The important things

By Billie Johnson

I began writing the gist of this column last fall, but it never came to fruition.  It’s apropos that I finish it on Day 1 of 2015.

Of the many out there, I enjoyed my personal “year in review” on Facebook.  My most “liked” photo was taken in August of 1952 on Pike’s Lake in northern Wisconsin.  It shows my mom at age 10 in a picturesque, perfect-form swan dive off of a rickety dock and makeshift diving board. Three other kids are waiting on the 10-foot platform behind her. I’m sure it was a gorgeous summer day on the precipice of fall, but the black and white photograph leaves it to my imagination.  A LIFE Magazine photographer was vacationing at a neighboring cabin and happened to capture the shot.

The picture is framed and hangs in the center of my house. It’s what I see when I leave my bedroom in the morning as I trip over the dogs and the new cat Phil (who’s doing great, by the way) en route to the coffee. Whether I consciously take in the sight of my free and flying ten year old mom and the other kids or only give them a glance, my mind sees them daily. Everyone in that photograph is now dead.

Right across from Mom’s swan dive in my narrow hallway is another purposeful centerpiece of my home. It’s an 8×10 print by Brian Andreas which reads, “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”

This is starting to sound like the Robin Williams’ trophy case scene in Dead Poet’s Society.  That is the scene where he introduces the students to the Walt Whitman poem, “O Captain, My Captain.” Robin’s character Mr. Keating asks the male students to “peruse some of the faces from the past” in the black and white pictures enshrined in the trophy case. He tells them that those faces were once as young and vibrant as them, but now they are “fertilizing daffodils.”

Robin Williams’ death this year made me cry. Hard and often. His character in that movie gave a monologue about those old photographs that rings in my ears as poignantly as any parental advice ever did.  “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?  Seize the day, Boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

That’s pretty much the pep talk I give myself every New Year’s Day.

On this New Year’s Day, what have I done with my time so far? I set my sights on quality writing over coffee, some quiet to send New Year’s letters—because Christmas cards didn’t happen, and a hunt for endorphins in the snowy sunshine.  This is hardly the quality I’d hoped for. The house has hardly been quiet, and endorphins continue to elude me. Exercise has to be more important in 2015 than it has in 2014.

Nope, I’ve spent the first morning of the new year trying to unlock the door to my girlfriend’s sons’ bedroom. One of the little twerps locked it on our way to a New Years Eve party. We discovered it at 10:30pm. She had to take a shuttle to Salt Lake at 6am for her grandmother’s memorial service in Texas and their dad has plans for the day before he picks them up this evening.  (Although I’m beyond positive he would come grab the kids in an instant if I needed him to.)

So, what’s the big deal if they can’t get into their room for a day? All of their Christmas toys are in there to entertain them and facilitate the quiet, and that’s where their clean underwear is. If I’m in charge of getting them ready to go to their dad’s, clean underwear is important!

I turned to Facebook. My friends sent YouTube videos, other tips, and an uncle’s phone number who’s a retired locksmith. Do you think he’d come over on New Year’s Day and not charge more than what  the Christmas toys are worth?  By golly, he did.  He made us important for an hour on his first day of 2015. Bless him. His fee was more than reasonable, but seemingly astronomical to the little door-lockers who’ve been silent since.

We’ve got clean underwear and a bit o’ quiet, and that is important and enough for now while I wonder what will bubble to the forefront of 2015’s other important things.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at www.CowSuitSaturday.com.