by Trish England
There’s an old saying: “Life in a small town is as fun as you want to make it.” And when you meet a man like M. L. Johns, you know it’s true. Mr. Johns has lived, worked and played in and around Tucker his whole life. He’s a descendant of the Johns family, pioneer farmers and merchants of the Pea Ridge community, more commonly known as Rehobeth.
Born on November 29, 1923 to Martin Luther and Willie Mae Johns, Marion was the youngest of three children. They lived in a large farmhouse on the northeast corner of Lawrenceville Highway and Montreal Road, near present-day I-285. Nearby were Bruce Honea’s dairy farm and Sam Adkinson’s store. His grandfather, Samuel Robert Johns, and his uncles all had farms on both sides of the Highway. Next to the entrance to old Rehobeth Cemetery, one of Marion’s uncles operated a thriving blacksmith shop with a cotton gin, corn mill and saw mill, belt-driven with gasoline engines. Martin Luther Johns and his friend, Ebb Chewning, entrepreneur of the well-known Hello World gas station and store at Montreal Road, owned the first automobiles in Pea Ridge, matching 1910 490 Chevrolets. (“Hello, World” was a slogan from a famous early radio show.)
As a young boy, Marion attended Rehobeth School and later, Clarkston High School. Down behind the old Rehobeth cemetery, he raised chickens and vegetables, selling his produce from a wheelbarrow under the old stone arch at the end of Cemetery Avenue. Lawrenceville Highway might have been a dirt road, but it was a busy commuter thoroughfare for its day, and Pea Ridge was a lively community. No one was rich, and everyone worked hard, including the children, but life had its many rewards.
Early on, Marion showed a talent for technology. At twelve years old, he invented an electric brooder with heat and light for his chicken house, and at home, he built a crystal radio from a kit, powered by an eight-cell battery, that used a sixty-foot poplar tree and one hundred feet of copper wire for its antenna.
After his graduation from Clarkston High School, Marion was drafted into the Army. He served in the South Pacific during World War ll, surviving the Battle of the Phillipines. He returned to Pea Ridge following his discharge, and soon married Doris Singleton. Her father, Clint, built a small house for the newly-weds behind his home, which still stands near the Recreation Center on LaVista Road. They later moved to a small log cabin, which has also endured to this day, on Old Norcross Road.
For seven years, Marion hitchhiked to Decatur and took the streetcar to Broad Street in downtown Atlanta as a shipping and receiving clerk for Kress’s department store. But he soon found his calling as a route salesman for the Standard Coffee Company, a job he held for 42 years. He became well-known over seven counties in his black-and-orange panel truck as he knocked on literally thousands of doors each month, selling excellent coffee at “two pounds for a dollar ninety-eight.”
Marion and Doris had three children, Ronnie, Sandy and Tim, who all went to Tucker schools. Their marriage, however, had suffered over the years, and they went their separate ways in the early 1970’s. But one day, while on his coffee route, Marion met Blanch Burnett Rusk in Scottdale. They married in 1975 and moved into an eighty year-old farmhouse off Brockett Road, where they still live today.
At eighty years old, Marion is bothered by some health problems, but he enjoys his retirement, his two grand daughters and one great-grand daughter, and his Atlanta Braves. There’s not a lake in Georgia that he and his son, Ronnie, have not fished for bass. He loves to work in his yard and continues to plant a garden every year. He has, however, had to give up climbing the giant sweetgum tree in his frontyard to prune the limbs.
Like many of Tucker’s Old-Timers, whose roots go ‘way down in the red dirt, Marion has a vast memory of his life in this small town, the people he’s known and the good times, and sad times, they’ve shared. With his keen sense of humor, he’s a treasure of insight into Tucker from the Depression and up to the Twenty-First Century.