Mom was a small woman with a huge heart and high intellect. She hid her intellect well with her silly and playful ways. Although she had opinions, she kept them to herself and I never heard her speak i'll of anyone. Mom could always see good in everyone...and yes, I was Mom's Favorite!
Mom's mom (Esther Brazeal Johnson) left West Virginia for Tampa Florida with four children in tow. Mom was the elder of the siblings and told me often of how hard life was growing up in Tampa. Grandma Esther had an uncle with an Orange Grove in Hillsborough County. It is now a part of Downtown Tampa. Mom and Grandma recalled how they stayed in a tent next to the Hillsborough River for several months until they could set up housekeeping. They told me how they had never seen such torrential rain for a full week or more. Later they found out that they had weathered a hurricane in a tent!
Grandma set up housekeeping in a small home in Tampa. It was not long after when the house burned. Homeless and without insurance they found work in a laudramat and lived upstairs in a small one room apartment for several years. Mom worked in the laundramat during her early years as a pre-teen in Tampa. Mom graduated with honors from Hillsborough High School and then attended Atlanta Christian College. Grandpa Reece died soon thereafter and Grandma Esther remarried a nice fella name Sam Bryers. They had a home at 113 West Crest Street in Tampa for several decades. Grandma Esther even kept the home and rented it out after Sam Bryers passed. Grandma Esther could knit, sew, and perform all kinds of needlwork like magic. She was also a member of the mensa society and mom, like her, always worked the Sunday crossword puzzle in record time with a pen!
Grandma Esther often lived with her sister Major Lucy P Brazeal (US Army Retired), and they fostered many children. Grandaunt Lucy enlisted in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She served in a Mash Unit on an island in the South Pacific. Her Mash Unit was overrun by Japanese and she was wounded several times. She was awarded a Purple Heart with a Cluster signifying multiple wounds. After WW II Grandaunt Lucy was the "Margaret Houlihan" of her time and served in a MASH Unit during the Korean War. Grandma Esther told us that Grandaunt Lucy was at one time married to a Mr. John Kee from West Virginia. He had the same name as a controversial Senator from that time period and also from West Virginia. One morning Aunt Lucy's husband left home for work and just vanished. Reportedly, there was an FBI investigation and nothing ever turned up. The consensus was that the mafia had put out a hit on the Senator and had got the wrong fella. Aunt Lucy never remarried. Uncle David said that he had not heard that story and he understood that John Kee and Grandaunt Lucy was divorced and he remarried. Who knows what is correct, but it makes for a good story! Grandaunt Lucy went on to become a Doctor of Psycology and did pioneering work for the Army in identifying, diagnosing, and treating Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome a Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
Mom had an Aunt named Grace. Aunt Grace was a beautiful and highly intelligent woman who lived alone in Washington DC. Aunt Grace had mom leave college for a year to come work up on the Hill. Aunt Grace worked for a Senator for several decades and had herself become fairly powerful. She even ran the Senators office during the Senators later years, that were reportedly spent in dementia. The same fate seems to prevail in our current congress...
After dad graduated from College Aunt Grace had placed dad's name before Congress. Dad was interviewed and invited to become the Chaplain to Congress. Dad thought and prayed and turned down the job. What a hard choice to make for a young hungry pastor, but likly a wise one in the end.
Mom had an interview with the then Senator from Arkansas. At one point during the Interview the Senator became enamored with mom and attempted to help himself to her womanly assets. Mom stepped back and slapped the Senator as hard as she could and marched out. Interesting how a later Senator from Arkansas turned President also had the same weakness for young women! Mom went on to work for the Senator from Arizona. Mom met President LBJ on a few occassions and they laughed about how they could be related. Who knows...maybe one day I will find a link!
Mom worked as dad's church secretary for decades without pay. Early in dad's career he travelled the midwest singing in gospel quartets. After their marriage mom would go along and when dad told bible stories to youth groups mom would set up an easel and make beautiful charcoal drawings of the story being told. Later in life very few knew of her skill at drawing and illustrating.
When I was at Maple Street Elementary School in Carrolton Georgia mom would supplement dads income working as a substitute teacher from time to time. I thought it was cool to have your mom as your substitute. The church frowned on women working so mom had to limit her teaching. Sometimes churches get in the way of common sense.
At 55 years of age mom was diagnosed with Alsheimers. Her mom, sister, and one of her brothers also suffered the same fate. At 70, two weeks after two of my neice's passed by way of a one car accident, and three days before Christmas 2000, mom's struggle ended. Aging and worn out from running his church and caring for mom (with help from church members), dad's tenure as Pastor of Orange Park Christian Church (aka Victory Christian Center - now known as New Beginnings Christian Fellowship), sadly ended. The board of dad's church promised dad a small annual pension for the rest of his life ($10,000/year), on which it shamelessly renegged after dad stepped down and turned over a multi-million dollar debt free facility on 10 plus acres. What a fine reward for over 50 years of Christian service by mom and dad...
Following is a short verse written by mom in the early 1990's. It is almost prophetical when you read the second sentence. Mom understood the path she was travelling with alsheimers. She was a unique woman. She had a way of drawing people to her and making them feel welcome and at home. Mom loved all and was loved by all.
THE DAY IS OVER - Sarah Ann Johnson Manning
THE DAY IS OVER, NOW I WILL SLEEP!
It has been a normal sort of day, common like a rock along the path. Nothing about it would make one stop suddenly, pick it up and exclaim over it, as one might do with a shell or glistening piece of quartz. It was just a rock lying there along my way; but now, knowing that it is about to go from me forever, I hold it in my hand curiously, turning it this way and that, marking it’s shape and texture, weighing it on my palm. What was it really, this normal day?
IT WAS ROUTINE MOSTLY:
Washing! Ironing! A trip to the store! Meals! Dishes! – The common denominators of a woman’s day.
IT WAS PLEASANT HERE AND THERE:
A letter from an old friend, my husbands call “for no reason”, a back-fence-chat with my neighbor, half an hour with a good book, some loud laughs with the children at dinner time.
IT WAS IRRITATING NOW AND THEN:
A sticky ocean of spilled maple syrup, mealtime with one greedy child and a finicky one, the arrival of a bill unexpectedly high, a persistent salesman’s theft of fifteen beautiful minutes.
IT WAS DEEPLY JOYOUS AT TIMES:
The whole house glorified with the strains of the new “Green sleeves” record, our unliterary twelve-year-olds’ first book (begun today – to be finished tomorrow) with it’s report dedicated to – wonder of wonders – his parents; our eight year old a her friend playing dress-up, painted and perfumed, scarved and veiled, clattering through the kitchen in spike heels and courtesan innocence.
IT WAS SOBERING AND FRIGHTENING IN SOME WAYS
Mom’s waning health and increasing discouragement; the big blow up at dinner about homework, and learning to accept responsibility, and the guilt that followed my hasty words, the vague, huge uncertainties that draped themselves over us cobweb like, with the ten o’clock news from a tense and shadowed world.
IT WAS BLESSED WITH LOVE THROUGHOUT
In a *pig shaped breadboard made and presented to me by my son; in the wave of emotion as I watched our little daughter sleeping in soft moonlight, her long lashes shadowing her cheek; in an hour alone with my husband at the end of the day.
A normal day! It is a Jewel! In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this kind of day. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this kind of day. In times of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this kind of day. In time of hunger, homelessness, want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this…
NORMAL DAY, LET ME BE AWARE OF THE TREASURE YOU ARE!
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want more than all the world for your return.
* Note - It was a cat mom...Ok it was a fat cat!
Love you mom - Steve...