Story By Pierre Fontenot
Main photo by Liz Anne Mueller. Other images courtesy Vance Perkins and Kara Clayton Bergeron.
“I was in his first homeroom class. Jacket from the 1940s, as country as you can get. All I could think was that the other students would tear him up…”
Harry Methvin grew up outhouse poor, in a family that lived now to now, in a little community called Hargrove Settlement, just north of DeQuincy. Too many kids, too few beds, Harry spent many a night sleeping on a pallet on the floor.
“I learned to never name a backyard chicken,” he’d say, “sooner or later, it’d end up being dinner.”
An older sister encouraged him to get some college. Took him a while, work, work, work, to earn tuition money, take a few semesters at McNeese, then work some more, repeat…
He substituted for a teacher on maternity leave at St. Louis Catholic High School.
There he was, country bumpkin, probably wearing his daddy’s one good jacket, bought for some funeral long ago. Best he could do, among children who were more well to do. “…all I could think was that the other students would tear him up.”
Instead, they fell in love with Mr. Methvin. First day of class, first words he’d say, “This is my classroom. I was here first. Then I’d tell them what I expected, then I’d expect it…
“You gotta make them feel challenged, like they were in a battle, but they need to come out the winner.” Methvin taught 10th grade English. “They’re not going to remember a misplaced modifier, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”
Many consider him the most impactful teacher they ever encountered, including college, post-graduate, life itself…
It wasn’t just book learning. “He says to me, ‘Shhh… do you hear that?’ All I could hear was the clicking of the wall clock. ‘That’s your life ticking away..’”
Another student, “He saw me coming down the hall, he took one look at my face and said, ‘Whatever it is, it’ll get better.’
“I was about to make a foolish decision, and that moment really steered me in the right direction.
“… and he wasn’t even my teacher…”
Another student, “He was our Mother Teresa…” And Harry was a Baptist.
First year at St. Louis, here comes Easter. “They had a mass on Ash Wednesday.” He didn’t know what to do, so “to make myself useful I went to the copy room, running papers on an old mimeograph machine.” When mass was over, the kids returned to class, each with the marks on their forehead. None of the kids or faculty treated him differently.
“When I got home I looked at myself in the mirror,” where he found that he had mimeograph ink on his forehead. “It was divine intervention!”
Harry Methvin loved to laugh, and loved to make people groan, at his puns.
Friend shows him a picture of a Peggy Martin rose he gave her as a cutting, now in full bloom:
She, “I promised I’d take good care of her.”
Harry, “You rose to the occasion.”
“You and your bloomin’ puns!”
“Sorry, bud. I’ll petal the nonsense elsewhere.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The reaction to his sudden death, on October 6, 2022, was the truth he’d earned. There were ripples and gasps, gulps in throat and knots in stomach, a great, wide, oomph of true loss, in a circle of people wider than anyone imagined.
Harry died on his beloved mother’s birthday. “Not only did we love her for what she was, we also adored her for what she was not.”
Harry inherited her love of God, and her point of view about people. If God saw something in you, so should Harry; if God loved you, so should Harry; if God would help you, so should Harry.
He did not invest his time in accumulating money, he invested his time in accumulating people, which was wise, because people are what God cares about…
For more on Harry Truman Methvin, see Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories.