Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday's Child - The First and the Second Arthur Theodore Johnson

My grandpa was the second Arthur Theodore Johnson in the family. He was born a few months too late to meet his older brother, the first Arthur, but nevertheless, he was there. It's possible his mother was aware of his presence but there is no way of telling.

It was a spring day in the countryside near McPherson, Kansas and my great grandparents, John and Ida Johnson, were on their way into town with their young family. The date was May 14, 1889. As Arthur 2 rested in his mother's womb, maybe feeling his two-year-old brother Emil pressing against him from their mother's lap, Arthur 1 ventured toward the back of the wagon. Four-year-old boys are curious and can get in trouble when they find themselves with a few minutes of time behind their parents' backs.
I have no way of knowing what alerted their parents to the tragedy. The back gate of the wagon must have made some noise when it flew open but they stopped the wagon and looked behind them to see their precious firstborn son lying in the dust of the road. He was gone before they could get to him. The fall from the wagon had broken his neck.
The emotions that surrounded that little piece of road had to have been strong. My great grandparents probably wailed with their grief as little Emil stood by taking it all in. He was too young to realize that his life had changed forever in the seconds after the gate opened. That one event threw him into his brother's place as "the oldest child"; cemented it in his mind by the horror of the scene, and left a scar that would stay with him for the next 70 years. Did the 2nd little Arthur feel the grief of his mother as she cried for her son?
The scene was worse than anything I can imagine and yet it would get worse before too many minutes. The wagon stood in front of a neighbor's farm and soon that family had entered the picture. The neighbor proceeded to berate the grieving father for being so careless with his child. How could he leave his small son in such a dangerous place? He should have known this would happen! Hurtful words saturated the heavy air and did nothing for the family’s grief and, never forgotten, would be repeated even 3 generations later. I’ve been told that John never fully recovered from those words. The first little Arthur was carried to the same neighbor’s farm until arrangements could be made for a funeral. A simple trip to town had turned several lives upside-down.

First born son, Arthur, was buried in the cemetery behind the Swedish Lutheran Church outside of McPherson, Kansas. We aren’t sure where because there is no longer a stone. Seven months later my grandfather, and the first Arthur’s namesake, was born on December 4, 1889.

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