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GRANDMOTHER JOHNSTON

Next to my father, the most important person in my immediate background was my mother's mother, Janet Craig Johnston. Probably because I lived with for the first few years after I was old enough to remember what I heard and what went on, I know much more about her than about my Grandfather Johnston and his family.

My great grand-parents - the Craigs - grew up and were married in Paisley, Scotland. Before her marriage, my grandmother's mother's name was Stewart (anglicized by the time it reached me to Stuart) and in her girlhood worked in the textile mills of Paisley. I knew and hear very little about Paisley - beyond "Paisley shawls" - when I was a child. Most of the little that I have learned since came from "Willie" Anderson, the evil old husband of our dear friend Harriett, who was born and raised there. Just the other day, I saw a magazine article in which the writer spoke of sitting on the hill-side and looking down "into the little village of Paisley". Paisley has a population of around 60,000.

The Craigs came to this country in 1828, when my grandmother was two years old. About all I know about the trip was that it took them six weeks to cross the Atlantic. They settle first in New York State, moved up to Canada for a brief stay, and came to Indiana some time just before the territory became a state (1837). Grandmother was more or less continually relating anecdotes about "the early days" but practically nothing in the way of family history appears to have survived in my memory, if anything of the kind was told.

Some time about 1885, Grandmother took Henry and me with her on a visit to some of her people who lived near Rockford, Illinois. I recall an old sour Scotch uncle of hers - Uncle Robert - but the rest is rather vague. It was like going back to Scotland; I couldn't get more than about a quarter of what the old folks were saying, most of the time.

There were three sons and two daughters in the family who grew to maturity. William was the oldest and was a farmer and later an inn-keeper in Ossian, Indiana. He had two children; Frank, a contemporary and somewhat similar character to Uncle Bob (Robert II) and Jennie (probably another Janet). I don't know what became of Frank but I am prepared to guess. Jen was a good natured, rather loud girl but I know nothing of her story. The second of grandmother's brothers was Robert (Robert I) and the little I know of him appears elsewhere. The third of the brothers was David, a farmer who lived out north of Ossian, who had one daughter, Margaret, who married Harry Deam of Bluffton and died without any children, some fifty years ago. I recall her as a somewhat sweet woman, who was always nice to us kids.

My grandmother's only sister, whose name I do not remember, if I ever knew it, was the younger of the two. She married Marcellus Justice, who was sheriff of Wells County (Bluffton) when I was a child. She died when rather a young woman, leaving three children; Lew, who was killed in an inter-urban trolley accident near Kingsland, Ind. some forty or fifty years ago; Morton, about five or six years older than I, concerning whose history I know nothing, my recollection being that he was a pretty decent sort of kid but no molly-coddle. Agnes - Aggie to us - was the youngest of the three and a strikingly beautiful girl, who married Harry Webber of Bluffton. One day in 1900, I was driving through Warren, Ind., passed Harry on the street. He recognized me at a glance, although I hadn't seen him since I was about ten years old. We shook hands and I sent my love to Aggie and have never heard of them since.

My grandmother was strong in her affections and strong in her hatreds, the latter often somewhat unreasoning. She apparently loved her younger sister dearly and took the three Justice children to her bosom, when their mother died, raising them until Marcellus married the second time. True to her character, Grandmother hated her sister's successor with a hatred that burned. I felt that there must be something terrible about Mrs. Justice, else why should my dear grandmother hate her so. In reality, as I look back through the years, she seems to have been a sweet sort of woman, making the best of a tough job as a step-mother and always diligently being nice to us kids, in spite of Grandma's attitude.

One day, when I was between five and six years old, Mrs. Justice met me down town and offered me a photograph of Aggie that she had just had taken. Now I loved Aggie and how I did want that picture but I wouldn't take it. Pressed for the reason for my refusal, I said: "Grandma wouldn't let me keep it." Of course it was a damn-fool remark but what could expect of a kid of that age; it seemed logical to me at the time. I came home and told my grandmother about it and she hit the ceiling. With all her dour hard exterior, she had a heart and a conscience and there wasn't any evil in her. I was the goat that time and I caught hell. It placed her in a terrible position and should have taught her a lesson but I doubt very much that it did.

To my childish mind, there was always something mysterious about the way Grandma seemed to have Lew and Mort and Aggie a little bit scared all of the time, while at the same time, they seemed to love her so. I didn't know until later that she had raised them and that, while they called her "Aunt Janet", they bore the same practical relationship to her that I did.

Incidentally, the naming of one of the Justice kids Morton, ties in the Mortons with the Craigs a little. I know little about these Morton connections except that they existed and were in some vague way related to us. I have a dim recollection of a young man named Walet Morton, whom I saw at rare intervals, who seemed to be a respectable sort of person, which was not absolutely always the case with some of the more distant connections.

Years after I left Bluffton, I was talking with Carl Bonham about our childhood days together, when he suddenly came up with the confession; "Do you know, Jim, I was always afraid of your grandmother." That seems to have been the attitude of most of the kids, except her own. God drew my grandmother in black and white; there were not tints and precious little shading. As I have said elsewhere, she ran to forcefulness and loyalty rather than to sweetness and light.

She was rather tall - five feet seven or eight - raw boned and vigorous; not particularly handsome but with world without end of character in her face. She didn't have much hair but what she had was brown, without a trace of gray up to her death at sixty-seven.

She was a hard-bitten old Scotch Presbyterian but with numerous mitigating characteristics. She made us go to Sunday School and Church every Sunday; she wouldn't let us play on Sunday but there was no limitation on what we might read. She read "The Story of the Bible" to us when were little and surrounded us, in a way, with a deeply religious atmosphere, yet I have no recollection of ever having heard her pray; it wasn't even customary to ask the blessing at the table, unless the minister happened to be a guest, which wasn't often. Probably she believed in the "old time religion" sincerely, but she had few if any artificial sins in her category. I never heard her express it that way but I am inclined to believe that her idea of sin was to harm someone or to fail to do good when the opportunity arose. She was Scotch all right, careful and frugal but scrupulously honest; there wasn't a crooked, sly, or scheming thought in her mind, ever.

From the earliest recollection I have of her - when she was fifty six or fifty seven - she lived with one mental foot in the grave; the undertaker was just around the corner. She lived long enough to go to the World's Fair in Chicago, in 1893 and thoroughly enjoyed it, to come to die of paralysis shortly thereafter, serenely happy in the thought that her son Robert (Robert II) had straightened out and was a temperate man again.

I presume she is buried in Bluffton, although I have never seen her grave.

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