Even short acquaintance can touch life

By Don Reid: Guest Columnist

I met Martin “Butch” Gibbons about a year ago. He pulled up in his anniversary-edition Corvette and leisurely strolled into my store.

I asked if I could be of help; he said he was just looking. Then he turned and said, “You don’t look like you could help anybody.”

He slowly walked around the store, casually looking at every item. I watched as he almost seemed to study the items and I remember thinking, “What’s up with this guy?”

He eventually made his way to my desk and saw a copy of the book I had written about my experiences in Vietnam. He asked, “Is this you?” I said yes. He said I was a lot better looking back then. Then I saw a little smirk on his face, and I knew I was going to like him.

He, too, had served in Vietnam. He took a copy of my book to read.

I watched as he left the parking lot in the Corvette, driving like a 16-year-old. I laughed to myself as he squealed the tires down the street.

A couple of days later, he came back, a little livelier than the first time. He said he read my book. He said he served in Lai Khe, Vietnam, during the time I was there. He served with the Big Red One and I served with The First Air Cavalry. Our paths never crossed while we were there, but it is quite a feeling to meet someone who served the same place as you did during wartime.

We immediately formed a bond. We talked about the different units we served in and how we had so much in common.

I learned he was soon to be 57 and had never been married or had children.

“No wonder you can drive a Corvette,” I told him.

Our acquaintance soon turned into a friendship. We discussed many issues like we had been friends for a long time. Strangely, we were similar in what we believed and why we believed the way we did.

I also learned he had a lung transplant just prior to moving to Clovis. The doctors suggested he leave his home state of Illinois and move here so it would be easier to breathe.

Some afternoons we would work the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. We would be trying to come up with an answer and he would ask — with that gleam in his eye, that familiar smirk on his face — “How long did it take for you to get that dumb?”

“Not as long as it did you,” I’d tell him, because I was younger than he.

Butch was born on April 1, 1947. “That must have been the worst April Fools joke your mother ever had,” I told him.

Sometimes he visited in an old pickup instead of the Corvette. I told him he seemed nicer when he drove the pickup.

“The attitude comes with the Corvette,” he said.

My wife and daughters came to like Butch as much as I did. They often urged me to check on him, especially during the holidays.

Last Thanksgiving, my wife and I took him a plate of food and visited with him for a short time. He was not feeling well that evening. Later in the week, he called to say thanks.
I saw him several times over the next month.

He came into the store Christmas week and we visited, but he seemed like he didn’t feel well. I expressed my concern and he said he was going back to Minneapolis after the holidays for a checkup and to see what was wrong.

I called him Christmas eve, but there was no answer. I left a message. I called Christmas day and still there was no answer. I left another message.

The following week, one of Butch’s neighbors came to my store and said Butch had passed away in his sleep on Christmas eve.

How can a person have such an influence on your life in such a short time? I miss my friend.

I invited Butch to the men’s Bible class that meets Sunday mornings at the movie theater behind the mall. He said he planned to attend so he could critique my teaching. He never made it, but he did assure me that Jesus Christ was his Lord. Butch said he knew where he would spend eternity when he left this world.

I know that someday I, too, will leave this Earth. When I do, I will see my friend, see that smirk on his face, and shake his hand.

Thank you Butch. You touched my life.

Don Reid of Clovis is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Page. Contact him at: toolsandmore@plateautel.net