My brother, Bert, was born on October 18, 1929. He was one of the good guys, the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to bring home to meet the family.He passed away Christmas morning 2016, we would be celebrating his 90th birthday today.
In my book, Bert was the best big brother ever, I admit I had a crush on him from the time I was a little girl.He was thirteen years older than me so he really was my big brother.Bert was tall, (ok, six feet tall,but that was considered tall in the 1950’s),he was good looking, with rugged features and a shock of blonde hair that remained thick and mostly blonde into his 80’s.
Stashed away in the Johnson family album is Bert’s high school class picture. All the young men are neatly turned out in suits and, in a class with mostly Italians and Irish, there is Bert with his striking blonde pompadour.
In the 40’s Uncle Sam was calling the boys to service for a two year stint.There was a special one year offer for young men volunteering before their 18th birthday.Bert and a couple of his buddies thought the one year deal sounded better than two,so off they went to basic training and spent a year in the Army.
Our family owned a small grocery store in Oak Park, Ill. where Bert worked with dad after school and on the weekends.When Bert signed up for the Army dad decided that was a good time to sell the store and move the family out west to Tucson.
I was just a little kid when Bert left, I remember when he came to Tucson at the end of his Army service I didn’t recognize him with the crew cut and, for a little kid, he’d been gone a long time.
It wasn’t long before Bert met Edith and they married and moved back to the Chicago area.Bert worked as a draftsman for Western Electric.Our mom had excellent penmanship, my sister, Marilyn and I still make chicken scratches,but Bert could print with perfection.
Bert and Edith lived in the Chicago area for many years but they dutifully came home to visit the folks every year at vacation.I’m amazed when I think about it now, they drove from Chicago to Tucson, without air conditioning, to visit for a few days and turned around and drove back.That was their vacation.As far as Bert was concerned that is what sons did.They visited their parents ever year.
In anticipation of their visit, mom let me help spruce up the house and then we sat by the window waiting for Bert’s car to turn in the driveway. Mom bought all Bert’s favorite food and the family spent hours over breakfast, drinking one more cup of coffee.I was always anxious to get on with the day, after all my brother was here and that meant we had a car and could go places.Mom never learned to drive so summer days at our house were quiet.
Bert enjoyed swimming, and although Edith didn’t swim, she loved the sun, so trips to local swimming hole were always on the agenda. Our favorite pool was Wetmore, a popular large pool that had a shallow splash end about six inches deep and gradually reached a depth of about six feet.There was a tall metal slide at the deep end and a sturdy metal top in the center of the pool.The teenage boys used to spin that top so fast, when they lost their grip they were flying out over the pool.
I remember the time Bert and I wereplaying around near the deep end when a young boy came flying down the slide. The boy splashed into the water and slumped over and just bobbed there.Bert was the first see the him and swam over and pulled the boy out of the water.Yep, he was my hero.
Years later, after I was married, Bert and I wrote letters back and forth, long distance phone calls were too expensive, but we had fun corresponding.He and Edith moved to Santa Clara, Ca. in 1963.
Bert & daughter, Sharon
Even though Bert married way before I did, his daughter, Sharon, was about the same age as my children, Greg and Tricia.The kids provideda perfect opportunity to vacation together. Our families met in Lake Tahoe,Las Vegas, and Disneyland, we visited Santa Clara and of course they came to Tucson often to see mom and dad.Edith passed away in 1988.
Bert was fun loving, had a great sense of humor, and a big laugh recognizable anywhere.He was passionate about many things: Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood, western movies, golf, cars and in later years, politics.
When long distance became affordable we talked on the phone often, and if I could say something that would invoke that big laugh I counted the phone call a success.It didn’t matter if I was outrageous if it made him laugh.
Bert never did anything half way.Our discussions frequently focused on the ‘M’ word,Moderation.That word just wasn’t in his vocabulary, I knew it and we laughed about it often. If he enjoyed bowling, he’d join three leagues and bowl every day.When he discovered square dancing he went to every dance. If a scoop of ice cream was good, two was definitely better.In his younger years he enjoyed alcohol but with alcohol the extra scoop philosophy becomes a problem.He deserved to be proud of his AA involvement and 34 years of sobriety, it was a testament to his strength and ability fight the addiction.
Bert and Carol
Bert and Carol married in 1996 and spent many years dancing, traveling, playing golf, and having a good time.I lost track of the number of postcards they sent from Hawaii. Carol took the ‘in sickness and health’ vow seriously and when Bert lost much of his vision and had trouble getting around she was always by his side.
Bert was one of the good guys, he was liked by everyone he met and loved by many.We will always miss him, Happy Birthday, Bert.