The Funniest People: George Johnson, My Hand Me Down Friend

I’ve never wanted to wear my Father’s clothes. Which makes this scene surreal; college kids diving after my clothes like starving refugees collecting Cinnabons. I purged my closet over the holidays grabbing great clutches of cotton hoodies, denim jeans, flannel shirts, tossing them to the hardwood floor of our recreation room as my children along with nephews and nieces dove headlong laying claim to free clothing. Apparently vintage old man clothes are just as desirable as grungy Goodwill apparel.

What’s going on with the younger generation and clothes? I wandered away into the fashion wilderness myself, experimenting with disco wide lapel leisure suits and four-inch heels, but I found my way home with Lacoste polo’s and 501 button fly jeans, but just as I felt the world was about right, Nineties grunge arrived and I lost all hope for the future of men’s fashion. And now this, kids shopping at Goodwill and begging at the closet of dumpy dad clothing. I find solace only in the economy of frumpy hand-me-downs which are substantially cheaper than Banana Republic skinny jeans.

But there is one hand-me-down my Father offered and I’ve worn easily, a friend. George Johnson is twenty years my senior, four years younger than my Dad. They met in 1970 on a Campaign for Christ in Hamilton, Ontario, and have spent time together since partnering in several businesses together and sharing beans and cornbread at countless tables. Beans and cornbread seems to suit them.

Dad tells stories of my Grandma Grace sweeping pinto beans from the cracks of drafty floor planks when the supply of vittles became scarce. Remembrance of hard times colors their friendship and their attitudes toward life and business. Just as Terrel hates throwing away scrap lumber from job sites, George, well he just hates throwing away anything, paper, peanut brittle, quiche…I was reading a report from George’s office recently and noticed the back of the page displayed something irrelevant to the topic. A new idea in re-purposing paper, using it twice. When he went into business for himself thirty years ago, he printed some notepads with a caricature of himself. There are still boxes of those notepads in his office ready for the next thirty years.

George calls my Dad “Boss”, because he was his boss for a time (he still calls Terrel boss even though it’s been thirty years since Terrel signed his paycheck). Back in the 1980’s, George’s office was just a few steps down the hall from mine. Every time George walked past my office he would say something. “Hey Brent!” … and while striding past my office, George would whack the door jamb and proceed down the hall.
George Caricature
After a couple of years, I happened to glance at the door jamb and it looked as if Woody Woodpecker was looking for a home. A 12 gauge gun with birdshot from close range would have done the same thing it took George three years to accomplish. Every time he walked past and whacked the jamb, the ring on his finger impressed the wood. And so that speckled and dented doorway became a signal like the notes parents create with pencil on wall noting the height of their children. I left it alone, didn’t fix it. It was our sign of friendship, evidence of past greeting, the worn patina of steps walking past and words echoing in the halls.

George caddied for me at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio at the 1979 United States Amateur Golf Championship. We shared a hotel room and the night before competition commenced, I sat on the bed reading a promotional magazine for the tournament published by the U.S.G.A. My playing partner the first two days would be Hal Sutton. George and I read about Hal’s amateur accomplishments including the Western Amateur Championship. He would later win the PGA Championship in 1983. It was daunting playing with someone that good, but assuring to know George was on the bag and I knew he believed in me and always supported me as a competitor. And I spent time watching him compete also, as he excelled at third base in fast pitch softball leagues.
George Johnson Softball 1975b
He was the Brooks Robinson of his era often playing only twenty feet from the batter daring them to swing away and taking away the bunt in a game often decided by a single run. Once, a batter did swing away with George playing in and the swing produced a high Baltimore chop that hit the dirt in front of the plate, bounded high over George’s head prompting George to whirl, sprint back under the now descending ball, snare it with a bare hand and throw to first base in one continuous motion retiring the batter by a half step.

We office in the same building now, George Johnson Appraisal on the east side of our building, and Taylor Homes Group occupying the west offices just a few strides away. And so George will bring stray cups of coffee into my office, left over pieces of peanut brittle from Christmas, an omelet brought from his 7:30 breakfast meeting at the Rotary or some other committee meeting. George likes to share things…and hates to see food wasted. So we eat a lot of stuff together just because if we don’t, nobody else will. It’s our office fraternity, FOLGEW, Fraternity of Leftover Goodies Eaten Well, and we are the charter members.

Speaking of eating well, George once ran a steak house in Tulsa on south Memorial called King George’s Steak House. So he always notices things in restaurants. His choice of seats at restaurants is influenced by a view of the kitchen. And when he can see the chef, he likes to order Reuben sandwiches just so he can watch the chef’s reaction. I guess chef’s dislike Rueben’s…or sauerkraut?

George also tells a story of a bubbly waitress who brought silverware and water for the table after taking their order, and as George was about to remind her to bring crackers, from underneath her arm, like a mother hen raising a wing producing a brood of chicks, she dramatically presented her own covey of saltines and melba toast exclaiming triumphantly, “Betcha thought I forgot the crackers!” At least they were warm.

George is famous for down-home witticism’s, for instance, if you ask George if he wants a piece of coconut cream pie, he’s likely to say, “I don’t believe I don’t,” and if the topic is what’s for dinner George says, “If we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we had some eggs,” and if the mood is melancholy he might resort to,”I feel more like I do today than I did yesterday,” and he’s prone to say this daily, “No matter what, it’s going to be a good day!” That may be George’s life paradigm.

A few nights ago, headed home, I noticed George’s office light burning. I walked down the hall, peeked in and said, “George, I’m taking off. What’s on your plate tonight?” George said, “I remember when I was a kid and Mom said the Lone Ranger is on at 5:30, and I thought, no matter what happens, it’s going to be a good day. Today’s kind of like that. Tonight, it’s Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State in basketball, Bobbie’s making soup and cornbread, no matter what, it’s going to be a good day.”
George Johnson
That’s my friend George in a nutshell. No matter what happens it’s gonna be a good day. For George, a good day means the Lone Ranger is on later, or a softball game, or a golf match, or spending time with grandkids, or sharing a piece of pie and conversation with whomever needs a piece of pie and conversation. Sometimes for George, all you really need is to draw a deep breath of fresh air into your lungs and let it out…then, no matter what, it’s going to be a good day.

Which is a fine definition of a great person, someone you can share a piece of pie with or a few words or continual whacks on the door jamb of your life, because after all, when you are around a great person, no matter what, it’s going to be a good day.

5 responses to “The Funniest People: George Johnson, My Hand Me Down Friend”

  1. Brent,
    You sure know how to bring back some wonderful memories. I wouldn’t trade the last 30 plus years for nothing. I remember driving from Tulsa to Bartlesville to eat beans and cornbread with you and your family. It was snowing like crazy and Monica and Carrie were with me. Up ahead I saw two tail lights that looked like someone was in trouble. We pulled over and it was an older lady who had slid off into the ditch. When I looked back at my car, all I could see was four huge eyeballs bigger than silver dollars staring at me wondering if we were going to get back on the road. Not even an ice storm could keep us away from eating a relaxing dinner with your family.
    Thanks for reminding me of the great moments that your family and I have spent together.

    Keep writing, you make the world a better place to live in.

    George Johnson

  2. George: It was always a blessing to have you dine at our table and as a youngster searching for a way out of the awkwardness of teenage angst, your hair was longer than mine, and so it just seemed to balance the world a bit for me. bt

  3. Yes, George was a good athlete. He played some basketball at Bacone Jr. College.

    Back in 1965 George and I were on a church team that won the fast pitch White Church League. I was the pitcher. My family and I went on vacation for a couple weeks during which George pitched both games and won. He didn’t even claim to be a pitcher but I guess his wildness kept them pretty scared. We then went on to win the championship.

    In later years I played quite a bit of tennis. George and I would play some when we got together. He played only when we were together and some how he usually won.
    He played more like he was playing ping pong but managed to get it back over one more time than I did. That’s the kind of athlete he is–whatever it takes to adapt to the task at hand.

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