My Friend D.H.



Norman Rockwell photo of the teacher

by Gary Spina

(Copyright 2013 by Gary Spina)

Today is Sunday, but I didn’t go to church this morning.  I had planned to go.  My friend D.H. keeps inviting me to go and I keep telling her, “someday,” and today was supposed to be the day.  I even polished my shoes last night, and this morning I was up out of bed in plenty of time, but I couldn’t go.

The man on the weather report said the temperature was going to be in the triple digits all this weekend, and today is going to climb to 119.  That’s hot, even here in this part of Arizona.  I wondered how they knew it was going to be 119 and not 120.  But that wasn’t why I didn’t go to church.  It was cool this morning with the electric fan going, and the air conditioning hadn’t even kicked in yet.  I was up at 5:30 and I went to the fridge and got a cold bottle of beer and sat on the side of the bed and drank it.

It wasn’t the kind of morning when you needed a beer.  I wasn’t hung over.  It was just that the beer was cold and sharp and it felt good going down in long gulps that brought me awake and made the morning feel new and clean.

I thought about church and even then I knew I wasn’t going.  I’m not good in church where a preacher leads the service and all the people have to do is sit there and forget reality and go into an altered state where God looks down on everyone and everything, and for an hour or so the world seems right.  Then afterwards, people in the congregation stand around in the church hallway and chat and smile and talk about old Mrs. Shandelmeir who was too sick to be there that morning and Nel Dahl’s new baby boy who is so cute and doesn’t look anything like his father Billy.

But my friend D.H. is a Mormon and I’ve never been to a Mormon church and maybe it’s different there.  I like the Mormons because they do more doing than they do praying, or so I understand.  As I drank my beer I thought how D.H. would be there at Mormon services this morning and how she won’t expect me anyway because I never go and never have.  And then I got to thinking, what if all these years, every Sunday morning, she kind of sits there toward the back of the church kind of always looking over her shoulder like at any time I may be walking in, even as things were getting underway.

D.H. is a good old gal, and I smiled remembering how I practically dragged her into the teaching profession.  That was fifteen years ago.

“I can’t teach school,” she told me.  “I never in my life considered becoming a teacher.”

“You’re a natural,” I told her, and she is.

She teaches fourth grade now and I have some pretty good stories filling my head about how good a teacher she is.  A couple of years ago there was a shy little girl whose mother and father were pretty much unread, uneducated, and unintelligent.  The only other person at home was an older brother who was autistic.  So, because the girl had no one in her life to read to her, to talk to her, to reason with her and demonstrate the wonders of words and ideas, the girl was a poor student.  She lacked self-esteem, self-confidence, and was sad, distant, and out of place in a classroom with other kids.

At the start of school that year, the school psychologist called a special meeting with the girl, her mother, and D.H. who was going to be her new teacher.

“She tests below average in all subjects,” the psychologist said.  The girl sat listening with her head lowered, looking at her shoes as the psychologist spoke in the authoritative voice he assumed at those meetings.  “And I believe her I.Q. is even lower than her tests indicate.”

The girl did not look up, but when she heard those words, D.H. saw her wince and then hold herself tight.  Now, I know D.H. and I know that, unlike other women, she doesn’t get mad enough to spit.  Nothing that bland.  When D.H. gets mad at people who hurt her kids, there’d better not be a stick around to pick up and whack heads with – church-goer that she is.

But my friend kept her cool that day.  She just did something so simple, so soft, so profound.  All that school year D.H. taught that child and tutored her and worked with her and read to her and the rest of the class and taught them words and nuances of words and meanings and logic-skills and math and science and history and geography and by the fourth quarter of that year the girl who had sat through that meeting was on the honor roll.

That’s my friend D.H., and I smiled to myself remembering that story.  And maybe I’m not making it to church this morning, but I’ll settle for having talked D.H. into becoming a teacher.

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