Thursday, March 1, 2012

He Reached the End of the Line

Picture by O.R. Cummings' "Street Cars of Boston". Volume 4

"Where am I?" I asked every other night, having awakened suddenly because of a nudge or a cough. A group of fellow travelers watched me collect my thoughts. I guess I was their chosen nightly entertainment because the group got larger every time. I was so disoriented from all of the traveling we'd done that I never knew where we were.

The one thing I did recall was the feeling of being on a train.

"We're in Paris," a friend would offer, hoping to help me out or confuse me more. "Go back to sleep."

"How long have we been here?" More laughing. I didn't get much rest that summer. But I assume nobody else that was with me did either.

I don't know if I'm the best traveler. And what about those who deal with travelers? They pick people up and drop people off day in and day out. Imagine the lessons they could learn as they watch people and how they carry themselves, and interact with family and strangers?  

I often wonder about those people who are in the service industry. My sister use to make me laugh so hard when she said she would often find herself in the bathroom in the middle of the night having scanned toiletries over the sink for an hour. I don't know what woke her up, maybe a roommate who heard the telltale sounds that didn't fit bathroom noises?  She was a checker in a grocery store in college and was one of those who "brought her work home with her"!

Benjamin Franklin Johnson, the last for Uphard and Elizabeth Johnson, the caboose if you will of nine children, worked on a street railway in Massachusetts from 1900 until he died in 1923. Street railways transformed into the bus systems we now use. First he was a brakeman. Years later he was elevated to conductor. 

"Gimme a kiss." he'd say to his little girls Annie and Edith, and finally to his wife Agnes as he would prepare to leave for work. A deep breath of fresh air first thing and a long exhale would ready him physically and mentally to weather the moods of his passengers. Would he be able to strengthen them with his countenance, demeanor, and easy banter as they travelled with him to their destination? Or was he a grump that grunted and barely made eye contact as they stepped on board?

Every day. Routine stops. Scenery and passengers whose lives would become as familiar as his own. The smallest changes would be noticed. 

When Mr. Black Hat didn't show up one day he would wonder and wait for news from him in a few days that he'd been sick, or from a friend of a friend that he'd passed away. The seat he'd sat in would be freed up for someone else from then on.

He looked forward to a personal lift that Mrs. Big Hair gave as she lumbered up the stairs of the railway car. She was a delight. Always cheery with a "Helloooo, Dear! How is the family today?"

Benjamin took on Mr. Red Bulbous nose as a personal mission, distracting him as they approached the stop near the bar downtown on Fridays when he got his paycheck. The stories he would tell were priceless. He was the life of the car. No distraction ever worked. He had a sixth sense of where they were no matter how deep the conversation with Benjamin got.

Oh how he wished he could help Mr. Cigar Man! He smiled and greeted him every morning joyously. But that man never smiled back. Children instinctively knew to steer clear of him. They were anxious to find a spot far from him so as not to get the evil eye if they misbehaved.

Miss Secretary was a looker and was uneasy, not knowing how to handle Mr. Dapper Dandy who was new to the route. Ben tried to help her out by saving her a spot behind him at the front of the car. 

The children were a hoot on a good day, nerve wracking on others. Incorrect change and little legs maneuvering up and down stairs alternately tried his patience or stretched his heart strings.

Every day out he would watch his charges jump on and off, into and out of their busy lives. His job was to show up consistently, rain or shine, and make sure everything went smoothly and on schedule, making conversation and hopefully lightening the burdens of those who passed through his life on their way to wherever.

Did he miss them when he took a vacation? Did he get disoriented or dream of his route while he slept? Did he awaken late thinking he'd let them down only to remember he was on holiday. I'll bet they were like a second family to him and he was like a son, father, and brother to many who would be missed and would miss him during his respites.

Christmas was coming  in 1923 and his brother George Washington Johnson had invited him with his family up to the Johnson farm in Windham, New Hampshire. Now he was going to be a passenger on the train that would drop them off in Salem where family on that end would pick them up. They were going to spend a brief holiday with family and then head back to the routine of their lives after Christmas. 

Goodbyes, See you soons, and Happy Holidays were had on Friday the 22nd, and Benjamin Franklin Johnson walked out of one life in Somerville, Massachusetts and started the transition into his next, unsuspecting.

Doesn't it always happen that something goes wrong before your vacation starts? You get that flu bug or your car breaks down...or if you're Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 59 years-old, you get a head injury at work and are sure that your blasted headache is going to put a damper on the festivities.

Turns out that was an understatement.

On December 23rd, two days before Christmas, Benjamin stepped off the train and dropped dead of a heart embolism. That was the end of the line for him. I can't imagine the shock of his sudden death.

Family in New Hampshire and Massachusetts would slowly get accustomed to him being gone. Agnes and the girls would travel back home to Somerville without husband and Daddy.

So apropos for a man in the service/transportation industry was one of the last pieces of paper to document his travels in this life.

 It was the application for disinterment.

 You heard it right. 

He was buried and was being  dug up and moved! 

Yeah, it appears they moved him within the same cemetery, Cemetery on the Plains. But I don't know why. How fitting! A man whose job was to get people from one place to another was finally resting, but in the wrong place. HA! 

I can hear him the moment he wakes up on the other side of his life. And the scene just cracks me up. 

"Where am I?" Laughing all around. "You kidding me? It's over? I'm done? That's it? No more? Wow. That wasn't on my schedule today!"

"Hey!" says Mr. Black Hat guy. "Been missing our chats. Welcome home!" 

And as he familiarizes himself with his new surroundings and the last stop for his body, he hears, "Hey Ben! Lookie there! Off you go! HA! Guess you got dropped off at the wrong stop!" 

Guess there's always someone 
who provides entertainment for the rest!
 (pun intended)

Wouldn't it be perfect if his epitaph read "The Bus Stops Here", or "He Reached the End of the Line"???


  1. OMG! Love. This. This is sooooo funny. Sad, but then funny. And? That's my favorite emotion. Sad, but then funny. ;)


  2. I know! I can feel so irreverent because I find the humor in life and death.Why not. Right? Thanks Caroline!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Pat! Glad to meet you and glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Your occasion for humor tickles and scares me.

  5. Oh Betsy..Thank you for the morning chuckle. I think this is my favorite one so far!

    You make me wish I was an ancestor on your tree just to see what you'd come up with as my story.

    I think Benjamin would approve. tip his hat and think...she got it right.

    As Always....


    1. Hey, Jane!

      I thought of another business. Creative Epitaphs! I've seen so many fun ones. But what if you were stuck? You could hire me to research the person and come up with a few. You'd be good at it, too!! Thanks as always, my friend!

  6. Betsy, this is a great story! So funny and so sad at the same time. You are such a great story teller, it reminds me of the times we told stories (each night we had to invent a new one) of Santa Claus to my daughter. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Thanks Barbara! I have to admit I'm having more fun with this project than I ever thought I'd have! My favorite thing used to be when my husband would make up bedtime stories for the kids. So simple, off the cuff. And they'd go on forever! I never understood how to do that until I found out it really is just startingrting and letting the story tell itself. Thanks for enjoying them with me.

  8. I got a good chuckle from this.

  9. Hi, I found your blog through the comment you left on Charlie Hale's blog in response to Shirley Showalter's guest post. I enjoy your stories!

    Linda Thomas

    1. Linda! Glad we found each other! And thank you for enjoying.


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