After 54 years inseparable, husband and wife die weeks apart

Lona Mae and Willie Johnson were 71 years old and just two days shy of their 54th wedding anniversary when Willie buried Lona Mae. Three weeks later, on March 31, Willie would join his bride.
  • MY MOTHER, MY BEST FRIEND

  • While Lona Mae Johnson was nearing the end of her life in a San Antonio hospital, her daughter, Juliet Moon, wrote her a letter. While her mother lay in bed, Juliet read her the letter. Her mother managed one ...

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  • MY MOTHER, MY BEST FRIEND

    While Lona Mae Johnson was nearing the end of her life in a San Antonio hospital, her daughter, Juliet Moon, wrote her a letter. While her mother lay in bed, Juliet read her the letter. Her mother managed one last time to tell her their catchphrase: "I love you infinity."

    Here's the letter:

    "I know this time has come for your departure from me. I will always 'love you infinity.' I am blessed God let you be my mother and best friend. We've shared so much together, and I have so many good memories to keep in my heart forever. You taught me to love, hug and see positive in everyone and every situation. I have tried to live by that. I know God has called your name, and I hope someday I will get to see you again.

    Your second born, Juliet."

Her mind was beginning to slip into the past the last time they saw each other.

"She said, 'That's my Wiggie," Juliet Moon recalled of her mother. "'We gonna get married.'"

But Lona Mae and Willie - or Wiggie - Johnson weren't teenagers anymore.

They were 71 years old and just two days shy of their 54th wedding anniversary when Willie buried Lona Mae. Three weeks later, on March 31, Willie would join his bride.

That last time he saw Lona Mae, Willie tried to fight being put in the vehicle that drove him away from the hospital. The couple had been inseparable since they met as teenagers in F.W. Gross High School. She was a tomboy who wore a rope for a belt, shot guns and could hold her own in a fight. He was a city slicker in Stacy Adams gear.

They were by each other's side until the end, electing to stay in uncomfortable hospital beds when one or the other was sick, just so they could be together.

"If she was in the nursing home having a bad day, he was over there having a bad day," Moon said. "It's like they felt each other's soul throughout the whole deal."

One of the only times they were apart during their 54 years came when she was receiving cancer treatments and he'd fallen ill from a stroke. When they did get to see each other, she'd put moisturizer on her lips, and he'd lean in for a big smooch, his lips puckered with exaggeration.

"She'd say, 'I know you're looking at these nurses,'" Moon said of her mother.

Willie and Lona Mae never let go of that teenage spirit that brought them together. By the time they had raised three daughters and were working on six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, Moon said, they were just a couple of big kids themselves. They downright enjoyed each other.

"She was six months older than he was, but when you let him tell it, 'Oh, your mama's old,'" Moon laughed, remembering her dad. "You better leave me alone, boy," her mom would counter.

Raising the family in Goliad, Lona Mae taught the girls how to cook and clean, while Willie taught them how to be strong, independent women - even how to avoid getting cheated by mechanics.

He was a park ranger, and she was a teacher's aide and bus driver in the Goliad school district. They loved people almost as much as they loved feeding people from one of Willie's many barbecue pits.

"My dad ... was always sitting on the porch waving," Moon said. "People said they still even drive by and honk."

Because of his stroke, Willie was unable to speak at his wife's funeral. He couldn't tell everyone the memories they'd made, couldn't say, "I love you," one last time. Moon said he just stood at her casket, clinging to her obituary, and let tears fall to the floor.

A week before Lona Mae would have beat him to another birthday, Willie died in his bed.

"I don't know if he was in a rush to see her, or if she reached back and got him," Moon said

With all that goes into planning two funerals in a month, Moon and her sisters haven't had much time to grieve the loss of their parents. Luckily, their obituaries were almost one in the same, their caskets identical, except hers is pink. They're buried next to each other in Sapenter Cemetery in Goliad, so the family can visit them easily enough on what will be their first Mother's Day and Father's Day without their mother and father.

Moon said she sometimes feels selfish for wishing her father had stayed with her longer. But she knows her parents always have been, and always will be, happiest together.

At their funerals, the minister said no one could say Willie without saying Lona Mae. They were a package deal.

"He was right because even God said that. He called Willie, and he called Lona Mae," Moon said.