My father passed away this week. Avery Stephen Johnson always had a story, was brilliant and could also argue for days. He preferred to go by the name Stephen and always told us that his mother was confused after his birth and meant to name him Stephen Avery. Of course Avery is a cool, trendy name now, but back then it wasn’t… for him. He was totally a Steve. A manly man.
He was not an easy going person and we had a lot of battles growing up, most of which he won. I lost a lot of hairdryers that had been plugged in (he would toss them out the window). He was tough, but when the chips were down, he always came to help to save the day. Except for the time I was driving his maroon Cutlass Supreme and it always used to stall while I was driving it. My Aunt Lo was visiting and it stalled right in the middle of Jericho Turnpike — he believed her when she told him to fix it.
We didn’t discuss politics because I didn’t agree with his. I had my kids trained since the George W. Bush administration not to discuss world affairs in front of him.
He had great musical taste in the 70’s and 80’s. I was singing the songs from Rocky Horror when I was 7. Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album, Loverboy, and Donna Summer were faves.
He loved making impromptu turkey dinners (just for fun) and made it with all the trimmings. He used to pick up turkeys on sale and keep them in the deep freezer. He also used to give me a 5 pound box of Streit’s Matzos for Passover, which was used up pretty quickly. His chicken soup was also legendary and I make it myself (link here).
And while he didn’t really understand my job as a content creator, anytime I needed to go somewhere for a product for a sponsored post, he would go find it himself or get me into one of the warehouse clubs he belonged to help me pick it up.
He has been in ill health for a while, especially in the last year since he broke his hip last March of 2021. My mother went to Florida in January and he wanted to stay up in NY. I would go and see him once a week and he told me he wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t feel his best. He was 84 and he never thought he would last that long. His father had passed away at 69 and his grandfather had passed away when his dad was 12.
My father was born in Hartford, CT in August of 1937 to Solon and Rosalind Johnson. A few years later his brother Bob was born, followed by his sister Lois in 1946. He was a character even then, making up some crazy characters to terrorize my aunt like the Ronzoni Monster (he rigged a rope to rub against the attic railing to sound like a gorilla was up there). One time he dressed up his mother’s dressmaker dummy and threw it down the stairs to scare my grandmother. Another time, one of the cats who lived around the house ate some frosting off a cake and he and my uncle quickly ate the rest of the cake so the cat wouldn’t get in trouble.
He was proud to be a Jew and I know he was upset that he couldn’t make it to Israel with us to celebrate my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah and he was not well enough to attend my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah last June (he had broken his hip 3 months before).
He had some kind moments also. He liked my mother-in-law and worried when she was sick last year (not that he would express this to us, but he expressed it to his sister).
And he was the kind of person you call in a crisis, because he usually knew what to do. Like when something broke in our apartment or there was something wrong with the car.
Growing up with him wasn’t easy. I won’t go into all of that, but I have gotten over a lot of things. As I got older and got married and had kids of my own, we had a different relationship. Did you know he was actually amazing with babies? He loved to be the baby holder at family events. Who would have thought?
And when I was pregnant in 2010, with my youngest child, he met me at every doctor’s appointment to take care of my middle child, who was 2 then.
He would approved of his funeral. The Honor Guard came and draped his casket with an American Flag. They played Taps, they honored him. He was proud of his 5 years in the US Army. They presented my mother with the flag and wished her condolences.
His sister and her husband, and my cousins were there. He had a good relationship with her and we sat around the day before and after the funeral and told a lot of stories. We laughed and we exchanged a lot of memories. I am grateful that I got to spend time with them, even in such a sad occasion. We watched home movies from the 80’s – boy the VHS quality degrades and looked through lots of photos.
My dad was the master of the 1 minute phone conversations and I used to talk to him all the time. I think that is what I’ll miss the most. Our conversations and his voice. For such a gruff person, he had a soothing voice. I know that I still have so many questions about why he was the way he was. But most likely I won’t ever get those answers, but I’ll still miss him.
Rest in peace, Dad. I know you are drinking a Diet Coke and watching an WW2 Documentary.
His Chicken Soup
How to Make a Turkey Like Steve Johnson