I received word last night that a cousin had passed away January 8, 2018. I first “met” Lowell Johnson on the phone almost 20 years ago. Back then we were using Family Tree Maker for our genealogy program and they had CD’s that what they called “World Family Tree” which was a collection of family trees that were shared by other members. I found Lowell’s tree and was quite pleased to find a lot of similar information to my own. This might seem shocking today, but they these files had the users’s name, address, and phone number on them. I waited until after five o’clock (we did that then; long distance rates were cheaper) and called Lowell. I still remember his deep voice as he answered the phone. I explained who I was and who my parents and grandparents were. We had quite a close connection as my great grandfather and his grandfather were brothers.
My mother had gotten most of our information on the Johnson family on a long-ago conversation with my grandfather. He had been pleased to share what he knew of his famly history. I am not sure he thought there wasn’t anything terribly interesting about his family and he relayed much of the information that Lowell had, including an “unknown Johnson” who had married Nancy Mayfield. It was just a few months before I made that phone call that a fellow researcher had sent to my mother the name of that “Unknown Johnson” …Moses Johnson. I was delighted to spring that little piece of information on him and he was very happy to have that name.
|Grace & Marian holding their sons|
Lowell and Eugene - 1940.
During the next several years, emails and many phone conversations, we got a chance to know Lowell and his wife, Bonnie very well as fellow researchers. We also found out that we had a lovely picture of my Dad and Lowell as babies being held by their mothers. Lowell was three weeks older than Dad and was the closest in age to Dad of any of his cousins. We also found out that Lowell had a bad heart.
In 2004, we decided that we wanted to go to North Dakota and meet a few of these cousins that we had met through phone and email. We met up with some cousins from my Dad’s mother’s family (Pope) in Washburn, ND and then we traveled to the small town of Wahpeton to meet Lowell and Bonnie. This was a big trip for my Mom. She had had a lobe of her lung removed the previous year for lung cancer and was still on Oxygen. Going over the continental divide was a bit hard on her as they had to turn up her Oxygen and Mom and Dad had to make arrangements along the way to fill her Oxygen tank. Mom was determined to make the trip, and I am so glad she did. Since they had to take more time than I did, I drove over a few days later to meet them. The whole trip was so much fun for us as we were learning so much about Dad’s family and I am sure my Grandpa Frank was smiling down. We then went over to Wahpeton and we finally got to meet Lowell and Bonnie. Lowell had been outfitted with an LVAD (left-ventricular assist device). Essentially Lowell was walking around with battery pack on his back to keep his heart going while waiting for a heart transplant. For several hours, we set there sharing pictures and stories. Mom with her Oxygen tank and Lowell with his battery pack. We then went to dinner and shared a lovely meal. There was a bond between my Dad and Lowell and a definite family likeness.
|Dad and Lowell - 2004|
|Dad & Lowell - 2012|
Several months later around Christmas, we learned that Lowell had gotten his heart transplant. What wonderful news! We lost Mom the next year (26 Dec 2005) to lung cancer. Dad made another trip back to North Dakota on his own and he and I went back in 2012. Dad and his girlfriend also saw them a few years ago. In all this time, Lowell did very well. His new heart had given him the gift of years. Lowell still had health problems…but he and Bonnie were able to enjoy a little over 13 more years together. Lowell was able to enjoy his children and his grandchildren. He had been living on borrowed time for so many years, and when he received the gift of a new heart, he went about living to the best he could.
I will always be grateful to the family who donated their loved one’s organs. They gave Lowell and his family the gift of life and time which is priceless. I am so grateful that I and my parents had a chance to get to know the lovely man that was my cousin.