Brigdet Mire / Houma Courier
'Jesus has my arms, and I've got to be good so when I go to Heaven I'll get them back.'The 63-year-old Schriever resident was born without arms, and doctors began fitting him with prosthetics when he was 3. Cables ran down his legs to special shoes. When he stretched the cables, the arms would go up, and he'd kick his feet to lock them. The cables were uncomfortable, he said, and the shoes were ugly.Navarre started school a year early because his doctor thought it would help prevent shyness.Navarre is hardly shy. He's talkative, peppering his speech with a rich, hearty laugh. His confidence partly stems from his experience at the Louisiana Lions Camp in Anacoco, which at age 8 he was one of the first to attend. The free camp is for youth with disabilities.Navarre said his mother never took even an aspirin during her pregnancy. Before going to camp, he wondered why his friends and siblings had arms but he didn't.'I thought, 'Why did God punish me? Why am I different?'' he said. 'When I got out of the car and saw these other handicapped kids a bunch of kids in wheelchairs, braces, crutches, the whole nine yards I got to thinking, 'Either they got a whole lot of bad people or it's something else.''A camp counselor taught Navarre to swim, kicking his legs. Within two weeks, he was using the diving board. His parents and grandparents picked him up just in time to witness him, rope around his waist, pulling a wagon with two children in wheelchairs from the swimming pool to the bunkhouse. Navarre attended the Lions Camp until he was 15, the age limit at the time.After high school, Navarre did away with the prosthetic arms. He met his wife of 29 years, Shelly, when she managed a Ramada Inn in Port Allen.'He had an attitude in those days,' Shelly said. 'One day I was standing behind the desk, and he comes from the lounge, drunk, and throws that leg up on the counter. I said, 'Sir, can I help you?' 'Yeah, babe, I need a room!' ... He thought he was Mr. Cool or something, but I straightened him out.'The Navarres share household chores. Dean mops by wiping a wet towel on the floor. He also cooks, although Shelly has to put heavy pots on the stove.'One time I tried peeling potatoes. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to peel six potatoes,' he said. 'Now, (Shelly) either peels them ahead of time or I buy them frozen.'Navarre was the first person without hands to get a Louisiana driver's license. Since age 16, he has driven with his left foot on the steering wheel and his right alternating between the accelerator and brake. A YouTube video shows him pitching to the Nicholls State University softball team. He once 'foot crafted' baskets for the Lions Camp to sell but has since downsized and given up woodwork. He also used to fish but hasn't had time lately.'From the first time I met Dean, I never felt sorry for him, never looked at him differently. He was just a guy,' Shelly said. 'I just didn't want people to come up to him and mistreat him. It's like a mother's instinct, I guess. It took about a year for me to get over that.'Navarre has had multiple jobs, though not without challenges. He ran a small grocery store, where a public health official criticized him for handing a customer a pack of cigarettes with his feet. He couldn't stay at Exxon, as he didn't have arms to put on a gas mask in case of a spill. Another plant wouldn't hire him because he couldn't cover his head if something fell.'If a one-ton beam falls on you, you can have 10 hands. Still not going to help you,' Navarre said.Putting his feet on the table has gotten Navarre stared at and even kicked out of restaurants, though not all reactions have been negative. Once when he was at Burger King, a minister approached him.'He said, 'I have been sitting over there admiring you. You're sitting there eating with your feet, no arms, laughing and joking with your lovely wife,'' Navarre recalled. 'He said, 'I wasn't sure what I was going to preach on today. You just gave me my whole sermon. There are so many in our congregation that complain about nothing ... and you're just as happy as can be.''Navarre eventually began volunteering full time for the cause he has held dear since childhood. He is founder and president of the Schriever Lions Club and the Louisiana Lions Camper Alumni Association. In 2002, he drove a tractor around the state, raising $65,000 for the Lions Camp. He's putting together a full history of the camp for an upcoming reunion. He said Shelly recognizes the camp as his first love.Navarre buys shirts that are already buttoned or have snap-on buttons. Unable to pull items from his pockets, he carries his credit card inside a store and 'foots' it to the cashier. He smokes a habit he is trying to break holding the cigarette between his toes. In his home office, he shuffles papers with his feet and types using a pencil tucked between his big and index toes. He keeps goldfish in a tub on his porch, and his flowers are potted.'Me and the shovel don't get along too good. They don't make gloves for feet,' he said. 'When I was younger, I'd shovel, I'd do my planting. And I'd get blisters between my toes, then I couldn't hold my fork and all too good for a week. ... Sometimes you learn that it just ain't worth it.'Though his daughter and two granddaughters have never required an explanation, Navarre said, he doesn't mind the usual questions about how he gets dressed or drives. He said he leads a normal life and what he can't do doesn't have to be done.'You take what you got and you go with it,' he said. 'We all got something wrong with us, but we all got something special with us, too.'