Parents remember South Lake Tahoe teen Dejon Smith
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — “I love you mom. I love you dad,” were the last words Dejon “Dede” Smith said to his parents as he left home Thursday afternoon on Dec. 11, his mother Taneka Smith said as she wiped tears from her eyes.
In an interview filled with sorrow and pauses, the Smiths wandered down memories of their son’s life nearly two months after that tragic December afternoon when Dede was killed during a windstorm by a large falling tree.
Taneka constantly wiped tears away, but during brief moments, as she and Deshawn dug deeper into their memories of Dede, there was some laughter, sorrowful smiles and silent moments of reflection. Coupled with the reality, it was visibly hard for Taneka to recount through those memories, but she continued to talk about her son, at times in a non-linear fashion, as if in her mind was jumping from memory to memory, from scene to scene guided by small details that inspired a new pathway to explore.
Taneka’s most praised memory with her son was the day he was born. She remembered what she liked most about that day.
“Just to see how cute he was with his little eyelashes and how hairy he was,” she said with a tearful smile.
Deshawn sat next to Taneka, a quiet man who during the interview seemed to remember his son’s life through Taneka’s voice and intermittently spoke about him when Taneka needed a little help remembering.
“He always said he wanted to grow up and be like his father. He just really looked up to his father,” Taneka said.
And, in a lot of ways, Dede was like his father – the thoughtful, quiet type, she said. A boy who, when he opened up, was able to a carry on meaningful conversations.
As a little boy he was active. He was always running around barefoot and liked to climb trees. Other kids always liked to be around him, something that never changed, Taneka said.
As he grew up he became more reserved.
In many ways he was still very much a boy discovering the initial stages that come with early manhood. He liked to play video games, especially Call of Duty, ride his skateboard and go swimming. He wanted to get a job, but at 14 he was still too young. He liked to keep himself neat, liked to smell good and had a collection of colognes he shared with his friends. Dede kept himself in shape by lifting weights – he lifted between 175 and 200 pounds.
“He had the biggest pretty eyes with long, very long eyelashes. You didn’t even see women with the type of eyelashes he had,” Taneka said.
Dede wanted to play in the NFL and dreamed of one day buying a house for his parents.
He was a charismatic boy who was able to build relationships with young and old, big and small, human or canine, Taneka said. At the heart of his passions was family, his and those of his friends’. The thing that troubled him the most was seeing a child being taken away from his family.
His sister, Shawntyana Ethridge, was among his best friends, but his most trusted companion was Wishbone, a Jack Russell terrier that slept with him every night and that he regularly snuck into the shower with him when he could dodge his mother’s surveillance.
Taneka remembered the day they picked Wishbone up, when Dede was about 5 years old.
“It was me, Dejon and his sister, and as soon as he saw Wishbone they just fell in love. And I said, ‘we have to bring him home,’” Taneka said.
The two ran around the house and the neighborhood. They spent a lot of time together and Dede taught him tricks.
“It was like Wishbone was a little kid to him,” Taneka said. “He took care of wishbone like Wishbone was a little brother.”
Born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, Dede loved what the area had to offer. He liked swimming. He was a good swimmer, Taneka said as she remembered the last time they swam together.
It was last summer and they were at Dede’s great-grandmother’s home. He was with Taneka, Ethridge and his great-grandmother.
“We were just at the pool eating sandwiches and laughing and playing Marco Polo,”
They played contests of who could last the longest underwater and wrestled around the pool, splashing water and enjoying the summer day.
Dede liked playing around in the water, Taneka said, but when it came to swimming he took it seriously.
“His big sister wasn’t that good of a swimmer, so she would always scream, ‘no! get Dede,’ and he would just be playing with her, splashing water,” Taneka said.
Swimming in the lake was also a regular thing during the summer, with Dede rounding up friends to make the trip to the beach.
He was an active boy.
As Taneka and Deshawn wandered back from the trip down their son’s life, they briefly remembered the days that followed his death and the response from the community. They said they were thankful to a lot of people who offered help. They specifically mentioned Dede’s classmates and childhood friends. They said they were thankful to South Tahoe Refuse, Grocery Outlet, First Baptist Church, South Lake Tahoe Unified School District and everyone who helped during his search and after he was found, as well as everyone who showed support.
By the end of it all there was a lot of reflection.
“We love you Dejon,” Taneka said. “Your parents can’t wait to meet you in Heaven.”
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