Great Lovers I have Known—Craig Johnson
Craig Johnson and I had served together in the army, but he was discharged one year before I was. We had always planned to live together as soon as I got out, which we did. We lived in the basement of an elderly couple’s home in very cramped quarters, but we didn’t need much and the rent was definitely right at $25 each a month for the four of us. One roommate, Alma _____ was Craig’s friend from Mesa. We didn’t see a great deal of him, because he was engaged and spent most of his free time with his fiancée. Our other roommate, Paul _____, I have described in a previous essay.
Craig was the most humble, soft-spoken, mild-mannered man I think I have ever known. The longer I get to know people, generally, the more I become acquainted with, not only their strengths, but their weaknesses. But the longer I knew Craig, the more I became convinced that he had none. In our theology, when a person becomes perfect he is translated, more or less like the prophet Elijah, who was taken up by a chariot into heaven. It just seemed to me almost unfair that someone as kind and considerate as Craig would be subjected to the same sort of trials and abuse as the rest of us. I somehow expected that someone like Craig, who never lost his temper, who seemed always in perfect control of himself, deserved every bit as much as Elijah to be taken up. Of course, that was before I was married and had children and came to realize that someone can be perfectly mild-mannered when he has only himself to be responsible for, but that mild manner can be severely tested when dealing with a teen-ager that everyone assumes you should have some, at least, responsibility for. At any rate, it was a bit of a challenge to one’s faith, or something like that, to see someone so perfect still there with the rest of us. All that changed in one very revealing incident.
Craig was driving with Paul and me in the car down 7th East in Provo. We hit 5th North where there is a 4-way stop, but a rather unusual one, because one of the streets is not properly a street at all but an entrance road into an apartment complex. We were following a girl in her late teens or early twenties when she stopped at the stop sign in front of us. I don’t know whether it was the unusual nature of the 4-way stop or whether she simply wasn’t paying attention, but for whatever reason, when it was her turn to pull into the intersection she just sat there until finally the driver next in line pulled out.
Quick as a flash, Craig jumped out of our car, threw his fist up into the air and yelled, (before then I had never heard him raise his voice, I didn’t even know that he could yell). At any rate he yelled out in an angry tone of voice, “Lady, you move that car, and you better be quick about it, or I’m coming up there and move it for you!”
Having said that, he jumped back into the car, because the lady had pulled her car into the intersection before he had even finished with his threat. Paul and I sat there with our mouths open.
“Some people just don’t pay attention to what they’re doing when they’re driving,” Craig said by way of self justification. For my part, I realized that there was at least something that Craig could learn before he was taken up like Elijah.
Every week Craig and I would sit down, usually about Tuesday and begin stewing over the question of who to ask out for the week-end. Since we were both approaching 30 we felt that is was more or less obligatory for us to have dates for both Friday and Sat. and possibly one for a fireside on Sunday. Paul, as mentioned in a previous essay, never seemed to worry about it until a few minutes before the date and Alma, our other roommate, was engaged. Craig and I would banter names back and forth hoping to get suggestions and even encouragement. For my part, if I had spent the time studying that I spent worrying about and actually getting dates, I would probably have my PhD and possibly even a Nobel Prize by now. Craig’s task, while almost as bad, was never quite as bad, because on most week-ends, a girl would ask him out, usually to a church dance. So after a few weeks when he said, “who could I ask out this week-end?” I responded with, “Why don’t you ask one of the girls on the ballroom dance team? They are all certainly very cute, and they also all seem to like you.”
“They are cute,” he acknowledged, “but they just don’t seem to be my type. They lack something that is really important to me.” He never seemed to be able to pin-point exactly what that “something” was, indeed, I’m not certain he even knew himself.
The week after the events I recorded in “Paul”, I decided I needed to do something to make amends as best I could with Jill Hunter, largely, because, contrary to what I had told Paul, I really was still hopeful that something “would work out” between us. I decided that the best plan would be to take Craig with me to their weekly sing-a-long, so that she could see that I also associated with “better quality folk”. So I asked Craig if he would be willing to go along with me and maybe, if the occasion arose, put in a good word in my behalf. He said that he would be glad to, so off we went.
Jill greeted me warmly, as she always did, and seeing that I had brought someone with me asked me who he was. I responded, “This is my roommate, Craig Johnson. He like Paul is on the ball-room dance team, but he’s nicer.” I quickly added.
“How could he not be?” she said laughing.
Well we had a great time. We began by introducing ourselves and then moved over to the piano where we began the customary sing-a-long, with Jill playing. Craig, of course, shined. He was not only a remarkable dancer; he was also a great singer with a very mellow, appealing baritone voice. We had sung about 4 or 5 songs when Jill turned the playing over to one of her roommates and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later, one of Jill’s roommates went into the kitchen to answer the phone and came out saying, “Is there a Craig Johnson here?” Craig said that it was him. “You’re wanted on the phone, it’s in the kitchen,” the roommate continued. Craig disappeared into the kitchen and the rest of us continued with the sing-a-long. As we did so, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who on earth could have called Craig. I didn’t know that we told anyone that we were coming.” Then it occurred to me that it was probably Paul, who knew where we were going. After a few minutes Craig returned and a few minutes later Jill came out with the customary cookies. We sang a few more songs and I said we needed to go.
“Already?” Jill said in a disappointed voice, “You just got here.” I made some excuse. The truth was, I was really curious to know what was so important that Paul would call us at Jill’s. The only reason I could think of was that he felt obligated to warn Craig to keep a close eye on the hatchet and if Jill started to move in that direction to make a very hasty exit.
“What did Paul want?” I asked after we had left the house.
“It wasn’t Paul.” Craig said quietly.
“It wasn’t Paul? Who else knew we were at Jill’s?”
“It was Jill.”
“Jill! I don’t understand. If she wanted to talk to you why didn’t she just do it there?”
“Well, I hope you don’t mind, but you did say that you were all over her. She went next door to use the phone so she could ask me to her ward dance without you hearing. Like I said, since you had told me that you were over her anyway, I agreed to go. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all”, I said very sincerely, because I realized with that, that I was indeed “over Jill”. It was like a large weight had been lifted from my back.
Craig went with Jill to the dance, but I am afraid that honesty forces me to tell something else about Craig. Of course, his was a weakness that all of us must confess up to. Well, not really “all of us”, because of course, there are some of us who have never been asked out by a girl, but most of us have and when we are, we are generally faced with the challenge that courtesy requires that we reciprocate. Now, if my memory serves me correctly, I personally failed to reciprocate only twice—once in the 9th grade and once when I was a senior—but the one when I was a senior shouldn’t really count because the girl was from out of town and I didn’t know her phone number—of course, someone could argue that I could have—maybe, even should have, gotten her phone number, but that is merely being nitpicky. I will have to admit that if looked at from a percentage standpoint, I still am in no great position to criticize having been asked out (again, if my memory serves me correctly) only 4 or five times altogether, so obviously, I am not being severely critical of Craig, but only somewhat critical when I point out, that I don’t think he reciprocated by asking out all the girls who asked him out. Naturally, he knew he was supposed to, and, speaking in his favor, I am bound to say that I think he always intended to and always planned to and always said he wanted to, but I think time just got away from him and he felt, after several weeks, embarrassed and simply let it slide. Of course, when a fellow is being asked out almost every weekend, sometimes it is tough to reciprocate as etiquette requires and still have a dating life of your own—or, at least, it seems to me that could possibly be a legitimate excuse—unfortunately, I wouldn’t know. I happen to mention all this, not because I wish to shatter anyone’s image of Craig, but just to point out that I don’t think he ever asked Jill out again after their first date. Of course, he might have taken her to a school assembly or met her on campus for lunch, which I would not know about and I’m not sure that would really count as reciprocating anyway.
Well, I digress. What happened next—or, at least, what continued to happen is that Craig and I would hem and haw and stew every weekend about who we should ask out. Of course, I had to hem and haw and stew a great deal more because, as pointed out above, I usually had to fill two weekend nights with dates, and he had to fill only one—in fact, if he had always reciprocated, he would not have needed to hem and haw at stew hardly at all.
At the start of the second semester we went to church (we always went to church during the first semester too, but I am about to describe what happened the first Sunday of the second semester). During Church it was announced that a new girl had moved into the ward who wanted to form a church choir and that those wishing to sing in said choir should stay after church for practice. Well, both Craig and I did.
After we got home from choir practice, Craig began to wax eloquent on how attractive and commendable in every other way he could think of the choir director was. He said, “Merrill, I wonder if she would go out with me, if I asked her.” I said, “sure”. Which I honestly believed but it puzzled me a great deal, because to my way of thinking she was not all that attractive. In fact, I was pretty sure that she would even go out with me if I asked her. In order to understand all this I think an explanation is in order. It will help with the explanation I mention that her name is “Barbara”. I don’t remember her last name—I think it might have been “Johnson” but possibly could have been something else. I hope that I am not giving too much away when I state that I know for a fact that it is “Johnson” now.
The attractiveness issue requires an explanation. At BYU at that time the girls wanted, for the most part, at least, to be considered attractive and the best way to be obviously attractive was to look like someone. Now the “someone” that it was most popular to look like at that time was Julie Andrews. The “Sound of Music” was the most popular movie and all the girls who could wanted to look as much like Julie Andrews as possible—and, I must say right off, that some of them were quite good at it—of course, perfect candor forces me to admit that many were not. Naturally, for most, looking like Julie Andrews was simply not in the cards. In that case, they would try to look like Audrey Hepburn, or Rita Hayworth or even Mary Tyler Moore or someone like that. Well, the girls that Craig normally dated, especially, the ones on the ballroom dance team that asked him out all looked like one of those movie stars. The problem, it seemed to me, was that Barbara didn’t look like any of them—or at least, if she did look like a movie star, I missed that movie—and being not very imaginative (i.e. always taking my dates to movies) and being required, as described above, to go on two dates a week—I didn’t miss many.
There were, however, two things about Barbara that I think strongly attracted Craig. First, she had perfect, incredibly perfect posture—even, unlike Janet Bush (if you remember her from an earlier essay)—when she sat down, and I suspect, that posture is always important to a dancer. And second, she had the most winning smile. Of course, all the girls smiled at least occasionally, when they thought circumstances required it, but with Barbara it was spontaneous and natural and almost constant.
To make a long story short (it really wasn’t all that long anyway), Craig got his date the very next weekend. After that he simply turned down all the other girls and before you knew it (this is a trite expression that I felt obligated to use—I knew it long before “before you knew it”) they were engaged. And it wasn’t too much longer after that that they were married.
Several years later, after I was married, Craig and Barbara and several children happened to be coming through Salt Lake and asked if they could stay with us. At the time we had no children (which means that it was very soon after I was married), and had one of those couches that fold into a bed so we were glad to have them. I mention this because Craig was, if possible, even more mild-mannered and affable than before and Barbara more smiley, which at the time did not surprise, or even impress me. It was only after I had a few children of my own that I realized what a remarkable achievement that was.
In my minds eye, I can see Craig driving somewhere in Arizona, behind a rather inattentive driver who comes to a 4-way stop and, for whatever reason, fails to move forward when it is his turn. I can see Craig pushing open his car door, throwing his fist into the air, and almost yelling when he suddenly remembers that Barbara and some of the kids are in the car. Pulling his arm down, I can see him rather quietly climbing back into the car and rather sheepishly saying, “I felt a need to stretch”. I can see Barbara flashing that wonderful encouraging smile of hers, quietly laying her had on his knee and saying softly, “its ok. It bothered me too.”