My dear friend, Mr. Dingus has died. You know how people say “Oh that is the end of an era!” when someone important dies? Well, his death is the end of an era for our whole family. We will all miss him terribly. He seemed to be a constant presence in our lives from the early 1970s until we left Heathfield.
Mr. Dingus started his company Fauquier Enterprises, in 1974. My husband was an architect who loved to design and build additions. He constantly added improvements to our house, barns, and outbuildings. In Mr. Dingus he found a willing enabler in this desire to improve on things. The first time we met I thought Dairus Dingus looked like a country and western singer. I just assumed he was much older than I. But in fact, he was only four years older. He seemed very mature and extremely competent. He was the sort of person whom one can depend on. He kept his word.
He always wore a Stetson hat upon his head. It suited him. Apparently, he just liked it, even though I am told he had a good head of hair. Mr. Dingus had hands with strange markings on them; it was a pigmentation problem, a disease, actually. But I thought maybe he’d been in a fire. I remember when I first met him, I thought he was a real man’s man. He was attractive in a rough kind of way that I liked. He had mutton chop whiskers and a mustache and wore that hat as if it was a part of his body. I don’t believe I ever saw Mr. Dingus without that Stetson hat until I saw him lying in his coffin at his “wake” after he died.
He was crazy about Robert and Murdoch, my two youngest sons. They were in awe of him. To them, he was all-powerful. He could tear things down and build new things in their place. He taught them a lot.
Once, early in our dealings with him, Mr. Dingus, took down the wall between the old playroom and a first floor bedroom to make it into one larger space. We let our son Robert watch this from his playpen. We often kept Robert in a playpen to try and restrict him. That child was everywhere and FAST. He was not one of those children who cling to their mother.
Robert watched as Mr Dingus used a sledge hammer to break through the wall, knocking it down in chunks. I’ve always thought that impressed Robert with the idea of deconstructing things. That is what you do; knock down walls. Then you can build what you like in the space. And he’s been knocking down walls ever since.
Mr. Dingus was one of a kind. He was a builder, and he could do almost anything. He was kind and gentle. He had good values. He loved my children. He respected me, and he respected my husband. He really loved Helen. My daughter was probably his favorite. He thought she was great, lovely and gentle, and kind. One of the highlights of our acquaintance was having him as a guest at Helen’s wedding. He wore his hat the whole time. I have a photo of us together that day, I was all dressed up as the Mother of the bride, and Mr. Dingus was dressed in a coat and wearing a tie and his hat on his head.
We asked Mr. Dingus to build an addition to a run-in shed. We had built it years before, sort of on an angle from the road. We should have knocked it down and started from scratch, but instead, we built the entire new barn at an angle to the road. We turned that simple run-in shed into a three-stall barn with a tack room. Attached to it was a large two-car garage with a big loft overhead. When this job was just beginning, and only the scaffolding and the upstairs floor of the barn was constructed, I went out to speak to Mr. Dingus. As our conversation continued, I saw my son Robert who was about two or 2 1/2 at the time, climbing a ladder on the scaffolding behind Mr. Dingus’s head. I will never forget the sight of that baby boy climbing up to the open floor, which had no sides to keep anyone from falling. . He was most of the way up the ladder to the to the platform. Of course Robert knew instinctively not to fall off. But Mr. Dingus saw the terror in my eyes. He turned around, running, got up that ladder, and took a hold of Robert. He got him safely down and into my arms. Mr. Dyngus was gentle with the children, never harsh.
Mr. Dingus did carpentry work for us for more than 30 years. He built all kinds of extra additions, restored the tenant house, and built a new office for my husband over a barn. He was amazingly versatile and could repair just about anything that needed it. If it was work he could not handle, he had others who worked for him who could do plumbing and electrical work. He was a fixture in our lives. All of my children have stories about Mr. Dingus. Besides building things, he helped scare away snakes, find lost dogs, catch loose horses, and fix little children’s playhouses. He was a force for good.
I’m going miss him.
I drove from Charlottesville up to Warrenton for a quick viewing at the wake. But I was near tears the whole time. It just made me cry to see him lying there. He looked so thin and insignificant and not himself except for the hat. He was holding the Stetson hat in both hands against his waist as he lay in the big, shiny, grey coffin. That made me cry. First, I looked at his head, his dear face, and the mutton chops, and I noticed his head was bare. When I saw that the hat was there in his hands, I wept. It was definitely a part of Mr. Dingus. Later I went over to his son, and I said, “ I have never seen your father without his hat on his head. I think you should put it on.” And his son said,” I think we will put it on before we close the coffin.” He was a dear man, and he adored his family, three boys, and his wife Rachel. and They were married for 64 years before he died.
It makes me happy to think that Mr. Dingus will be buried with his hat on his head. But I am very, very sad that he is gone.
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson