Parker Liewellyn Johnson, better known in the Hazard - Perry County area as P. L., was a familiar figure in the area for 53 years. Not many people knew much about this sharp-witted kindly old transplanted Buckeye (he moved here from Columbus, Ohio in 1919). He nearly always wore a bow tie, striped railroad hat, and khaki army jacket. After he got out of the service he worked as a mine equipment salesman and did a lot of traveling.
I remember P.L. shopping for a fresh loaf of bread at the A & P. He would walk up to the bread aisle, lift up a loaf of bread, weigh it in his own way of transferring it from hand to hand, then bringing it up to his face to see if he could get a whiff of freshness. He would do something else rather strange, especially to me, as I had the chance to watch his purchase of bread many times, and as a youngster his antics would make one stop and sort of get in on what he was doing. One time he asked me if I knew each loaf of bread had a different number of slices; that each loaf did not contain the same number; I just listened as he kept on, "see, pick this one up and sort of take it like this (transfer it from hand to hand), shake it lightly and then it would loosen up and you could take your fingers and almost count the slices." Well, every time after that I would see him going through his freshness test and knew he was determining which loaf to buy by guessing which one had the most slices. Mr. P. L. was unique in that way.He and his wife, Bess (who was my Sunday school teacher at First Baptist) could be seen daily in their little garden out back of their home on East Main Street. Bess was such a teacher that none of us wanted to leave her when it came time to move on. I know she had to keep me for several years because I just wouldn't move. Two of the most gracious, humble people that ever called Hazard and my beloved Big Bottom home. I think their house sat between the Lykins and the Heath homes if I remember correctly. She would, most of the time, be working in her flowers in the back yard, and he would saunder out front where his treasured 1940 dark green Chevrolet sat in the driveway, and he would daily shine it up, making sure nothing settled for long on the chassis. Besides his family, that car was his pride and joy. He bought the car new and was still driving it 32 years later at the time of his death in 1972. I think the last time I saw that car was when I was in High School in the early 50's. Mr. P. L. and his 1940 Chevrolet were a part of the bestest place in all the world to grow up in and call home, Big Bottom, USA.
Being the religious man he was, Johnson never carried a Bible around because he felt it would scare people. Instead he carried scriptures in his hat which he read to many people. He mowed his neighbor's lawns, did all the repairs to his home on East Main Street, and to the many teenagers he taught in Sunday School, to the black people, and to the middle age white people, he meant more than anyone in town.
He wrote to several Presidents, governors, senators, and the Corps of Engineers trying to get flood control for East Kentucky. He always had time to talk to people. He wanted to help Eastern Kentucky and especially Hazard, the town he loved so much. "I don't like to sit around and talk about the good ole days, the way a lot of older people do. I like to look at what's happening today and involve myself in the present," he said.
Johnson was healthier at 85 than many men in the 30s. He credited part of this to the fact that he went through a vigorous World War I exercise each day. He attributed the exercise, a desire to move on with the times, good meals, and his faith in God as being the reasons for being able to stay so healthy. Johnson had really never been sick in his life. He had the mumps when he was in the Army and they made him stay in the hospital for a couple of days, but it was a very minor thing.
Johnson married the former Miss Beth Kathleen Owens of Hazard on Thanksgiving Day in 1925 and they had one daughter - Mrs. Hoge Hockensmith who married a Baptist minister from Hamilton, Ohio.
Bill Minor of Hazard who was a close friend said, "I think he was one of the biggest men Hazard has ever known and he stood in the eyes of the Lord." There was no generation gap for P.L. Johnson. He thought young and acted young.
It was part of our day to take a walk from our house past the Bakery, The Johnson Funeral Home, the home of Henry and Mrs. Howard, the Lykins Family, of course, Bess and P. L. and their daughter, Nora Lee, Bob and Lora Heath and one of my best friends, Lavonne, Minnie and Earl Maggard, the Wooton family, the McGuires, Ollie Combs (Bullard) house, the Davis' (Alvin and Don), the Shuttes, the Hines, and we would stop at McIntosh's little store to get a pop, such a quaint little grocery store and we missed it terribly when they moved from East Main down to Dwarf. Then we would turn around and head back down East Main, by that time, very slowly and getting sleepy, and that routine was almost a late evening ritual for my Mom to take us walking to wind down, and then we were ready to go to bed and let the crickets, the tree frogs, and other night sounds lull us to sleep.