How a Jonesville woman overcame obstacles without losing her spirit

Last updated: October 01. 2013 3:10PM - 1767 Views
Taylor Pardue

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Doris Johnson is a woman of faith. She believes in God even when she cannot understand His plans.

Through her struggles she never loses faith, even after losing both of her legs.

Doris Johnson was born Doris Scott on July 7, 1939 in Jonesville to Florence and Gray Scott.

Gray was a textile worker who traveled to Baltimore, Md. to work. Florence worked at Chatham manufacturing in Elkin.

Doris was the fourth child for the family: two brothers, Charles and Reece, and a sister named Betty Lou preceded her.

The family home stood alongside Highway 67 in Jonesville near Pepsi, W&W Barber Shop and Generations Restaurant. Doris said the front porch was so buried in snow following the Wednesday snowstorms of that the family had to sweep snow up to get it over the piles along the house.

Doris was a normal, happy child. But her life was destined to be different than that of her family.

Doris was born with a disease called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV). Her legs were turned backward at the knees and her feet twisted abnormally, leaving her unable to walk.

The Scotts took Doris to the Shiners’ Hospital for Crippled Children Aug. 5, 1940, where she would stay off and on for the next 11 years.

She was barely a year old.

Early diagnoses were bad but hopeful. Her legs were useless doctors concluded, but the physicians hoped to reshape Doris’ legs back to the normal position.

Hospital staff and volunteers kept Doris’ mother in touch with her by writing a series of letters addressed from Doris. Letters include things like what color dress she was wearing on a particular day, what she and the other children were doing, and how happy she was with the new doll her family had sent her.

The hospital was laid out in separate wings for boys and girls. Doris’ bed was inside the wing with the younger children until she graduated up to the windowed parlor with the older girls.

Plaster casts were created to slowly push her legs back straight, much like braces are used on teeth to slowly move them to a desired arrangement. The casts were changed periodically – usually once a week – and the progress measured.

After several versions of casts did not produce the kind of results the doctors were looking for they turned to wooden wedges to speed the process. The wedges were used to

Doctors gave the casts a fair chance but no major progress was ever made. Doris’ doctors wrote in her medical records that she was doing well with them, but eventually they moved on to the next step.

Doris was given braces that attached at the knee via leather straps. They looked more like the bottoms of crutches than anything else and helped her stand on her own.

Her legs, still bent backward, allowed Doris to lean back and brace herself between the “legs” and her own.

The braces helped for a period but still didn’t offer the complete solution doctors were looking for. In a move that caught Doris completely by surprise, her doctors decided in favor of amputation on April 23, 1948.

Doris was told she was going in for a normal treatment that day. When she woke up she asked the nurse to let her see her leg, but she kindly refused and told Doris to lie back down.

When Doris firmly asked again, the nurse told her the doctors were not able to straighten her leg as previously thought and had to amputate it.

Doris was not upset at all. She calmly looked down, saw her missing leg, and then lay back down and went to sleep.

The doctors followed that with an amputation of Doris’ other leg a short time later.

There was no going back then. Artificial legs were made for Doris and she began learning to walk with them.

The legs were wooden and appeared to be real legs. Many people who know Doris never knew her legs were not real until she told them.

She returned home to Jonesville and began living life as a normal girl. The legs were periodically sent for repair because they wore out through Doris’ new active lifestyle.

She was enrolled in Jonesville Elementary and High School. Doris said she had understanding classmates who never made her feel different.

Teachers even allowed Doris’ brother Charles to step out of class and help Doris up the stairs to lunch each day.

Doris graduated from Jonesville High and moved to North Greenville Junior University for a “commercial” major. The school was later changed to North Greenville University.

Doris’ major taught her business and secretarial skills.

Friends in the university were just as friendly to Doris about her differences. They evened shared Doris’ sense of humor about the situation.

Her dorm mates once jokingly stole her legs and painted “toenails” on the wooden feet the legs had.

Once Doris got a chip in her leg and jokingly put a bandage on it. When her friends asked her what happened she said she had cut herself shaving.

It wasn’t all fun and games for Doris at school. She said the school was a strict Baptist college but her and her friends would slip off campus and get into trouble.

They would slip away and go get ice cream.

Being away at school was Doris’ second major period away from home but was a lot tougher for her. She wanted to come home and quit North Greenville but her mother kept telling her to stay just a little longer each time she asked.

She attended North Greenville for two years and then moved back home.

She moved back home and began looking for jobs around Jonesville but experienced considerable resistance from potential employers. Many turned her down for positions because they were looking for “married people.”

Doris eventually was hired by Mr. Wilkins at the Cash and Carry in downtown Elkin. He treated her very fairly she said, telling her the first day that he would not treat her any differently than his other employees.

Wilkins later recommended Doris for a job at Chatham’s Manufacturing where she did computer work for the company.

At that time computers read their information off of punched cards that were fed into the machine. Doris was responsible for punching the holes correctly so the computer could function and operate properly. She worked there for 13 years before moving to Forsyth Hospital in Winston-Salem and doing the same type of job.

She later worked for the Gravely Tractor Company, during which time she suffered two unrelated neck injuries. She worked for Brendle’s and then part-time at the then Arlington Town Hall before having to retire early from the neck and other health problems.

She had dated a few times in college but hadn’t found the right person until two mutual friends introduced her to Chester Johnson. Chester was paralyzed from the waist down following a wreck.

Chester and Doris were both members of the North Carolina Paraplegic Association and both knew a married couple. The couple began inviting them to dinners at their house in 1965, just the four of them, and eventually the two began taking an interest in each other.

Chester lived in Low Gap and Doris in Jonesville. The two would spend their weekends together bowling with on Saturdays and riding around in Chester’s car on Sundays.

Gas was, sadly, much cheaper then.

The two experienced considerable resistance from both sides of their families. Both of their families openly thought the two marrying would be a mistake. Fears of the two not being able to get around and help each other were the culprit.

Still, the two continued seeing each other. They dated for 25 months before getting married.

Chester gave her a diamond on her birthday.

Their wedding day was a happy one. Doris had her maid of honor and Chester his best man, but none of the other family members attended.

The couple attended Island Ford Baptist Church at the time. Preacher Bill Belcher officiated the ceremony.

Doris was extremely nervous. She questioned what in the world she was doing: marriage was a lifelong commitment, was she sure this was the right thing to do?

She prayed that the Lord would let her have peace about the decision. Immediately she felt a huge relief and the wedding went off without a hitch.

Belcher walked with them to the door, and as the newlyweds began to exit the church he stopped them and said he had never felt the Holy Spirit anymore than he had over their wedding.

The two spent the next 28 years happily married. Chester was 35 and Doris was 27 when they got married.

They began their marriage by living with Chester’s sister, then in a rented home in the Little Elkin community, and eventually bought Doris’ current home in former Arlington in June of 1968.

The two shared a lot of love and time together, but their most important quality was humor.

The two were constantly laughing. Neither one was bitter at the trials life had thrown at them and found beauty in the simple things in life.

Once Doris was driving to work – yes, she can drive as easily as anyone – and passed Chester on the side of the road unknowingly. When he got home he asked her what she thought of a woman who would pass her own husband with two flat tires. Doris said she ought to be ashamed of herself - Chester told her she was the woman.

He had a flat that morning heading to work and Doris had passed him. The service station had not opened and their air service was locked so he decided to change the tire himself.

The spare had been flat too.

Another time Doris had asked Chester to not drive the long distance to his job during a snow storm. She managed to get out and make her way to Chatham’s but when she called home she did not get an answer and worried he had went on anyway. He had accidentally locked himself out of the house on the front porch for hours.

Chester helped Doris through her breast cancer diagnosis as well as their challenging lives. The two cried and prayed together for healing, and following a mastectomy Doris was cancer free.

While the two had regular jobs they also did crafts together in their spare time. Many in the area remember the jointed teddy bears they made from their home and sold.

The bears have recessed eyes that prevent a child from pulling them out easily and swallowing them. The head, arms and legs all swivel. Each bear sold for roughly $35.

Chester passed away in 1994. Doris said the loss was the toughest she has ever had to bare.

He had felt strange that morning before church but went on anyway. When they arrived he told Doris again how uncomfortable he was and she told him they would go on to the hospital. They were not able to make it, crashing their vehicle when Chester had a heart attack.

He was brought to the hospital where he was pronounced brain dead. He was taken off life support that Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

Doris said she lost herself in jigsaw puzzles to deal with the loneliness. The two had been inseparable for nearly 30 years and now she suddenly had to deal with life alone.

Doris began spending more and more time with her friend Hilda after Chester’s death. The two continued making crafts and began selling them at different locations around Winston.

What money the two were able to make went back into the craft materials for the over 27 different varieties of products they made.

Hilda passed away in 2012, causing another pit of emptiness for Doris. But she said The Lord always brings another helper into her life as one leaves.

Today Doris lives in the same house she and Chester purchased together. Money is tight for her, but through generosity from friends and a reverse mortgage she is able to make ends meet.

She drives a special wheelchair-accessible van that allows her to gas or brake with her hands. She is unable to use her artificial legs now, confined to a wheelchair for the first time in her life.

The van had a large cargo hold on its top. When Doris sits in the driver seat a winch is lowered and then lifted up with her wheelchair attached. The chair is stored while driving and then dropped for her to exit the vehicle.

She remains active at the Jonesville Senior Center and knits prayer shawls with the ladies there. She also participates in many other center-sponsored activities.

Doris remains as she has always been – faithful. She still praises the Shriners for their help in her youth and tells how God has blessed her through all the trials. Despite the difficult times she strives to remain as faithful to her God as he has been to her.

To contact Taylor Pardue call 336-835-1513 ext. 15, or email him at tpardue@civitasmedia.com.

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