In Memory of "Babs"
Several have asked that I share in memory of Barbara Ann Gillon Nelson, this article first published in the Grenada Star in November 2019. My blog provides the ideal venue for sharing a more extensive tribute to my dear friend. I welcome any pictures and special memories any one of you would like to add. I will be adding more "Babs" over the next few days, in honor of my dear friend.
Death Too Soon
February 2, 1951-June 2, 2007
From my earliest memories of growing up in Gore Springs, MS, the Earl Gillon and the Arnold Dyre families interacted through community and church activities. I was sandwiched in age between two of Mr. Earl and Mrs. Peggy’s daughters: Babs and Peggy Hood. As I started research for this column, I realized that I have no memory of ever calling Babs by the name of Barbara Ann. I definitely heard Mrs. Peggy, on more than one occasion use the full name of their middle daughter, one year older than me, when we managed to carry out some unacceptable mischief. Babs' younger sister, Peggy Hood, a year younger than me, typically was found guilty of whatever mischief Babs and I had dreamed up. Martha, the oldest of the Gillon girls, managed to steer very clear of us, rightly known as three Musketeers. Bill, the only son, and youngest of the family, was blessed with enough difference in age, to only remember fondly the friendship that existed among the two Gillon girls and the youngest of the Dyre family.
Endless childhood play at the Gillon’s first house on the Earl Gillon Farm is what I remember most about the earliest years of our friendship. When her family built and moved into their next home, time spent with Babs continued through the growing-up years. The ample space of the Gillon Farm home provided the perfect place for spend-the-night parties or turning fudge-making into an occasion to invite other teenagers over for a fun-filled, weekend evening. Of course, Babs and I were always involved in church related activities, Girls' Auxiliary recognition events, community hayrides, youth group trips to Memphis, the trials and tribulations mixed with the fun of summer camp, and so much more. The two of us even did a 20’s flapper dance routine at a talent show held in the Gore Springs School Auditorium. It is only with the wisdom of years, that I realize just how wonderful it was to grow up in a community invested in the well-being of its youth.
I also recall the tender, poignant discussions that went well into the wee hours of many nights concerning “the loves” of our high school years. Babs and I remained friends as we headed off in different directions to college. When Gerald Nelson arrived on the Babs’ scene, I knew it was serious. One of the pre-wedding laughable moments of my dear friend will always remain with me. Babs was a blonde. I remember vividly how intent she was on having her “blondeness” at its best for her wedding. Only days before the big event, apparently something went very wrong at her hair appointment. Yes, with only two days to go, Babs had green hair! I do recall that several more appointments with her beautician were worked in to an already busy wedding schedule. At some point, it was decided that a veil could be created to conceal the damage.
I smile as I recall that Bab’s obituary recognized this man who married her green hair and all, as her best friend. Gerald, I look back knowing that I left one of my best friends in your very good care.
Over the years, as so often happens when the grown-up responsibilities move in, Babs and I drifted apart, only seeing each other occasionally. My dear mother, Daisy Dyre, died July 30, 1990. This devastating loss came as I was only days out of a major surgery. Soon, I would arrive at our family home in Gore Springs to be a part of the process of laying our mother to rest. I was so weak from the ordeal of navigating the Atlanta to Jackson airports as an invalid. My emotional state was even worse. When my sister Sarah pulled into the driveway, there were cars everywhere. Two precious faces met me at the door, Sandra Stroud Howell’s and my dear friend Babs’. Our family home was filled with the essence of the Gore Springs community: dear friends of all ages, the best of food in a quantity to sustain my family, and many more, for the tough days that were in front of us, and an offer from Sandra to pick-up with the care and much-needed attention of my two children, then 11 and 13 years old.
Babs, however, immediately spotted my fragile emotional state. “I can feel your hurt. I can see the physical pain you are in. What can I do for you?” The years of being disconnected disappeared in a moment. My words poured out, “I need help getting cleaned up. I can’t really take a bath, or even a shower easily. And I can’t bend to shave my legs.” My friend took care of every detail. Tears flowed freely in her presence. The healing would take time, but I know it was moved ahead by the Good Samaritan gesture of dear Babs.
Although we did stay in communication occasionally over the years to come, the days around my mother’s death proved to be the most significant time of my adult years with this special friend. I can recall so easily the time when I had assumed that Babs and I would never lose touch. But we did. After many years and physical miles apart, I reeled with hearing of her fight with and eventual loss to breast cancer. The sense of loss that her daughters and other family members still feel, lingers with me even as I write.
In December of 2018, I published a column in the Grenada Star paying tribute to a dear high school friend, Gary Harper, who, simply, had died too soon. I used the title “Death Too Soon”, words used by my brother, Arnold Douglas Dyre, as the title of his second novel in the Jake Baker Series. Of course, we Dyre siblings had also lost our brother way too soon. But as I wrote the initial tribute to Gary Harper, I knew I would have to find the right moment to honor Barbara Ann Gillon Nelson, always remembered in my heart as Babs. Here’s to a friendship that still warms my soul.