The Death of Josiah Johnson
A Short Story By J. Allen Wilson
Josiah Johnson the eldest of six children was born on December the 25th, 1925 on a rural farm in southern Indiana. He grew up impoverished. However what he lacked in the creature comforts that many of his friends had, he more than made up in the area of love. His mother being a very devout and religious person never wavered in the thought that God would provide a way and on many occasions that was the case though Josiah refused to see it that way. He was brought up in a loving home and was taught from his very youth that to know God was to know genuine love; however he developed a bitterly agnostic point of view in his early years that he carried with him right up to his death in 1967.
Many times over the course of his life he would often find himself entrenched in bitter debate with co workers on the existence of God. This point of view often left him isolated from many of those he worked with at various points of his life as he worked his way up the corporate ladder after the war. He soon became very successful and very wealthy but was never the miserly type with his money and good fortune. In this he unknowing exercised one of the tenets of the bible which he so despised. He found out early on it seemed that the more he gave away to those in need; the more that he would receive. He called it good business, but if his mom were still alive she would have told him that it is a spiritual truth.
On December the 15th just ten days before his 42nd birthday, Josiah Johnson lay dying. Though he had the best physicians that money could buy, there was little they could do. Having contracted a serious case of malaria during the war which left him with a weakened immune system, it was all the doctors could do just to keep him comfortable until his time come. Hundreds upon hundreds of visitors streamed into Josiah Johnson’s posh mansion in the coming days before his death to pay respects to a man who had risen atop the cream of society. Dignitaries from all around gathered, some made great speeches of the importance of a man like Josiah and how his contributions to society were going to be missed; most just made merry in the large gathering hall on the first floor beneath the dying man. As each visitor came by Josiah would weakly smile and tell them that life had been good. Then just two days before his passing there came a strange visitor to his bedside. The man was dressed respectfully enough but it was plain to see that his clothes were worn and second hand. He was an elderly man of about eighty and he wore the thickest glasses Josiah had ever seen. The stranger ambled over to the bedside next to Josiah and pulled a chair from the writing desk beside the bed and sat down. The man looked somber and he appeared to have been crying. Without warning a strange and eerie feeling swept over Josiah. He felt his pulse begin to race and perspiration broke on his creased brow He felt if he knew this man, but he had no idea who he could be. Suddenly the man spoke. “It’s been a long time son, how ya been?”
Josiah could feel his heart pitch in his emaciated body; still he knew not who the stranger could be though he was certain that he knew this man from somewhere in his forgotten past.
December 7th 1941; a day of reckoning
“Josiah, you get out of that bed right now in get your clothes on, we’re going to be late for Pastor Williams service.”
“I ain’t going to church today maw, I’m sick.”
“You don’t know what sick is young man less I get a hold of you”. “Now you get out of that bed this very instant.”
“Alright, I’m up now, you happy”?
I’d be happier if you wouldn’t try and pull this stunt every time we are to go to church. Pastor Williams has been good to us since your daddy’s death.”
“Yeah, yeah that’s all I ever hear anymore maw; Pastor William this and Pastor William that. Has it ever occurred to you maw that he is just being nice to you because he is looking for a wife?”
You listen to me, you may almost be a man, but you are still my son and as long as you are under my roof you will do as I say without any of that smart lip of yours. Lord I don’t know where you picked up such a mouth, now go in the washroom and get cleaned up.”
Josiah rose from the side of his bed did as he was told. He mumbled softly to himself venting like the radiator did on dads old ford.
“If Pastor Williams thinks he is going to horn in on this family he’s got another thing coming hissed Josiah. He thinks he can give maw all these little gifts and she just going to fall head over heels in love with him, heck before paw died she used to joke about how ugly Pastor Williams was with them big thick glasses of his and now for some reason she thinks he is the sweetest thing since buttered cream. Heck, I’m almost sixteen now and in these parts that qualified you as a man and if that old four eyed….
“Josiah, Josiah, you hear me? Cut out all that griping and get on out here, your little sister needs to use the bathroom before we go.”
“Just finishing up maw, I’ll be right out.”
With all the brood gathered together and dressed in their Sunday best, Tessie led them one by one down the narrow steps that led from their front porch. She lined them for a minute and like an old drill sergeant she gave them their final inspection. With a smile indicating thumbs up Tessie and her six little angels made there way down the muddy dirt road that led to the main road into town. The closer they got, the louder the church bells rang and Josiah was already planning his escape just as soon as old four eyes Williams bowed his head for prayer. However, this Sunday was to be like no other Sunday before or since.
J. Allen Wilson © 6/2008