Sunday, July 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Harry!

I've lived for almost fourteen years in the same very small town. I've walked countless miles on the streets and sidewalks. Every block has multiple memories attached to it.

Would you believe I actually have a literary memory rooted here? It has to do with the drugstore about 3 blocks from our house. It's a chain store that's changed names over the years but still looks much as it did when we moved to town. It's not the drugstore where we have our pharmacy so I'm not there too often, but since it's so close, I do pop in from time to time.

When the sweet girl was an infant, I was going through a difficult season. I was filled with joy over becoming a mom and loving our precious baby, but I was also struggling with postpartum depression. Several family members and friends passed away in the first eleven months of our daughter's life. It was a season tempered by high joys and deep griefs, often tumbling close together.

In the midst of all this, I was not always getting much sleep. Sometimes I just needed a break. My dear husband would say "take an hour" and shoo me out the door, often encouraging me to pick up my favorite Chinese food a few blocks away. I was working part-time at the seminary then and had my own office, and I would often take a book and the Chinese food and go hole up in the office (with the door locked) for about an hour, just to have some alone time.

And it was during that season that I fell in love with the Harry Potter books.

I'd read Sorcerer's Stone several months before. And I enjoyed it. D. and I agreed it was highly creative, especially the final chapters (with that eerie and interesting end we hadn't foreseen). I liked the characters, the humor, the plays on words.

But it was a busy season of life. And while I knew I wanted to go on to book two, I didn't feel compelled to read it immediately, the way you sometimes feel when you finish a story.

All of that changed the day I wandered into that little drugstore down the road, worn out and in need of some reading material. It's such a laugh to think I was looking for reading material in a drugstore, of all places. Our shelves at home are crammed with books. The library's about two blocks in the other direction. I was actually looking for a glossy magazine with pretty pictures, preferably of houses and gardens (I was so very tired right then that I'd discovered home and garden type magazines with pretty pictures were my best bet for reading material during the many hours I was nursing my baby).

What I found was a paperback copy of Chamber of Secrets. Oh, I thought, that's the second Harry Potter book. I've been meaning to read that. I picked it up, made sure I had enough money on me to purchase it, and took it to the counter. And I'm pretty sure I started it that afternoon, quite possibly holed up in my office with a carton of chicken and broccoli and a fortune cookie.

The rest, as they say, is history. I loved Chamber of Secrets. It made me laugh, it kept me on the edge of my seat, and I fell in love with Harry and his friends. It was the book that compelled me -- almost immediately -- to go find the third and fourth books (the only ones out at that time) and to wait with eager anticipation for the fifth. And reading that book propelled me into some of the best communal, literary discussion I've ever been privileged to enjoy, discussion that kept going for years.

So here at the end of July 31st, I tip my hat to the local drugstore, a strange literary landmark if there ever was one. I remain inordinately fond of their magazine and book aisle, though I'm not sure I've ever purchased anything else from it. And I also tip my hat to Harry and to his author, J.K. Rowling, and wish them both the happiest of birthdays.


Erin said...

A wonderful recollection, Beth! Hooray for that drugstore! Goblet of Fire was the first one I got when it was brand-new, though Prisoner of Azkaban must have been close. It's hard to say precisely when I became such a huge fan; I know I got the first book for my birthday and didn't pick it up right away, and when I did it took a couple chapters before I really got into it. I suspect, though, that once Hagrid showed up to whisk Harry off to school, I was pretty much sold. :) Harry certainly has been a big part of our lives this past decade, hasn't he?

Beth said...

I still remember picking up both Azkaban and the same time. I think I'd just finished reading Chamber out loud to Dana in the car (we were on a trip, and by then I'd fallen in love with Chamber and told him he would love it too). Normally I would check the next books of a series out of the library, and only if I really loved them would I buy them. But when we finished Chamber, we both had that great rush of "we've got to see what happens next!" We happened to be at a shopping center (pretty sure it was Hagerstown, MD) and got out to stretch and walk a bit. I headed straight for the nearest bookstore, picked up BOTH Azkaban and Goblet (in paperback) and bought them! We had terrific reading on that trip! (So S. has actually heard Harry, but she just doesn't remember!)