Johnson hits century mark

Published 9:12 pm Monday, August 9, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
Almer Johnson's eyes are the eyes of an old man. They are the eyes that have seen the Great Depression, two world wars, and the single largest act of terrorism ever committed in this country.
Yet those eyes light up and a smile beams from Johnson's face when he sees a family member. Soon he will see family members by the dozen when his 100th birthday is celebrated Saturday.
Johnson will turn 100 Thursday.
Almer Johnson grew up near Atmore, one of seven brothers and sisters. Growing up in the hardscrabble times of the early 20th century in south Alabama, Johnson made his way in the demanding world of hauling trees for the pulp paper mills in Mobile and Cantonment, Fla.
"He started when he was sixteen," said his wife Lorraine Johnson. "The man who owned the company and the truck drove him to work, and he drove back that night. From then on, he worked, pulpwooding."
It was hard work, Johnson spending whole days in the physically intensive labor to earn a living for his family. "The money wasn't good back then, you know," Lorraine Johnson said.
Eventually, Johnson started his own business hauling pulpwood, driving the bobtails, as the family called them. He worked until 1994, when he retired at the age of 90.
Now, at 99, he shares a small home north of Atmore with his second wife.
The home's front room, with its lace curtains hanging from the windows and an air conditioner humming in the corner, is full. Pictures in frames, stacked three and four deep decorated the side tables and curio tables, dozens of faces looking back into the room.
There's a sports trophy from 1975 in a dusty corner, the television plays loudly for ears where age has turned down the volume of life. It's the living room of a man who is proud of his large family.
Almer Johnson was the youngest of seven siblings. He is the only surviving member of that family. His first wife, Lillie Snell passed away, and three weeks later, he lost a daughter. The price for a long life, Almer Johnson has outlived three of his children.
Yet, longevity must be in the genes for this family, however. One of Almer Johnson's sisters lived to be 114, tending her garden the whole time.
Those genes for long life have surely passed on to a few of his many children and grandchildren. Johnson fathered 12 children in all, and now the family has grown to include countless grand and great grandchildren.
His nieces Yvonne Grissett and Lillie Johnson are in the process of gathering the extended family together to celebrate this milestone birthday. The family plans to gather Saturday at the Atmore Family Life Center at 5 p.m.

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