Who is Steve Johnson?
Steve Johnson was born in Boise, Idaho. He is sixty-five years old and has lived in Cheyenne for the last sixty years. His family moved to Cheyenne from Boise when Steve was five to find better work. His father was an avionics engineer after World War II. He worked on the radios of flyboys who wanted to continue flying their own planes after the war. Steve grew up in a middle, working-class neighborhood in Cheyenne where most everyone worked in farming. His mother was a stay-at-home mother like all mothers in the community at the time. Steve considers himself a Libertarian and wants for less government involvement in the lives of Americans. He is married to Christine Johnson who was also interviewed for this project, and together they have four children from previous marriages. Steve works as a contractor at a company that builds railroad ties. He and Christine live north of Cheyenne on a small ranch.
Excerpt from interview with Steve Johnson by Whitney Dow, 2018
Johnson: [01:48:25] I don’t know. I think—I mean, we can talk about everything we have—from drugs in the community, to alcoholism, to unwed mothers. But it all goes back to the family unit. If your family doesn’t love you and support you, you’re in for a long, long road in life. And you don’t know which way to turn. You’re not going to have the guidance there that your parents can provide. And I think that’s the saddest part of where America’s going now. I know people that are estranged from their parents and never—for the last forty years. And their parents are about to pass on. That’s sad to me.
I know my brother was—he went to Stanford [University]. And he had never been in a situation like that where people were—these people had money. They sent their kids to the best colleges. And they weren’t loved. They were sent away. And here’s the money. More money than they know what to do with. And my brother came back that first year and he says, “I can’t believe how incredibly blessed I was to have a family that loved me.” He’d met people there that are— they were sent away. They never talked to their parents unless they needed money in their account. And that—I just—I don’t know. I think you are incredibly blessed if you’re loved by your mother and father. And they teach you right from wrong.
Johnson: [01:51:34] My brother and I were very close. He was two years older than me. He was a lot smarter than I am. He got a full scholarship to Stanford. And he went up Stanford to get his education. But the other thing that he hid from us—we always knew he was smart. But he hid from us that he was gay. So for thirty years of his life, he hid that part of his life from his family. I mean, we loved him. It didn’t matter if he’s gay or not. When we found out, we still loved him. We did everything we could. He ended up dying from AIDS [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome] and pneumonia.
But I’m so saddened that I missed that part of his life. His partners were like my wife and myself. I mean, she is part of my life. His partners—he had two of them in his forty-six years— they were an important part of his life. And he didn’t share that part—his life with me. And growing up, I’m kind of upset that [shows emotion]—I’m upset that he didn’t share that with me. It wasn’t a—I don’t know what to say. He wasn’t—that’s just the way he was born. We accepted it and loved him just the same. And I resent that he didn’t trust us enough to love him, that he didn’t share that story with us earlier on. I’d have loved to have been part of his life. So that was a sad part of my life there.
Q: Why do you think he didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with you?
Johnson: [01:53:37] You know, I don’t know. I think in the ’60s—he graduated in ’69. I think it was cultural. But I don’t know. I think he’s—I think—well, I don’t know for sure. But I think gays just naturally—they tried to hide that from their families, some of them did. So he went in the closet. He thought that’s where he’d be secure and safe. And now that he’s passed on, I can’t tell him that I miss that part of his life. I would have loved to share that with him. Didn’t mean— doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. He’s still my brother. I still love him. I’m going to cry.
Johnson: [01:55:49] I think about him every day. He’s still—it’s funny. My mom calls and says, “Your brother’s in the hospital.” And I said, “Really? What happened?” She said, “Oh, he’s got pneumonia.” We think pneumonia, you know—medicine, science, they’re going to cure everything. I thought, well, I’ll stop by on the way before I go home. Stopped in and saw him. And we chatted a little bit. And I remember he had a nickel on his tray. He’s eating dinner. And he looked at me. He says, “Here, you can have this.” It was a nickel that’s—I don’t know what he—why. But I put that on his photograph at home. Still taped to that photograph of him. That was the last time I saw him. So that was pretty sad. I wish he was here again.