“But my mamma was and is a great lady. And at this time she is 88 years old and still can shout with the best of them! I know when I was 14 years old I was stricken with osteomylitis and had blood poisoning in my blood stream. And as I said before I dearly loved life, and I love it even more today. And I was always moving forever getting into something. Usually something that I shouldn’t have and there’s things I’m not going to mention, cause theres no need in it. Just take my word that I was in it.
But I mentioned the sickness, I was about 14 years old, and I had started home from the service station that I used to hang out at- I hung out up there and played the slot machines, even stole rolls of nickels from the man to put in the machines…and I don’t know but I have a suspicion that he knew it all the time, but he was one of my best people. I want to say friends, because he came to see me at the hospital later when I was there and brought me things and checked on me.
But I started home that day my legs got so sore, I mean all at once. I could hardly walk, and by the time I got to my house I was holding on the fence, nearly dragging myself home. And I know for 2-3 days I would get around the house I’d put one knee in a chair and hobble around the house. Finally I got down in the bed where I couldn’t even get up and the members of the church began to come and pray for me.
We trusted God in those days and I’m trying to trust God now. But folks really trusted God in those days, I don’t know if it was because they didn’t no I don’t think it was because they didn’t have any money, that’s the way they were taught. They were taught to trust God for things. So we was trusting God for my healing. Members would sit on the side of the bed and rub my legs, they were aching and my health was deteriorating badly by the hour even by the minute. I know there was an old horse somebody kept out back of our house and I could just hear him walking out there and I would go into hysterics! I couldn’t stand the noise.
Finally somebody went and called the doctor. Pappa wasn’t gonna call one. So they called the doctor and he came out there walked into my room, took one look at me and said call an ambulance, now! This boy is dying. That old ambulance came out there and it was kind of raining, kind of dreary. I remember coming to between the house and the ambulance. And they put me in the back of that old ambulance and that was about the last thing that I really knew for several weeks. My mamma and daddy were still praying all this time for God to heal me. And I was praying too.
They took me to St. Paul’s Hospital. Not a doctor in that town wanted to handle me. Not even the one that had them take me there in the first place. One old intern, don’t mean to say old, he was a young man, name was Dr. Brown was with me throughout the whole sickness. But I had the osteo and blood poisoning. I was taking 2 shots of penicillin every hour on the hour. And I don’t know how long this went on, and one day my dad was in the room with me and the nurse walked in and she examined me and my dad said she started crying, and said “call the boys mother, he’s gone”.
So papa went down to the waiting room where mamma was and brought her back up to my bed. One got on one side of the bed and one got on the other side and each one took my hand. Pappa said for the first time without even consulting each other, they began to pray and said “God if it’s your will, if you want the boy, take him on”.
Papa said I immediately raised my head off the bed and looked at him and said papa I’m alright now. You can go on to church. And to this day I don’t know why I said you can go on to church, even though they were meeting over there called district convention. Papa said he lit out called a taxi, he called over there to the church said folks were shouting all over the place. The holy ghost had already been over there and told them that I was gonna make it.
They said “brother Bill, where did you get the money to ride a taxi all the way over here? Weren’t you afraid of not being able to pay for a taxi that far?” Papa said “no, I found a nickel in my pocket and after the miracle I had just witnessed I wasn’t worried about it, I called a taxi”.
Speaking of mamma, my mamma worked all during that time. She was making dough or bread or something. But I could look out the window of the hospital room everyday at a certain time and I would see that angel coming up the sidewalk. Never missed. I’m gonna tell you something there’s nothing in this world like a mamma. I watched my wife take care of grandchildren and take care of children. How they sit with them for hours. I don’t know how they do it! But they do.
You know, us men we done gone whacky in 30 minutes, after we’ve sat with them and tried to keep them. I guess God must have put a special love in mothers and in women for that kind of work.
But they had a celebration in the hospital for me. I asked the nurse, you mean they had a real party? They had a real party, cake and all! Said we wanted to bring you some but they wouldn’t let us. They took me up in a wheelchair, into a big old room where they had doctors that made a round circle around me and they all sat there and talked about me. Dr. Brown when I could get up in the wheelchair said show this boy where the kitchen is, where the refrigerators are, and he is to have complete freedom where he wants to go and when he wants to go.
I was talking to the nurse one day we got to mentioning prayer. She got to talking about me praying and I said “you mean I was praying?” and she said “yes”. “Was I praying loud?” She said “no, couldn’t hardly hear you on the third floor”. My soul knew to call out to its maker. And me not even knowing I was in the world. I owe it all to God!” – Country Johnny Mathis
Note about Johnny’s Memoirs: Prior to Johnny’s stroke in 1999, he had sat down at his typewriter and began to share stories about his life and music. We are sharing these excerpts in Johnny’s own words… just as he told them.