There is never a good time to write a tribute. And Christmastime is undoubtedly a hard time to be writing a farewell to a loved one. However, timing is never ours to choose, is it? My father was an only child and my mother had one sister, my Aunt Tee. Her husband, Uncle Reed was my only Uncle. He was very good at it!
I consider myself quite privileged to have been dropped into the life of R. Reed Johnson even peripherally. Tonight, he is hovering in that labored place at the veil, hesitating between life and death. He will be sorely missed. And Heaven will be a little sweeter for me, knowing that he is there.
Every summer when the mercury began to rise in Dallas, my family would hop on the train, the Texas Zephyr, and head to Colorado for a much anticipated visit. My grandmother had a summer place in Littleton, just a mile or so from my Aunt Tee and Uncle Reed and we would stay several weeks. It was heaven. I have three first cousins who are all a bit older than I. Nowadays, it doesn’t make a difference, but back in the day, while my older brother and sister were hanging out with the cousins, I was often the odd kid out. Many a time, it was Uncle Reed who would take me along and make me feel as though I were a treasured friend as he gardened or ran errands. It was he who taught me to love Colorado. It was he who told me stories while teaching me the fine art of fishing for rainbow trout. I know the difference between weeds and impatiens and how to plant petunias because he taught me. I know how to keep raccoons out of the corn because he showed me. It was he who taught me to drive the tractor. It was he who crammed us all in his Willy’s jeep and took us to the mountains. I remember being shoe-horned in to the back seat, staring out the window and dreaming up tons of stories as we bumped through old ghost towns and over terrifying trails with wonderful scenery.
To this day, I can’t smell a good cigar and not think of him sitting in the dark on the porch after dinner on a summer night.
He had grown up right there on the family farm, Shadycroft Farm in Littleton, Colorado. Other than a Navy stint just after WWII, he lived there his whole life. He met my Aunt Tee, a Baylor girl, while she was taking a summer course at CU in Boulder. She was, and is, beautiful and they married and lived happily ever after. He was a pediatrician, kids loved him. He loved children. He became a Christian later in life and it took. He loved the Lord and enjoyed studying the Bible and talking about the Lord. I believe he did his best worshipping while outside gardening. Over the years, he transformed his acreage into a marvelous, award- winning, botanical wonderland. As a kid it was amazing to cross over his little bridge to the island cabin, or follow the babbling brook from pool to pool, down the hill to the lake. From year to year, one never knew what new addition to his marvelous garden there might be; or what sort of exotic bird might jump up and give chase if you happened to wander too close to their hatchlings. It was a grand adventure.
He loved historic novels and handed me my first James Michner novel when I was a teenager. I was hooked. We would swap Louis Lamour or Thomas Costain books when we had them, which would always lead to lively, literary discussion about contrived dialogue or ridiculous plot twists. After he retired , he wrote his own story, about Colorado, of course. A Thread of Gold : published and still available by Western Publishing right here in Lake City. I highly recommend it, it’s a great read.
He was the first person I ever knew who was born on Christmas Day- which makes it hard to be saying goodbye at this time of year. He has lived a rich life, born in 1921 he is well into his 90’s now. I have never heard anyone utter an unkind or sour word about him. I have never heard him utter a complaint or anything unkind about anyone else! What a remarkable legacy! He has loved one woman his whole life, raised three children, all lovely, productive people. He has nieces and nephews who have profited from his wisdom. He has a host of grandchildren and great grand children who will miss his wonderful laugh, his stories and marvelous humor. I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say that we have been delighted to have been influenced by him, and have been honored to have him with us so long.
Fare-Thee-Well, Uncle Reed. We’ll see you soon.