Remembering the Johnsons

by | Sep 23, 2018

My morning ritual involves a cup of strong coffee, my comfortable leather chair and the daily newspaper. Call me “old school” but I still enjoy the morning paper, especially for the local news. And I never miss reading the obituaries because having lived in Nashville for 60 years, rarely does a day go by that I do not know or have not had a connection to someone listed. That was the case last week when the photo of a smiling man looked familiar and then I immediately recognized the name as someone who had worked with my dad when I was a child.

Larry Johnson was employed by Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company in the 1960s. He was an insurance salesman when my dad was the district office manager. At that time, Larry, and his wife, Wilma, were a young couple in their late twenties. They lived across the street from Old Hickory lake in Hendersonville in a small ranch-style home. My family would often make the trek from the west side of town to spend the day out on the lake in the Johnson’s boat. As a preteen boy, I remember the excitement of learning to waterski on that lake as well as, enjoying a lunch of barbecue from Center Point Barbecue.

In 1964 my parents went away for a weekend trip and left me in the care of Larry and Wilma. I have vivid memories of that time as we came downtown to the Paramount Theater to see Bette Davis in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Near the beginning of the movie is a decapitation scene that would be mild in comparison to what is the norm on TV these days. However, at age eleven it was frightening to me and caused us to immediately leave the theater. We then walked down one block to the Lowe’s Vendome Theater and saw How to Murder Your Wife. In spite of the movie’s title, it was actually a comedy with Jack Lemon. However, back at the Johnson’s home that night, I woke from a nightmare and ended up sleeping on the floor in their bedroom.

In the 1970s my dad left Independent Life and I don’t recall being around Larry and Wilma after that time. In fact, I don’t think that I saw them again until the year 2000 when they, along with numerous others from the Independent Life days, attended my father’s funeral.

Fifteen years later, I allowed myself to go through a box of letters and newspaper clippings which my parents’ had saved. I learned about my father’s arrest for a crime in the 1950s – a crime that caused our family to leave Florida for Tennessee. After coming to terms with my discovery, I chose to write and share my parents’ story. Kept in the Dark was released in 2017 and has received a very positive response.

Eight months after the book’s release, I found a very brief 5-star review on my Amazon page. “Well written, but we ordered it because we knew the people well.” The review was submitted by Wilma Johnson, seventeen years after I had last spoken with her and Larry at my father’s funeral.

I was touched by her taking the time to read my book and write a review. I was also curious as to what they might have known or suspected about my dad’s behavior. I kept telling myself that I needed to reach out to them and especially Larry since he had worked closely with my dad for so many years. But I waited too long. Whatever Larry might have been able to share died with him on Tuesday, September 11th, 2018.

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J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.

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