A great man passed away on Thursday, November 22nd. He was great in a lot of ways…one of them being that he was Dotty’s great-grandfather. J.B. Nichols…known lovingly as “Gang” to his family…passed away at the age of 88. He lived a good life and had been remarkably healthy until the last few months.
Gang was a man of few words. He was the kind of person that would simply sit and listen. But mind you he WAS listening…to every word. And when he needed to say something he would say it. But he was a great listener. I spent several afternoons on the front porch with Granny and Gang. Granny likes to talk (as do I) but Gang was always pretty quiet. He would make a comment every now and then but he listened mostly. Gang was a great example of how you can say very little yet still say so much. Because Gang wasn’t much of a talker when he did talk people would listen.
I tend to talk a lot. I have a habit of trying to fill quiet voids with words. But when I was with Gang I never felt a need to talk just to fill up the silence. Sitting next to him without talking was never awkward or unsettling. In fact, it was quite calming and peaceful. Gang put me at ease. I found myself breathing easier around him. The weight of having to “talk” was lifted. I could just “be” and that was enough.
I have many great moments of watching Granny and Gang at Byers ball games. Neither yelled too much (or really at all by the time I knew them) but both watched with great interest and even greater joy. I was able to take Granny and Gang to a few out of town games and I listened to them talk about the games from many years ago…when Howard and Jay Ann played…Lisa, Julie, Tony, Jarrod…all of them. Both Granny and Gang loved sports and they particularly loved Byers basketball.
Occasionally, if I was home alone for lunch, I would take Granny and Gang to eat at either the Café or the Gin. One day in early February 2007 we were down at the Gin eating lunch and Gang out of the blue looked right at me and said “You need to have a little girl.” Now at this point Tony and I knew I was pregnant but we hadn’t told anyone and we of course did not know if it was a boy or a girl (in fact we never found out the sex of the baby until Dotty was born…that killed Tony but it was my choice). Well needless to say I froze in panic thinking “he can read it all over my face”. Then I laughed nervously and said “maybe someday”. Well that someday came on September 8, 2007 when Dotty Marie Nichols was born. Gang was right…I needed to have a little girl.
I remember a few days after I got home from the hospital and I saw a shadow moving outside of my house. I walked to the window to see who was lurking around and it was Gang…he was watering my flowers. I picked up Dotty and walked out on to the porch. I thanked Gang for watering for me and he just said “they looked thirsty”. I asked if he wanted to hold Dotty and he said “no…I will just look at her”. And he did…for a long time…with a smile on his face.
Many afternoons after Dotty was born I felt like the walls to the house in Byers were closing in on me. It was on those afternoons that I would take Dotty over to visit Granny and Gang. When Dotty was little I would bundle her up for the short walk through our back yard, behind the Methodist church, and across the street to Granny and Gang’s house…it was probably barely over 100 yards from my backdoor their front door. As Dotty got older she would wobble and weave her way on chubby, shaky toddler legs. Then when she got older she had her mini pink 4-wheeler she would get on and burn rubber all the way there (well as much rubber as she could burn using the juice from the battery pack that was all the horsepower the mini 4-wheeler could generate).
We might have stayed an hour…we might have stayed only about 10 minutes…but each visit was well worth it to me! Gang didn’t want to hold Dotty much but he would watch her closely when she was a baby. As she got bigger and could “play” more, Gang would drag out every toy in the house he thought Dotty might want. (I just knew the moment that we left Gang, Granny, or both would trip over some toy I missed when I tried to put them all back up.) Dotty LOVED those afternoons and so did I…and so did Granny and Gang! I don’t think I would have made it through the first two years of Dotty’s life without going to see Granny and Gang on regular occasions.
Of course the memory that makes me crack up the most is the one involving a stack of books I gave to Gang. Gang LOVED to read! And he read A LOT! I was always giving him books to read but I never could keep him stocked up. Sometimes Gang would read and entire book in one afternoon!!! Well, one day I had been helping my mom clean out stuff at her house. She was going through a lot of her old books and told me to take them to Gang. I didn’t really look at what they were because Gang would read ANYTHING! I just dropped the books off at his house and told him to enjoy.
A few days later we were visiting and Gang told me he was done with the books and I could give them to someone else. On top of the stack I noticed the book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”. I smiled slightly and picked up the book. Then I said, “I have never read this book.” Gang paused for a moment, looked at me and said “Don’t.” I laughed until my sides hurt!!!
I have so many truly great and wonderful memories about Gang. He loved his vegetable garden. He would talk to me about pecans. We spent 4th of July over at their house. We had many yard sales in their front yard. Of course I know the Nichols family has many, MANY more stories and memories than I have but I treasure the ones that I got to be a part of.
Gang was a great man. I am thankful for my time with him as well as for the fact that Dotty was old enough that she will remember him.
At the funeral, Dotty had me take her by the casket and she looked long and hard at Gang. She didn’t cry but she looked at him with a somber face. Later that night I noticed two new freckles on Dotty. I have always told her freckles were “angel kisses”. When I pointed out the new little brown dots my sweet baby girl just paused for a moment and said, “It must have been Gang kissing me good-bye. He loved me a lot.”
Fighting back tears I simply said, “Yes he did.”