There's Mr. Johnson!

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Handshakes and Growing Up

"There's Mr. Johnson!" I whisper urgently to Alex as we careen through the beige and brown and tan halls of the church's thinly carpeted upper floor. "Let's go!" My taste buds begin to salivate as they do in few situations, namely when I smell my mom's carmel corn, when someone says the words "sour patch kids," and on Sunday mornings when I glimpse Mark Johnson, an educator of sorts for us city boys in the ways of wood-chopping, story-telling, motorcycling, and goat-milking.

Somewhat tentatively, yet attempting to muster the confidence exhibited by this constantly-witty and universally-knowledgeable man, I approach Mr. Johnson and stand firmly, with both feet shoulder-width apart. I extend my hand up toward him in greeting as if to say "I'm a man, you're a man, let's be men together and shake hands.” His gaze moves from the morning sky down to the 10-year old boy in front of him as he gives me a look that strikes me as something like a full-faced wink. The grizzled beard perched atop his wiry frame parts and he begins to speak.

"Good morning, Mr. Johnson," he rumbles, his face still wrapped tightly in a wink.

"Good morning, Mr. Johnson," I respond in practiced fashion. As has happened every Sunday since he took the time to teach all us little boys the art of the handshake greeting, his large, paw-like, catcher's mitt of a right hand emerges from a somewhat over-stuffed pocket and extends to take my hand. Against the moisturizer-commercial softness of my own hand, the coarse grit of his speaks to me of long days on his farm cleaning honeycombs, digging in new fence posts to corral the cow, and building a new chicken coop to keep the hens in and mischievous little boys out.

"It's pleasant to see you this morning, Mr. Johnson," I say confidently as my rite of passages continues.

"It's pleasant to see you too, Mr. Johnson," he responds in kind, his eyes shouting approval at mine. As I withdraw my hand from his paw, without a word and somewhat magically, I am rewarded for my confidence, maturity, and politeness with the object for which my mouth has been watering, the root beer barrel hard candy I look forward to every week (sometimes twice when I can get away with it).

As Alex finishes exchanging his own pleasantries with our favorite Sunday morning adult, I give this little gift to my awaiting taste buds and we again charge off down the hall as only little boys can, no doubt with Mr. Johnson's face winking after us.

Dan Johnson

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