I’ve never told anyone this before, but I wanted to be like my cousin Johnny.
Johnny Morris was a wheeler and dealer. Ideally suited to his profession of being a car dealer. He could, as people say, sell water to a fish. He was that good. He never met anyone he didn’t like and even if he did, it didn’t outwardly show it. At least not to my knowledge. He understood the language and finesse of the deal. He was a master of it. Johnny had the gift of gab and he used it brilliantly.
I took special pride when I saw one his goofy television commercials air on local television. He understood that to get people into his Chevrolet dealership, he had to show that he was willing to not take himself too seriously. I think he would have been a wonderful actor and as my family will tell you, I know a little about the profession. By the way, my favorite of his commercials was the one where he dressed up as Australian explorer. To this day, that one stands out. I don’t remember if he actually tried to do an Australian accent or not, but I remember seeing him in the ridiculous costume and thinking how great it was. My first new vehicle was purchased from his dealership and I can still see that car. The car of the future, a Geo Metro. Great gas mileage. He recommended it to me because I was newly married and needed something that would save me money.
But I also remembered Johnny and I as kids. He was nearly ten years older than me, but I always got the sense that he looked upon me as a younger brother. Christmas reunions were particularly memorable. He seemed to take a special pride in finding a corner of the house and wrestling me. Probably because I was the only boy in sea of female cousins and he felt sorry for me. (I had two other male cousins closer to my age, but they lived in Virginia) When I graduated from college, with no real direction in my life, he offered to help me by hooking me up with a business partner of his, but he warned me that the guy was tough to work for. I decided to go a different route, but the fact that he was willing to go to someone else to help his younger inexperience cousin meant a lot to me.
That love of family leads me to this thought and that was he was a family man. Make no bones about it, I truly believe that if he was upset with you, he would tell you…even if you were family. But what mattered most was that you were family. He took care of his mother, father, brother, sisters, kids, grandkids, cousins, uncles, and aunts. He loved them all. If he could help you out, he would even if he disagreed with you. I was always a little jealous that he had seized the opportunity to name one of his children after our grandmother. I had always wanted to do that. Both he and I loved our Grandma Terrell intensely. I feel like she always saw the two of us as being a little bit alike. We were a couple of skinny goofballs. We also both loved baseball. As kids I think we were both rabid Cincinnati Reds fans.
I know too that when he became a success that he was hurt by comments by people who saw him as an upstart or as I actually heard someone call him (they had no idea that we were related) “a hillbilly millionaire.” But Johnny knew that with success there comes a price. It didn’t matter to him. Comments like that were the fuel to his fire. He took those comments and threw them back into the face of those that said it as if to say, “Well, I may not had your upbringing, but I earned every bit of what I have.” That was something he could be proud of.
Johnny wasn’t a saint, but that’s not the point of this little essay. He had his flaws, he had his vices. Who amongst us, doesn’t. I remember him smoking like a chimney. I also remember when I came to a family reunion smoking a cigarette after my first year of college. He looked at me, took me aside and told to quit. I, of course, was thinking who are you to tell me to quit when you have that thing in your hand. Now, I see it as he was looking out for me. His skinny, younger goofball baseball-loving cousin.
And that is what Johnny did. He looked out for you and I looked up to him.