Brentwood, Tennessee Teen Recalls ‘Eye-opening’ Trip to Ethiopia to Get Her Brother

Brentwood, Tennessee Teen Recalls ‘Eye-opening’ Trip to Ethiopia to Get Her Brother

Helen Johnson, 15, is part of a big, blended family of nine, which sometimes draws looks and unusual questions from Williamson County (Tennessee) neighbors

By Brad Schmitt (Tennessean) |

The sound of smashing plates woke them all up.

Brentwood’s Kristi Johnson and her then 9-year-old daughter, Helen Johnson, already were on edge: The two were staying in a guest house in Ethiopia, there to bring home the family’s second child from Africa.

Kristi went downstairs to explore, and first saw that all the house’s plates had been shattered.

She found the culprit in the living room.

“There was a monkey sitting on the couch with the remote in his hand, changing channels and watching TV!” Helen said.

The two laugh as they remembered the most unique part of their 2011 wonderful, heartbreaking, moving and hilarious adventure to pick up Helen’s brother, Wes, from an orphanage.

“I got to feed the monkeys,” Helen added quickly. “It was so cool to see them.”

The Johnson family — nine members strong — looks a little different than most Williamson County families. First, of course, is the size.

And three of the kids are adopted, the older two from Ethiopia and the youngest from Memphis.

Kristi, 42, and her husband, Will, 45, decided to adopt when complications prevented her from having a fifth child — and Will always wanted to have five kids.

He ended up with seven.

Helen Johnson, 15, the oldest, loves all of her brothers and sisters. And she said she’s thrilled to have Ethiopian culture and food and restaurant visits be part of her family.

But to see Ethiopia herself has been the most exciting part of it all.

Mother and daughter went there to get Wes, a malnourished 1-year-old boy with a misshaped head.

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