Southern Snaps: A Whimsical Life

By Leslie Moore

Southern Snaps: Jenny Johnson

Over the past few years, it appears that the pursuit of happiness and finding joy in life has become more important to many of us. Walk into any bookstore and several books on how to bring more happiness or joy or peace into your life will be prominently displayed. You can take classes on finding inner peace or your inner child. And, some of these are very good – I’ve read many of the books and attended quite a few of the classes. But, what I’ve found is that whatever it takes to be happy can not really be taught; it is something we all carry around inside and it almost never appears while we’re frantically searching for it.

Fortunately, there are those who walk among us who really do live joyous lives and watching them can lead us to find our own path to contentment. One of these is Jenny Johnson. I first met Jenny when my publisher sent me an e-mail she had received from her detailing a birthday present to her husband, Henry. It was so funny that we asked Jenny if she would consider expanding it a little for an essay to be published in Sasee. She did, much to the delight of our readers last December.

Jenny is a native of Lake City, a small town in Florence County, but she and Henry spend a lot of time at their home in Murrells Inlet. The day we met I drove to her river house, outside of Lake City, and I tried to find out what makes Jenny so special, and why her friends and family love her so much.

It’s a long drive to Jenny’s river house, and it’s not near anything – seriously, this place defines the phrase, “the middle of nowhere.” You turn down a grassy lane off a long country road and wind down to a small house that sits on the bank of Lynches River. Jenny came out to meet me, and after a tour of the small neat house, we climbed into her truck for a ride around her property while she graciously shared some of the details of her life.

Jenny’s roots are firmly planted in the Lake City area. She and Henry’s grandmothers were best friends. Jenny told me that she and Henry had their first date at the beach at age three, when they were bathed together by Henry’s mother. They didn’t really start dating until they ran into each other in college. Jenny was at a party at the Citadel where Henry was studying, and they decided, after being life-long friends, that they really should be dating. Jenny said, “Who says teenagers can’t make good decisions? Best one we ever made!” A month after Jenny’s graduation from Converse and Henry’s from the Citadel, they were married. That was thirty-three years ago. Today, Jenny and Henry have two sons, Will and James, both grown and successful. James works with his dad in their wholesale grocery business, and Will is an attorney in Columbia.

If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.

A life-long tomboy, Jenny grew up hunting and fishing with her father, Dr. R. L. Cockfield, who is still a tremendous influence in her life. A former school principal and WWII veteran, he instilled small town values in Jenny, both with his words and by being a living example of faith and service to his community. He and Jenny’s mother, Dot Cockfield, live on Main Street in Lake City, in the house he has lived in since he was only two years old, and both are still active in their church and community.

All through our conversation, Jenny talked about her church and her strong faith. As a child she would talk to her pastor and ask him why terrible things happened to good people. Even then, she knew that being surrounded by a loving family was a gift.

“I believe it’s important to know and to share the fact that you can be a Christian and still have a lot of fun,” said Jenny. One of the pivotal points in her life came after she read, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. The book is the account of the author’s life during WWII when her family risked everything to help Jews escape the Nazis. They were caught and sent to a concentration camp. Jenny heard Corrie Ten Boom speak at a local church in Spartanburg and was deeply moved by the love, joy, peace, contentment, and even forgiveness in the eyes of this elderly Christian lady who had spent almost a year of her life in a concentration camp.

Another watershed event in Jenny’s life came when she was in a serious car accident in high school. Jenny says she was, “probably the world’s only person saved by cigarettes!” She and a friend were driving to the next town to see boys, of course, and had cigarettes in the car. “I knew my parents would kill me if they found those cigarettes, so after I was thrown from the car I jumped up and ran to get rid of them.” She later collapsed, but neither she nor her friend was seriously injured. Jenny said, “I figured God must have spared my life for some reason.”

Jenny’s strong faith led her to ask God what He wanted her to do, and this is how she found her teaching and coaching career. “So many kids don’t have a positive role model, someone to say, ‘You can do this!’ This is what I was meant to do. My own mother was a great high school English teacher. She taught me, both at home and in her English class, that I could do anything I really wanted to do. She expected the very best out of her students and her two daughters.”

Today, Jenny teaches math at Williamsburg Technical College, education courses for Coastal Carolina, and coaches a local high school tennis team. “I am so impressed with my older students who work so hard to get an education while working full time and raising families.”

While Jenny and I were talking by a pond on her property, a fish jumped in the water. “Oh, I’ve got to see what that is,” she exclaimed, running to her truck to pull out a collapsible fishing rod. In about three minutes, Jenny had a large mouth bass on her hook. After we admired him, she carefully took the hook from his mouth and threw him back into the pond. To complete my initiation to country living, I even shot Jenny’s pistol, a family heirloom that once belonged to Henry’s father.

As we were leaving, Jenny told me she played the piano in her youth, but wanted to play another instrument as an adult. Her first choice was drums, but Henry put his foot down, so she found her father’s old clarinet in the attic and began to take lessons. Today, Jenny belongs to a woodwind quartet that is sometimes not a quartet, so they call themselves, The Lake City Winds. Her first public appearance came at the local junior high school. As Jenny began to play while her sister Elizabeth accompanied her on the piano, Jenny’s music stand began slipping down. She laughed as she told me that everyone thought she was just “getting down” with the music as she dropped lower and lower and ended up almost on her knees in an attempt to read the notes.

I was invited to eat at Jenny’s home in Lake City, only a short drive from the river. This amazing woman had put lunch on to cook before she left that morning and in less than a half hour put a delicious meal on the table, complete with pretty china and cloth napkins. Jenny often cooks a midday meal for her entire family. As I sat around the table with Jenny, Henry, her parents and son, James, I could feel the great love this family has for one another. And, everyone was happy. The joy of being together filled the room – and we didn’t even have to take a class.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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