Editor's note: Renee Collins submitted the following article in memory of her neighbor and friend, Johnny Radford.
Mr. Johnny Radford. Mr. Johnny Lee Radford. For 42 years he lived on Lee Drive, just like I now do. My son's middle name is Lee just like his middle names is Lee. My husband's first name is Lee. If one believes in coincidence, there are many to find here, but I suspect that very often our coincidences are the divine work of the Almighty.
Twelve years ago, my small family moved away from our hometown, our family, and our friends to be closer to my son's doctors at the Medical College of Georgia. In one weekend, we looked at three homes and settled on the one at 323 Lee Drive. Of all the places we could have moved, I am so thankful that the Lord put us just four houses down from Mr. Johnny and Mrs. Bobbie.
From the beginning, it was a natural relationship for us. They were understanding of our son Brandon and his needs and were kind to us. I've spent many an evening in their home, sitting around the kitchen table, just talking and sharing things in my heart. They also shared and encouraged and listened.
As we came to know each other's families better and better over the years, they started calling us their "kids up the street." And it was appropriate in that I often felt like they had adopted us. While Mrs. Bobbie was ever the hard worker, Mr. Johnny decided to take it easy in his retirement years. Sometimes they seemed like opposites yet they also complemented each other.
Over the years, Lee especially truly enjoyed Mr. Johnny's company, whether it was riding to get an ice cream or watching wrestling on television. And their on-going jokes provided lots of laughs for us all. The jokes always seemed to go something like this ...
While watching wrestling
Mr. Johnny: Lee, you're a big boy. You could be a wrestler.
Lee: Yeah, my name could be Lucky Lee. You could be my manager. We'd call you Gigolo Johnny. You could have a crowd of girls around you and they'd distract my opponent so that I could win every time.
Mr. Johnny: Yeah, and Bobbie and Renee could walk out with us and cheer for us!
Mr. Johnny liked that joke until he learned what "Gigolo" meant!
And there were the meanness jokes ...
Lee: Man, my back is hurting. That Brandon is getting heavy to lift.
Mr. Johnny: Ah, that's just meanness in you.
No matter the ailment, he always blamed it on meanness. I soon found myself saying the same thing to others around me.
And there were the rich man/poor house jokes ...
Mr. Johnny: Can I talk to the rich man?
Lee: You've called the wrong house. You better call Sonny Hunnicutt's house if you want to talk to the rich man!
Mr. Johnny: Is this the rich man?
Lee: Sir, he lives about four houses down. His name is Johnny Radford.
Mr. Johnny: Nah, nah, I ain't no rich man. Why don't you come on down to the poor house and watch wrestling with me?
Lee: What are you talking about? This is the poor house. You've done forgot what it's like to be poor. Anybody that can add on an extra room and a new carport and drive a little Chevrolet truck MUST have money.
Mr. Johnny: Lee, you know, we don't really know what it's like to be poor anymore, do we?
Lee: No, Mr. Johnny, we don't.
Or there was this one ...
Lee: How are you doing Mr. Johnny?
Mr. Johnny: Ah, I'm doing so good that if I was doing any better, Mrs. Bobbie wouldn't know what to do with me.
Lee: Mrs. Bobbie's to that point already! What is Mrs. Bobbie doing today?
Mr. Johnny: Ah, she's out there digging in those flowers trying to remember where she hid her money.
Lee: I bet you got all kind of money buried in that yard.
Mr. Johnny: Shoot, only Mrs. Bobbie knows where that money is!
One of the best jokes we played on Mr. Johnny was when I buried a jar of $1 bills in his chicken pen. While on an evening walk, Lee and I saw Mr. Johnny in the yard and pretended we wanted to see the chickens. We made an excuse to walk inside the pen and Mrs. Bobbie and I kicked up the dirt over the jar while he wasn't looking. I asked him what that object sticking out of the ground was. With a puzzled expression on his face, he bent over for a closer look. When he finished digging the jar out of the ground, we all had a good laugh. We knew he had money buried in that chicken pen!
And those chickens. It seemed Mr. Johnny was always trading chickens with someone. Sometimes he raised them from chicks and other times bought them full-grown. I remember when his daughter-in-law, Glinda, bought him the first two chickens as a Christmas gift. They got loose and folks were chasing chickens all through the yard. Before long Mr. Johnny built a nice condominium for those chickens. But roosters beware, if Mr. Johnny decided he didn't like the way you crowed, you were out f there! He'd quickly replace any rooster who didn't have a right kind of crow. Mr. Johnny always had a longing for the country inside him. I believe a few cows and a pasture would have been heaven for him. But until then, the chickens would remind him of some of those childhood memories on the farm.
One Easter, Mr. Johnny's chickens gave him a real surprise. After church, he went out to the pen to collect their eggs. Just in time for Easter, they had laid eggs of all different colors. He h ad a good laugh and then questioned his daughter Janet about the eggs. She steadfastly denied it, so he figured it must have been his "daughter up the street." I'll never tell!
Speaking of the chicken pen, Lee always thought it would make a good dog pen. Mr. Johnny didn't want a dog and Lee didn't want a dog, but they were always trying to find each other a dog. Another of their jokes went like these:
Lee: Mr. Johnny, I found you a dog. It's a big, eats a lot, needs a bunch of shots, and will have to go to the vet a lot.
Mr. Johnny: Nah, I don't want no dog.
Or Mr. Johnny would tell this one any time a stray was in the neighborhood ...
Mr. Johnny: Lee, I rode by your house and saw your dog out in the yard. When did you get a dog? He's been hanging around down here some and you need to come get him.
Mr. Johnny gave Lee stuffed and ceramic dogs for Christmas. Lee gave him cans of dog food. The dog jokes seemed to be a part of most every conversation.
Of course, Mr. Johnny could have hauled a dog around real easy in the back of his truck. Lee has wanted a truck and Mr. Johnny often used his truck to help us out. He hauled our trash to the landfill, landscape timbers for our yard, and pine straw for my flowerbeds. Mr. Johnny and Lee rode out in the country on a lazy Saturday morning in it, rode to town to eat sausage biscuits at Michael's, and Mr. Johnny used it many times to pick Lee up from the mechanic in town.
And of course, there were the truck jokes ...
Lee: Mr. Johnny, Thomson Motor called and they have a new truck up there for you. They said you can come by and write a check for it anytime you want.
Mr. Johnny: (with a wide grin) All right. I'll do that.
Lee: After all, a rich man can pay in cash for a truck.
Yes, Mr. Johnny was a rich man. He had a family that loved him: Wife Bobbie, Son Bob and Daughters Phyllis and Janet. And if I might add, he had Lee and Renee, those "kids up the street." He had a faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ that shaped the person we met over 12 years ago. Years of living had taught him to trust in the salvation that Christ promises to those who believe in Him and accept Him as Lord of their lives. He had the respect of his church, evidenced by being asked to serve as a Deacon. And he had the concern of many in his neighborhood and community who wanted to see him get well. While he was sick, folks would stop me out in the yard to ask, "How is Mr. Johnny?"
So as we say good-bye to you, Mr. Johnny, I can't help but smile. I don't know if there are dogs or cows or good-crowing roosters or new trucks in heaven, but I know you are in Heaven. And I know you're receiving your eternal reward, those riches God takes pleasure in giving to His children. Good-bye, Mr. Johnny. Good-bye, rich man!