Sometimes in this life you get second chances, and Mary Johnson is making the most of hers.
Recently, this 88-years-young (she’ll be 89 in January) little firecracker has been growing her hair long, bought herself a bicycle, and has giddily been planning her wedding.
She and high school sweetheart Elwood Ferrell will tie the knot tomorrow in a ceremony followed by a reception in Blooming Grove. He is 90.
The year was 1929, and the Stanford and Dora Moore family moved from Wise County to Navarro County, to help out with Dora’s cousin Albert Lane’s farm. The family, who then had five children, were piled in their Model T Ford, which didn’t have a gas gauge, and ran out of fuel about the time they passed the John B. Ferrell family farm. The two eldest boys were dispatched to borrow gasoline, and a lifetime friendship between the families was begun.
The Ferrells had two sons and a daughter, and the Moores continued having children until they totaled 10. The school age children would all walk to the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and wait for the bus to take them to school. Mary Joyce Moore was 12, Elwood Ferrell 14 when he selected limbs from the red bud tree to give her, and pick her handfuls of wild dewberries.
“I thought he was kind of cute,” she said. “I kind of had a crush on him.”
The only time Elwood expressed interest in picking peas was when Mary came to the Ferrell’s to pick. The Moores were members of the Church of Christ at Bryan, and the Ferrells attended the Methodist church at Dresden. The youngsters would visit back and forth at each other’s churches. As they became older, Elwood would take Mary to Frost to the movies, then go back to Blooming Grove to the cafe for a cold drink where the teens “hung out.”
“On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 we heard on the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor,” Mary said. “That changed all of our lives.”
She was a high school senior at that time. Her two elder brothers had graduated, as had Elwood. All three were part of the draft, with both brothers being sent to Camp Walters for training. A day trip to visit was made by several family members and friends, including Mary and Elwood, who both realized the time would be soon that he was called to go, and they should be thinking about what they meant to one another. That was July 1942, and by September, Elwood had shipped out, too.
“Elwood and I started writing our love letters to each other, three to five per week,” Mary said. “He would come home on leave and it was always so hard to see him leave. We never knew where they would be sent overseas. He was in the Army Air Force. He has baby blue eyes and was so handsome in his uniform.”
On one leave in November 1943, the pair went to Frost to the movies. Elwood expressed that when the war was over, he wanted Mary to become his wife. Mary brought up the subject of their different religions, which threw a bit of “cold water” on the moment. Elwood returned to his post and the letters continued.
“In January 1944 he wrote and told me that he had met a girl named Mary, but I didn’t have anything to worry about,” Mary said.
The letters became fewer all through April, not just to her, but to his parents as well. Early in May, Mary Joyce’s younger brothers and sisters came in from riding the bus with Elwood’s sister Helen to report, “Now we know why no one has heard from Elwood — he has gotten married and he married a rich lady!”
The Ferrell parents had received a letter from their son which also contained an 8 by 10 photo of Mary Katherine wearing a fur cape.
Mary Joyce, heartbroken, collected all her love letters, photographs and gifts given to her by Elwood and burned them one afternoon while her parents were out working on the farm.
At that point, she decided the thing to do would be get away and take a job, so she moved in with an aunt in Corsicana and worked for a dry cleaner. In April 1945, Mary saw an ad in the Corsicana Daily Sun for employment with Western Union Co. She was hired, and traveled by train with another girl to Corpus Christi.
“It was the first time we had ever been on a train,” she said. “We were so excited — especially when we got to the coast and saw the water!”
New and exciting were the buzz words for Mary, who had never stayed in a hotel before, never eaten shrimp, nor had she seen purple cabbage.
“In 1945 the streets of Corpus Christi were well-stocked with sailors, as the Naval Air station was located there,” she said.
One day Seaman 1st Class William E. “Johnny” Johnson from Xenia, Ohio strolled in the Western Union office, fresh back from overseas duty. As his paycheck was sent to his grandparents, Johnson had a steady supply of reasons to keep coming in to the money gram office.
He appeared another day when Mary and a female friend were at North Beach Amusement Park, standing in line for a root beer. Johnson made a date with Mary to take in a movie, but her co-worker Ruby Lee said it was doubtful he’d show, since he’d asked her out three times and never once showed up.
“I said, ‘well, he might do that once but I promise it won’t happen three times — because if he does it once, he won’t have another chance!’” Mary said.
Johnson never stood her up, and after meeting in June 1945, the couple were married in July 1945. After 63 years of marriage, blessed by five wonderful children, Johnny Johnson passed away on May 28, 2007.
The funny thing is, Elwood and his wife, and my husband and I were all good friends and went to church together for the last 25 years or so,” Mary said, laughing. “Elwood and my husband really liked one another, and I liked Mary Katherine, too.”
Elwood’s wife also had passed on, and with his health none too steady, Elwood had taken up residence at Twilight Home.
The old friends began spending time together, and it wasn’t long before their friendship took a turn for the romantic.
“We are getting married Sunday at the Church of Christ in Blooming Grove, and after the wedding, some ladies are holding a reception for us,” Mary said, giggling. “I’ve just had so much to do, getting ready for this wedding, it is wonderful that they would be so gracious to hold the reception for us.”
Following the wedding, the couple will reside in Blooming Grove.
Deanna Kirk may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com
Sometimes in this life you get second chances, and Mary Johnson is making the most of hers.
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