EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chapter mourns the passing of Leon Johnson of Massena. Leon’s family has long walked in his honor at our Walk To End Alzheimer’s team in St. Lawrence County. What follows is a remembrance written by his daughters and offered by his daughter Charlene at his funeral.
Once upon a time there was a boy who was born in 1929 and raised in Brasher Falls by his grandparents. His grandfather was a carpenter and taught the boy his trade. After a somewhat unsettled childhood, the boy graduated from high school and grew into manhood. He served in the United States Army during the Korean conflict, married a young Italian girl from Massena and had three children—all girls.
One of the man’s good friends and co-workers called the man “Chub” and the man’s wife “Doo-Doo”. The man and his family spent much time with his friend and his friend’s wife and family at their camp in Canada. The man’s daughters remember his red plaid bathing suit. The man loved country and gospel music. He loved to sing, and he played the guitar and the accordion….often providing the entertainment at the couple’s home parties. He shared his talent with all and taught his daughters to do the same. Most people who know the man described him as “gentle”, “kind” and “soft-spoken”. They remember him as a man of few words and a very good listener. Because the man favored a calm environment, he often challenged his wife to “fix it” when home life became chaotic. Looking at his wife, he might say, “Are you going to let her wear that to school?”—which was the man’s way of saying, “Tell your daughter she’s not getting out the door wearing that mini skirt”. Occasionally, the man’s wife would challenge him to have a talk with his daughters when the daughters had managed to create too much chaos in the couple’s home. The daughters knew that a one-to-one talk with the man, their Dad, meant it was time to shape up.
The man used to get a haircut regularly. In fact, his daughters were nearing adolescence when they learned that “Pappy’s” wasn’t the barbershop. It was just about the same time when the daughters finally realized why it took the man so long to have that little bit of hair cut. To say that the man was “precise” and a “perfectionist” would be an understatement. The man would often putter and fuss for hours with the smallest details of a project. He took great pride in doing good work. Not everyone knew that when wrapping a present, the man would measure the gift box, measure the wrapping paper, carefully fold and cut the paper with a jack-knife and then tape the box so each side was precisely the same as the other. The man’s lawn always looked like it had been groomed with scissors, and in the winter, his driveway was always scraped down to the pavement and neatly groomed on each side. The siding on his house was washed regularly and the house itself was picture perfect—tidy, neat as a pin. After the man’s daughters grew up and left home, he decided to put an addition on his little house. He added a dining room and a dishwasher. After all, he said, when he had three daughters at home, he didn’t need a dishwasher.
The man always drove a Ford, and after he and his wife retire,they drove their Ford to Florida during the winter months. They had many friends there, and he and his wife made a new life for themselves after their retirement. The man always made the morning coffee and would do the daily crossword and jumble word puzzles. He joined the service organizations and was most active in the Korean War Veterans’ Association. He was proud of his country and of his service to his country. He marched in the local parades and participated in service organization ceremonies but also loved to end his afternoon at the Legion where he enjoyed a beer with his buddies. The man was known as “Leon” to all, as “husband” (for almost 60 years) to Lucia, and “Dad” to his three daughters. When asked why he never said “I love you”, the man said he didn’t need to say it because he showed it. Of course, he was right but his family and friends want to show him and tell him that today. We are here to celebrate the man and his life and to say to him, “I love you”. His story is not finished; rather, a new chapter has begun. We remember the man for what he was and for what he taught us to be. May our memories of him last forever.