Johnny’s Laugh

As I go through the memories in my mind of my beloved cousin John Hoffa, there is one thing that stands out- his laugh. If I sit still long enough and think about him, I can see his face and hear his voice- and that laugh.  That heartfelt, almost giddy laugh that was so infectious you couldn’t help but laugh too. God, how I miss that…and him.

John L Hoffa
Me, Tommy, John, Mary (John’s sister) and Mary (my sister)

Growing up, he was more of a sibling than a cousin to me. Our mothers made sure that all of us spent plenty of quality time together no matter where we lived. See all of us lined up on the couch in this picture? This is pretty much how I remember big chunks of my youth, hanging out with my cousins and siblings and having fun- lots of fun. Oh, and he LOVED that stuffed animal dog.  I remember him dragging it everywhere he went-and even when it was threadbare and worn, he still adored that thing!

From our childhood shenanigans through our teen years, we always got to hang out for weeks at a time usually during the summer. There was this one time I remember when the Haags descended on Grand Island, NE for the summer to hang out with the Hoffas. My Mom and Aunt Kathy occasionally made these mints that I think were made out of cream cheese- they were always pastel green and pink and sooo yummy. They would make a bunch and leave them out in the kitchen to “dry”.  On this particular occasion, they left them all out and went shopping leaving us to fend for ourselves.  We had so much fun when we discovered if we threw the mints hard enough, they would stick to the ceiling- and after several seconds they would fall down.  So we decided this was a great game to play and spent the afternoon throwing mints on the ceiling and catching them in our mouths. (I cringe at the thought today but it seemed a good idea at the time.) I can still see John in my mind shouting “OK! Watch THIS!” then he would throw a bunch on the ceiling and go around catching them as they fell and laughing hysterically as we all followed suit.   That’s how I like to remember him- the happy John.  Like the one you see in this picture- full of mischief and fun.

I remember how he used to crawl around on all fours and sing the Purina calendar cat song…except instead of saying “January” he would sing “Generate-y…chow chow chow chow chow” and for some reason we all thought that was sooooo funny.

John liked to make people happy.  If you were ever down or having a bad time of it, he would do just about anything to make you feel better. I remember one time when he was living in Kansas City, we were both struggling with a myriad of issues and decided to go to lunch. I remember him wanting to pay for lunch-he thought it would cheer me up even though I knew he couldn’t really afford it. He was sweet that way- always trying to make other people feel better even if he was feeling down. He would resort to being goofy just to get you to laugh and if he succeeded, you were rewarded with a big grin and his wonderful laugh in return.

We were always close- even when we grew into adults and each had our own lives, my cousins Mary and John always felt more like siblings to me than cousins. I guess that’s why his passing hit all of us so hard and I know in my heart that it’s going to be a long time until things feel “normal” again for any of us. Memories are the things we cling to when our loved ones leave us and travel to the great unknown. I know I will always treasure the ones I have of John. My cousin had such a big heart and such a sweet yet tortured soul.  It pains me to think of how much he suffered and while I miss him terribly, a part of me is thrilled to know that he has finally found the peace and love he deserves as he watches over us from above.  I will always remember the good times we had with a smile, and until we meet again- I’ll carry him in my heart…always.


Michelle Haag-Rierson – Cousin
Omaha, NE


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