The Dianna Bartles that only I know

By Regina Villiers. Originally published May 31, 2000 in The Suburban Life, added May 17, 2018.

Queen (for a day) Dianna Bartles hugged one of her subjects, Jimmy Gulick, a fifth-grader at Sellman School, at the special assembly on “Dianna Bartles Day.”


Recently, Dianna Bartles won the Valley Area PTA Teacher of the Year Award, and there was so much partying and celebrating you’d have thought Queen Elizabeth of England had come to Madeira.  Or maybe even Oprah herself.  It was enough to make you sick.  They gave her a “day” and marched her down a red carpet and sat her on a throne.  They put a crown on her head and showered her with gifts and flowers. On and on and on, it went, until you wanted to throw up.

But it didn’t fool me.  I know this woman, and I saw through the whole thing.  Underneath all that smiley, bubbly exterior, the woman is fake.  Oh, maybe she appreciated the thought and the presents.  Maybe she was even glad she won, but she’s rather they’d have sent her the award in the mail.  Though she can dish it out, she can’t take it.  She shuns publicity for herself.  She does not wear the mantle of greatness well.  The only way she would happily accept even the Miss America crown would be if George Clooney placed the tiara on her head.

She’s the one who’s always giving out the presents and pointing the camera at someone else.  Being the receiver makes her uncomfortable.  She enjoyed all that flash-bulb-popping and hoop-dee-doo about as much as eating worms in her backyard.  Nobody would suspect this, but underneath all those bubbles, she’s a closet shy person.  She’d prefer to be a recluse with husband Ralph on their farm down in Kentucky.

And as long as I’m exposing this woman, let’s face it.  Is she really that great?  Oh sure, she’s probably the best teacher to ever set foot in a classroom, but she’s not perfect.  Can she, for instance, sing the lead in the opera Carmen?  She cannot.  She disciplines her classes by threatening to sing.  They’ve heard her.  “No! No!”  they’ll say.  “We’ll be good!  Please don’t sing, Mrs. Bartles!”

You may think she’s perfect and in training for sainthood, but I know the real Dianna Bartles.  How do I know?  I know because we’re friends.  Well, not just friends.  We’re family.  We’re family we chose for ourselves.

Dianna and I don’t know how long we’ve been friends.  We both flunked math, and figures confuse us.  But we think it’s forever.

As friends, we may appear to be as unlikely a duo as Mutt and Jeff, but friends don’t have to be the same age, size or have the same origins.  It’s the inside that counts, and inside, we’re pretty much the same.  Oh, one of us may have more of one quality that the other, but it all evens out.

Take imagination, for example.  Hers soars.  Mine is rooted somewhere between Madeira and Kansas.

And she’s the idea person.  They pour from her fertile mind like baby guppies from an overstocked aquarium.  But I’m great at saying “Me too.”

We’re both writers with the same ambitions.  Right now, she’s a closet writer, just as she’s a closet shy person.  But someday, when she retires from teaching and has the time, she’ll write a bestseller or maybe even a Pulitzer.  I’ll be right there to grab her coattails and enjoy her fame.  She won’t enjoy it.  They’ll probably never get her on a book tour.

What kind of friend is Dianna Bartles?  Let me count the ways.

She’s the kind of friend you have to watch out for.  She drags you into things.  She’ll take you into things.   She’ll take you to stand in the broiling sun in a Beanie Baby line, waiting for a chance to buy a Princess Diana bear.

She’s the kind of friend you mother warned you about.  You have to watch where you go with her.  You may find yourself on a Saturday night sitting cross-legged on the floor with her, in the children’s department of Half-Priced Books, reading children’s books.

She’s a friend you won’t see constantly, and you won’t talk to her for hours everyday on the phone.  But she’s always there.  She has built-in ESP.  If something happens, she appears at you door like an apparition.  Or maybe an angel.  Or the phone will ring, and it’s her.

Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I’ve had more stuff in my life than she.  As you age, stuff happens, and tragedy starts to creep up on you.  When I went for cancer surgery, she took me and waited, as my family, in the waiting area until allowed in the recovery room.  “Good grief, Regina!” she encouraged me.  “You look like a truck hit you!”

When I broke my back in a freak accident several yeas ago, she hung gifts on my front door knob every morning on her way to school, for weeks as I wheeled my walker through the long, painful recovery.  She helped to keep me fed, and she kept me laughing.

When beloved brother, my only sibling, was killed in a horrible car accident two Christmases ago, she appeared, to help me through those long, awful nights.  She seemed to have nowhere else to go.

Last summer when my youngest son was so ill for weeks on end and came within a baby’s hair of death, Dianna appeared.  After 11 days in the I.C.U., when it seemed one day that he might make it, she whisked me away at the end of that long day.  She took me to a woods she knows.  Near dusk, we just walked for the longest time.  We didn’t talk.  Peace and comfort rose out of those woods like mist out of an African jungle.

Like I said before, she’s no Queen Elizabeth.  And she’s no Oprah either.  Why, neither of them could even carry her book bag nor clean her chalkboard.

Long live the Queen Dianna.

Dianna Bartles (center) posed with her fourth-grade teaching partners: Sandy Schneller (left), Tom Rape, Sandy Spasoff and Cindy Hopkins. She refused to be photographed without her “team” and insisted they won the Valley Area PTA “Teacher of the Year” together.