Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Remembering Dea Dea with Stories: Slice of Life #SoL15

Slice of Life story challenge happens every Tuesday over on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Check out other slices here. 

Evelyn "Dea Dea" Harwood: December 15, 1942-July 15, 2015
"Don't let the door hit you in the keister on your way out." 

These past few days I've had a heavy heart. My longtime friend and colleague and "adopted" mom Evelyn "Dea Dea" Harwood died July 15, 2015 at her home in Pocatello. 

Dea Dea taught high school for 42 years, most of them at Highland, where I met her in 1989 and shared collegiality and friendship until her retirement in 2006.

Even before I met her, Dea Dea entered my life when my new vice-principal called and asked if I would be willing to teach one section of English so that Dea Dea could have a section of speech. At the time I signed my contract, I indicated that I would not teach English, that I wanted to devote my energies to coaching debate and teaching speech, but when an administrator calls, the request takes on new persuasive powers. That's how I began teaching English at Highland.

When I arrived at school that first day in August 1989, a vase of flowers from Dea Dea awaited me in the office. That was the first of many gifts Dea Dea gave me. For years I had a huge collection of holiday earrings given to me by Dea Dea. 

On February 11 of that first year at Highland, I passed Dea Dea in the hall and she handed me a beautifully wrapped package. "What's this?" I asked. 

"It's your birthday present," Dea Dea said, raising her eyebrow.

"It's not my birthday. My birthday's in November."

"We'll I know, but I still wanted to get this for you since I missed your birthday."

I don't remember when I opened the gift, but the box contained a beautiful, silk, purple blouse. What I remember most about that incident is that February 11 is both my son's and our vice-principal Carolyn Kennedy's birthday. Carolyn is the administrator who called requesting the schedule change. I'm convinced that Dea Dea gave me Carolyn's gift by mistake! 

Her generosity spread to all who knew her and many who never met her. 

If there were funds to raise, Dea Dea spearheaded the efforts. For years she was a member of the Does, the female branch of the Elks. Dea Dea used her persuasive powers to enlist her sisters and others to raise funds for student groups, sick people needing surgery, families short funds for funeral expenses, among many others. 

Often these fundraisers took me to places for activities I never expected I'd try. I played darts. I shot pool. I played golf. All very badly. But I did these things because Dea Dea convinced me that the cause trumped my embarrassment. 

Dea Dea soon shepherded many into her enormous fold of friends. One way she did this is by inviting them to church. "You wanna go to church with me this Sunday," she'd ask. It didn't matter if the invitation were to an atheist, a Christian, or a monk. Dea Dea insisted that her church was like no other. At her service, a friend and neighbor shared her experience being invited to church by Dea Dea:

You wanna go to church with me some time, asked Dea Dea.
'Sure, I'll go to church with you' We headed down the road and soon pulled into a parking lot. I looked around. 'This is a bar.' 
'I know. This is where I go to church.' We went inside and had a lovely time visiting with friends and drinking beer.

The story elicited much laughter among those attending the service. I suspect we all had had a similar conversion experience with Dea Dea. 

Dea Dea's students loved her. The first day of class Dea Dea greeted her students with her unique introduction. She told them that "I slurp some suds and smoke some cigarettes, and the brands I prefer are Coors Light and Winston. If you don't like it or can't accept it, don't let the door hit your keister on your way out." Few students transferred from Dea Dea's class. She was hugely popular. 

My youngest son Corey had Dea Dea for speech. She made those kids present a speech every week, including a pet peeve speech. Corey decided to write his pet peeve speech about his friends whose girlfriends exerted much control over them, although that's not the way he phrased his topic. "My speech is about my friends who are pussy-whipped," he announced when he asked me to listen to him practice. 

"You can't say pussy-whipped in your speech," I argued. "Did you ask Dea Dea about this topic."

Corey assured me he had received approval from Mrs. Harwood, so I decided to ask Dea Dea myself. "Dea Dea, did you tell Corey he could give his pet peeve speech about his friends who are pussy-whipped?"

"Yes, I did. It's his speech and he can do whatever he wants." Dea Dea did not capitulate to my protestations that Corey's choice of words were inappropriate and that he'd embarrass me in front of students who would meander into my room and want to talk about the speech. Corey was that kind of kid, but Dea Dea knew how to keep him interested in her class and, most importantly, writing good speeches, which, I must admit, the pet peeve speech was, even w/ the mild profanity. 

"She was a special lady," my former principal Dave Ross said to no one in particular as those gathered after the service felt the same way. Highland has never been the same since Dea Dea retired, but we do have the memorial to students who died that Dea Dea raised funds for, and our current students have a place to sit on the benches Dea Dea donated after her retirement. 

We often speak about some people as having broken the mold. We say we'll never see the likes of them again. Both are true of Dea Dea Harwood. Dea Dea showed us all so much love and generosity. The best we can do is live by that example and make the world a better place. Dea Dea taught us how. 


  1. I'm sorry for your loss. It's never easy. Dea Dea sounds like she was always her true self and she let her kids be real, too.

    1. Yes, Dea Dea was genuine. She made work lots of fun.

  2. Glenda - What a beautiful and heart-felt tribute to your friend. I feel like I knew her all along as I can see her face in a few of the wonderful people I work with. I'm so sorry for your loss. And I thank you for sharing this story with us. I hope you will keep it, and return to it, when you are missing Dea Dea most.