April Johnson, Mom and Volunteer Firefighter; Prestonsburg, Kentucky:
“I was born at McDowell, Kentucky, and raised in David, until I was a teenager, and then I lived in Wilson Creek, in Maytown, for a couple of years.
When I was a little girl, back in those days you didn’t have to worry about people kidnapping you, or the things that you worry about now. I climbed the hills, and played in the creek. [In] our little holler, it was just my cousins and me.
My cousin, Dwayne, he was a few years younger than I am, but he was always like the older one, he acted the oldest of us all. We took my baby brother, who was at that time, probably three or four, and we went hill climbing. They were looking for my baby brother, and they couldn’t find him. When we got back, we got in so much trouble. We got the best spanking of our lives. (Laughs) And we never done that again.
The people [in Appalachia] are more willing to help you. Everybody cares about everybody else, and you know if you need help, that you’ve got it.
It makes me angry sometimes, because they [media] act like we’re nothing, but hillbilly hicks, and we’re not. Yeah, I’m sure there’s some that live way up in a head of a holler that never come out but once a month, but that doesn’t affect everybody. We’re just down to earth people.
I was married twice before. My first husband was a fireman, and he passed away when he was thirty-seven. My three older children are by him. He had diabetes really bad, and it was really sudden, very unexpected. He had been on duty the night before, and went home. An hour or so later he just…he just died. Like literally, died. His heart exploded. That was hard. We’d been divorced for eleven years. He was somewhat abusive, when I was married to him, and that was why I left.
But, he had realized what he had done, and he had changed, and he was my best friend. We got closer that last six months to a year that he was alive, than we had ever been, and that was hard. It’s still hard, because my youngest one by him has a baby due in December, and he’s married. When they [the children] go through major life events like that it, bothers me and I cry a lot, and I don’t understand it sometimes.
And my second husband, he was abusive, and my three babies are by him. We’ve been divorced since 2008.
I’m a volunteer at the fire department. I do just whatever they tell me to do. I’ve not went inside of a fire at this time.
The kids love the animals. We’ve got a miniature mule, a miniature donkey, got cats, and dogs, and chickens. So that keeps them entertained. We have rescued a horse once. At one time, we had eight dogs, where we’d rescued them, and cats. It’s a lot work, and costs a lot of money, so we’re down to four dogs, I think. And we have two cats, and two kittens.
I’m not real crazy about having the animals. They’re so much work, but I do like the mule and the donkey, because they’re just so loving. And they’ll come over, and they’ll lick you, like a dog. If you don’t pay attention to Dumpling, that’s the mule, he’ll get your shirt and pull at it with his teeth to get your attention.
My mother was very abusive, so there were a lot of hard times [during childhood]. My mom was crazy. The whole family’s crazy. My great grandfathers, both of them died playing Russian roulette. When I was a little girl, my papaw would tell me that. I blocked most of my childhood out, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it.
Have you ever heard of Marlow Tackett? [Tackett was a Kentucky native and RCA recording artist. He passed away in 2014, and was later honored by having his name added to the Country Music Highway. For years, he owned a music venue, Marlow's Country Palace in Pike County, Kentucky.]
I love the man. Love him. When my mom was being abusive, she would take me up there when I was nine years old, and just leave me. And she would go find her whoever she wanted to be with, and I’d wander around there by myself. Well, he noticed that, [and] every time my mother would take me, he would have a bouncer follow me around to make sure I was okay. His family just took me in, just like I was theirs, and would always make sure I was taken care of; and my baby brother [who] was about four at this time.
They had a car auction up there, and my mother would take my brother and me up there and just leave. They had a booth, and the cars would come, and they would sign in. Well, Junior, one of the bouncers put us in that booth while he was signing the cars in, to make sure we were all right.
[On meeting husband, Tim Johnson] I met him when I was a volunteer at the fire department. He used to run a gas station, so I would go up there and get gas all the time. He was married at the time, and I was married when I met him, to my first husband. And after my first husband, I kind of got stupid for a little while, because I married my first husband when I was seventeen. And when I was in my twenties, I had already had three kids. So I went stupid for a little while.
I would go up there [Marlow's Country Palace], and I would drink and get drunk. And I’d end up calling Tim, and he would come up there. There was one point in time, that he came up there, and literally threw me over his shoulder. And see at this time, all the bouncers were still protective of me. And he threw me over his shoulder, and carried me out of there, and I will never forget, one of the biggest bouncers up there was Donnie. Tim just about had to fight him to get me out of there. It was funny, to hear him tell it.
Tim walked me down the aisle with my second husband because my dad wouldn’t come to my [wedding]. Tim was like a big brother at that time. He walked me down the aisle, and he looked at me before we went, and he said, ‘Please don’t do this.’ At that time, I didn’t know he and his wife were having problems. He had feelings for me, and I had feelings for him, but we never done anything, or told anybody because he was married, and I wasn’t going to mess his marriage up.
He divorced her, I think it was ’05 or ’06, and I was married. It took us forever to get where neither one of was dating anybody. After we did, the very, very first date he took me on, he proposed.
He’s been good to me. At that time, I was a single mom with six kids, and had been for a while. And he took us. He said he either loves us, or he is crazy.”