This post first appeared on October 11th at The Roses of Prose in honor of my good friend. It’s important enough to me, to include it on my own blog as well.
“The Paper Burns, But The Words Fly Away” – Ben Joseph Akiba
You’ve heard the term – ‘You look like you’ve lost your best friend.’ A sort of universal acknowledgement to denote unspeakable devastation, failure or loss. A couple of months ago, I literally lost my best friend. One woman, outside of my family, who meant the world to me.
Barbara Kerns Johnson and I met at a writer’s conference many years ago. Two strangers with the love of words in common, who went on to become inseparable friends despite our differences. While I’m a worrier tried and true, Barb was the exact opposite. She could have been the inspiration for the song – Don’t Worry Be Happy – and knowing her, she probably was. As time went on, we worked together, collaborated together, traveled together, enjoyed life together. That’s not say she didn’t drive me crazy at times. I’m sure she’d tell you I returned the favor and then some.
That bond, craziness and all, extended to my family as well. Barb was almost as a good a friend of my husband, Ron, as she was to me. I’m pretty sure part of that had to do with the fact they were both Libras. She never had any kids of her own, but readily adopted the four we had. That she was a big influence in my children’s lives is something I’m extremely proud of. Her presence was a precious gift I was able to give them, one that came with plenty of memories I hope they will always have to cherish.
An innovator, a writer’s writer if you will, she did get around in our local literary realm. It was Barb who initially introduced me to Romance Writers of America and pushed me to establish a local chapter. Over the years, she also introduced me to many local writers who had gained national fame. Among them William Kinzel and Elmore (Dutch) Leonard. Though never published herself beyond a number of freelance articles and ghost written pieces, it seemed to be her lot in life to help other writers succeed. She taught college level creative writing classes, published a newsletter for writers – Not So Neophyte – and later the magazine Working Writer, and held writing conferences around Michigan. She even tried her hand as a literary agent for a time. Besides writing, her other passion was art—painting, sketching, still life, portraits—and she was very good at that too.
In many ways Barbie, as we liked to call her, had an Energizer Bunny type spirit. No matter what happened, good bad or indifferent, she kept on keeping on. More times than not with a smile on her face and laughter in her heart. Maybe that’s why I didn’t realize how seriously ill she was. What little time we had left to be friends.
She was very sensitive about her age. Understandable since she looked much younger than she was. I won’t dishonor her memory by sharing the actual number now. Let’s just say, given the marvels of modern medicine, she was way too young to die.
October the 11th is/was her birthday. A true believer in karma, unicorns and the like, Barb also had faith in the incredible power of the universe in our lives. Lord Willing was one of her favorite sayings.
I’m smiling through tears as I think of Barb Johnson. How much I miss her. How grateful I am that, while she was here, I was blessed to be her friend.