A train car I saw about a month ago, when we still had snow.
My dad was drafted in 1951 into the Army during the Korean conflict. He tried, unsuccessfully, to argue for a II-C exemption, on the basis of essential agricultural work. He and his brother farmed with their father, my Grandpa Ernie. Dad argued it would cause an undue burden on his family. The military said the undue burden would be on them, so instead of drafting into the Army, he enlisted in the Navy.
He served in the Sea Bees, and as such saw no combat. But he built swimming pools in Cuba, and moved houses in Morocco. He brought gifts for his sisters most places he went (it would be almost 20 years later before he got married) and sent postcards home. He made dear friends in the Navy, men who would call him 30 years later from Maryland and Florida, among other places. Scotty’s accent was unmistakable, and by the time I could answer the phone, Jim had lost his vocal chords to cancer and had the coolest robot voice I’ve ever heard.
Dewey came home with uniforms he quickly outgrew, a few of those classic white sailor hats stenciled “Johnson,” and a fork stamped “USN.” He also had a Navy-issued towel, which must’ve been made of something impressive, because it was still in rotation until I was 10 or 11, which would’ve been 30 years after his discharge. On the towel, written in some equally durable permanent ink, was his nickname, which we occasionally saw on letters from his friends, too.
I’d forgotten about this nickname, until the train car, above, crossed my path. I miss him, and his Navy friends, and his stories of his travels. I’ve done my part to carry on the Sleepy Johnson legacy, enjoying naps as one ought. I hope I would’ve made him proud.