words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Dalton Person and Claire Humphrey, and Hudson Photography
Claire Humphrey’s first official date with Dalton Person was at her sister’s wedding in 2011. It was a great day, full of promise, and fresh with new beginnings. Claire didn’t know it at the time, but four years later Dalton would drop down on one knee on a beach in Alabama and ask her to marry him.
And, overjoyed, she would say yes.
Claire and Dalton met briefly in junior high at a church youth group. Later, at Southside High School, just as their sophomore year ended, Claire started dating Dalton’s best friend, Taber Hunt. What Dalton remembers of that time is how much he liked Claire, just “not like that.” And she didn’t like him like that either. When Claire and Taber amicably ended their relationship, Dalton and Claire continued to see each other in and out of school. “We ran in the same circles,” Claire says.
An arc in that circle was the football team: Claire was the water girl and Dalton was an offensive lineman. On the football field on fall nights, the two were only a few feet away, working toward victory.
When it came time to think about college, Dalton visited the University of Chicago and fell in love with the city. He wanted to see the world outside Fort Smith. He’d not traveled much except on vacations with his family, mostly to the beach. So the allure of Chicago was great. He signed on to play football as an offensive lineman, just as he had at Southside.
This is where Claire and Dalton’s story could have ended. Claire, now at the University of Arkansas, 600 miles away, was busy acclimating to college life. Then, during the summer after their sophomore year, Claire contacted Dalton to see if he wanted to get together with some of their mutual friends while he was at home. “My parents joke about it,” Claire says, “because the group kept getting smaller and smaller until it was just the two of us.”
“It just kind of happened,” Dalton says, and then he squeezes Claire’s shoulder. He is apple-cheeked, with broad shoulders. She is radiant, her light brown hair falling across her shoulders, her eyes bright with happiness.
Dalton continues. “I like the way it worked out because we became really good friends first.”
“Right before he went back to school, I asked him to go to my sister’s wedding and that was our official first date.”
“We had a long talk at the end of summer, to find out if we wanted to give it a try, so far away from each other,” Dalton says.
“I was a little unsure. We’d just started dating,” Claire says, and then Dalton, beaming, says, “But I convinced her.”
Claire traveled to Chicago during the fall break. Dalton came home for Christmas. And then in January, Dalton was off to study abroad in Paris. “Her mornings would be my nights, so it was hard to even find time to talk. One night she called me crying,” Dalton says, and then tells the story of a miscommunication over a flight he was taking to Munich on March 5. He’d sent his itinerary to Claire, and because Europeans put the day before the month, it read as if he was traveling on May 3, long after she expected him to be home.
The two can laugh at it now, but it was trying. To stay close they talked every single day. They wrote letters. They think it helped them focus on each other, learning things they might have overlooked had they been together. “That day we had the mix-up about when I’d be back,” Dalton says, “that’s when I knew she really liked me.
“After that first year, things got easier. I was looking at law schools,” he says, “and someone wanted me closer to home, so after I graduated I started law school in Fayetteville. Before that, I thought I wanted to shoot for an Ivy League school, but when I applied I only targeted about six schools in the South. I wanted to be as close to Claire as possible.”
For a year, while Claire studied accounting, the two were at
U of A together. Dalton’s decision to come back to Arkansas
sealed the deal for Claire. She saw it as a glowing sign that he was committed to her.
This past summer, Dalton worked at two law firms, saving enough money to buy Claire a ring, based on the photos he’d spied on one of Claire’s Pinterest pages. With the ring in hand, his next job was to ask Claire’s family if they’d have him. That’s right, he had to ask them all. Claire’s mom and dad, her two older sisters and her brothers-in-law. It’s a Humphrey tradition.
At the end of July, Claire and Dalton headed to Orange Beach, Alabama, with his mom and dad and brother for their annual vacation. “I was going to propose while we were taking family pictures. And I’d invited Claire’s family to come for the surprise. Her mom and her mom’s friend and granddaughter were able to make it. They were watching from a distance. The weather turned and it was about to rain, and we were rushing to get everything done. I had no backup plan. I hopped down on my knee and she asked me what I was doing. I think it took her about five minutes to realize what was going on. I don’t remember what I said. I know I said I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her.”
“It was a blur,” Claire says. “I think at one point I said, ‘Seriously?’
But once the reality of it set in, Claire was thrilled. After they returned to their room, Dalton handed her a wide scrapbook, with the theme “Happiness Is.” The inspiration for the title was Claire’s grandmother, who passed away just weeks before the trip. Dalton had hoped to include her in the celebration, but she fell ill in the early months of 2015 and her condition deteriorated quickly. On Facebook, she would often comment on their photos, writing “happiness is,” and Dalton printed a few of those out, preserving them in print.
There were also mementos from the events they’d attended during their courtship. There were travel tickets from those trips back and forth, movie stubs, concert tickets, cards and letters they’d sent to each other, all in chronological order. And lots of photos, beginning with one from that first summer home when he and Claire decided they were much more than friends.
As Claire looked through the scrapbook, she felt a wave of love for Dalton. Here was this man she’d known since junior high, showing her how dear she was to him.
The wedding is set for June at St. Paul United Methodist in Fort Smith. The reception will be at Hardscrabble Country Club. The dress came from Danielle’s Bridal in Clarksville. They’re trying hard to buy everything locally, as a tribute to this place they call home.
As a kind of full-circle moment, Claire’s old boyfriend and Dalton’s best friend, Taber Hunt, who’s responsible for them getting to know each other, will be part of the wedding party and he’ll be giving a toast at the reception. Dalton shakes his head. “That should be something to hear,” he says.
Claire and Dalton are sitting side by side, leafing through the Happiness Is scrapbook. “We’ll be adding to this,” he says, and the future seems to roll out in front of them for a second, bright and golden. “I can see us sitting down and looking at this, twenty or thirty years from now, and seeing how we started.”
The two lean in to one another, their shoulders touching. At that moment, their happiness is a thing of its own, as strong as a diamond, as wide as the deep blue sea.