October 30, 2015 - Merri Golightly
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the next feature in a regular series honoring women who have overcome emotional and physical obstacles and still come back fighting.
Reenie Johnson was born and raised in Provo. She attended Provo High and started working, right out of school, “I worked in a sewing factory and fast food. I always had a couple of jobs, I just liked working and the interaction with people.”
She also married soon after high school. The marriage lasted 20 years. They had three children together and Reenie adopted a child of his from his first marriage.
As soon as they were married the problem that would end their marriage began for her husband. “It was alcoholism--everything just falls apart when that’s involved in any life, I think. In reflection, I think I probably should have ended the marriage about three months in. It just seemed like a daily thing after we were married. I just kept thinking it was gonna be different, that I could make the difference.
He was abusive. “It was the standard story- it won’t happen again- but it did” It was a pattern in Reenie’s life, one she never thought she’d fall into. She was raised in an alcoholic family. Her husband was too. “I was just scared, scared to death to leave. I didn’t know if I could support my kids… I didn’t think I could do it.”
They separated several times before filing for a divorce. An affair with Reenie’s best friend across the street pushed things to a breaking point. Reenie says she has no regrets now, and loves her life and family. “It was just the biggest blessing to get out of that because my life started… and I think my children's’ lives started after that.”
Reenie felt stifled in the marriage. “I’d never pumped my own gas, paid a bill, written a check. My world changed after I got divorced.”
After the divorce Reenie went back to work. Her sister owned a cafe and Reenie began waitressing there, returning to the daily interaction with customers and coworkers she’d left years before. “I met my lifesaver there, another coworker that told me I could do anything I set my mind to, that I could support my children and make a good happy life for us.”
After divorce, her first husband was an inattentive father, Reenie said. She was on her own with three kids still at home. Eventually she had the opportunity to rent out a space and run her own cafe. “Aside from my children it was the highlight of my life… I met so many awesome people and just loved it.”
She did everything from cooking and cleaning to waitressing and the business-end tasks as owner. “I learned so much about myself and that I could do hard things.”
After 15 years as a single mother, Reenie met her now husband. They’ve been married for 15 years now. They met through a mutual friend and dated for four years before remarrying. Altogether they have seven children and fifteen grandchildren and as Reenie says “about”twelve great-grandchildren. “We’ve got a couple on the way! It’s the standard answer-- but the best part of my life, it’s been my grandchildren.”
She hasn’t worked since shortly after remarrying. “My husband said, ‘You don’t need to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning anymore.’” She fills her time now with family, sewing and gardening, among other things. She also loves decorating her home and yard for the holidays--if you drove by her house this halloween you’d know that in an instant. Witches, pumpkins, spiderwebs and more fill her yard, home and a prominent window display. Her house is a favorite among neighborhood children along with her grandchildren.
She loves working in the yard. She has won Orem Yard of the Week four times and been featured in Better Homes and Garden, even taking second place in a competition through the magazine. “I enjoy making something beautiful that starts out not looking so great.”
Reenie says people in abusive situations should follow their gut, and know that they are capable of so much more. “I just know that tragic things can happen to people, my mother died in a housefire… my sister was murdered, its unsolved. There are just tragedies that can happen in your life. You can dwell on it and you’ll forget the things in your life that are important. If you just have the confidence, you can change your life, you don’t have to be stuck.”