A Jar Full of Bullets

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on April 5, 2012

Sue and Colon Johnson


My darling father-in-law, Arthur Colon Johnson (known as A.C. to most; Colon to me), and I hit it off from the moment we met more than 30 years ago.

Like my wonderful husband Spencer, he was a tall drink of water (as they say in Texas, where he was born, raised, lived most of his life, and died)–6′ 4″ and 160 pounds soaking wet.

Perhaps it was the fact that we were both writers–me professionally and him a never-published, but still-believed-he-might-one-day-be sort of writer whose work included a fair amount of Louis L’Amour-inspired western ramblings, a smattering of mysteries, and a bunch of plain, ol’ tall tales.

Colon could spin a yarn longer than almost anybody I ever knew. Half the time you knew he was lying through his teeth, but just in case he wasn’t, you had to keep listening.

Colon and his wife, (known as Bobbie Sue to most; Sue to me), spent the last three years of their lives in a nursing home just a few blocks from their small, dark, 1980s-era trailer home that seemed to grow backyard sheds and storage areas as quickly as Colon could construct them.

Toward the end of their lives, Sue suffered a series of mini-strokes, broke her hip, and eventually lost her memory completely. She knew Colon was in the bed beside her, but often referred to him as “her.”

During those final long, sad years of her life, Sue never recognized us when we’d come to visit.

On the other hand, Colon always came alive whenever he knew we were on the way from Seattle. In fact, on four occasions when we visited, he was supposedly on death’s door. Once we got there, he made miraculous recoveries, much to our (and his selfless caregivers’) relief.

The fifth time he was at death’s door, he had broken his hip after falling in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom.

“Take care of Sue,” he said to the nursing-home staff before he got into the ambulance.

After being examined at the hospital, his doctor encouraged mending the joint, even though  his heart was weak.

He was on his way to the operating room, in the elevator with his baby sister, Mary Ruth. He squeezed her hand, told her he loved her, and died with a smile on his face.

We always thought he just didn’t want to undergo another operation and months of rehabilitation. Strong man that he was, he’d simply decided it was his time to go. . .


After Sue and Colon went into the nursing home, Spencer and I had to clean out the trailer and all the storage sheds, something that was a true labor of love as the mercury was sitting near 90 degrees that weekend in the “big, little town” known as Itasca, Texas, and we both hate to be out of doors on grass.

Spencer’s cousin, John Paul Carter (who is a frequent guest columnist on Five More Minutes With), and wife, Carole, came down from their home in Weatherford, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, to help us clear out a lifetime of “treasures.”

When the four of us told Colon we were going to be cleaning out the trailer, he got very serious and said we had to look for the jar full of “treasure” he’d hidden in a very secure place.

He described a cement tube he’d sawed in half and topped with a wooden wagon wheel to make a “table” he used for additional storage in the trailer’s carport. He said the wagon wheel was very heavy–it would probably take two people to lift it–so we were glad we had Spencer and John Paul to handle that job.

Once the top was off, Colon promised we’d find all sorts of “good stuff” within. I hate to admit it, but I think that dollar signs of what the treasure might be danced in all of our heads.

After the four of us had spent an appropriate amount of time visiting with Colon, we headed back to the trailer to look for the hidden treasure.

As mentioned before, the temperature that day hovered around 90. Under the carport’s metal roof, with nary a breeze blowing, it seemed closer to 100.

As Spencer and John Paul found the hand-made table and cleared off spent containers of motor oil and antifreeze and dried up cans of paint, Carole and I looked on, full of hope.

It was not an easy task to remove the wooden wagon wheel. . .lots of bad words ensued from both men. . .Carole and I laughed at the display of profanity and frustration. . .

Finally, we held our collective breath. . .Spencer reached into the depths of the cement cylinder. . .and pulled out. . .a jar full of bullets!

We broke into a fit of laughter. The discovery was so like Colon!

Tall tales, bullets he’d undoubtedly collected in the military during several tours of duty in the Marines and Merchant Marines during World War II, a grimy jar to protect his “treasure.”

It was so perfect.


Years later, John Paul and I were e-mailing back and forth and I asked him if he still had the jar full of bullets. His reply?

“I still have the jar of bullets sitting on the table in my shop. It makes me smile when I see them. If Colon is watching, he probably wonders why I haven’t put them in my safe-deposit box!”