Susan B. Johnson, author at Savannah GA, died in February 2022

I always think of Susan Johnson. Obituaries will do this to you, no matter when you read them.

For a while when I lived in downtown Savannah, before it was gentrified, SCADified and hotel centric, before it was monetized with tour buses, walking tours, vegan restaurants, I felt like I saw her or her husband Fred every day.

So I didn’t. Then I forgot her. And Fred.

Time will do it to you.

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Then when we run out of time, when we don’t stick to a schedule, don’t respond to a boss, fill out an attendance sheet, plan a vacation, go to a staff meeting, complain about a new procedure , let’s go to the dentist, a new supervisor, tending to a flat tire because we have to go to work in an hour, we have time to remember.

And then it’s too late. So they died.

The obituaries are so abrupt, so final. That person you always wanted to call, check on, reconnect with? Forget that. Opportunity lost. I love a line in Susan’s obituary. Her neighbours, the obituary reads, should be counted among Susan’s survivors. After all of our great adventures in life, the moving parts of the nuclear power plant we grew up with, all the jobs, all the encounters, ultimately it’s the immediate neighbors we see the most.

I read that she lived in a house in Midway. How did I not know that? Would I have visited him? It made us wonder how much we really know someone else. She died on February 9.

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Susan was a writer. Novels, plays, non-fiction, newspaper columns, etc. Maybe the last time I saw her was at the annual Local Writers March event in Lafayette Square, where we celebrated Flannery O’Connor’s birthday, sold our works (for the most) independently published and brought attention to Flannery (she would have been 97 this year). I could be wrong because that’s what time does, it plays tricks on you. But in my mind, that’s probably what spurred my memory of her.

Susan was acerbic, caustic. She went to the essentials. She was not from the South.

Fred, who died five years earlier in 2017, sold cars from the former East Broughton Street dealership. With his gift for talkativeness and engagement, he was probably good at it. I have never known a car salesman before. He broke the mould. His obituary, which I missed the first time, was concise, so different from the talkative person I knew. He described him as “a man who loved music, sailing, books, lively conversation and his devoted wife, Susan”. Absolutely true, from what I could see.

But that’s all. Fifteen words. Susan’s was 150 words. Whoever wrote Susan’s, well done.

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Maybe she wrote it herself. People do that. It’s not like the good old days when journalists researched and wrote it. No matter. Obituaries are always good reading. They represent one of the most popular sections of newspapers. They are also expensive. More monetization.

Long before I knew Fred and Susan, before they moved into their 1880 cottage off Washington Square, it took them two years to cross the North Atlantic to Europe in a 39-foot ketch, to better navigate the canals and rivers in Belgium and France. After that, they moved from Chicago to Savannah. They wanted a port city. Savannah was fine. I learned all of this from the obituary.

Susan B. Johnson, author of "The crooked little houses of Savannah," lives in one of them at 503 East Saint Julian Street and hangs out in his back garden.

There is nothing wrong with being in the present. But sometimes I think we need reviews with friends, even good friends. Now, where did you grow up? And what did you do after college? I love the tradition that a friend started during the Passover Seder. Before entering the Haggadah, the text we are reading, and starting the meal, we go around the table and say the names of our parents and where we were born.

To me? Manny and Rose. Detroit, MI.

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Both Susan and Fred were storytellers, especially Fred. The man could tell a story, barely stopping to breathe, laughing the whole time, chuckling at his story, no matter how many times he had told it. Fred would have liked that word, “chuckle.” He loved words. The two completed each other’s sentences.

They both seemed to have drama around their pets. No surprise, both obituaries asked that donations be directed to the Humane Society. It’s probably not too late for anyone who has just learned of his death to contribute. I think I will. It’s the least I can do.

Lola R. McClure