Sam and Eliza Johnson’s youngest daughter was Jessie, my grandmother. Jessie was born in 1887, and of course I only knew her in the last 20 or so years of her life, and the first 20 or so years of my life. Nevertheless, she had a great influence upon me in those formative years.
She was always staunch and determined in her attendance at all Christadelphian meetings. Although she was a Berean Christadelphian, she always made a point of attending all Central and Unamended gatherings within driving distance. After all, she had known many of the brothers and sisters, of all fellowships, before the divisions had even happened. Later on, when I had a driver’s license, she enlisted me to drive her to all the gatherings. As my grandmother’s chauffeur, I met and listened to the best of visiting Central Christadelphian speakers, as well as the best of visiting Unamended speakers too — including several generations of the Zilmer clan, considered by many to be the first family of North American Christadelphians.
Grandma was also a voracious reader, a fierce defender of the faith, outspoken in all her opinions. I remember as a child, being somewhat embarrassed during lectures and exhortations, because Grandma would speak up and audibly recite along with the speaker whatever Bible verse he was quoting. And occasionally she would interject a loud “Amen!” as well. I still have, today, many of her Christadelphian books, with her name in the front, and her notes in the margins, and various passages boldly underlined. And when Grandma underlined something in her books, she never underlined it lightly. It was always boldly underlined!
After Lyndon’s mother, Rebekah Johnson, died in 1958 and his Aunt Frank died in 1961, Lyndon drew particularly close once again to my grandmother, his “Aunt Jessie”. She had been near him, and taken care of him often, in his very earliest years, when she was still a young single woman living practically next door to her brother Sam, Jr., Rebekah, and Lyndon. Also, because Rebekah was a city girl when she married Sam, and unused to the life of a farmer’s wife, her sister-in-law Jessie (single at the time) was nearby and often available to help her. Jessie would do chores around the farmhouse, and also teach Rebekah what she needed to know in her new role — things like caring for a garden and farm animals, and all the intricacies of running a household in a Hill Country community and a country with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and few modern conveniences. As Grandma would tell us, “When you feed a little kid, bathe him, change his diapers, and put him to bed, all that sort of thing — it’s hard to think of him as anything more than a barefoot Hill Country boy — no matter what else he grows up to be!”
Even in his years as President, when he was perhaps the most powerful man in the world, Lyndon would often talk with his “Aunt Jessie”. He would tease her playfully about her unwillingness to vote for him, but she always said, “Lyndon, I love you very much, but I will only vote for Jesus Christ, and you know it!” For her part, she would still continue to remind him — vigorously — of what he had learned as a child and a young man: “Always take care of the Jews; they are God’s people!”
His fondness for her was shown when he became President upon the death of John Kennedy. Soon thereafter, Lyndon invited his Aunt Jessie to come to Washington, D.C., and live with him and his family in the White House. But she declined, and chose to live very close to her only child, my mother Ruth, and her family — Dad, myself and my younger brother Wesley. Of course, this kept her close to her beloved Christadelphian brothers and sisters in Texas also.
Grandma did accept invitations to visit the White House, as well as an invitation that came her way to visit Israel and meet Prime Minister Golda Meir, the first (and only) woman to lead the State of Israel. But she was always eager to get back home, so she could go the Christadelphian meetings, and not lose touch with her real family and her faith.
Grandma died in 1973, at the age of 86, only a month after her nephew Lyndon died. She was buried in the Johnson Family Cemetery, near him, but also near her own parents and the other Christadelphians now buried there. By now, these include my father, mother and brother also. Many Christadelphians now rest there, awaiting the resurrection. It is a mile or so down the road from the old Christadelphian campground, still in use after more than a century. The old cemetery is the nearest thing I know to holy ground. I visit it often, and listen in hopes of hearing the familiar voices again.
Note: There is a little-known episode in the life of Lyndon Johnson, now called “Operation Texas”, in which he worked diligently to save many European Jews out of a Nazi-threatened Europe before World War II began. This is discussed in some detail in my book, A Bible Journal, in the chapter entitled “Lyndon Johnson and the Jews”, pages 167-173. A Bible Journal may be ordered from The Christadelphian Tidings, http://www.tidings.org.
To be continued.
This post is part of a series authored by brother George Booker. Click here to see all previous posts in the series.