This month marks the end of the Harry Potter movie saga. I am sorry to see it end, as it was a medium, both books and movies, which opened a world I could share with my children. The arrival of a new book or movie was a moment to contemplate the past, appreciate the present, and anticipate the future. Much like pencil marks on a doorsill, each additional episode of the Harry Potter story marked how much they had grown and encouraged me to consider on how we as parents had changed and evolved as well.
There is a treasure trove of memories, sitting right in front of me as I ponder the release of the last movie. I re-read the final volume to immerse myself again in the world of Hogwarts, wizards and magic. It isn't just a parallel universe. It is a world my family and I journeyed through along with Harry, Ron and Hermione and each memory is as precious as the sorcerer’s stone and as tasty as butter beer.
My dad died shortly before Thanksgiving in 2001. The first volume of the series had just been released in America. I knew almost nothing about it. I was staggered by my dad's death and this would be the first Thanksgiving without him. How do you have Thanksgiving without your dad? On the appointed day, I was once again at St. Anthony's Dining Room for our annual broadcast and the culmination of the Thanksgiving charity drive. Eighteen Thanksgivings were spent in that amazing place of hope and inspiration. It ended about 4pm. I walked out into the waning sunlight drained, tear stained, and morose. I looked up and there was my wife parked at the corner of Jones and Golden Gate. She said get in and off we went. I discovered we were not staying in the City for Thanksgiving. We were driving to Disneyland for a long weekend.
Each child had carved out a space in the car. They each had a backpack filled with books and games and snacks and each was wrapped in a cozy sleeping bag. They were snug and warm in their own personal space. I was sad and melancholy and welcomed switching with my wife and taking over the driving chores. We were on I-5 and she opened a box of cassettes. She inserted the first one and in the darkness of that car, traveling, maybe running from the reality of my father's and their grandfather's loss, we were introduced to the Dursleys and Privet Drive and the world of Harry Potter.
It was magical...as if a true spell had been cast. We were in our own self-contained world and we met Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hogwarts. There wasn't a sound in the car except the rhythm of the road and the sound of each new chapter. At some point, one of the kids sheepishly asked about dinner. Afraid, possibly, of incurring the wrath of the others for stopping our wizarding experience. We ended up stopping and having Thanksgiving dinner at a Denny's. I don't remember much about the meal except for a pervasive cloud of sadness resulting from the comparison between this Thanksgiving and the fifty or more presided over by my dad. I do remember how the kids rushed back to the car, climbed in, wrapped themselves in their cubbies and anticipated the start of the next cassette.
It took 8-9 hours of driving to arrive at our destination, yet it seemed to pass in an instant. The rest of the weekend was fun and it was a good idea to get away for a few days, but until the day I die, I will never forget how close we seemed, how in our own world we felt, how special that time felt and we owed it all to J.K. Rowling and her brilliant imagination.
There are lots of other stories, which feature Harry Potter and our children. One volume came out as we prepared for a vacation in Tahoe. No one was allowed to start the book in the car. We all started at the same time once we arrived in Tahoe and only swimming interrupted the consumption of Harry's travels and travails. On one occasion, my daughter, Darcy, came to work with me. The latest book was to go on sale at midnight. A caller told me we could get it for half off at a Safeway in Strawberry Shopping Center in Marin. At 1:30am, the two of us went and bought two books, went home and stayed up for hours reading. When the Goblet of Fire movie was released, the children and myself decided to go to the 3am showing in 3D at the Metreon. We walked out into a sparkling sunrise so proud we had seen it before almost anyone else and drawn closer again with the shared experience.
I have missed sharing the last two movies with them. It's one more reminder of the consequences of stupidity and an inability to appreciate all I had been given. They are all quite grown now, and a chance to share a continuity of experiences which stretch from their childhoods to the now evolving adults they are becoming, won't be possible ever again. I missed it or blew it or tossed it away without understanding what a rare and valuable gift it truly was.
I and we will always have that night on I-5, speeding through the dark as Quiddich matches, and shopping trips to Dragon Alley and battles on brooms and with wands happened in a universe at once far away, yet as close as the love we felt for each other. Harry was no longer alone and maybe we knew from that night, we would never be either.
I am grateful for the memories, which mark each volume of Harry’s journey to adulthood. Visions of different faces, my son's and daughter's, flood into my senses as I think about each book. I'm grateful to a wife who was committed to exposing my children to reading and stories and who understood immediately the power of this particular story. I miss my dad. I miss my family, but I live in the hope these memories never disappear and we will be re-united one day.