A little orphan ‘love story’
If Matron Jessie Fretwell had been gifted with eyes in the back of her head, G.T. Gibson and Dorothy Babbitt might never have tied the knot and what a loss that would have been "for both of us."
G.T. and Dot Gibson are one of many love stories that blossomed at the Troy Baptist Children’s Home in spite of a Shaker-like set up that kept boys on one side of the campus and girls on the other.
"Oh, they tried to keep us apart but, when a boy finds the girl for him, it’s hard to do," Gibson said, laughing. "As soon as I saw Dot, I fell in love with her and wouldn’t let her go."
Mrs. Gibson said there were about a hundred boys and a hundred girls at the Children’s Home at that time and the numbers alone were reason enough to keep them separated.
"I understand it now, but back then I didn’t," she said. "We couldn’t date until we were 16 and then we could only sit in the parlor on Sunday afternoons with the matron walking up and down the hall. G. T. said no telling how many pairs of shoes she wore out walking and watching us."
The couple admitted they found ways to get around the watchful eyes of the matrons.
"We had study hall at the home and I would always sit as close to the door as I could," Mrs. Gibson said. "G. T. would slip away from his cottage and come to meet me. He would pull some red berries off a bush and throw them in the door. When I saw berries rolling across the floor, I would signal my friends and they would clear their throats real loud so Miss Fretwell couldn’t hear me go out the door."
The couple would sit in the swing for a few minutes and G. T. would steal a kiss and Dot would slip back in study hall.
"Miss Fretwell was kind of neat," Mrs. Gibson said. "I’ve always thought she knew."
Gibson would do whatever it took to sneak a few minutes with his sweetheart. He worked at the Children’s Home dairy and made early morning deliveries to the cottages.
"Dot helped cook and she would be up early getting breakfast ready for her cottage," Gibson said. "I’d open the screen door to set in the milk and she’d come over and I’d get a smooch. That made my day and I hope it made hers."
When Gibson graduated from high school in 1943, he wanted to serve his country, so he enlisted in the Air Force.
"That was the saddest day in my life when I saw that train pull out with him on it," Mrs. Gibson said.
However, after she graduated, she joined G. T. in Ardmore, Okla. where they were married March 9, 1945.
"We’ve been married for 55 years and we’ve loved each other for 65 years," Gibson said. "We have six living children and 24 grands and six greats and more on the way. See what all those kisses did!"
The Gibsons laugh about their little orphan love story but they said they learned about love and about the importance of family from the loving, caregivers and their "families" at the Troy Baptist Children’s Home.
Mrs. Gibson and her three sisters came to the Troy home after their mother died.
Gibson’s mother was left to raised six children and she couldn’t read or write.
"She thought the best place for us was at the home and she was probably right," Gibson said. "I was six years old when I came to the Children’s Home and I had to be weaned from my family."
Gibson went tough times trying to adjust. He once hopped a freight train with three of his friends from town. They were discovered by a railroad detective in Dothan and put in jail overnight.
"When I got back to the orphanage, I had a choice of leaving or getting a whipping," Gibson said. "I took the whipping. I didn’t have anybody to go to."
Dorothy Babbitt became his "reason for everything" and he became hers.
"I guess, growing up the way we did makes us appreciate family so much," Mrs. Gibson said. "Family is utmost in our lives. Family is what life is all about."
Gibson said the building stones of their lives were laid at the Baptist Children’s Home.
"We were taught the things that are most important in life," he said. "We learned to value family and friendship. We learned to work hard and accept responsibility. We’ll always be grateful for that. We also owe a lot thanks to the Troy community and First Baptist Church. They gave us opportunities and basic training in life."
And, to this day, "We’re not ashamed to say we grew up in an orphanage."