Monday, February 23, 2009

Saying good-bye to the Gibbs guy

The tallest tree in the forest – or maybe I should say the greatest guy in Gibbs – died last week.

And, as trite as it may sound to say it, B.F. Dalton lived one heck of an American life.

Old family photos from the 1940s show a strapping, good-looking young man, with a tough exterior and a can-do countenance. He all but embodied the mind-set of postwar America, the self-confidence that comes with knowing you rule the world.

B.F. had seen his share of war in Italy as an engineer. He saw Mussolini hanging upside down in Milan. He built bridges. He helped paddle infantry across the Po River.

And, after the war ended, B.F. came home to build his life.

He married Mae in 1948. They soon bought a home and 13 acres of land on Majors Road. That house later burned. The couple has one daughter, Leann Berry (and son-in-law Allen). Somewhere along the way, B.F. went to work for the state highway department.

B.F. was a longtime member of Texas Valley Baptist Church, ate watermelon and whittled at the late Jesse Butcher’s DP Club, joined groups like the Gibbs Ruritan Club and the Beaver Creek Watershed Association. He was the last surviving director of the old Halls Telephone Company and never did sell his stock.

We just called him our “Gibbs guy.”

Remember I called B.F. the tallest tree in the forest? Well, everything about him was big. He was a big guy physically, especially back in the day, and swung his hands and arms out in front of him when he talked. When he finished his point, he’d let out an authoritative “Anyhow …”

He liked to raise Cain when he didn’t agree with something. I never will forget the time he sat through a presentation on the as yet built new Powell Branch Library at the Beaver Creek Watershed meeting. When it was over, he asked why the county was spending money on such a thing when his grandson, Alex, didn’t have a cafeteria in which to eat lunch. Soon thereafter, Gibbs got a new school.

Now, that’s my kind of guy.

He was a Democrat (“My daddy once told me if I ever voted for a Republican, I’d be sorry”) and said he thought Harry Truman had saved his life (by dropping the a-bombs over Japan). He liked Frank Clement and Estes Kefauver. He stood by Hillary Clinton last year even as Obama kept winning primaries.

Forgive a personal reference – we always talk about ourselves when somebody dies, don’t we? – but the last time I saw B.F., he came out to the office last August to tell me I wasn’t the only Mabe to finally vote for a Democrat. It seems he talked my late grandfather Kenneth into voting for Clement. Only B.F. could have done that.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. B.F. didn’t know what his initials stood for, or so he said. He claimed that birth certificate simply says, “B.F. Dalton.” Somehow, the story fits him to a T.

In a thousand ways, things won’t ever be the same without him. Part of me will forever hope he’ll walk through our office door one day, swinging his hands, reporting on some latest development in the 8th District. I couldn’t help but notice the rain the day of B.F.’s funeral. Guess God needed to cry a little bit, too.

After I left Mynatt Funeral Home last Wednesday night, I started humming an old Tom T. Hall song, “The Year Clayton Delaney Died.” Puzzled at first, it finally hit me why that song makes me think of B.F. Dalton.

"He’d made a big impression on me; even though I was a barefoot kid …"

We’re sure going to miss you, Gibbs guy.

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