Johnny is my only sibling. Johnny’s full name is John Andrew McReynolds III, and we are the children of John Andrew McReynolds II and Elizabeth Janette Lewis McReynolds. We had older parents when we were born. Mama was 30 years old and Daddy was 35 when I was born. Mama was 34 and Daddy was 39 when Johnny was born. I shall never forget the very first time I was introduced to my brother. The year was 1946. I was only 4 years old, and I was spending the night with my grandmother, Daisy Pearson Lewis whom I called Granny. It was right here in the same family home that we live in today. It was a cold, windy February night, and Granny had warmed my flannel pajamas by the space heater for me to put on after I had taken a bath in the old claw foot tub which is still in our home and used today. She spoiled me rotten. It took two weeks when I went back home to Mama and Daddy to get back into my regular, sometimes boring routine of everyday life. I adored Granny. She taught me how to pour ketchup on my bacon, to eat pickled chow-chow with scrambled eggs and drink hot black coffee with milk and sugar.
It was Feb. 8, 1946 that I spent this night with Granny. I was too little to know anything about Mama being pregnant. Back in the 1940s we were not allowed to use the word “pregnant”; instead, a woman was with child. Early the next day, we got up, Granny lit the space heaters, we dressed warmly and finished our hearty breakfast. Suddenly I looked outside one of the front bay windows and spotted Daddy coming down one of the two curved sidewalks heading toward the big glass front door. I decided to play a trick on Daddy and slip behind one of Granny’s big stuffed brown chairs that also still remain as a house piece today.
Granny went to the front door to welcome Daddy. For a few minutes they talked, and I could hear their conversation as I kept quiet behind the chair. He said, “I just called over to the West Point Hospital to see about Elizabeth, and the nurse said, ‘They are doing just fine.’ Daddy said ‘they,’ and I couldn’t believe it. I popped up and out from behind my hideaway and jumped up into Daddy’s arms to give him a kiss on his cheek. I looked down into his ice-blue eyes, and he said, “Carole, you have a brand new baby brother, and his name is Johnny.”
Daddy informed me that our hospital was being renovated, and Mama had bad cold and began to cough so much that she went into labor. She had to be transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital, and Dr. Feddy Eckford sent his best nurse, Bessie, to be with her during delivery. Dr. Flowers delivered Johnny, who was born at only seven months at weighed 4 pounds. During the night Johnny needed help, and the nurse quickly called Dr. Flowers. Without thinking he walked out of his front door fully dressed in only his pajamas to head to the hospital and saved Johnny’s life. We shall forever be grateful and thankful to Dr. Flowers and the West Point hospital.
A day passed, and it was time for me to go back home to the then the Mississippi State College campus faculty two-story white clapboard home on Morgan Street. I shall never forget walking inside holding Daddy’s hand and then jumping in Mama’s big bed to give her a hug. Suddenly I saw a straw basket I quickly wanted to look and see what was inside. It was a tall basket with a little half top on one side and four wheels on the legs. I stood up as tall as I could and used my tiptoes to peer in. To me all I could see was a light blue warm blanket and snuggled deep inside was a tiny baby. All day I kept going back and forth to this basket to catch a glimpse of my brother. I was not sure I even liked having a complete stranger around. I was now not the center of attention, and Mama and Daddy were not forever circling around just me. They told me I was now a sister. For the rest of my life, Daddy always called me “Sister” and “Baby.”
Weeks passed, and mama had to spend much time with Johnny. I was jealous and lonely. I wished that life could go back to the way it was. I was not sure if I liked Johnny, much less if if loved him.
After a few more months went by, one morning I decided maybe, I did like having a brother after all. He was not going to go away and almost overnight I decided to learn to help Mama take care of him. I began to protect and slowly love my brother. I enjoyed entertaining him and making him smile.
I watched mama take such good care of him because she was wanting him to survive, develop and gain weight. She told me was premature and was born without fingernails which later he grew and his lungs had not fully developed. Very early Johnny had asthma, and many a night I can still almost see mama and daddy taking turns walking from room to room holding and whispering prayers for God to take care of Johnny and let him get his breath. He was later sent to the Mississippi Allergy Clinic in Jackson. I remember all the notebooks mama kept in her dresser drawer of his progress with asthma. I felt sorry for Johnny and wanted him to overcome his asthma. He finally outgrew it. We were grateful.
The months grew into years, and I don’t remember life without Johnny. I had fun playing with my sweet baby brother. He looks just like Daddy, and I look just like Mama. It came time for me to go to first grade, to Ms. Adalaide Saunders’ class down at Overstreet School. I cried when I had to leave Johnny. The first day of first grade I waved goodbye and saw tears rolling down his cheeks. I wiped a few off of my cheeks, too. As soon as the bus brought me back home, I hurried inside to find Johnny and give him a hug. He was so happy to see me again.
Years passed, and one day Johnny went to his first day of his first grade to Ms. Williamson’s room. One day Mama sent me to get Johnny, and I knocked on the teacher’s door and asked, “May I get my baby brother out of your class today ‘cause Mama is waiting for both of us in her car?” On our way down the hall, Johnny turned to me and said, “Now, Carole, I am not your baby brother. I am a grown boy now.”
I share with you one of my favorite portraits I ever did. It was painted in 1956. I was 15 years old, and Johnny was 12 years old. One summer a Mississippi State University Spanish professor as well as a well known and talented artist, Dr. Jose Barrio, was teaching summer art classes in his downstairs apartment that he shared with Dr. Jim Chatham, who later became head of the foreign language department at MSU. Both professors were bachelors at the time. Later Dr. Chatham married Nina Chatham, and they had a family. I don’t know what happened to Barrio. These professors shared an apartment on University Drive. Mama and daddy wanted to give me private art lessons that summer and the opportunity to study under Barrio. I was raised to become a proper southern lady. I must have a chaperone to accompany me to their apartment and stay during my lessons. My chaperone would be Johnny. I wanted to learn how to sketch and paint portraits, so guess who would be my model? Johnny. Mama would drop us both off, and did Johnny and I have fun together that summer.
My brother would be painted on the blank white 18X24 canvas. Was he not one handsome boy? As I now look back at him I see a face with distinct, beautiful features. We both inherited very pale skin coloring. We are of Scot/Irish/English descent. Look into his icy-blue eyes. He inherited Daddy’s eyes, and Johnny passed these eyes on to his two children, and they have passed them on to all four of Johnny and Patsy’s grandchildren. I have mama’s green eyes.
See Johnny’s 1956 crew cut. It was probably a must to keep it short for our hot, sweltering, miserable Mississippi summer. His nose is so nice, and his lips are perfectly shaped. I caught only one of his ears, and it is a nice size, too. He has a pretty white neck and nice shoulders. His black sports shirt matches his dark hair. There is a hint of a pocket on both sides of his shirt. I remember choosing a nice green background to give a contrast to his piercing eyes. I think the entire portrait is breathtaking. As I look at it now, I can see Johnny breathing on his own canvas. At the bottom of the canvas I used my initials, “C Mc” to sign it. It is framed in a green frame that Mama’s own hands rubbed into an old light brown wooden frame with oil using some of my green oil paint to match the background of the portrait itself. It has and will forever remain within this one frame that Mama’s own hands touched so many years ago.
Hey, Johnny, on Feb. 9 you’ll turn 66. Did I tell you that Mama in her own way knew that she did not have long to live, made Daddy and me promise to see that you would be loved and taken care of? We tried to keep this promise. Johnny, have I told you lately how much I love you? I do.
Did I ever tell you how proud I was was the very first time I laid eyes on you as I stood up on my tip toes trying to see you asleep in that big white basket?
Did I ever tell you what you meant to me when Mama died so young and daddy lived to be almost 97. I was not alone to face our parents’ deaths.
Did I ever tell you how proud I was when you graduated from MSU in forestry and business, married and became a daddy yourself? Now you are a granddaddy.
Did I ever tell you how proud I am of your career and your love of the outdoors?Your contributions got you a Governor’s appointment to serve the state of Alabama as a forestry commissioner. What an honor you bring to your profession as well as an alumnus of MSU.
Did I ever tell you all the times that you have encouraged me to keep on keeping on and always be positive?
Did I ever tell you how much fun it is for me to every Sunday morning to cut out and mail my column in color from the Starkville Daily News to Russellville, Ala., and you call me saying, “I read every word of what you wrote, and I remember everything vividly that you painted and then wrote about it.” Johnny, I know that you are colorblind, and I can see all the colors, but you see only one color which is maybe blue. You see my painting in only black and white.
Johnny, you will always be my little brother, and I am now your older/aging sister. I have adored you with my whole heart. Happy birthday.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .