Gordon Baxter in his home, 1998.
Old Bax
To quote a line from radio personality Paul Harvey, "And now, the rest of the story..."
Three months ago, I was inspired to write a newspaper feature on a legendary figure in Southeast Texas. His name is Gordon Baxter, but his friends call him "Bax."
In a conversation with a lifelong friend, she told me that my writing reminds her of Gordon Baxter. "He's so insightful and funny," she said. "You're like a little Gordon Baxter."
I cringed at the comparison. From what little I knew about him, Baxter was the pipe smoking Star Brake spokesman with a Village Creek Texas accent and "good ole boy" persona.
I kept hearing that same "like a little Gordon Baxter" line from people I met over the next few weeks. I learned from some of them that Baxter was an award winning writer and newspaper columnist and that he had authored several books. He was also a familiar voice on area radio stations for the last 40 or so years, dishing out his unique mix of music, opinion, talk and news reports.
It seemed everywhere I went, people kept telling me I should write a feature story about "Old Bax" to let fans know what he had been up to the last few years since he retired from the public eye. During those couple of months while I was pondering a possible story on him, I happened to meet up with a friend of mine that was a good friend of Baxter's daughter, Jenny. He gave me her phone number, and I began to research my story on Gordon Baxter.
I talked to many people that grew up in the 1960s and 70s, and I received wildly different reactions from them about Baxter. Some were fans and some were not, but they all had strong feelings about him. From "living legend" to "the greatest there ever was," "controversial character" to "colorful scoundrel" and everything in between, I was unsure of what to make of the vast differences in how people still viewed the 75 year-old writer.
A search at the library led me to a row of seven of his books. There were a couple about flying airplanes, three about life in and around Village Creek, Texas, and one about his love for old cars. But one small, red and white book stood out among the many books on that shelf.
"Jenny 'n' Dad - The Love Story of a Very Young Daughter and a Very Old Dad" was the title. On the cover was a picture of an angelic little girl with long reddish-blonde hair over a mug shot of a very dour looking Baxter in writer pose with a look of deep philosophical thought etched on his aged face.
Between the hard covers of that 13 year-old book, I read of the transformation in Baxter from a hard living, hardly-ever-at-home father to a doting house husband that delighted in the most minute details of the daily life of his little daughter, Jenny.
His other books were full of down-home witticisms and insight, adventures and grand exploits, but it was the love story of father and daughter Baxter that pulled me in and touched my heart. After reading the book and savoring the words, I had an idea of how my story on Baxter was shaping up. The research was almost complete, and I had written lots of questions and ideas that would form my feature on Baxter.
I called the Baxter home and Jenny answered. She's no little girl anymore. She is all grown-up and attending college at Lamar. She talked to me a few minutes and then spoke with her dad. Jenny returned moments later to tell me that her dad would love to talk with me for a story.
The next day, I was greeted at the door of a West End Beaumont home by a thin old man with bright blue eyes and a Solomon-like smile of wisdom on his face. He was barefoot and had that same old tobacco pipe in his hands. He was instantly recognizable as Gordon Baxter.
Be sure to read the original feature story I wrote on Gordon Baxter that inspired this "In My Life" story. You can find that link on the next page of the conclustion of this story - just hit "continued" above.
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