Saturday, January 30, 2016

Like a Freight Train

Dean Nazworth was one-of-a-kind. I know people say that about others all the time as a way of trying to provide a blanket statement of their specialness. I've always believed this about him, but only as I grew up and meet so many people of this world have I come to understand how true a statement it really is about him.

Born dirt poor and living, literally, on dirt floors at times, the childhood of my father remains largely unknown to me. It was a time he just didn't talk much about. When he did, the themes of his youngest years were work, catching fish, and more work -- themes that would last a lifetime really.

Our grandfather often would tell me a story about my dad as a child, however, that revealed so much of the man I know now. Each afternoon, Dean would walk home, carrying his books and lunch pail. As he walked, his dad would watch him stop every so often, reach into the pail, and pull out a piece of sandwich or bread and feed it to one of the dogs or stray animals he'd encounter along the way. Soon, animals along his path began to know the time Dean would wander home and make themselves available to walk behind and pick up his scraps. Anyone who has ever sat down to a meal with my dad understands what a sacrifice sharing those meals had to be.

When he met my mother, she was a waitress in a small truck stop diner in Hereford, Texas. He'd come in each day, buy a $0.25 cup of coffee, and leave her a $5.00 tip. I don't know that he ever really spoke to her much at first, but one night in a club, he told one of his friends, "I'm going to marry her. I like the way she shoots pool." And much like everything else he would take on in life, he figured out a way. My mother says that she married my dad because he was fun, and I don't doubt that for a second. Wherever Dean Nazworth has ever gone, he had a Hell of a good time.

Each of them had been married before and brought a son to their new marriage. Later, they would add me to the mix. My mom always said they had a "yours, mine, and ours" situation although I always tease it was more like "Good try. Good try. Nailed it." We moved from Hereford to Pampa where Dean and Wanda managed a private country-western nightclub and bar for a few years. Their time there provided them with good friends, good stories, and a dance floor all to themselves each afternoon. If there was a defining image of my childhood, it would be of me roller-skating around that floor as my parents danced.

In 1982, Dean and Wanda moved here, to Howardwick, where he remained for the next 30 years -- seemingly unfathomable for a man who was always on the move. Yet his children had a school that loved and supported them, and in my mind, that was the reason he put down roots. That and a home within 5 minutes of a lake full of all the catfish and crappie one could ever catch. We spent what seems to be most of my formative life on a boat, poles in the water, waiting for a bite. My mom and dad also eventually found their community at the Clarendon Country Club, taking up golf and finding others whose two biggest goals were to compete and have fun. As we thought about where exactly we should celebrate the life of my dad, it only seemed natural to gather there, at the club, overlooking both the lake and golf course he so loved.

My father was a natural charmer, always making friends wherever he went: restaurants, ball games, grocery stores, it didn't matter. He always greeted you with a "Hey, buddy!" and a big grin. He had a handshake that could crush walnuts, but those same hands could tame a wild cat or softly brush away a tear. He loved pearl snap shirts and baseball caps, Little Debbie snack cakes, fried fish, and a challenge. He shot dice, drove fast, and loved deeply. He smelled like Old Spice, Lava soap, and freshly cut grass. There wasn't anything he couldn't seem to fix, somehow, or a game he couldn't beat you at. He'd spot you 100 points at dominoes and still beat you by 20. He could shoot pool with either hand and once outshot his own son and grandson with the end of a broomstick instead of a pool cue.

Dean shared his life with his wife and best friend of 43 years. She was his Freight Train. He said that whenever she rounded the bases on the softball field or broke up a fight at the bar or even just got mad at him, that's how she came at you. And the name stuck. I prefer to think that it was born the moment he first saw her because that's how his love for her hit him -- like a freight train.

Dean loved his kids. He taught us to work hard, complain little, and never be on time. He was blessed first by his son, James Dean (or JD). In him, I see my dad's kind heart, his love for animals, and his ability and drive to fix things. He has my father's hands: strong but gentle. In his son, Jimmy Ray, I find his determination and stubbornness and love for going fast. My dad loved watching his son study a problem first, watching his mind work through all the solutions before solving it whereas my dad could only plow in headfirst and try a hundred different things first. With me, he found his storyteller and the audience who couldn't help but laugh at all of his jokes. I have his eyes and his love of sports and competition, and his sensitive nature. Each of the boys inherited my dad's good sense to find a strong woman and marry her. Their marriages of 28 years and 19 years are proof of that. The boys brought two beautiful daughters-in-law, Tammy and Becky, and three incredibly cute grandsons, Hunter, Isaiah, and Jaxson, into his life.

Today is not a day for goodbyes; my dad was notoriously terrible at those. Today should be a day for good friends, good fun, and good stories. That's what he would've wanted. We'd love for you to leave here and do something Dean would love: tell a joke to a stranger, play a round of golf, shoot a little pool, or leave your waitress an extra big tip on a cup of coffee. And tell those that you love just how much you love them. Tell them loudly and tell them often. Let their love for you hit you like a freight train.

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