Tag Archives: memories

The Johnsons

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

Lord Acton Said it Best

August 14, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 60-Plus.

I’ve never owned a video camera of any kind. Okay, so I’ve just been reminded that my cell phone gizmo has such a device, but having never used it I still qualify as a video virgin.

Sony introduced the first consumer camcorder in 1983, the year my youngest child was born. This made our family a prime target for being an early adapter in what became something of a video mania. Almost overnight a populist paparazzi were born where every dad (Why was it always the dads?) at every kindergarten holiday program was armed with a cinder-block-sized camera that instantly made him some kind of Fellini wanna-be.

I refused to join the Betamax Age because my makeup is one where I want to remember things the way I want to remember things—not necessarily how they actually happened.

Ample video of my kids’ childhood years exists from the cameras of extended family members, and a couple of clan get-togethers have been marred when some idiot got the bright idea that we should all watch old videos together. I’m sure any good shrink would have a field day getting inside my head, but the experience of viewing those picnics and parties and plays unfold on screen was…well, “disturbing” is not at all too powerful a word.

It’s not that I am a dispassionate stoic. For whatever weird reason, being confronted with a filmed retelling of events rearranges my mental furniture in an unsettling, almost visceral way.

That tyranny of memory has only grown over the years, and we’ve all witnessed the rise of the camera-obsessed malady I’ll call the Fear of Missing Out Syndrome. In a sickness typified by living vicariously through a viewfinder, it’s as if film, and only film, is capable of proving, even to ourselves, the existential reality of a person, place, or thing.

“I saw Pope Francis!” “I saw President Obama!” “I saw Garth Brooks!” people exclaim.

No, you didn’t. You saw only mere pixels while struggling to center a celebrity’s image on your camera. You had exactly the same experience I had when I saw almost identical footage on CNN or the local news, except that my experience was better in that it was rendered by seasoned videographers on professional equipment. You were there, but you weren’t there.

Just check out the June 15 Sports Illustrated cover online. Get my point?

Our society has become one of dim imaginations reflected in the even dimmer glows of electronic gadgets.

As some dude named Lord Acton once claimed, “History is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul.” I kinda dig that Lord Acton guy, even if his name sounds like a super-classy moniker for a faux-British-bad-guy rassler on WWE.

At least according to his lordship, I don’t have an almost pathological relationship with memory. I have an illuminated soul.

GrandpaChron1

Speak, Memory

January 19, 2015 by

I’ve written before about Omaha not being a city of six degrees of separation, but instead being one
of maybe two or three degrees at most. I found out once again how true that was in the steamy confines of a local swimming pool.

A recent Saturday morning found me up at Monroe Middle School working on a story about legendary swimming instructor Rose Baker. She’s been teaching for over half a century and I knew that finding a second-generation parent would be important for that piece, meaning that I was looking for a young parent who was once taught by Baker and was now having his or her kids learn from the same seasoned pro.

It was perhaps no huge surprise to find two such parents at the pool that day. The two degrees of separation here was the fact that both happened to be high school classmates of my eldest son, Eric, the father of my grandkids, Easton (5) and Barrett (3).

The last time I saw Raye Sullivan (nee Bowen), she was probably in a cheerleader get-up across the parking lot at Benson High School. Now she has four kids of her own. Brian Neu was there as well. He was an inner-circle member of the group of kids my son hung out with.

Memory is a funny thing. I tend to remember my kids’ now-adult friends as specimens preserved in a deep freeze. Neu, for example, will forever be a carefree 16-year-old. He will forever be tucked away in my noggin’ as part of the gang of teen guys whose thirst for playful adventures (misadventures?) is now the stuff of family legend.

But Neu isn’t 16 any more. He is now 33. He has a wife and two daughters. He’s trusted to be an electrician, fiddling around with all kinds of dangerous juice. He has a mortgage. He thinks about bills and college for the kids. He’s even probably somewhere along the way learned to pick up his room and put the milk back in the fridge.

That’s the funny thing about memory. It frames how we see and process the world around us, but it is rarely accurate in any true sense and can sometimes be decades out of date, leaving in this case gaping holes in my brain’s Brian and Raye data files.

All of which takes me back to my own grandkids. They are flesh and blood only when we are together in the here and now. The moment we separate they are, like it or not, nothing more than an amalgam of memories, nothing more than electrical impulses ricocheting around in my unreliable noodle.

Which just doesn’t seem fair at all.

I want them to have a corporeal existence outside of and independent of the artificial constructs suggested by my metaphysical meanderings. I don’t want to bank on the often iffy faculty of memory as the only tool which serves to define my grandkids.

I want them to be more. I want them to be real.

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Single Parent: Skip the 
Holiday Hoopla

December 17, 2013 by
Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

As kids, we got to live the fantasy. But now, as adults, it’s up to us to create the fantasy of the man in the red suit and the wonderment of one’s faith during the holiday.

Being a single parent adds a unique, stressful, and pressure-filled layer all its own. Whether we want to make up for the fact that it’s only one adult doing all of the traditions, decorating, and planning to create those once in a lifetime memories, or even creating a substitute holiday because the kids won’t be there for the actual day—it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get through the season.

Last year, I knocked it out of the park when it came to Christmas. We went to church Christmas Eve, had the family over for our traditional spaghetti dinner, and I bought everything on my children’s Christmas lists. And guess what? The day after Christmas, I still felt a little disappointed, like something was missing. And might I add, so did my kids. This actually got me angry, but then I had a revelation. Why did I kill myself to do all of these things if it goes unnoticed and unappreciated?

I began to take notice of what did stand out to my kids, and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the most expensive item they got Christmas morning, but my homemade coupons for extra privileges, the scavenger hunt with cheap items that Grandma does every year, and the cash in the bottom of their stockings. Could it be that the most important and memorable things about the holidays were the heartfelt and thoughtful touches? Lesson learned.

I am relieved that the holidays can be just as special without all the hoopla.