By Caroline Clemmons
There were times (and may still be in some areas) when people went to the cemetery to clear out weeds and trash so that the graves of loved ones looked as nice as possible. I’m aware of a business in Parker County, Texas that sends their employees out to clean cemeteries in the months they are not delivering much gas to homes. For the most part, though, cemeteries are “perpetual care” where the cost of the gravesite covers continual care.
That’s the type in which my parents and Hero’s are buried. My mom chose to be cremated, but then have her ashes buried next to my father. I was fortunate to have parents who set a good example and who cared about me. I’m sorry my father didn’t live long enough to see me published, although I suppose he knows anyway. Here are the photos of my parents, separately because they never sat for a portrait together. I wish they had.
My dad, Pearson Madison Johnson, was a generation older than my mom, Lena Mae Phifer. She was well on the way to being an old maid when she married him. I was born just over three years later. At the time, we lived in Dodson, Texas, almost on the Oklahoma line. Dad managed the Davis cotton gin. When I was not quite one, Mr. Davis died and one of his sons decided to manage the gin, so my Dad was out of a job. My half-siblings urged him to move to California where the four of them lived. We moved to Southern California, settling in Oildale, a suburb of Bakersfield not far from my oldest half-sister. Dad was a contractor who built houses.
But, I developed San Joaquin Valley Fever and the doctor said I had to leave the valley or I would die. In fact, I was so sick that I don't remember our move the summer before I was eight. We moved back to Texas and I did improve remarkably. I grew up in Lubbock, a very nice place to live if you can take the sandstorms. Obviously, we could. My younger brother, an Oops baby, was born when I was ten.
I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my father to start over all those times. He was in his fifties when I was born. He worked in hot temperatures to get his start in California. Then he had to start over when we moved back to Texas and he ended up buying cotton until he lost his eyesight fifteen years before he died. Since he was much older than my mom, he died before she did. In fact, he died on May 26, 1972.
Mom loved her children, grandchildren, her stepchildren, and their children. The day of her death on January 24, 2007, she’d been to a meeting of our church women and we went to lunch at her favorite restaurant for sweet and sour chicken. Surprisingly, the minister accompanied us. I spent the afternoon with her chatting and helping her with a few bookkeeping details. She had such a wonderful time that day. It was only in the evening that her stomach distress began.
When she had broken her hip four years earlier, she confessed my dad came to her and held out his hand, but she was afraid to take it then. She said she was no longer afraid, and if it happened again, she would take his hand. Hero and I were with her when she lay dying. She reached up her hand above her as if grasping something in the air. Then, her eyes rolled back and she passed. I am positive my dad came for her. Though I miss them still, knowing they are together is of some comfort.