As many of you know, my sister Carolyn Lewis passed away recently after a long decline with Alzheimer’s over many years. We had a small graveside service and buried her ashes at Ogdensburg Cemetery, next to my grandma, Stella Johnson.
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The community is invited to a memorial reading of Carol’s works on Saturday, April 27, 7 p.m., at the Peninsula Township Hall, 13235 Center Road on the Old Mission Peninsula.
Carol was an award-winning short story writer, a longtime editor for legal and creative writing publications, and a freelance writer for local publications, including the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society newsletter.
A photographer and writer, she died in March before completing planned books on the French fur traders and on Sarah Lane, the first woman keeper of Mission Point Lighthouse.
When I think of my sister, I don’t think about her later years when she struggled to piece words together and eventually lost her ability to communicate. I think of the free-spirited, independent sister I shared a room with when we were kids growing up in Old Mission.
I think of the sister who introduced me to The Beatles, The Monkees, and Paul Revere and the Raiders, albums she played (over and over … and over) on her little record player she got for Christmas one year. Carol was born in 1953, so she was a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In this photo below, a school photo from Old Mission Peninsula School, there may have been an iron and/or a pop bottle involved in the styling of her hair.
I think of the sister who always had a group of friends around her, including Ginny Dohm (Coulter), who spent a lot of time at our house in Old Mission. Carol also shares a birthday with one of those friends, Marge Long, whose mom, Jo Brown, shared a room at the hospital with my mom, Mary Johnson, on the day they were born. As the story goes (correct me if I’m wrong, Marge), Dad was napping in the bed next to mom, and they had to move him out of there when Jo arrived.
I think of the sister who loved riding her horse Princess (that stubborn mare) around the orchards on “the home place” up on Center Road. The barn where Princess lived, along with my horse Copper, our brother Dean’s horse Skipper and assorted others through the years, is still home to many horses, boarded by friends and neighbors. That makes me happy. A barn needs animals in it.
I think of the wild sister who used to sneak out of her upstairs room at “The Old House” on the home farm and climb down the mammoth tree outside. This was before my time. I was born the year we moved to the new house in Old Mission (1960), but siblings Dean, Ward and Carol all spent their first years on the planet in The Old House across from the barn just north of Mapleton on Center Road (that house burned down in 1964).
I think of the sister who didn’t mind (too much – I’m sure Mom strongly encouraged it) when I tagged along to her Halloween party with all her friends at what we call the “Cherry Building” on the home farm. They had the usual Halloween party shenanigans, like bobbing for apples and such, but I mostly remember curling up by the woodstove to keep warm because it was freezing that night.
I think of my sister on our trip to Virginia Beach, when dad was training at the Coast Guard Station in Norfolk, Virginia one summer in the 1960s. We rented a cabin on the beach, and John Elzer, who we grew up with on the Old Mission Peninsula and I believe was also stationed there at the time, came over and we all went swimming in the ocean at night. I clearly remember that beach and John and my siblings shouting to each other over the big waves, so different from the East Bay shoreline where we grew up.
I think of the sister who loved to camp out, especially at Arbutus Lake, during the summers. Once in a while, I’d camp with her, which, other than camping out in the back yard and a few Girl Scout excursions, was my first foray into the world of camping.
I think of my brave sister who couldn’t wait to leave northern Michigan when she got old enough, venturing to Minnesota and then New York, where she met and married her husband Steve Lewis. Steve took such good care of her, holding fast about caring for her at home until the end, despite our nudgings to move her into a facility in town.
During her years away, my sister and I both got our first computers. For me, that was a Gateway 486 with a floppy drive and a whopping 400MB hard drive. Thanks to AOL’s awesome dial-up service (remember that sound? remember those discs we got in the mail?), Carol and I started emailing each other every day.
Eventually, my sister and I wrote a novel together, each writing a few pages and emailing it to the other, who would continue the story, which took some wild twists and turns across the globe, though the writers were settled in Old Mission, Michigan, and Long Island, New York. I wish I knew where that story was now – probably on a floppy drive somewhere in the ether.
And I think of the sister who after living away from northern Michigan for decades, couldn’t wait to move back home to be near the land and water where she grew up. Unfortunately, it seemed like she was only here for a short time and then we lost her again to Alzheimer’s.
I’m sad to lose my bright, beautiful sister from this planet, but also joyful that she’s now released from the earthly body that failed her over the past few years. She’s free again, flying high with the angels.
Here’s a little photographic journey through the Johnson Family archives…
This photo below was taken in front of our house in Old Mission in April 1967. It looks like she might be holding a Coke. I wish I had those pants now – not that I can fit into them (not yet anyway!). On the left is our old Ford truck, but I’m not sure whose Chrysler is on the right. I was going to say Mammy and Earl’s (my mom’s mom and stepdad, who often traveled from Florida and Virginia to see us), but the license plate is Michigan. Let me know if you recognize the Chrysler.
Here are a couple of photos, circa 1950s, in “The Old House,” across from the barn on the home place just north of Mapleton. This house sat across from the barn, but burned down in 1964. The crib moved with us to Old Mission, where I took my turn in it.
This photo is also in “The Old House.” From left is Carol, with Dean Johnson, Steve Johnson, Phyllis Johnson (Cooley) (our cousins, Uncle Guy and Aunt June’s kids) and Ward Johnson. Dean looks like he has something way more important to do than be in this photo.
This photo was taken at my Grandma Stella Johnson’s house on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road (across from PFE on land we call “The 40”). The house and land is still in the family, but that tree is gone. From left, Phyllis Johnson (Cooley), Dean Johnson, Ward Johnson, Steve Johnson and Carolyn Johnson Lewis.
I *think this photo was taken in the back yard of our house in Old Mission, when our cousins the Wingert’s came to visit (my mom’s sister, parents and family). From left, Walter Johnson (holding me), Mary Johnson, Carolyn Johnson Lewis, Jackie Wingert (Lilly), Jim Wingert, John Wingert, Dean Johnson, Pat Wingert, Jane Wingert (mom’s sister, who I’m named after), Earl McKesson, Mary Louise McKesson (mom’s parents), and the boys in the front, Bud Wingert and Ward Johnson. It looks like Bud might be holding a cat, and you can just barely see the top of Duke, Dean’s German Shepherd, in the bottom right.
This photo was taken on Christmas morning sometime in the 1960s, in our new house in Old Mission. I’m thinking it might be when cameras with self-timers came along (did we have them that early?). From left, Carolyn Johnson Lewis (holding our cat Calico), Mary Johnson, Jane Johnson (holding my new Christmas stuffed animal), Ward Johnson, Walter Johnson and Dean Johnson.
These photos were taken when Tim and I got married, on New Year’s Eve, 1993. The first two were taken at our house in Old Mission. The night before, Carol and I had skiied up to the Old Mission General Store in the moonlight and called home from the phone booth that used to be there and that only locals knew you didn’t have to pay for.
Even though we had a small wedding with just family and a few close friends, it’s always good to have a wing-girl. Carol, my matron of honor, was that girl and organized everything from the decorations (my mom’s quilt) to making sure we cut the cake at some point. This photo was taken in the basement of the Old Mission Congregational Church, where we were married on New Year’s Eve, 1993.
My beautiful sister.