He never had a career, he had jobs, and some of the time he didn’t. He was, of course, in the army, at first. It could have turned into a career but didn’t. Even the training he received as a signal corpsman could have turned into something. Especially in today’s world. Didn’t happen. This is how I remember him, at his best.
When he was young, 13 or so, he carried slabs of beef at the butcher shop in Selkirk. He spent some time working in the steel rolling mill, as a teen. A different life in those days. He dropped out of school with a grade 8 education, which wasn’t all that bad back then. It would have been during WWII. His father, my Afi, Magnus Julius Johnson, would have been away, doing his duty as a stoker in the merchant marines.
We heard the ‘poor me, kid at work’ stories a hundred times. I’m sure it was a hardship and tough times for the family. The stories were repeated over and over during times of heavy beer consumption and self pity. As if they had never been told previously. As if they were stories of rising from the depths of poverty to accomplishment. He wasn’t lazy, he was certainly a smart man. But he was filled with the wanderlust, always in search of the greener grass and most of all, sadly, a slave to alcohol.
In a way, he was right. He had accomplished something to even make a life near the line. His life, our lives, could have certainly been worse. But they also could have been better, more prosperous, with greater advantage, had he been able to apply the intelligence he was born with and not been a captive of the bottle. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The story of millions. Anyway, it is what it is, it was what it was, and the lesson I learned most from him, was to choose a different life for myself.
I was blessed with the absence of knowing that things you want might be beyond your reach. It didn’t occur to me that the things I wanted might not be attainable. It never occurred to me that trying and failing was a bad or shameful thing. To me a failure was just a dead end in a maze, which meant you had to back up and try a different path to reach your goal. It has never occurred to me not to try, because I might fail. And I’m happy with that.
Perhaps that is partly the way he lived his life, always trying new things. If he would have realized that sticking with something might be the path to success, instead of looking to change course when things got tough, I think he could have done very well. But he didn’t.
His most notable accomplishment, in my mind, was to land the job as Secretary Treasurer and Town Clerk for the Village of Clinton. Probably a job won, because of his bookkeeping experience, his natural intelligence and amenable personality. (perhaps also because the incumbent Town Clerk was retiring and there was no other viable candidate). He instantly became a big fish in a small pond, and we went along for the ride. We had status; the first and only time. Here is what he looked like at his office:
We moved to Clinton in July and by the following spring the green grass had turned brown. He learned the fellow in the neighboring town, doing the same job, was paid more than him. Our Town Council declined to raise his salary and that was that. He left to seek other work in another place (unsuccessfully) and as the snow melted, we moved again.
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