A little research tells us that he was born in Woodstock on Dec. 9, 1921, one of seven children of Jessie and Garnett Johnson, Sr. Last year, the First Johnson Family Reunion was held in Woodstock. It was a well-organized, well-attended, very happy gathering. This year’s celebration was more than a repeat performance, made even better by the decision to take advantage of having everybody together to celebrate Bubba’s 90th birthday a few months early. Woodstock’s mayor and council had adopted a resolution at their Aug. 8 meeting declaring Saturday, Aug. 20, Walter “Bubba” Johnson Sr. Day in Woodstock. The resolution revealed aspects of the life of Mr. Johnson that some of us didn’t know or didn’t remember. He worked in Canton for many years at the cotton mill. Later, he worked at Dobbins Air Force Base, where he retired. Those present knew details not listed on the resolution ... his precious spouse, Polly, and their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and a host of nieces and nephews and their descendants.
During family tributes, the “real” Bubba Johnson was described, defined and honored as one after another family member spoke.
A grandson’s remarks left no doubt about the influence his PawPaw had on his life, and I marveled afterward at his profound words of wisdom, his obvious grasp of the Scriptures, his poise and delivery, attributes far beyond his youth. I was very impressed with the reunion as a whole. The printed program is quite a keepsake. It featured portraits of Jessie and Garnett, and an “order of service” which kept things moving. An insert was a “family tree,” another treasure.
There was a video presentation featuring his sister. A photograph of Walter and Polly on their 65th wedding anniversary graced the huge cake, revealed in a special presentation. The Johnson Ensemble sang “Amazing Grace” like it’s never been sung before. And the youngest generation of Johnsons, smiling, slightly nervous, but right on key and rhythm, rendered “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine.” The resolution sums it up: “In honor of his precious life and many accomplishments, we are proclaiming a day just for him and we encourage everyone to spend this day showering him with love and appreciation for the strength, integrity and commitment he has shared with his family and friends for the past 89 years.” I was asked by the family to present the proclamation, and was honored to do so. Their very gracious reception was gratifying. It was a joy and a pleasure, and I will treasure the memories of the occasion. I regret that I could not stay. Those things I missed were so special, a segment about the family tree, a special performance, a poetry reading, a walk across the street to the cemetery, a chosen family Scripture set to music, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” ... and the food!
I made a discovery on Saturday that I’m hoping will make an impact on my own family. Our reunions need some added elements. We show up — well, some of us show up — we decorate a little, nothing spectacular. We put the food out and try to make an announcement or two. Somebody asks the blessing. Then we eat and talk and laugh, and try to get acquainted with long-lost cousins. Then we go home. No wonder we don’t have a full house! And no wonder children don’t show. Perhaps we can steal a few ideas, and maybe even persuade some Johnsons to help us. We can choose a color scheme (they had matching T-shirts emblazoned with their family name), we can surely find a Scripture and write a song, and our camera-hungry children can sing! Ah, the adrenaline is flowing. And we can try to come up with a person as special as Bubba Johnson to be honored. That would make it a perfect day. Once again, Mr. Johnson, it’s your day, every day, until Dec. 9. Let us know where the party is!
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.