Not his favorite nickname, but the one that stuck.
I guess when your Birthday is in June and you’re the smallest of six brothers, always in their shadow, or under foot, then the nickname Junebug seems to stick. Like the ones on the grill of your car.
When you grow up on a farm, no matter what kind it is, there’s always lots of hard work to be done. Hard physical laborious work. So it never seemed strange or odd to me growing up in a family of all boys. Jake the oldest, was already planning his first home on one the 5 acre parcels, promised to us all. Six years my elder, we only crossed paths doing chores or other farm stuff anymore.
Josh and Jedediah were off to their third year at Michigan State. Jerry chose Seminary as his escape. Jess and I the closest, only one grade apart, he was the youngest and only brother that called me by my real name. He would be left with most of the chores. I was about to graduate this June, and believe me I couldn’t wait to get out of the black dirt and sand of Southwestern Michigan come fall.
I was going to Chicago to become a famous artist. My studies at the Art Institute couldn’t come fast enough. Leaving my brother Jess would be the hardest thing ever. I felt a twinge of guilt. Especially since he would be the last Johnson boy standing, so to speak. I’m sure he didn’t have a clue. But he’d find out after I was gone. They’d all find out.
My parents, hard working Asparagus Farmers from Southern Michigan, like many others, had inherited a farm from Grandpa Jake. Seems like my Pa had no other choice but to become a farmer. My three oldest brothers didn’t fall to far from the tree.
Ma was full of songs and color and the grade school Art teacher. She lead the choir on Sundays at the Methodist Church in town. I guess I take after her. Anyways I got her gift of song, her green eyes and curly blonde hair. Guess I also got her height. Everybody towers over us but we don’t care. I got a hard shell. You know like a Beetle.
My mom’s favorite group, the Beatles. It was the Summer of Love the year I was born. 1967. “All You Need is Love” written and recorded in June was the #1 single for three weeks. Ma sang it all the time.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. There's nothing you can do that can't be done. Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game It's easy. There's nothing you can make that can't be made. No one you can save that can't be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time - It's easy.All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, love is all you need. Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, love is all you need. There's nothing you can know that isn't known. Nothing you can see that isn't shown.Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be. It's easy. All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, love is all you need. All you need is love (all together now) All you need is love (everybody) All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
It seems this was the song she sang while picking Asparagus, baking pies, or hanging laundry out on the line. It's became my mantra. It’s easy…nothing you can do but learn to be you. All with a little love.
It’s true I was surrounded by love. My parents seemed to have had it. My older brothers certainly weren’t shy about finding it. Even the farm hands seemed to be in on it. Maybe it was something in the grass. Or better I say, the Asparagus.
I really hadn’t thought about it. Ma had sent me down to the bunk house after school to flip mattresses and open windows. It was closed up all winter. It was usually open by now but this spring was kind of hard on the grass, too much rain. We were behind. Leaving the other regularly scheduled chores for late.
“The interns are due today.” Ma said as she handed me a stack of sheets and towels and a shopping bag with the essentials, then shooed me out the back door. Her French Canadian accent still heavy. “It’s easy.”
We both caught it and laughed.
Joss’ Truck was in the driveway when I came back up the hill. The spunk house, as all my brother’s called it, was readied in no time. About fifty steps down the hill from the main house my grandfather had positioned a small two bed room cabin. It had a wonderful view of the pond from the front porch and was surrounded by apple trees.
Those girls had been two tidy interns last summer, I didn't have to spend a lot of time cleaning. I plugged in the refrigerator, flipped the four double mattresses and made two of them, opened both bedroom room windows and mopped the floors. A set of fluffy white towels, neatly folded, was to be placed on the dresser between the beds. “Leave two bath towels each for the guys. You boys shower a lot.” It was the first clue I had about this years Interns.
“You didn't tell me we were getting guys this year.”
“What's to tell. They are friends of your brother in the Agriculture Program at State. It will be like old times...all men.” She smiled at the thought of it. “Now shoo fly, they'll be here for supper.” She went back to her recipe, something smelled delicious as I left the kitchen and headed down the path.
Along with toilet paper, paper towels, candles, a lighter, dish soap, and a cribbage board she had included six apples, a batch of her oatmeal scones, a bag of beef jerky, a mayonnaise jar of dark ground coffee and a large bag of peanuts. I left the treats on the bar along with a card next to the coffee pot. Scrubbed the bathroom sink, flushed the toilet and made sure there weren't any spiders in the shower stall. All the time wondering about our new interns. Last year's were female and needed too much hand holding. The twins spent most of their time seeing to that.
“All you need is love. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Leave your brothers alone with their school mates, mon cherri's.” She winked at both of us in front of Pa. Jess just scratched his head.
“All I said was that they aren’t studying.”
“Oh sure they are. Just bust in, politely, if you see any underwear that’s not you brothers.” She laughed.
When I got to the kitchen Joss was already yucking it up with my Pa and the two Interns. Something about my brother Jerry’s finals and God. Ma was happily pouring champagne and the two gorgeous, or should I say handsome, students were accepting libation from her.
“Bunk’s all ready. Hi Everybody.” I rushed over to Joss’s side and hugged him hard, “Where’s Jed?”
“Oh he’s got finals. He’ll be here by Monday.”
The three of them shared a fraternal laugh. It felt privately odd.
“Jon this is our Intern staff this Summer. Tim and Grant.”
I couldn’t help blushing when Grant held out his hand to shake mine.
“Hello, I’m Grant.” Something smiled in his voice. “ Joss tells me you pretty good at cribbage. I hope you'll teach me how to play.”
“Sure thing, I left a board down at the bunk house. I'll whip your butt later.” I joked. Hoping my face wasn't too red as I shook Grant's warm hand.
“Great I look forward to that.” He winked and took a sip of his champagne.
“Tim and Grant are first year's. They'll be learning from the ground up.” Pa glanced at me. “ I expect you got some mentoring in ya.” He smiled that smile that meant hard work. “We'll start early in the barn tomorrow.”
“Great.” The newbies crowed.
Jess and I cringed. What they were about to learn was that smile of Pa's wasn't necessarily a good thing.
Summer interns always started with shoveling out the barn stalls. It was hot stinky work, but like Pa said, 'morality starts with a clean room'. Several hours of back breaking repetition, sweep, scoop, lift and toss. Over and over the combined mess of pig and chicken poop, cedar mulch, straw and corn got shoveled into the back of our old ford pickup. When a load was ready Pa let each one of us drive it out to the desired spot on the treasure map for dumping or 'enriching' as he liked to joke. It was easier to unload than load and by the twentieth time that old bench seat was a well earned relief for our aching muscles.
“Does your dad always start out the summer interns this way?” Tim asked rubbing his back.
“Yup,” Joss sighed and tossed his broom into the back. “That was nothing since we're down to only two pigs.”
“Can I drive back?” Grant asked from the drivers seat as he felt up the wheel. “ Guys, this is one cool truck.”
“Can you handle a stick?” I asked sarcastically and slid in next to him. Tim and Joss followed. All four of us packed together like sardines. “Give her some gas Sir Grant. We got time to take a swim before lunch.”
Joss turned up the radio.The Jonas Brothers chirped.
“Baby you can drive my car, yes I'm going to be a star, baby you can drive my car, and babe I love you.”
We all joined in on the, “Beep beep beep beep Yah. Beep beep beep beep Yah. Beep beep beep beep Yah!” Grant's rock solid thighs pulsed against mine. He smiled as we tore up the lane.
to be continued...