Eulogy for My Favorite Uncle
My uncle Foggy died yesterday. He was not born with the name Foggy, but after a bully called him that one day in his youth, he and my dad and his friends liked it so much that it stuck. Even my grandfather called him "Fog."
He was the product of a teenage indiscretion that led to a hasty marriage ... the marriage lasted almost 60 years. He grew up in Appalachia and was part of what I call the Appalachian diaspora. At about age 20 he married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There he raised a family and worked a series of white collar jobs until he was the age I am now. Then he got laid off for the last time. He moved back to the mountains, moved in with my grandparents at the family farm, and helped out as they got older.
In an era not known for six-footers, Foggy was 6'4". He towered over everyone in the family. Maybe that's why the nickname stuck, because we always teased him about what the weather was like up there. When I was a little kid, he would lift me up on his shoulders, and it would be like riding a giraffe.
Foggy and I had tons of fun together. He was my favorite uncle, and the one I spent the most time with as a kid and young adult. Because he was living at the family farm, I saw him frequently. He was always a talkative person, and as he spent more and more time alone after my grandparents died, he became extremely long-winded when I would visit. Still, I loved him. He was quick to laugh and had a keen wit. He loved satire and had no problem poking fun at Appalachia. He was a good cook.
When Foggy left the workforce, he did some pretty rigorous hiking with my cousin. Stuff that I sure would be hesitant to do at this point in my life. He backpacked the Appalachian Trail and hiked along the shoreline of Lake Superior. He traveled across the country numerous times, by car and rail and plane. In this picture he is already well into his 50s, maybe flirting with 60, and he sure didn't get to that spot by some tourist tram.
Most of all, he was self-taught. He attended less than a semester of college, but he was very well-read. Okay, so he specialized in the Civil War and read all those Louis Lamour Westerns, and all that James Michener stuff, but he always had a book in his hands.
I have an old journal here in which I recorded some of our adventures at the family farm when I was in my late teens. We had some rip-roaring good ol' times, especially when we were lubricated with vodka gimlets.
After my grandparents died, my dad and his brother got all of us nieces and nephews to agree to let Foggy live out his life at the family farm, rent free. There was never anything put into writing. It was what I thought of as a blood obligation. Foggy's work history was spotty, and he took his Social Security early, so he had a very limited income much of the time. Even so, he kept up the house and the property. He mowed more grass than my grandfather ever did, and between him and my cousin, the place actually improved instead of rotting, which is what many other similar properties have done.
It was such a fabulous feeling to be able to go to the family farm, see it so neat and well-maintained, hike its woods and fields, and have a cocktail and chat the night away (or, actually, listen the night away) with Uncle Foggy.
There were plenty of kinfolk up in those hills who would have welcomed his company, but for some reason, voluble Foggy didn't socialize much outside his immediate family. In his loneliness he listened to talk radio, and that habit led him to Rush Limbaugh. He fell under Rush's spell, and that became a game-changer in our relationship. I found that it wasn't as much fun visiting the mountains if I had to hear about welfare deadbeats and feminazis. The "Rush-talk" about the social safety net was particularly galling, because if not for that Social Security and our good will agreement regarding the farm (and his own children's generosity), he would have needed far more social support than he got.
Old age closed in on Foggy, and once again he was lucky. I have an able-bodied male cousin who was able to care for Foggy at the family farm, thus lengthening the years that our family held onto the farm. It was only two years ago that the situation became untenable, and wowsa, my sister and cousins closed in to put the farm up for sale and grab the ducats post-haste. I didn't have enough money to buy the place, since some local fellow had been eyeballing it for years and was willing to shell out our asking price, in cash.
The last time I saw Foggy was in November 2011, just a few months before the closing on the farm. In farewell I gave him a huge hug and tried to hide my tears, because I knew it was the last time I would see him in the apparent world. By that time he had drifted into deafness and away from Rush, so he was more like a benign elder version of the rip-roarer he'd been at 60.
Foggy was a very talented cartoonist, and if any of us had known how to get into that business, he might have made something of it. I've shared one of his best pieces here before, but my sister had one that she put up on Facebook that I'd forgotten about. I wrote the poem, and he did the drawing. The artwork is a nod to both me and my sister, since she likes Canadian geese and has a favorite yellow sweater. I can date it to 1981 or thereabouts, so it's pre-Rush, and very un-Rush, in its sentiments.
The poem reads:
We Johnsons are a merry clan
Who seem to lack a Master Plan.
Ambition's made of sterner stuff,
Although folks find us smart enough.
A day of rest's a day well spent.
Just getting by makes us content.
May the Gentry of Sidhe welcome his spirit. May he have found the Summerlands. May he play forever as a happy child, with my father and the faeries of Pan. Now my ancestors have all departed, and I am the elder. It's daunting.
But there's some rip-roar left in this gal, yep.
Floyd H. "Foggy" Johnson, 1926-2013.