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XXIII.  Family Distinguished

 

While Steve was giving June a comforting hug and assuring her that everything would be alright, she responded, “Uncle Steve, I am so lost.  Please help me through this with the state,” remarked June.  “I want to do what is right.”

 

“We will, you can rest assured of that,” confirmed Steve and turning to Sam, “Good morning, Sam.  I’m glad you brought June.  She needs to be in on this conversation.”

 

“Yeah, at first I thought it would be too much for her, but she insisted,” replied Sam.  “She has more at stake than all of us right now so she needs to hear where she stands.”

 

Sam and June went arm in arm into Warner’s office suite and Steve followed.  Sue, Warner’s secretary, greeted them and told them to go right in.  “Mr. Warner is expecting you.  Do you care for a cup of coffee, or water maybe?”

 

“Coffee for me.  Thank you, with one sweet n low if you have it,” answered Steve.

 

“Nothing for me.  Thank you,” replied June.

 

Sam said, “Water might hit the spot for me.  Thank you.”  They all walked into Warner’s office.

 

Warner jumped from behind his desk to greet them and exclaimed, “June, I did not expect you to be here, but I am so glad that you are.  You are the integral piece of this puzzle and we have many things to cover with you.  Sit … sit all of you.  Is Susan getting you something to drink?”

 

“She has it covered, Warner.  Here she comes right now,” answered Steve.

 

Warner started, “June before we begin, let me express my condolences in your loss of Junior.  He was a good man and the community lost a young man that had a vision for the our little city that few possessed.”

 

He explained, “His new concepts for banking will not go unnoticed in banking for our state.  He was a ahead of his time in new ideas for banking.”

 

“Now,” continued Warner, “we have got to figure out how we can keep his vision alive.  I trust you have come with your thinking caps on.”

 

“We know it is not going to be easy, Warner,” but with the recent win for Junior in court and now that Clyde Bonner is off his back, it should be a matter of maintenance to keep the state boys happy,” submitted Sam.

 

“Well … that is a yes and a no, Sam.  Let’s get down to business.  First, June, as you know Junior did not have a will.  And since you do not have any children – you are the sole beneficiary of the estate.  That’s our starting point.”

 

He continued, “However, that is also our first challenge.  With your background and lack of banking experience, the State Banking Commission is not going to allow you to continue to operate the business as a bank, period.”

 

He explained, “They will not even allow you in a managerial capacity with people working with you to operate the bank.  Their interest is not going to be you primarily, but the interests of the general public with the bank.”

 

Warner continued, “If this were an ordinary company, say for example, a grocery store – no one would have a say.  But with banks failing from time to time across the country, the state established the State Banking Commission.  They have regulatory powers over who gets a bank and who keeps a bank under these circumstances.”

 

He exclaimed, “I’m sure you remember Junior talking about how the examiners were constantly pestering him in the beginning until they were assured he could go forward.  You understand this from their perspective?”

 

“Yes,” replied June looking at Sam, “Dad told me that this would be an issue.  I just want to do what is right for what Junior started and the people he served.”

 

“Good, now we can look at the other options that are not available to us,” started Warner.  “And there are a few.”

 

Warner began with Sam, “Beyond you, June, it has to be understood that Sam is not an eligible candidate either.  The state is well aware with the published findings of the sale of Sam’s stock to Steve.  There was a 5 year non-compete clause and they will look harshly at meeting compliance with that.”

 

He instructed, “Any wrinkle they can find, they will enforce.  Sam, you remember that clause in the sales contract at the time of the sale.  The Central Bank in Nashville wanted it to be part of the loan agreement made by Steve to secure the funds to complete the purchase of your stock.”

 

“Warner said, “It seemed so insignificant at the time – but under these extreme circumstances – it is coming up full force.  We don’t have a way to get around it.  Plus we would have the restructuring of the Central Bank loan in Nashville to consider with the buyout of your stock.”

 

“Yeah, I remember it being part of the agreement.  You say the state will not allow us waive that provision?” asked Sam.

 

“That’s exactly what I am saying,” Warner recounted the agreement.  “You see, Sam, to waive that provision now would mean we would have to go back and address the contract of sale between you and Steve with the Central Bank in Nashville.”

 

“The Central Bank in Nashville would have to waive, after the fact, their requirement for the loan which they have already disbursed a year or so back,” reasoned Warner.  “It could not be done with just a stroke of a pen.”

 

Sam declared, “And getting them and the state to waive this would be next to impossible.  I know how slow the state works with waivers and the banking commission is going to work a lot faster than that shutting the bank down.  That leaves me out then along with June.”

 

“Is there anything Steve can do?”  Sam was frustrated that he could not help.  Having been in banking – he understood the regulations covering banking.

 

“Yes there are a few options involving Steve,” continued Warner. “First and the easiest would be for June to sign over her proxy on her stock in the bank to Steve and he in essence becomes the operating officer of the bank.”

 

Warner instructed, “According to the State Banking Commission, not only would she have to sign over her proxy, but she would have to give him an irreversible limited power of attorney over affairs regarding the bank.   We could get a time limit on the irreversible aspect I’m sure to coincide with the existing non-compete clause.”

 

“The commission does not play games when it comes to this type of action and they want to make sure that it is not an arm’s length transaction between a niece and an uncle to avoid the provisions of the regulatory orders of the state,” acknowledged Warner.

 

He continued, “Under these provisions, Steve would assume control of the bank.  He could hire whomever he wants to run the bank.”

 

“Now we are back to you, Sam.  At this point, he could – if he so desired – employ you to run the bank.  And I think the banking commission would accept Steve at the wheel and you at the operations.”

 

Sam emphatically stated, “Well, I got out of banking because I was rundown with banking.  Nothing has changed.  I have never been happier in my life than I have been these last few months.  I only suggested the waiver a moment ago if could help June.”

 

Sam stated, “Steve I am sorry, but I don’t think I will submit my resume.  I am just not into banking anymore.”

 

“Hey, I understand,” agreed Steve.  “This operation would be a lot different than what you had.  You would have to be over all facets of banking there and not just the operations as you were at Community.”

 

“OK, we have eliminated June and Sam and with only 3 in the room we can work with the one that is left – you Steve,” stated Warner looking directly at Steve.

 

He explained, “You know the State Banking Commission will go along with whatever you want to do.  They will give you full reins to do it.”

 

He explained to Steve, “You have a couple of options at your disposal.  One, you can accept June’s proxy and limited power of attorney which will put you in charge of all that goes on with the bank.  June will have to agree for this to happen.”

 

Speaking to Steve, Warner expanded yet another acceptable option, “Or there is still yet another option that you have.  Steve, you could buy June’s stock in the bank based on its current value and take outright control of the bank.  Just as you did with Community Bank when you bought out Sam – you bring in an outside auditor to determine the value of the stock and you buy it for that value.”

 

“Junior built that bank up pretty fast – building, the land, the improvements on the land – it is not going to be a push over dollar wise,” introduced Steve.  “That stock is going to be worth something.”

 

He explained, “I don’t have that kind of money to turn loose to buy June’s stock.  And with my current loan on Sam’s note at Central Bank in Nashville, I could not get another loan.”

 

“OK, then,” countered Warner, “We are back to square one and that is to have June sign over her proxy and give the irreversible limited power of attorney to Steve with no exchange of dollars.”

 

Warner addressed June, “June, you would be left with a hand full of paper that you could not spend at the grocery store.  It would only satisfy the banking commission, but be a poor choice for you.  I’m looking out for the best interest for all involved here.”

 

“This is making my head swim with all these options,” declared June.  “It will be difficult to manage without some form of income.”

 

“Don’t worry about that, June,” said Sam. “We will see that you don’t go without.”

 

“I appreciate your concern, Dad, but going without is not the issue,” calculated June. “I don’t want to be put on an allowance each month for food etc.”

 

She said, “I want to be able to go my own way.  I want to do for myself as I see fit without having to answer to anybody for anything.”

 

“That’s understandable, June,” said Warner, “You do have one other golden option.  You can sell your stock to Steve and you handle the note.”

 

“He agrees to pay the audited value for the stock as a monthly payment that you can accept – maybe the salary that Junior was earning at his bank or Steve’s bank.  He does this for a period of time until the stock is paid off plus interest.”

 

He elaborated, “You can go to the grocery store, clothing retailers, cars – all based on your income from the sale of the stock.  I suspect that your monthly income from the sale would be more than enough to sustain you according to your needs and then some.”

 

“Steve, I am not hearing from you?” inquired Warner.  Steve said, “That is because I want June to make a decision first, then I will state my position.  I don’t want anything I say to sway her one way or the other.”

 

Steve did admit, “I will say that if you want, June, to sell the stock and you handle the note, I can pay you what Junior was making at Community which I am sure is more than he was making at his bank since he was just getting started.”

 

“Uncle Steve, if you will agree to use the outside auditors that you used with Dad on his sale and the interest rate is agreeable; I will handle the note for the amount you were paying Junior by the month.”

 

“Look at this,” smiled Steve.  “An ‘interest rate’ that is agreeable – she might have made a great bank officer after all.  Junior has taught her well.”

 

“To answer your question,” answered Steve, “yes, I will use the same auditors that Sam and I used.  He was quite pleased with them as was I – and yes, I will agree to an interest rate one point over market subject to review each year with the same provision as the market fluctuates.”

 

“If the market goes up – so goes my rate and vice versa – if the market goes down, so goes my rate.  That would be fair to both of us.”

 

Sam spoke up, “June you will not get a better deal than this.  The auditors that we used rated the stock higher than I thought and lower than Steve thought.  Both of us were happy.  Are we all in agreement then?”

 

June said, “Yes” and started crying.  “Junior worked so hard on all of this and I come in here in one morning and sell everything he did in a matter of minutes.”

 

“Don’t blame yourself, June, we are all subject to the State Banking Commission and I’m sure that Junior knew all too well that if anything did happen he would have to answer the same as all of us,” said Steve.

 

Sam put his arm around June, “I assure you, June, Junior would have been pleased with this deal.  He would have been happy he was able to take care of you even after death.”

 

“His work will not go unnoticed.  There are banks even now that are adopting some of his methods.  His innovations will be notable for years to come,” commented Steve.

 

Steve turning to Warner, “I assume you can draw up documents for us that will keep the state people off our backs.  We will get the audit for the stock next week.  We then can consummate the sale and the loan.”

 

“I’ll get right on it,” answered Warner, “June you have been a great trooper coming in so soon, but rest assured, it had to be done.  Don’t feel one bit disturbed over what we have done this morning.  It is for the best for everybody.”

 

They all stood.  Sam and Steve thanked Warner for seeing them on such short notice.  June gave Warner a hug and thanked him.  They walked out of the office together.

 

Driving June back home, Sam commented on the settlement of the account, “June, you made a wise decision this morning.  This way Junior’s dream can remain alive.  There was no other way the banking commission was going to let the bank remain open if Steve did not take it over in some fashion that was agreeable to everyone – especially you.”

 

“I can’t guarantee you that Steve will keep the bank open, but you can be assured the depositors will be protected either way,” calculated Sam.  “Whatever he does, it will be in the best interest of you and the bank.”

 

“I know, Dad,” replied June. “It just meant so much to Junior.  He really put a lot into it.”

 

“Some things will change,” relented Sam, “Steve is ole school banking, but I think he sees the future in some of Junior’s ideas and will incorporate them into his world of banking.”

 

He continued, “One more thing I wanted to discuss with you.  And this is just between you and me.  The loan I made to Junior to help get the bank started – he insisted that he have an insurance policy that would pay off the loan in the event of his untimely death.”

 

“I tried to tell him that it was not necessary as he would get the money when we die anyway as an inheritance, but he insisted,” Sam informed June.

 

“He said that if he was the bank and he was going to loan that much money to anyone, he would insist that they have that policy as an insurance against death.  And what was good for the goose was good for the gander.”

 

“I contacted the insurance company yesterday and got the ball started.  They need a death certificate and we will get that from Pace as part of the funeral process,” Sam said.

 

“I am so happy to hear that,” an elated June expressed.  “I did not know he included that as part of the loan.  That takes a load off my mind.  I knew that with the payments I would get from Uncle Steve, I could meet the payments to you, but now that is taken care of also.”

 

She continued, “Junior may not have had a will, but he certainly set things up for me so that I do not have to worry about my future.  He was a good man.”

 

Sam explained further, “Not only that, his investment in the bank with that money is going to make the stock that much more valuable and you should gain from that as well.”

 

He continued, “Steve won’t be hurt.  The auditors will be fair and he will see his return on the capital in the bank.  Plus Steve will add the insurance to your note that he makes with you on the stock purchase in the untimely event of his death.  He shared that with me.”

 

“I am so glad things are working out for all of us,” recounted June,  “And I am glad I went in this morning to get this settled.  It takes a load off my mind.  Thank the Lord; I have you, Uncle Steve, and Warner to help in a time like this.”

 

She exclaimed, “Who plans for this in the first place?  It is not supposed to happen.  I would much rather have Junior than all the money in the world.”

 

June began to sob softly as she was brought face to face with the reality again that Junior was indeed gone.  And gone forever.  How wonderful it was to have a family who is there for her in her time of need.

 

Visitation at Pace & Pace went smoothly.  Junior’s friends and friends of the family came by the droves to pay their respect in Junior’s passing.  They expressed their condolences and support for June.

 

Junior, even though passing so quickly and at a young age, had become a person well known to the community.  June was a strong trooper standing by Junior’s casket and greeting the many visitors.

 

Sam and Joan joined her from time to time, but she stood in a stalwart manner recounting the joys of being with Junior and how he meant so much to so many.  She loved him dearly.

 

The service the next morning was serene.  Music was both soothing and comforting.

 

When it came time for Steve to give the eulogy, the crowd in attendance grew silent.  Steve stepped to the podium and microphone.

 

He began to speak, “Folks we are here to celebrate the life of a young man who was taken from us – prematurely as we would see it.  But in the mind of God, it was perfect timing in accordance with His plan.”

 

“That does not remove the hurt from our hearts in his passing.  Junior will be missed by all of us and especially his beautiful wife, June and his parents, Sam and Joan.”

 

He continued, “June, please know that we as a family and as a family of friends from the community stand with you in your loss.  We are here for you.”

 

He continued, “Samuel Lance Johnson, Jr. was an innovator.  He was not one who accepted the status quo.  If he thought it could be done better – or different – and be a better way of doing it – he made the changes necessary to see it come to fruition.”

 

“He explained, “His bank represented who Junior was.  In the world of banking, he could be measured against the likes of Benjamin Franklin with electricity; Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone; and more recently people like Steve Gates and Steve Jobs in the world of software companies and the internet.”

 

He acknowledged, “You see he invested in the 21st century technology that incorporated all of these devices.  He built them into a new age of banking.”

 

  “Many of us – when we first heard of his ideas- scoffed at the new innovations, but he had the last laugh at us all with their success.  What we have come to see in Junior’s ideas will revolutionize banking throughout America in days to come.”

 

Continuing, “But we are not here today to memorialize his accomplishments but instead to embrace his passing.  The world of banking might know Junior because his ideas were so astonishing, but in days to come our world will marvel in the brilliance of the Junior we knew and loved.”

 

“June, Sam, and Joan, we hurt with you.  We join with you in your grief.  We are all better people today because of Samuel Lance Johnson Jr.  May he rest in peace.”

 

Pastor Wilson gave an inspiring message concerning death and our future home in heaven.  He shared that while we are facing heartbreak today, Junior was enjoying the golden streets of heaven.

 

He said, “Junior was probably wondering how he could turn those golden streets into capital for a bank in heaven.  More than likely, he was probably calculating a return on the investment for God.”

 

The family found comfort in knowing that Junior was at peace.  As the crowd filed by the casket as a final tribute to Junior, June wept softly with Sam and Joan on either side to comfort her.

 

The irony is that while they were working diligently to support June, the pain of losing their only son was heavy on their hearts as well.  It is not the natural order to have to bury your children.  Junior was laid to rest in the family burial plot with only family and close friends in attendance.

 

The following Monday, June, Sam, and Steve met with Warner to finalize the papers for the transfer of the stock to Steve.  The banking commission was sending in a team the next day to review the standings and to make their ruling for the continuance of the bank.

 

With the papers signed and notarized – the stock transferred – Steve became the owner and controller of the New Age Bank.  All that was left now was to get the approval of the Sate Banking Commission to sanction the changes.

 

Steve’s first order of business was to open the doors of the bank at the usual time.  They would conduct business as usual.

 

Until a final decision could be made as to who the manager of the bank would be – Steve sent Jody and his team consisting of Allison and Sharon – to oversee the bank.

 

Jody could conduct his loan business from the New Age Bank as well as from the Community Bank.  And in the process become well oriented in the new banking format with no tellers and only private kiosks.

 

Carolyn remained as his assistant to further introduce him to the bank.  She became his ‘go to’ person regarding the new process of banking.

 

In the meantime, Steve assembled a group of banker friends from Nashville and Knoxville to explore the best remedy for the bank’s future.  Some from the ole school of banking felt he needed to shut the bank down – transfer all the accounts to his bank – and sell the building.

 

Another idea was to make it a branch bank of the Community Bank.  That would make it convenient to those folks living in the near vicinity of the bank.

 

But the idea that carried the most weight with Steve was selling the bank building to the city for a library.  There had been a common interest on the part of the city council to have a city library.

 

The inside layout of the building was conducive for a library setting.  In the agreement of sale, the city would keep the private kiosks for conducting online services with personal accounts through the Community Bank.

 

Steve agreed to sell the building at 75% of market value to the city in exchange for the managerial access to the building.  The city in turn would name the library The Junior Johnson Library of New Age Learning.

 

Time has a way of marching on in Lebanon.  John came home after his graduation from A&M and went to work in the bank.

 

At first Steve thought it would be difficult to keep John and Sharon separated.  It soon became apparent, however, that with their work load; they would handle that quite well themselves.

 

John developed a strong passion for the stock market.  He watched stocks go up and down the scale every day.  He soon became quite adept at predicting what a particular stock might do based on his daily graphing of their stock.

 

As Steve watched John and recognized his ability to study the markets, he planned a department at the bank for personal finance planning for his clients.  He placed John in charge of that department as the Vice Preseident of Financial Planning.

 

John was ecstatic with his new role.  Soon he had clients in the bank who were making more with their investments with him than with the interest they were receiving from the bank.

 

John was promoted to Senior Investment Director for the newly established Financial Planning Department.  He was well on his way to becoming the Executive Vice President in the Financial Planning Department.

 

Steve even invested windfall capital with John for the bank.  The bank was receiving a handsome return as well.

 

To assist John in analyzing the stock ventures, Steve moved Allison from Jody’s team to become the analysts for the bank at large on loans and stock ventures.

 

There she would serve as an overall analyst for the bank.  She would work with both John and Jody analyzing their accounts – Jody for loan purposes and John for stock venture investments.  He advanced her to an Executive Vice President on the level with Jody.

 

Sharon continued to work with Jody on loans.  She also gave assistance to John with his computer research.  It was a well-oiled investment banking machine.  Steve advanced Sharon to the position of Senior Manager of Loan Development under Jody.

 

John and Sharon completely rekindled their relationship from high school.  They were head over heels in love with each other.  They were inseparable.

 

James and Sarah were now working their internship in Fort Worth in their respective fields of medicine.  Each were accomplishing their expectations in the field of medicine.

 

 John’s birthday was the 1st week of June.  With the wedding for James and Sarah approaching quickly, the family decided to come together to celebrate John’s birthday and to finalize plans for the wedding.

 

Sarah saw it as an opportunity to go over the last minute details with her Mom.  Her motto, “Never could there be too much planning for a successful wedding.”

 

James and John spent a lot of time together and had become like brothers.  While James and Sarah were in for his birthday, John took an afternoon off to take James to one of their fishing holes.

 

They sat enjoying the quietness of the summer afternoon.  Watching their fishing poles was not the necessarily the priority for the day though – relaxing was.

 

James started, “John, you ought to marry Sharon before she gets away.  A pretty girl like that might not last long in Lebanon if others found out she might be available.”

 

“Well, she is not available,” laughed John.  “We have this understanding.”

 

“And what makes you think that?” asked James.  He saw an opportunity of trapping John with his own words.

 

“Because she’s mine,” answered John curtly.  “And what’s mine is mine.”

 

“Mine, mine … and what century were you born in.  John, women don’t belong to us, we accept them as equals and respect them as team members working for common goals,” pushing John to see his supposed shortsightedness.

 

“You know what I mean,” squirmed John.  “We have this understanding.”

 

“No, I don’t know what you mean,” pushing again.  James said, “If you think that you somehow got a hold on her you might just be whistling in the wind.”

 

He pushed further, “If you get a ring on her finger, you might then be able to say you have a strong relationship with her, but until you enter into a commitment of marriage you can’t continue with this we have an ‘understanding’.  How else will the two become one?”

 

“Wow, you have been reading the Bible,” declared John, “And now you are using our clichés too.  Sarah has really turned you around.”

 

“Not anymore than I want to be turned around.  We do Bible study every day.  She does have a way of wanting to go to the passages where I am supposed to love her like Jesus loved the church,” laughed James.

 

“You know you might just have something here,” John said, “I do want to marry Sharon – we have talked about it often – I love her more than life itself.”

 

“But we have gotten so caught up in our work – I guess it went to the back burner.  I may have to give this some serious thought,” considered John.

 

They leaned back watching the fishing poles with the corks bobbling in the water.  John entered into a serious state of meditation.

 

Suddenly John jumped up excitedly and expressed, “I think you have just made up my mind for me.  I’m going to do it!  Tonight at my birthday dinner, I am going to propose to Sharon.”

 

“We might still have time to get our act together and have a double wedding with you and Sarah.  After all we need is another cake and we are home free.”

 

He laughed, “Y’all have done all the work.  All of your friends and my friends are the same so we send out invitations – get another cake and we’ll be married,” teased John.

 

James thought, “Uh oh, what have I done?  I have turned loose a bull in a china closet.  But John did say they loved each other and – he said more than life itself – that’s reason enough to get married.”

 

“But what will Sarah say about a double wedding?  I am going to keep my mouth shut and let the chips fall where they may.”  James jumped up and said, “Let me be the first to shake your hand and to congratulate you.”

 

“Don’t jinx me by jumping the gun.  It hasn’t happened yet,” warned John.

 

“Oh, but it will,” an elated James said, “You can tell how much in love Sharon is with you and you have to think positive.  This is not something you don’t just lightly jump into.”

 

“Now you are trying to get me worried – huh?” cautioned John, “Stay on the same track with me.  I am going to ask her to marry me.”

 

“OK, OK … I wish you all the happiness that Sarah and I are going to have,” stated James.  Gathering their fishing gear, they left for home.

 

That night, Sandra had a big celebration dinner planned for the family.  Family now included, Sam, Joan, June, and of course her family with John and Sharon along with James and Sarah.

 

James was already considered part of the family.  It looked like Sharon was moving to becoming a Johnson as well.

 

They all gathered around the large table in the formal dining room and dinner was immaculate.  All of John’s favorite foods were prepared.  Sandra had cooked chicken and dressing served with cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and fruit salad.  John ate until he could not eat anymore.

 

Then from the kitchen, Sandra brought out a beautiful ice cream cake with candles on it.  She said, “Quick, John, you have got to blow these candles out or the cake will melt.”

 

John took a deep breath and blew out the candles with one try.  Bowls were brought in and Sandra, Joan and June served the men their dessert.

 

Sharon was sent in to sit with John since it was his birthday.  There was a Johnson tradition for almost everything.

 

As soon as the ice cream cake was devoured and the balance put in the freezer everyone moved to the parlor.  John made sure everyone was there and said he had something to do.

 

He got in front of Sharon and knelt on one knee.  “Sharon you have been the one and only true love of my life.  Even when we temporarily lost contact with each other while I was at A&M I could not help thinking about you.  Sharon, I want you to be my wife – will you marry me?”

 

Sharon was in total shock.  She had never imagined that John would ask her and on his birthday.  The family sat in total awe waiting for Sharon to speak.

 

Sam and Joan were holding on to each other.  June was sitting near Sharon and she could have heard a pin drop.

 

Sarah was looking at James as if he had something to do with this.  She wondered about that fishing outing.

 

At last Sharon blurted out, “Yes!  Why did it take you so long?”

 

Pandemonium broke out in the Johnson household that evening.  Everybody was hugging each other and congratulating the newly engaged couple.

 

Steve asked, “John, where’s the ring?”  “Dad, I just decided this afternoon that I was going to do this, I did not have time to get a ring,” laughed John.  “We can go together and pick one out that Sharon likes.”

 

“Well that might work … but there is one thing I want you to consider,” stated Steve.  “We wanted one of you to take Mother’s rings but when James came in already with a ring that took them out.”

 

As Steve was talking, Sandra left the room to go get the rings.  “Now I want you to consider taking Mother’s rings for your wedding rings.  Look them over – you don’t have to, but it would mean a lot to me and your Mother.”

 

Sandra came back into the room with the rings.  She opened the box and the glow from the box lit up the room.  Sharon took one look and was totally blown away with excitement.  “They are beautiful.” She exclaimed.

 

John took the engagement ring and slipped it on Sharon’s finger.  It fit perfectly.  It was as if it were meant to be.

 

John looked at Sharon, “What do you think?  Do you like them?”

 

“There you go again,” shouted Sharon, “they are beautiful.  I would be honored to have them as our wedding rings.”

 

John grabbed her and kissed her right in front of everyone and shouted, “Praise the Lord!  How does that Southern Gospel song go, ‘I’ll have a new life because I have a new wife.”

 

“I think John has had too much ice cream cake,” laughed Sam.  Joan gave Sandra a hug and said, “I know you are so happy.  I’m happy for you.”

 

Even with the memory of Junior returning in the moment, June was able to share with the family joy of being there.  She knew that Junior would be happy for them also.

 

“Well, we have two weddings to plan for now,” said Sandra, “I know what I am going to be doing for the next few months.”

 

Steve being the practical person that he is said, “Why can’t we have a double wedding?  Two for the price of one.”

 

He calculated, “James and Sarah’s wedding is not until the end of the month.  They have already set everything up.”

 

John laughed, “All we have to do is get another cake.”  John then turned a bit serious – “It might work.”

 

“Well there is far more to it than that.  It is supposed to be a special day for the bride not the brides.  You can’t crash a wedding with a wedding,” laughed Sandra.

 

“Now wait a minute, Mom,” jumped in Sarah, “there is not anything that says it has to be my day and my day only.  Sharon, do you want to think about it?  It could be done.”

 

“This is all so fast,” commented Sharon.  “At first glance, yes; it would be alright with me.  Let me run it by my Mom and see what she says.”

 

Sharon turned to Steve, “Mr. Johnson, I need to take tomorrow off.  I need to talk to Mom and get this together.”

 

“First, let’s get off that Mr. Johnson stuff, call me Dad,” instructed Steve, “You might have to work on it, but James finally got around to Mom and Dad – you can too.”

 

He finished, “And take all the time you need.  Allison and Jody can handle it while you are gone.”

 

“I’ll talk to Mom and Dad tonight.  I will call you in the morning.  Maybe we can come over and see your ideas for Sarah’s wedding.  If that is OK with you Sarah.  I don’t want to push in on you.”

 

“That is not pushing in on me.  I would love to have it happen.  This will turn our wedding day into a major event in Lebanon.”

 

“That will be great,” said Sandra.  “We will wait to hear from you and your Mom.”

 

“Just make it around 10 AM,” said Sarah.  “Internship has us getting up at 5 every morning.  I would like to sleep in while I am home.”

 

“10 it is.  I will call you in the morning,” replied Sharon.  “I am so excited.”

 

And James who started all of this quietly walked out on the patio and said “Thank you Lord for working this out.  Maybe in the future, I will learn to keep my mouth shut.  But it is great isn’t it, Lord?”

 

Steve and John joined him on the patio.  John asked, “Dad, I know the old home place is supposed to be a monument to Grandmother and Granddaddy, but do you think that Sharon and I can live in it until we can get a house built?”

 

“Sure, that’s perfect.  No problem, and as far as I am concerned since you and Sarah own that house.  James, you and Sarah can use it anytime you come in to visit.  That will give you some privacy – that is after John and Sharon get their house.”

 

“And John, if you and Sharon like the home and want it as opposed to building one, all you would have to do is buy out Sarah – assuming she would want to sell her interest.  I know that you would keep it up.”

 

“There really has been little interest in letting the home be shown to visitors or tourists.  Sam and I could revisit that part of the inheritance and make it official,” said Steve.

 

“Great, I will see what Sharon thinks after we live in it for awhile,” countered John, “She might want everything new and it be her ‘new’ instead of Grandmother and Granddaddy’s new.”

 

“Whatever … either way, it can be yours and Sharon’s decision.  Build or buy as they say.”

 

“With as many rooms that are in that house, James, you and Sarah could still stay there when you come in for a visit,” responded Steve.  “You would have all the privacy you want.  Even with John and Sharon living there.”

 

Sleep was hard to come by in the Johnson home that evening.  James and Sarah were getting married within the month and now the possibility of John and Sharon getting married added to the excitement.

 

What an exciting time it was going to be for the family during the month of June.  Steve, turned to Sandra, as he lay down on his pillow that night, “You know, Sandra, when you look back over the last couple of years since Mom and Dad were killed in that accident, the Johnson family has experienced a tremendous overflow of extreme events in our lives.

 

He recalled, “There was Mom and Dad; then Sam getting out of the bank; Junior leaving to start his own bank; then Junior dying; and now the engagement and approaching marriage of our two children.  That’s a lot for a family to go through.  But in the midst of all of it, we come together tonight and enjoy each other as a family.”

 

Steve lamented, “We cherish the memories of those that are gone and cherish those that are left.  Plus we treasure those that are joining us.”

 

“Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for,” agreed Sandra.  “I was watching June tonight and you could tell she was hurting inside but she loved us so much that she was able to work past her hurt.”

 

“Even Sam and Joan, you know they were hurting to see the excitement in our children’s faces as they start a new life, but they were joining in with the joy we all felt as if it were their children.  And that is as it should be,” She replied.

 

Steve would do well getting to work on time in the morning.  He gave Sandra a hug and turned over and went to sleep.

 

John had to rush over to the pastor’s house the next morning after asking Sharon to marry him.  He had jumped the gun without getting Pastor Wilson’s blessings.  This had to be done before any plans for  a wedding could take place.

 

In her excitement, Sharon had awakened her Mom and Dad when John took her home that night.  She told them the news.

 

Sharon’s Mom was so excited she got up and made coffee.  They talked for over an hour about the upcoming plans.  They discussed the double wedding and they both agreed that it would be exciting.

 

Sharon could not wait to call Sandra the next morning to let her know.  “Wow and to think we were just going to celebrate John’s birthday.”

 

From there – the hens were out of the coup and you could have heard their planning for miles and miles if you listened.  It was going to be the event of the year for Lebanon.

 

Another year went past after the weddings went off without a hitch.  James and Sarah went to Fort Worth to live as they continued their internship while John and Sharon moved into the old home place.

 

Sharon was a little hesitant at first to think of it as a permanent home, but it grew on her and she came to love the home place.  The spacious back yard with the creek at the end would be a great place to raise children.

 

She remembered that when they were growing up they had a playroom.  It’s official name was ‘outside’ also.

 

She and John had discussed children and both wanted a house full.  The Johnson legacy and name could live on with John’s family.

 

John had grown in stature with the bank as a financial planner.  More and more families were bringing in their port folios for him to invest for them.

 

With Allison working the research with John, it seemed they could not miss on stocks for investment purposes.  John was becoming quite adept at the financial planning process.

 

Jody had assumed control of the Home ReSources account for Junior as it passed to the Community Bank with the stock transfer.  He and Sharon were following closely any needs they might have as well as the lumber mill; the poultry processing plant and farms.

 

Ray’s inventory on the fancy big rig pick-up trucks just continued to grow with the country-singers out of Nashville wanting one.  When one gets them – they all think they need one.

 

Ford had stepped in with a consignment program for Ray.  His financial needs were not as great as before.

 

John had taken over June’s account and was investing her funds for her as well.  He held periodic meetings with her to go over the port folio and its growth.  While in meetings with John, occasionally Jody would come in to just visit.

 

Jody and June became friends and were seen in each other’s company apart from the bank.  One night as they were in Jody’s car sitting in front of Wendy’s.  Jody worked up the courage to admit to June, “June, I have feelings for you that go past our friendship.”

 

“I know that you lost Junior only a couple of years back and I don’t want to overstep my position, nor do I want to lose your friendship.  But you are special to me.”

 

Jody was hesitant to reveal his feelings, “I was just wondering that if you think that somewhere in the future you might think of having a commitment with someone else.  Please understand that I had rather deal with any misunderstandings I might have conjured up in my mind than to lose your friendship.”

 

“Jody, I do like you … and I like you a lot.  Yes, I still hurt for the loss of Junior but I am coming to the point of realizing that I will have deal with that forever.  It is just who I am and who he was,” answered June.

 

June expressed her feelings, “Quite honestly, the times we have spent together, have made me more aware of this than any time since Junior’s death.”

 

She solemnly stated, “I know that he is gone.  I also know that he would want me to go on with my life.  He would want the best for me in his death as he did in his life.”

 

Being coy and bringing a degree of levity, she said, “So if you are getting an answer to your question from this, then you might be right.  Yes, in the future there will be a time when I will want to move on possibly with someone else as the love of my life, but that person might find that there are two loves in my life.  Junior – who I could never forget.  And the one who can live with that.”

 

Jody’s heart was jumping as he attempted to keep a calm composure, “I could live with that.  I know that Junior meant a lot to you and to the family.  I could never replace him; them; nor would I want to.”

 

June responded, “That being said, do you think that you could kiss me?”  June had thought of kissing Jody for quite awhile now and this seemed to be the time.

 

“Wow, could I ever,” exclaimed Jody as he took her face between his hands and softly kissed her on the lips.  The passion between them was immeasurable.

 

“That’ll work for now.  Before we go any further, I do want to discuss it with my family,” said June, “Can you put that kiss on hold until then?”

 

“Yes, I can put it on hold forever if I had to,” uttered Jody.  His heart was beating so fast, he thought he might have a heart attack.

 

The Johnson family got together the following Sunday.  Naturally June would be there alone.

 

It was cook outside day and Steve was in charge of the grill.  John had come over after church and was supervising everything Steve was doing.

 

Sandra was inside making her famous potato salad.  Sharon had brought over a pot of Busch’s Grilling beans and was preparing them on the stove.  She added her special spices to tune them up.

 

June and Joan brought over the left over chocolate cake from the ASPCA meeting last Friday so all was in place for a great meal.  Sam was enjoying a beer sitting under the fan on the patio with his Fedora hat on. 

 

June came out to have a discussion with them and said, “I want to talk to you before everyone gets together.  I don’t know how to address this other than just say it.  What do y’all think about me getting involved with someone?”

 

She stopped and waited to see what the response would be.  After a moment, John jumped in, “June, Junior’s been gone now for almost 2 years – right?  That does not make his memory any less than if it was 10 years or 20 years, but for me, I feel that he would want you to move on.”

 

Steve standing near the grill, stood silent waiting for Sam to respond.  June turned to Sam, “Dad, what do you say?  You know I respect your opinion,” stated June, “If you say I should remain a widow for the rest of my life – so be it – that is what I will do.  I will never stop loving Junior.”

 

Sam leaned back and said, “June, I knew this conversation would come up at some point and I HAVE given it some thought.  You and Junior had a great relationship; a great marriage; and a great life together – albeit it short – but like John, I think that Junior would not want you to go the rest of your life without someone.”

 

Sam recalled, “He was never that selfish that he would want you to remain alone after his death.  You have my blessings.”

 

Realizing what he had just said, Sam’s thoughts went immediately to Junior.  “Yes, son, you have a great woman here.”

 

“I believe that I can be true to him in our love for each other and still have someone else to love,” stated June.  “And I believe that whoever that person would be, would have to accept both loves in my life.  Uncle Steve what do you think?”

 

Steve turned from his grilling and stated, “June, Sandra and I have talked about this before also – I don’t see you martyring Junior’s death by crucifying yourself.  You have our blessings.  We wish you well and we know God will bless whoever you meet.”

 

Steve then asked, “Do you have someone in mind that we can pass our blessings on if necessary?”  Talk at the bank had rumored that she and Jody were really getting to know each other.

 

Embarrassingly June lowered her head and said, “Jody.”  There she said it … and now to see what starts to fall out of the tree.

 

“I knew it … I knew it,” exclaimed John, “I saw you and Jody at Saltgrass the other night and the looks y’all were sharing were not ‘hey let’s do a port folio together’.”

 

“Well, he has been awfully nice and we have only been friends since I came in and talked with John at the bank,” stammered June feeling like a high school girl asking her dad if she can go on a date.  “It’s only been about 3 months.”

 

Sam spoke up, “Well like it used to be in the Wolf Brand Chili commercial – how long has it been since you have had Wolf Brand Chili, well that’s too long.  It’s been long enough.  You go for it baby girl and I will see that Joan approves it.  Although I know she will – she has expressed as much to me.”

 

Sandra, Joan, and Sharon came out of the kitchen with the potatoes, beans, and drinks.  “Steaks ready?” asked Sandra.  “Yeah give me the plates and I will serve them up,” answered Steve.

 

They all gathered around the table to eat.  As was the custom in Steve’s house they bowed their heads to give thanks for the food.

 

Before Steve prayed, he said, “Before we pray, there is something Sam and I want to share with you.  June is seeing Jody from the bank and she don’t care whether y’all like it or not.”

 

The girls sat there stunned with the announcement.  Sandra and Sharon looked at Joan.  Finally Joan spoke up, “I think it is wonderful that you have found someone.”

 

June replied, “Mom, no one will ever take the place of Junior in my heart, but I think that I can have two loves.  As I shared with Dad and Uncle Steve, “Whoever wants me is going to have to accept that without question.”

 

“That should not be a requirement, but I am glad that it is, June,” Joan got up and came around and gave June a hug.

 

“Now let’s get on with these steaks before they get cold,” shouted Steve as he grabbed the hands near him and they bowed for prayer.

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