesting the small fields of corn, beans, and hay.

Soon all Dad did was go to work, drink himself into a stupor and sleep and eat.

June 9th of 1980, he died of a massive heart attack on the kitchen floor at home. He had just turned 53 years old. He is buried in the cemetery outside of Caledonia, Ohio.