Visit with Johnsons proves time doesn’t change everything

When I first met them, they were three little blond von Trapps of perfectly descending height — like stairsteps of a well-built Scandinavian staircase.

The oldest, “Marta,” had long, honey-colored hair and a sweet grin. She seemed shy, although her brothers would later claim she was very bossy.

The next in line, “Everett,” was a miniature of his father. He was polite — almost formal — but I would eventually find out he had a mischievous streak and a wonderfully puckish sense of humor.

The youngest, “Joshua,” was a turbocharged dynamo with a shock of white-blond hair. The first time I met him, he fearlessly scrambled to the top of a huge combine in the yard like some sort of Sir Edmund Hillary of the Land of Allis-Chalmers.

I met them after interviewing their mother, “Molly,” on a cookbook she’d written about creating fun, healthy snacks for kids. Each gamely donned a kid-sized chef’s hat to pose for a photo accompanying the story.

Even though this was 23 years ago, I still remember how adorable they were. Everett, all business as he gravely filled celery boats with cheese. Marta supervising the proceedings with the conscientiousness so native to the firstborn. Joshua — his blond head just barely tall enough to see over the table — wiggling around so much that the photographer had trouble capturing him on film. The whole scene made me feel at home.

Molly and I had clicked immediately. We were both opinionated, western North Dakota girls of German heritage, and we seemed to agree on everything from the cultural differences between western and eastern North Dakota to the merits of organic farming. Visiting their farm brought me back to my own farm upbringing, with the barn kitties trying to sneak into the house, the huge trees and sprawling lawns and a big, old, rugged farm dog, “Johnny,” of indeterminate heritage.

Although work had brought us together, I quickly befriended the whole crew. I even wound up buying a home in the country that, completely unbeknownst to me, was just a couple of miles from the “Johnsons.”

As a neighbor, I got to witness their growing-up years. They would watch our dogs while we were away, and I paid them to do my least-favorite thing in the world, clean house. They challenged my then-husband to a giant pumpkin-growing contest, which resulted in our yard being filled with giant, orange orbs that looked like they had fallen from space.

Many nights were spent at Molly’s kitchen table, drinking coffee, solving the world’s problems and watching the Johnson kids dart in and out of the kitchen. One of Everett’s cartoons still hangs on my refrigerator. It depicts Kita, as a tiny puppy, holding a crowbar while gazing into a food-stuffed fridge from which she’s removed the door. The caption reads: “And in that moment, Kita discovered the world.”

But then I moved out of the country. The kids, one by one, went off to college. Marta moved to the Twin Cities and landed a big job. Everett got married. Only Joshua — now a big, blond Viking — stayed around to help his parents farm.

I now barely ever saw Molly, much less her kids. But whenever I would stumble across an old photo of them or glimpse a memory with them on Facebook, I smiled. And then, a miracle: All three were home for Christmas.

Marta, now married, had a precious baby girl. Everett, now in the military, was heading soon to officer training. Joshua was engaged and becoming the world’s largest and blondest CPA. The family had planned a game night. Would I like to visit?

I now live 30 miles away from them. It was late, and I was exhausted after a day of shopping. But I wouldn’t miss this for the world.

From the time I walked into Molly’s kitchen, it felt just right. They were all adults, with jobs and significant others and responsibilities. But as I sat down around their big dining room table to play a drawing game, I felt like time hadn’t passed at all.

We reminisced, ate peanut blossom cookies and laughed — a lot. I got to cuddle Marta’s baby girl, who was dressed in a red-and-white striped romper like a Christmas elf.

Maybe you can’t go home again, but you can go to a place that feels just like it. Thank you, Johnson family.