My Father’s Notebook: The Man Behind the Words

My Dad is a difficult person to describe. Not because he’s complicated, but because in words he just seems too good to be true. Who would believe anyone is so amazing as he? Granted I’m very biased. But as we heard many times in the days and weeks after his passing, so many people share our thoughts of his character and kindness and the impact he has made on this world. So before we delve into Dad’s experiences in Vietnam, let me tell you more about this man I’m blessed to call my Dad.
Glen Johnson was born July 3, 1949, on a very hot day in a maternity home in Colfax, Wisconsin. He was the 8th of 9 children. Grandma would take a couple of months to decide on the name “Glen” for him, but by then his siblings had already dubbed him “Pete.” From then on, everyone knew him as Pete. Only Grandma called him Glen, with the exception of Mom on those occasions when she was particularly upset with him.
Dad’s humor was legendary. The kind of wit my teenage self was mortified by, my young adult self found goofy, but my middle-aged self now finds endearing. He took great joy in sharing the latest jokes he had heard. He was partial to a good blonde joke, and being the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, spread the best of the Sven & Oley jokes throughout the family. My sisters and I all married men with Dad’s sense of humor, and when we were together there was much laughter. After one of their zingers, Dad would often look at me and say, “Oh, he’s gooood!”
Dad was an excavator at heart and owned his own business for many years. From the time the ground thawed in the spring until it froze again in the winter, he was at work. Seven days a week he would be at work as the sun rose and not return until after it had set once again. And even then, it wasn’t time to rest yet, as paperwork and phone calls would need his attention.
Even in the winter, the off-season, Dad would be working. Early on he would plow snow and drive oil truck. Later, as his business got busy, he spent most of the winters working on his equipment. Dad would never get rich for all his hard work, but he provided for his family, saw that his children could go to college, and took time to make the life of those around him a little better.
Like generations before him, Dad worked very hard for everything he had. But he gave of him-self and his time as though he were born of great privilege. If one of his customers was having a hard time, he wouldn’t charge them. Dad served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Colfax Fire Department and Rescue Squad, also serving as President of the organization for several years.
After Dad passed away last summer, people from the community came forward with some of the most precious stories. One man, a customer of Dad’s, had lost his young son in a farm accident. Every day after work, Dad would stop in to see if there was anything he could do for them. Sometimes it was just to talk, other times he would help milk cows. Upon their son’s passing, they were given a tree, which the family couldn’t bring themselves to plant even when Dad offered to dig the hole for them. Every night for about two weeks, Dad would ask if it was time yet to plant the tree. But they would always respond, “No, not today.”
Then, early one evening, as Dad was heading home, he saw a beautiful rainbow. He turned his truck around and went right back to the farm. He told them the rainbow was a perfect sign: this was the time to plant the tree. And so the tree found it’s permanent home, and it still thrives there today.
Another lovely story came in a card of sympathy from another former customer of Dad’s. More than a decade earlier, Dad had been working on their farm moving dirt to prepare the site for a new shed. Many years before, this same area had been the site of an old farmhouse and barn. The homeowner had often found bits of glass and even unbroken old bottles around the site.
She wrote, “I jokingly told Pete to try not to run over any of the bottles he might dig up when he was working. When I got home from work that night, there were two unbroken old bottles on my steps. I was so surprised! Pete must have stopped his bulldozer, jumped down and retrieved the bottles for me, if not once, two times. I was so impressed by that little act of kind-ness.”
This one-act of kindness would prove, about five years later, to touch another person. As the homeowner explained, “An 82-year-old woman who lived in that old farmhouse came up here to see what the area looked like since her childhood. Right before she left, I gave her the two bottles that Pete had rescued. Pete’s small act of kindness from years before put a smile on her face as she recognized an old perfume bottle and an old cough syrup bottle from when she was a little girl. Pete was a kind man.”
And so, that was my Dad. He touched so many lives. Mother Teresa once said, “We can do no great things—only small things with great love.” And indeed, that was what Dad spent his life doing for anyone in need, one little tree and one unbroken bottle at a time

Read Tracey’s Other Posts:

My father’s Notebook- The Enlistment Question

My Father’s Notebook- Christmas in Vietnam

My Father’s Notebook- One Name on the Wall

My Father’s Notebook- My Unknown Soldier

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