Sunday, August 14, 2011

wild about that harry

on wednesday my son and i had a date. we met at an italian restaurant downtown, shared a meal and conversation, then walked down the block and into a dark theatre, just for the chance to put on some silly glasses and say goodbye to an old friend.

we have been doing this for years. (well, not the saying goodbye part), but sharing in a story we both love. 

we first pulled up to number 4 privet drive the year he was 10. i had been scanning the bookshelves of a small independent shop near my house, looking for something that might interest a boy who was not much interested in books. the bookseller pointed me to an odd little paperback called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. 'it came out in england,' she said, 'and this is the British version.' the American title, HP and the Sorcerer's Stone wasn't due out until the next summer.

i picked it up and read a couple of pages, wondering if this might just be the thing to spark reading in my child. it sounded good. boy wizard. i had one of those at home.

in my memory — which has been known to fail miserably — my boy and i sat together and read a few pages about harry, just his age, who lives in a cupboard below the stairs and who learns in chapter 3 that he is no ordinary boy, no not at all. it would be nice if all of us, in chapter 3, learned that about ourselves. maybe some of us do.

it wasn't long before my own wizard took the book into himself (don't you love when that happens?) studying the nuances of the sorting hat and the rules of quidditch, the magic of giants in life and of weasel(lys). we bought the american edition that next summer and he read it again, just waiting for the promised second book. the summer of the third book i had pre-ordered a copy from my bookseller friend, and my then 13-year-old sat for two days reading almost non-stop during our vacation — despite the pleading of friends and sister to join them on boogie boards in the ocean. harry was that important.

as the years passed, some mornings when i went into his room to straighten it up, i'd find he had been re-reading one of the books. and that the harry books had led him to Tolkien, Lewis. 

harry taught him much. that a few things you truly need in life are these: a handful of loyal friends, a teacher or two who will go to bat for you, a sense of purpose and of wonder. and a belief that you can change your corner of the world if you have a mind to. 

when the order of the phoenix came out, mr. g was 16 and driving, but not after 9 p.m. (nc law). once again i'd ordered a copy for him through the bookseller who had first introduced us to this remarkable boy. no copy could be sold until midnight, and though we were strict about the 'after 9' rule, we gave him the keys to the car and said: be careful. my friend the bookseller met him at the back door with his book so he wouldn't have to stand in line with all the little kids. safely back at home, he read into the early morning, witnessing painfully as harry learns that even a teacher whom you are supposed to trust can turn her back on you.

as i think of this, i realize, too, that this was the summer after my daughter's freshman year in college. it had been a hard year for us and for our boy. we missed the princess pea so much. mr g saw friends make wrong choices. he struggled with a teacher who appeared to want him to fail. (he eventually stood up to her.) harry had all this and more. mr g  found in harry's story some sort of strength inside himself i think. there will always be delores umbridges in the world. but they won't win if you don't let them.

a few of harry's friends died. mr g: two by then time he was a sophomore in college. harry lost at love. ditto mr. g. both my boys learned that though friends can make you angry you keep loving them anyway. people (including parents or pseudo-parents) let both of them down. and this too: there will always be horcruxes in the world that can lead to your destruction. the secret is to get to them before they get to you. and as a matter of fact, the whole thing is a puzzle you have to solve all on your own. and sometimes, sadly, you don't.

by the time the last book came out, i bought two copies — one for each of us —  because honestly i didn't want to share. Once again, we read it at the beach, neither of us talking about it until we had read the final page. 

a few weeks ago we convened oceanfront once again. this time my son bent his head into Game of Thrones, the first of a new series — like harry potter for grown-ups, he said. he first saw it on hbo then bought the book. attaboy. see the movie and want to know what the real story is. (i never knew harry was not for adults, come to think of it.)

my son is grown, like harry. works at a good job, watches his investments, tries to grow a beard on vacation. hasn't yet decided to open up his heart again. 

we share a town but don't see him often, so when i get the chance to sit across from him all by myself, even if i do have to pay for the beer and the meal, it is a treat. i look into his face and see pieces of me — eyes, jaw, nose — though to my knowledge now we are only externally similar. but at least internally, we are both wild about that harry.

as we took our seats in the imax theatre, i checked my phone. he does not read my blog so i feel safe in saying he doesn't know i'm following is hilarious tweets. on wednesday mr g had tweeted: 'harry potter with mum.' a gift to me, surely, to let his world know we were together.

we have been doing this, too, watching harry grow on the big screen. mr g actually waits for me, sometimes weeks after it's come out. another gift he does not have to give.

as we sat together in the darkened theatre, i saw more than just a story about a boy banished to a cupboard who finds his way out. i saw my son sitting next to me and how much he was like the cupboard boy, scraggly beard and all. a boy searching for himself, being a friend, battling some, grown into a man, somehow suddenly. but inside him is that 10-year-old, still. 

and so we watch the story end. applaud as voldemort becomes flakes of ash that seem to float toward our faces (we agree the 3-d glasses are not necessary.) watch harry in middle age and i think: what will that be like for my mr g?