Column: ‘Never eat cucumbers with beer’ - remembering Jimmy JohnsonNever eat cucumbers with beer. The gas will just about kill you. Those are words of wisdom from my favorite uncle — a quiet, funny, compassionate man who left the world too early last month, one week after a diagnosis of liver cancer.
By: Vicky Frieberg, For the Budgeteer News
Never eat cucumbers with beer. The gas will just about kill you.
Those are words of wisdom from my favorite uncle — a quiet, funny, compassionate man who left the world too early last month, one week after a diagnosis of liver cancer.
He made it easy on all of us: the doctor who hated to give him the diagnosis; staff at Wesley Residence who cried more than he ever did; those of us in the family who did not spend the time, say the words or appreciate that time slips away faster than any of us realize.
Jimmy Johnson, Jimbo, Jimmy the Flea, to his big brother Bruce. James, to the preacher who said his service eloquently and with more thought than many gave this gentle artist, song man, friend and mentor.
Sometimes a funeral is an amazing revelation. People come together for so many reasons: curiosity, grief, comfort-giving and respect.
Jimmy’s funeral was a joyous celebration of a life that began 67 years ago with a bang, fast and hard, and ended with a gathering of people who loved what that hard, fast life had made him: a man who appreciated small things and painted the lives and scenes where we all live. He was an artist in oil, acrylic, bark and stone, seeing the beauty of a single flower, the majesty of the Tall Ships or Split Rock Lighthouse.
People came to say one last “thank you” to the man who painted for the grieving mother a portrait of her son who died just prior to his wedding ... a portrait of her son and the family he was making.
A woman came, whose granddaughter almost gave up any thoughts of being
creative at the ripe old age of 16, and was now in art school. Residents came from the assisted living home where he lived, people who put their own hands to long-forgotten crafts and art after being reminded of their artistic side by the man who painted.
Also there were staff members who had brought him bread for the birds in the alleyway where he had set up a birdfeeder by the garbage cans, where he held court year-round, laughing, talking to the vagrants as they walked through and telling the cops which way the speeders had gone through the narrow corridor.
The Devilles and The Second Thought were his bands in the ‘60s: pictures and music from another life, maybe, but you can see the innocence, the other-worldly look in the eye ... this young man wondering — what?
Certainly not seeing in his future playing bingo for stuffed animals ... and not knowing he would accept and embrace that with a grace and humor that most of us cannot imagine.
A former Postal Service supervisor, he had lost a leg to gangrene. Things can be pretty simple when you get stripped to the basics ... and you can choose to love every minute of it or rail against the fates.
My uncle, James W. Johnson, showed me that the joy of just being could be enough.
As the pastor said at his funeral, now he knows what is on the other side of the hedge, and I can imagine one great big beautiful smile from the music man who painted people happy.
Victoria Frieberg grew up visiting her mother’s family in Duluth as often as possible. The area has a hold on her heart. She shares her uncle’s delight in the people and places she calls her ancestral home. She lives in Rush Point.