Family, personal

My Friend Dave Nelson

Update: Obituary found here>>>

Someone who meant the world to me growing up died unexpectedly yesterday: Dave Nelson. He retired from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about a year ago. I’d like to write something a bit more about this later, but really just wanted to say something now:

I first met Dave Nelson when I was probably 5 years old. I may have been a little older or a little younger, but let’s just call it 5. My Uncle Bill Watts lived in Florence, Alabama and had a cabin in Waterloo. My father loved to go there and visit and would go for several nights at a time. I don’t know the full story, but Dave was working nearby, in Cherokee, Alabama, I think, with the Fish and Game Dept. or perhaps the Dept. of Natural Resources even then. He was an expert on wild turkeys and was using radio collars to track them and learn more about their behavior. My Uncle Bill was also involved with Fish and Game and I guess that’s how they met. My father and Dave met sometime after that and, I guess, hit it off immediately.

Dave started coming to Octagon to visit soon after that. He LOVED to hunt turkeys and one thing Octagon had in abundance at that time was turkeys. He would come for several days, perhaps even a week, staying with us and eating breakfast. My sister Madeline was once asked how well she knew Dave. Her reply: “He’s seen me in my night gown.” That apparently always got odd looks!

Though Dave loved to hunt turkeys, he would always find the time to take little squirmy, twitchy, can’t be still me out in the woods with him. He taught me a lot: how to build a blind, how to shoot, and so much more. He had a nifty wicker backpack that he kept filled with woodsman supplies like an axe, a little shovel, matches, etc. I thought he was the coolest thing in the whole world. And I’m pretty sure that, in a wilderness setting, Dave would have taken Daniel Boone and shown him a thing or two. I think that for a little while, I sort of suspected he was Davy Crockett.

I remember visiting his trailer in Cherokee (he was I guess just out of college a few years before–though to me he seemed like an elder statesman) and he showed me some of the many things he was proud of. I recall having burgers there–though I’m not sure. There is another story that I’ve always loved about Dave feeding Connie, his soon to be wife, burgers made out of beaver. He knew she was the one for him when she didn’t stop eating!

Dave loved Marengo County and the Black Belt so much that, when he had the chance, he moved to Forkland, Alabama (just north of Demopolis and right on the river) and put a trailer for his new family to live in. He built a beautiful house on the lot, mostly, if I recall, himself. In addition to being an amazing outdoorsman, he was quite the woodworker as well.

Dave and Connie had two boys, I grew up and moved away to college, but I always had and will always have a special place in my heart for the man who taught me so much about the outdoors and about life. Goodbye good friend. You’ll be missed more than you could ever know.

5 Responses to “My Friend Dave Nelson”

  1. On March 29, 2009 at 7:22 pm Tyler Eaton responded with... #

    Great eulogy, Joe — sounds like a really special man! So sorry you’ve lost a friend. –Laura Nichols

  2. On April 1, 2009 at 6:47 pm laneguyse responded with... #

    I came across your blog as I was searching for Dave’s obituary. He was a wonderful person that certainly made an impression on everyone he met… if anyone was ever a “character”, it was Dave! I’m sure this blog would be thousands of pages long if everyone shared a funny story involving Dave. Thank you for sharing yours and reminding me how easy it is to think of Dave with smiles instead of tears.

  3. On April 1, 2009 at 6:59 pm Joe Watts responded with... #

    Thanks so much! Dave meant so very much to me. I regret not spending more time with him as an adult–I moved away, he had kids, but still….
    He was one of the true good people and so full of all the things that make the world worth being in. Thanks for finding my blog! Would love to hear your story too.

  4. On April 2, 2009 at 1:41 pm laneguyse responded with... #

    I have known the Nelson family as long as I can remember. My dad just retired from the State of Alabama (he was a wildlife biologist too… he knows your uncle). I am just a little younger than Dave’s oldest son, and my sister is about the same age as the younger one.
    I live in Montana now, and I haven’t seen them in a long time, but I keep in touch through my parents. When I was little, I wouldn’t let anyone cut my toenails except for Dave! I guess he just had a comforting way about him that made it okay. I will miss him.

  5. On April 3, 2009 at 9:30 am Joe Watts responded with... #

    That’s great to know. Dave was such a wonderful guy. Sorry your toenails are gonna get so long!
    I guess you grew up in Demopolis? I’m older than you (not too far from 40–god that sounds old) but I grew up not far south of Demopolis. Thanks so much for sharing your story!