She was the sweetest woman you’d ever want to meet. She was kind to everyone, humble, generous and caring. Yet she was as tough as the land she came from.
Flossie Johnson, 90, died Thursday, and the sentiment that swept over Wilkes County was like the closing of a book.
The former wife of the late Junior Johnson was known far and wide as “the First Lady of NASCAR,” though to folks in and around Ingle Hollow, she was just Flossie. She was quite a gal.
Her husband came from the moonshining days in western North Carolina, and she never knew if he would come home at night or not. When he was arrested and did time in prison, she kept the family chicken farm going. They said she made it more profitable that Junior ever did.
When he retired from racing as a driver and became a team owner, he began to interview folks from the hills around Ronda. She would sit in on the interviews. Junior would ask questions like “Can you weld?” And Flossie would ask questions like “Can you cook scratch biscuits?”
She sure could.
She had more recipes than anyone ever knew, most of them passed down from her family but many of them she simply made up. When she started writing a cookbook, she realized she had too many recipes. So she wrote two more books. Back when NASCAR still came to North Wilkesboro twice a year, Flossie would invite the teams and the drivers and even some of the media to her house on Saturday morning for the most remarkable breakfast you could imagine.
Every tabletop and every countertop was covered in bowls and plates filled with eggs and bacon and sausage and biscuits and gravy with bottles of milk and pitchers of orange juice and pots of coffee, all steaming and filling the Johnson’s entire house with the smell of breakfast.
It was like something out of another time with the men forming long lines from the front yard to the back and the women all standing around laughing at them. Groups would form out back and Junior would pass a moonshine jar, sometimes clear and sometimes filled with cherries.
And no one thought a thing about it.
It was Wilkes County, and the county seat was Flossie’s kitchen.
She wasn’t a bit cautious about her cooking or her recipes. She gladly told you how to make anything and everything, even going so far as telling you secrets about ingredients.
I once overheard her whispering to a friend that she only used corn meal from Linney’s Mill in Union Grove. Legend has it that she gave her cornbread recipe to Rosalynn Carter, the wife of President Jimmie Carter.
Jeff Hammond, a former race team employee and a family friend, told the Wilkes Journal-Patriot that, once she liked you, you became part of the family. Forever.
“She had the grandmother effect on many who worked there,” Hammond said. “When I think of her, she was sweet, but also rough as a corncob if you crossed her.”
She was born on a farm near the speedway, raising chickens and hogs and cows, and she worked as a telephone operator in Winston-Salem.
The Johnsons divorced in 1993, an ugly split that sparked a fight over the couple’s vast holdings. But as the legal battle lingered, they decided to mend fences and split everything. Junior got his race teams. Flossie got the house and the chicken farm.
They became friends again. Junior died in December.
For years and years, people would still come to Flossie’s just to talk or to eat or to sit on the porch and drink iced tea.
Many of those who dropped by were Junior’s closest friends. And some of them, Mrs. Johnson had no idea who they were. She would often send them home with a recipe if not a cookbook.
She was quite a gal.