The contents of the following biographical sketch were gathered from the sisters and brothers of the late Charles Robert Johnson: Edward Johnson, Geraldine Johnson, Octavia Hernandez, Glenn Johnson and Juanita Mendez. It is a composite of all of the information we have, the memories of what we experienced and what we've been told. It has been written by Dr. Juanita Johnson Mendez.
In the early morning hours of Thursday, August 11, 1932 a beautiful baby boy came into the world at 1:55am. He was born to R. Henry and Pearl Clanton Johnson at Sharon Hospital in Sharon, Connecticut with Dr. Howard Hansell attending his birth. Although he was born in the state of Connecticut the family home was in a small rural community in New York state called South Amenia. Seventeen months earlier his older brother, Edward, had been born at the same hospital.
It's not surprising to learn that our father sold his much loved motorcycle, an Indian, in order to have sufficient funds for the birth of this new baby. The hospital bill and other expenses related to the birth had to be met and our father was not only kind, but also responsible, so when it came down to it, he sold the machine that he had loved to ride. In fact he had used it in his courtship with our mother several years earlier.
A regal name was chosen for this baby, Charles Robert Johnson. Our mother was heard to make reference to both of her young sons as kings: "King Edward and King Charles". Charles Johnson had been the name of a deceased first cousin of our father. Sadly he too had died at the age of twenty some years before. Upon hearing the choice of names the former Charles' mother, Aunt Ada, held the new mother's hand and said to her: "I hope you have better luck with your Charles Johnson than I had with mine." It's hard to believe that both Charles Johnsons departed this world before reaching the age of twenty-one. Robert was the our father's first name, hence, Charles Robert Johnson.
There are two stories regarding how he became known as Buddy in the family circle. The consistent part is that the name was given to him by his older brother Ed and both stories have to do with Ed's misunderstanding of words as he heard them. Some people who owned a local car dealership, Kline's Ford., had a son named Buddy Kline. When almost two year old Ed heard his mother say: "the baby's crying" he mistook what she said for "Buddy Kline". There was probably laughter and the Buddy part stuck.
The second version of how Charles became known as Buddy in the family had to do with some thought about calling him Bobby for his middle name, Robert. Again, Ed's attempt at saying Bobby came out as Buddy.
The consistent thing about his nickname within the family is that he was known as Buddy for his entire life and to this day it is somewhat difficult for his siblings and close family friends to refer to him as Charles or anything but Bud or Buddy. I will refer to him as Charles or Charlie however, throughout this biographic sketch.
The baby was brought home to a rather small single family home past the Ten Mile River, on the edge of farm property where his father and grandfather worked. At some point the family moved across the road and up the hill a ways to a second home near that same property. Many family members were there to dote over baby Charles and they did. His grandparents, Robert Henry Johnson Sr. and his wife, Octavia, lived nearby with two of his father's six sisters still living at home. His grandfather could be seen any day driving a team of horses around the farm property. His great grand parents lived not too far away, near the Connecticut state line. The small saltbox edifice that was their home, was tended by our gentle, beautiful, corn cob pipe smoking great grandmother, Ellen Dixon Johnson. Her husband and our great grandfather, Joseph Page Johnson, brought the family to this rural area around the turn of the last century. It seems that he brought great competence and skills from their family home in New Kent County in Virginia. The family trapped and ate game as regular fare. It seems that fruit trees and grapes were in abundance around the family home at that time as well.
It would be hard to imagine that there were any two children closer than Charles and his older brother, Ed. If Charlie were upset or afraid he probably went to his brother Ed first for comfort. They slept in the same room right up until the time that they left home as young adults. As little boys they even shared their imaginary lives. Their imaginary playmates were named "Geedie and Hoddis" and they were referred to as "those guys" and easily woven into the fabric of their rich imaginary play. At bedtime they played a game of pretend during which one of them would name the most desired thing from a local store, often candies or something sweet, while the other one responded with grand "oohs and aahs". From time to time our uncle came from New York City, where he held a job as a supplier of candy to stores. Those were the rare times that they actually got to eat the "goodies" they dreamed about.
There were many chores to be done and Charlie, along with brother Ed, had their share. The family had chickens and pigs and Charlie was charged with feeding them and collecting eggs on a regular basis. There were responsibilities at the nearby Huckleberry Patch as well. Charles took part in the picking of huckleberries but there are reports that he consumed as much as he kept in his pail. Our mother was known to comment jokingly about how blue his tongue was at the end of one of those occasions.
Clearly Ed and Charlie shared everything, from sleds and ice skates to a bicycle, which they managed to ride together as if they were one person, with each powering one pedal.
Charles was a very strong ice skater, seemingly having taken that talent from our father. He also became a strong swimmer which became evident as he efficiently swam from a boat to an area of the pond where he thought his younger brother Glenn might have been in trouble in the water. All was well but Charlie's concern and abilities were evident.
Like all of us in the family there are stories about Charlie misbehaving here and there. Charlie was very meticulous about his clothes and his manner of dress as he reached his teens. Early on in his teen years a story was told by some of the other boys to a shop owner that suggested that Charlie must have been stealing baseball hats from his store. After all, he always looked so neat and his caps were always in pristine condition. Upon hearing this, Mr. Keaver chastised the other boys for even suggesting that Charlie would do such a thing. "Oh no! Oh no! Not that boy". Now the question remains, did Charlie really "lift" a new hat from the wooden tree in Mr. Keaver's store, leaving his old hat behind? Surely he might have, but who knows for sure? Charlie seemed to have a guardian angel watching over him on many occasions.
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Although big brother Ed began his school career in a One Room Schoolhouse in South Amenia Charles didn't start school until there had been a move to Mabbetsville, NY. One room schoolhouses were common during the 1930's when Charles started school and his first two schools fit that category. At the age of six Charles began first grade and attended second grade in the Mabbetsville School under the tutelage of Miss Sacket. Our family moved to Oak Summit and there Charles attended third and fourth grades in another One Room Schoolhouse. Miss Jendricks was the teacher. She became Mrs. Rogers after her marriage, but the children, including Charles, pronounced it "Ms. Ogers". Grades 5 through 11 followed in the Millbrook Schools after the Oak Summit School closed.
There is a story about Charles having to repeat 5th grade. There was but one teacher in the One Room Schoolhouses and the pupils had to be organized into small groups. There were many occasions for them to function independently. Our mother, who was very vigilant about our schooling, had taken note of the fact that Charles was often seen playing outside on a Jungle Gym and climbing some low lying trees in the Mabbetsville school yard. When he began to attend the upper grades our parents saw what they perceived as some gaps in his learning, perhaps having resulted from some earlier inattention, so it was by consensus that Charlie spent a second year in 5th grade. One might have thought that he would have seen this as a failure but our parents and the family in general framed it differently. His love for school seemed to take root during that second year and he became known as a good student who was serious and studied hard. Our sister Gerry was there to witness that first hand since they were in the same class as a result of this fifth grade repeat.
Charlie's special gifts in the performing arts became apparent throughout his years in the Millbrook schools. His exceptional singing voice emerged as did his ability to play the trumpet. He was known for his participation in the chorus and the band and Mr. Chapman, the music director, nurtured his talents with great enthusiasm. When a local girl's college needed a male student for a significant part in a play, Charles was chosen by Mr. Chapman for that role in Young Man With a Horn. Charles regularly played taps in the Tribute Garden leaving many to comment about how clear and heart wrenching his trumpet sounded from under the bridge as his notes seemed to reach up sharply to the heavens.
As Charlie continued to gain confidence and self assuredness throughout his teen years he also grew rather dramatically into manhood. There was always something very mature about his body build and his general being. The rather early appearance of hair on his face, especially a well shaped mustache, added to that. He was sometimes mistaken for someone older, especially as he played sports on high school teams. After being hired to caddie on the golf course he took a part time job at the Magnesium Plant where our father worked when he was seventeen or eighteen years old. The other men who worked there spoke to his maturity in their stories to our father about Charlie's ability to fire a furnace by himself and manage other tasks at the plant.
He wanted to attend college and to become a college athlete. Millbrook High School was a small school at the time and their football program was essentially a modified program, fielding only six men on a team. Charlie became aware that the colleges were not going to recruit him from a program of that size so in his attempt to seek out a better opportunity for a college scholarship he transferred to Arlington High School for his senior year. Despite the fact that he was allowed only to practice with the team and participate in intramural games because of the rules surrounding his transfer, he attracted the attention of a few colleges and ultimately accepted an offer from Howard University. There he played football for a first semester in the fall of 1951, but his scholarship was not a full scholarship and didn't cover his continuing expenses into the Spring. Without the financial support Charlie left and returned to Millbrook to make plans for entering the Army.
In the fall of 1952 Charles left Millbrook to go to Camp Breckinridge Kentucky where he underwent Basic Training. He was to return home only twice before leaving for the Far East, once following Basic Training and his final visit home in March 1953. On June 12, 1953 Charles was killed in action on Outpost Harry in Korea. His body was returned to Millbrook in August of 1953 where the entire village shut down their businesses during the time of his military funeral. Having to listen to someone else playing taps over him at his funeral at the end of his life was especially difficult on those of us who knew him. Our memories of hearing him play those same notes were still very fresh.