Today is my father's birthday. If he were still alive, he would be 59 years old. I have been thinking about him even more than usual in the past couple of months. Leap Day marked the 16th anniversary of the day my uncle came to tell me that he had been killed. I was a freshman at BYU, far away from home. But that's a post for another day. A post that I have been meaning to write for sometime but haven't allowed myself to write something that will be so filled with raw emotions and memories that I generally stifle.
Today, rather than mourning his passing, I want to celebrate his life. I know that I cannot capture it all in one post, but I don't want that to stop me from remembering him in this way. Although he only lived for 42 years, he had a tremendous impact on many, many people. He was a dedicated husband and father, a loyal friend, a determined missionary, and a man who sought out those who needed help and did all he could for them. There were over 1,000 people at his funeral; some had come from across the country, one had even traveled from Japan. He was beloved by many because of the life that he lived.
My dad, Raymon Kim Johnson, was a fool for babies. He loved babies, and once his seven children were no longer babies, he was always making eyes at someone else's, hoping that he'd get to hold them. As the oldest, I remember him playing with my younger baby siblings. He made up a game called "Bombs Away!" in which he would lie on the floor. The other kids would lie on either side of him, flanking him, sometimes several bodies deep. Then he would lift the drooling baby over his head and pretend that they were a jet airplane--a bomber, aiming at the towns down below. As the bomb would drop, we would squeal with delight and hope that someone else got hit, wriggling away, but always coming back for more. His magnetism and fun-loving ways were too much for us to resist, even if being bombarded with baby spit was the price we had to pay.
I also remember his bedtime stories. When my sister and I were little, he would make up stories for us each night. My mom says that sometimes she got impatient as he whiled away his time in our room, delighting us with his tales. Often, if he had baby Martin or Tyler in his arms, he would make them the evil villain, who would often be dumped in the trashcan or flushed down the toilet by the end of the story. Our favorite character was Muzzy Mazoolah from the Land of Sawin' Logs. Later, the stories changed to meet the more rough and tumble adventurous needs of my younger brothers. Their stories were about Cowboy Raymon (which was also Tyler's first name) and came complete with little songs.
We would listen for my dad's car each night to know that he had arrived home. For most of the years that I can remember, it was a Peugeot 505 Diesel, which meant that we could hear him from a block away. We would all rush out to him and maul the poor man. Then he would come into the kitchen where Mom was usually making dinner, and kiss her or dance around the kitchen with her. The house was always more fun when he was there.
My dad loved literature and was always reading a good book. He was a student of the scriptures and was dedicated to studying them each day. We were still very young when he began teaching us to memorize verses from the scriptures. I can still remember them and they come to my mind at just the time I need them, a gift from him all those years ago. He was always trying to learn more. I remember him taking a speed reading class. He had a little crisis when he realized that he couldn't help me with my math anymore and took a class to brush up on that as well! He was very proud of our academic accomplishments. When I received an academic scholarship to BYU, he made such a big deal about it. But I was used to that by then, as he'd always praised us and bragged about our achievements.
Another thing he enjoyed immensely was music. He had played the trumpet (quite well) in high school and college. He had also taught himself to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, and auto harp. He had picked up a set of bagpipes somewhere and practiced them in the room over the garage (which was his home office), as they were too noisy to be allowed in the house. We spent many nights together sitting around in the living room, singing while he played the guitar. He taught us to sing in harmony and paraded us around like the Von Trapp family singers; I was nearly five years old before I figured out that you didn't have to sing for a treat on Halloween (we'd only go to neighbors and to elderly members of our congregation; we'd sing a few songs for them and they'd always give me a treat, which thrilled me. Then one of the little old men took me to their next door neighbor's, and I found out that all I had to do was say "trick or treat" for my chocolate!) We all learned to play at least one instrument, and all of us dabble in guitar, although my brothers have become quite good. (Daddy must have taught me how to play "Where Have All The Flowers Gone on the guitar every year for four or five years before I finally stuck with it!) He fell in love with the music of Les Miserables and took us to see it many times. It is a bittersweet experience to listen to it now, and for a while it was just too emotional. But now I love that I can listen to it and remember how much we loved it as a family, how much Daddy was passionate about it.
Daddy had this amazing sense of humor. He used to say, "anything for a joke." Sometimes that motto would get him in trouble, but mostly it kept people around him laughing and merry. He taught me songs like Nose Job (which can be downloaded here), Dead Skunk, The Eggplant that Ate Chicago, and Junk Food Junkie, songs that never failed to make people laugh. Here's a couple of music videos I found on YouTube for Dead Skunk and Junk Food Junkie. If my dad had lived to the YouTube age, he would definitely be spending some of his spare time making silly videos like these!
Daddy was a dedicated home teacher. (In the LDS Church, we strive to take care of each other and watch over the needs of one another. Even people who are baptized members but who are no longer attending church have a home teacher assigned to them, unless they ask to not have one.) He often took the assignments for the elderly or for those who were tough to get in to see. He also was a zealous missionary, sharing the gospel that he loved so much with all he met. At his funeral, many people who came through the receiving line told of how they were active members of the church in part because of my dad's influence on them.
I have missed him so much in the years since he left this earth. The first year was the hardest I've ever endured; just as people promised, it did get easier with time, but the void that he left is still there. I am still sad that he never met my husband, that my children will only know him through pictures and stories, and that my mom has spent so many years without him by her side. I take comfort in the promise of the resurrection and that of eternal families. I know that I will see my father again, that my husband and children will get the chance to know him, that he and my mother will continue their marriage throughout eternity. I may not understand why the Lord allowed him to be taken from us when we still needed him so much, but I do know and understand that He has a plan for us and hasn't left us alone in our trials. My family has been blessed so much by the Lord over the past 16 years that we cannot deny His love in our lives.
I love you, Daddy! Thanks for being such a wonderful example to me and an inspiration in my life.