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Albany High Class of '41 grad still enjoying life

Carlton Fletcher

carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com

ALBANY — Doris Johnson is a force of nature.

An Albany resident since 1929, Johnson has, at 87, a fuller schedule than people a third her age.

“Let’s see, I play bridge on Mondays, on Tuesdays I play ‘hand and foot’ — which is glorified canasta — on Wednesdays I meet with my TOPS (take off pounds sensibly) group at Byne (Memorial Baptist Church), and on Fridays I play hand and foot again,” Johnson tells a visitor. “On the second Wednesdays, the fourth Thursdays and the second Saturdays of each month I play bridge, and I play keyboards for the church choir.

“I’ve been a member at Byne for 77 years, and I played organ and piano at the church for 38 years. I’ve been playing keyboards for the last eight or nine.”

Johnson hums a tune as she walks into another room to get a photograph taken at Albany High School’s 1941 graduation ceremony. The picture is of a stunning beauty who looks ready to conquer the world.

“That was the last year we dressed up for graduation,” she says as a visitor admires the photograph taken some 70 years ago. “They started wearing caps and gowns after that.”

Johnson became acquainted with members of The Herald’s news staff recently when she donated copies of the Albany High newspaper The Pow-Wow to The Herald’s library. She’d collected the school paper during her high school days, from 1938 to 1941.

During a conversation at her west Albany home, she reminisced about growing up here during a time that only a precious few remember so vividly.

“Albany was a wonderful place to grow up,” Johnson said. “We lived on North Street where the Albany Towers are now. Back then, there were houses all along the street, and I remember how us kids would get excited when the horse-drawn ice wagon came along. He’d always chip us off a piece of ice.”

“I remember the trains coming through town, the Artesian well a couple of blocks over and how you’d always run into people you know buying ice cream cones for 10 cents on a Sunday afternoon.”

As Johnson relives her days at Albany High, it’s easy to visualize a time completely foreign to 21st-century Southwest Georgia.

“We’d walk to school every day, and at recess you’d have boys on one side of the grounds and girls on the other,” she said, laughing. “That was the rule back then. We didn’t really date, we went to prom parties and had so much fun. I remember one girl in school got pregnant, and it was such a disgrace. Nothing like now.

“I remember coming from the gym one day, and a boy — I won’t say his name — was sitting on the fence before you got to the school building. He asked me to go to the Junior-Senior Prom with him, and my heart almost flew out of my chest. He bought me a gardenia that you wear on your wrist, and it was so tight it was cutting my circulation off. It’s sad, but I’ve outlived all my old boyfriends.”

After graduation, Johnson went about the job of raising her two sons — Don and Terry McKay — and remained a loyal member of Byne.

“I play the keyboard in a flute setting, and the folks in the choir started calling me ‘Flutie’,” Johnson laughs, a twinkle in her eye. “I said, ‘I’m just glad they didn’t put a Z in there instead of the T.”

Her sense of humor is perhaps one of Johnson’s most endearing qualities. You don’t spend time with her without her sharing a few of her favorite jokes. (“A little boy was in the bathroom for a long time, and his mother went in to see what was wrong. He was patting himself on the head, and the mother said, ‘What are you doing?’ The little boy said, ‘It works with ketchup’.”)

“I’d rather people see me and say ‘HERE COMES DORIS!’ than say, ‘Unn, here comes Doris’,” Johnson says. “One of my teachers at Albany High told me something that’s always stuck with me. He said, ‘Any time you make someone laugh, you do them a favor’.”

That’s Doris Johnson ... still enjoying life at 87 and still doing favors to everyone she meets.