Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 20, 2013

Dan Duncan: Let me tell you about my best friend: 11/21/13

Dan Duncan
For The Independent

ASHLAND — His name was Edward Speaks, but everyone except telemarketers, it seemed, called him Nat.

A few called him Head, a nickname he received after a trip to the barber college during high school in which the student barber had a tough time cutting his hair, citing Nat’s head as the problem.

Nat was well-known and had many friends and loved ones. And he was my best friend.

I can’t remember the first day I met Nat, but I instantly liked him. For some reason I could relate to him, more than just being another redhead.  

We first met at the Ashland Daily Independent, I mean The Daily Independent — or is it just The Independent? — a place where both of us spent more than 40 years of our lives.  

At that time, he was a co-worker in the mailroom, hand-stuffing newspapers on Saturday nights and helping out during the week.

But I really didn’t get to know him all that well until he started college in the early 1970s at Ashland Community College. I had been discharged from the Army, gotten married and learned if I attended college, the government would pay me to go.  

And when I learned that Nat was attending, we decided to ride together. This way, we depended on each other to make sure we got to class. It was the start of a lifelong friendship.

While in college, Nat and I took a course in table tennis. All right, we skipped class to play in the student lounge. But we became such a good doubles team that many times it caused us to miss classes. Everyone knows you don’t step down while you’re winning.

When I moved into my first home in 1978, I had recruited several of my Independent friends to help me. I rented a huge truck and all the essentials. Only one person showed up. Yep, that was Nat. The others told me they thought I had canceled the move since it had snowed the day before and the day of my moving. Not Nat. He was there from the first item on the truck to the last one off.

We grew closer as friends in the coming years. He would ask me automotive questions and I never figured out why. I would ask him for tips on golf, which anybody who knows Nat knew why. We starting playing and each time out I got a little better. But I could never beat him. He was a gentleman on the course, and just like in life, he was brutally honest.

Although it didn’t happen often and we always played for fun, occasionally Nat would slice or draw the ball off the tee. After hitting one bad shot I told him, “Go ahead, hit another one. That guy in the golf cart distracted you.”

Most of the time he would play the ball he hit, but occasionally he would take a second shot. But when he made his putt for par I would say, “Nice comeback. You parred that hole.” And he would say, “No, I had a bogey. Remember the extra shot I took?”   

I asked him one day why that mattered, especially playing for fun with just me. He said, “You know, if we were playing in a real game or tournament, I wouldn’t be allowed to do that. I need to know exactly how good I can be. Besides, if you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?”

And that’s how Nat lived his life.

I left the Independent in late 2006 to work for The Morehead News. I decided to stay in Boyd County and not relocate. And, since both newspapers are owned by the same company, I had the opportunity to visit with Nat and others when I was asked to deliver items between the two papers.

About the only way we spent any time together over the past few years was playing golf. And somewhere one of us would do something — like almost pinning someone between the golf carts — that caused the other to break out in uncontrollable laughter. Fifteen minutes after it happened, we could just look at each other and the tears and our attempts to hold it back went for naught.  

His laugh — to me — resembled that of the cartoon character Precious Pup, a sound I often made before I knocked on his office door. “Come on in DD,” he would say, while flashing that great smile at me the whole time. That laugh was our bond.  

While visiting Monday, I stood by his bedside as I told his family about this laugh. “His laugh does sound that way,” one of them said. And to demonstrate I gave out that imitation. Suddenly his eyes opened, just for a split second. Did he know I was there? Was he signaling me? I will always believe he was.

The thing I admire most about him was his positive attitude. When he told me he had Stage 4 cancer, my heart dropped. It had been such a short time since cancer had taken our friend and co-worker Rick Rakes.

That day Nat told me how he was ready to begin the fight of his life. The plans for treatment, the trips to the various clinics and, ultimately, that he was prepared for whatever was God’s will and for me to remember him and his family in prayer. We prayed that day, asking for God’s blessing to touch Nat. We asked for a miracle.

Nat fought his cancer with the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen from anyone. I never heard him ask “Why me?” I never heard him say “This isn’t fair.” I never heard him say “I don’t deserve this.”

He maintained that positive attitude until he died.  

I know that if any of us have to face the same struggles as Nat, we can only hope to have an inkling of the positive attitude he displayed.

And sometime Tuesday morning, Edward Speaks stepped out of his Earthly body to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” only to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

“Head,” I will remember you always. Rest in peace, my friend.

DANNY‚ÄąDUNCAN works for The Morehead News. He is a longtime friend of Nat Speaks.