My mother was always looking for four leaf clovers. She would press them and keep them for good luck. Buckeyes were also polished and saved, as they could also bring good fortune. Ironic then, that my mother would die so young. She was not yet 60 when she was diagnosed with a terminal disease, in spite of all that good luck she had stowed away- all those buckeyes and clovers. I took a leave of absence from work and stayed with my mother in her home during the two final months of her life.
During that time and even afterwards, we continued to find things she had stashed away for my kids. Valentines, Easter bunnies, even Christmas gifts were discovered and given to the obviously intended recipients at all of the obviously intended times. Gifts continuously bestowed on us long after my mother was no longer around, seemed magical in a way. Among those were the first three Harry Potter books written by J. K. Rowling.
I did not get to see my husband and children much during the two months that I stayed with my mother. My family continued to be busy with their respective jobs and schools, while I mostly sat and watched my mother suffer in her bedroom in a house she had lived in for 30 years, in a small town, adjacent to mine, where she had lived her entire life. I missed my daughters very much during those months. Their visits on weekends were the only bright light for me during that time. (Although my mother kept exclaiming and marveling at the bright light she saw, I was unable to see it with her. I looked and expected to find something that made sense as I sat by her bed, but I just could not seem to see it.)
My two youngest daughters would sleep in bed with me, in a bedroom next to my mother’s, during those weekend visits. I found the Harry Potter books in my mother’s room and I knew they were intended for my girls. Maybe she was saving them until the girls were a bit older. I’m not sure. One night with my girls tucked into my mother’s guest room bed, it seemed a good time to begin reading one aloud. I would have loved to have included my mother in the readings that took place, but by that time, she was already in a sort of morphine induced coma and only responded in unexpected bursts at unexpected times.
My little girls were only six and eight years old when we began reading about Harry Potter. Sometimes my husband and my older teenage daughter would also come in to hear the tale read aloud, with me mustering my best British accent and various voices for different characters. That first book was full of magic in many ways. It was magical that it could make us laugh and the pages filled my children’s minds with wonder and fantasy during one of the saddest times of our lives. When we came to the end of that first book, The Philosopher’s Stone, Albus Dumbledor said to Harry, “Death is but the next great adventure.”
My mother died.
And we were hooked on those books.
Those gifts my mother had given us continued to be a part of our lives. We read the next two aloud in the same way, at home, with my husband right there, as entranced as the children, all of us hanging on every word of the adventure. When the teenager was not too busy with her teenage life, even she would join us.
Right away, I always knew that Severus Snape was not a bad guy. Maybe everyone always knew that, but J.K. is such a masterful writer, she could let you know something so subtly that you thought you were the only one to figure it out. She could also surprise the hell out of you.
When we had concluded all three of the books my mother had bequeathed to us, there was what seemed to children like a very long wait for J.K. Rowling to finish writing and publish the next book. In actual time, it was only three months after my mother’s death that the next book was released and it came out in July- the birth month of my daughter Maggie. This was a great event in the lives of both my young children. Maggie would dress up like Harry Potter. My Amelia would be Hermione Granger- all of us would dress like characters from the books. Even my husband would be persuaded to dress up as a wizard! We would become the characters in the book, while waiting- what seemed like an eternity at Barnes and Noble- for the magic hour of midnight to strike, when the next book, we had paid for long in advance, was finally placed into small hands.
Then we would rush home to begin reading the new book that very night, even though we were exhausted. No matter how much we each wanted to read ahead on our own, we all knew, with no discussion, that it had become our sacred tradition to read the Harry Potter books in the way in which we had begun the first one. We read them aloud. Each mystery was solved, each question answered for all of us, at the same time, until one of us fell asleep. Then no matter how much the remaining wide-awake ones wanted to read further, it was over. We could not return to the story until we all reconvened for bedtime the following night. No matter how much we wanted to, I don’t believe that any of us ever read ahead. The reading of Harry Potter was something very special that we did together, as a family.
Why would adults be as enthusiastic as children to read those books? For the same reason J. K. Rowling could be passionate enough to write them for so long. They touched on something that we all loved – the roots of storytelling - of literature. They had elements of some of the very oldest stories of civilization, of Greek myths and other ancient tales. They were about that age-old story of good vs. evil, but we began to realize they were also about many other things that my family felt strongly about: things like prejudice and corruption. They were about coming of age, about growing up. And by some luck of timing (and timing is everything.) my children were growing up with Harry Potter and his pals, in a way that no other children would ever have the unique timing to do, in quite the same way, ever again.
If this were not all wonderful enough, then the films began to be made and the first one was released one year after my mother’s death. Much the same as the release of the books, my daughters were able to dress up as their favorite characters, only this time they could stand on the sidewalk in front of the movie theater and more often than not, get their photos taken by the local newspaper.
My two younger girls just happened to be born at the right time for the Second British Invasion. Their father understood the significance of that, as his generation was fortunate enough to have been born just at the right time to be just the right age to witness the arrival of The Beatles on U. S. soil. (Some of us can listen to the Beatlies records, even in the order that they were released, but it’s not quite the same as being there as the actual events unfolded.) And because J.K. Rowlings is just about our age, she too was a product of Beatlemania. Therefore it is no coincidence that Harry Potter and Daniel Radcliff wear those little round spectacles like John Lennon wore- or that Harry alongside those red haired mop-top Weasley boys were very reminiscent of the Fab Four.
It was not hard for my husband, or for me, to see why my girls were smitten with the Harry Potter movies. For my part, I could not be happier to share in this movie experience, because I was already a huge fan of the actor Alan Rickman and the fact that he had been chosen for the part of my favorite character in the books was to me, just perfect!
I could go on, about why I loved Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. I have an ear for voices – that ear for linguistics. I love learning about languages. I have an ear for recognizing voices. (I can name that singer in three notes.) I also love stories of Merlin and King Authur, since my earliest childhood preferences. It is Alan Rickman’s British voice that commands attention and really packed a wollop for me. ( I could say the same for David Bowie’s voice as the Goblin King, but that would be a whole other story about my granddaughter. This one is about Severus Snape.) Mix that voice of his together with tall, dark and handsome, rock and roll-type entity and for me that’s quite enough... To make a long story short, the Harry Potter movies were just fine for me. They captured elements that I loved about my favorite things from childhood and (to quote a Glen Frey lyric) “it makes her feel the way she used to feel.”
After we read the fourth book in the Harry Potter series,
my children waited patiently for three years for the next book to be released. That’s a long time to maintain enthusiasm, but they were so excited to dress up once again, three years later, wait in long lines for hours only to rush home and begin once more our ritual of reading the spellbinding books aloud together.
Five years after my mother’s death, we learned, with the publishing of the sixth book, that Severus Snape was The Half-Blood Prince. My Maggie had just turned 16 and Amelia not yet 14, when the last book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was released. Again our girls climbed into our bed and we began to read aloud. Their friends made fun of my daughters, because they did not know yet, which beloved characters had died. My daughters did not seem to mind that they had to wait while we, as a family, read so slowly, because our reading sessions always came to an end when one of us fell asleep…
The Harry Potter books were criticized because they were so dark. Yes, that last book was harsh for children. Thank goodness mine had grown up enough to bear the tragic loss of characters they had come to love so much. Their relationship to those characters had evolved over years! But J. K. Rowling said herself , “My books are largely about death.”
In April of 2000, I remember when my oldest daughter, Lauren brought my two younger girls to visit my mother. She was on her deathbed. My daughter, Lauren had taken the two younger girls and bought them Easter outfits. She had washed and braided their shining hair. The sunlight through the window made my baby girls’ dark eyes and blonde hair look stunning. It made me wince to see my mother open her eyes and look at the faces of my three girls, looking down at her with kindness. I knew why my mother cried when she looked at them. “ You are so beautiful!” my mother exclaimed.
They were so beautiful, it hurt to look at them.
Yes, those Harry Potter books are Dark. And it had been a Dark time when my children and I had begun reading those books. It was Dark when my beautiful girls looked back at my mother who was looking at them from her deathbed with tears in her eyes. The Harry Potter books had been a gift to us from my dying mother and somehow those books had helped us to cope with that death. They had offered us an escape from something that was perhaps even more harrowing than what we experienced on their pages…
One might think the story ends there, but my daughters, Maggie and Amelia, were not quite grown yet. The books continued to be made into films.
My husband and I went with our girls to see every one of the Harry Potter movies as they were released. We stood on the sidewalk until the theater doors opened at midnight for every one of them. How significant was this to our children? Well, the movie The Half Blood Prince was released on Maggie’s birthday, July 15, when she was 18 years old. The theater was packed. Maggie’s sister Amelia and other friends went around and whispered in every Harry Potter fan’s ear to sing Happy Birthday to Maggie and at some designated time the entire movie theater did so. This occurred not only once, but twice. When Maggie turned 20 years old, the second part of the film version of the last Harry Potter book, was released at midnight on July 15, 2011 and the entire crowd sitting in the movie theater sang Happy Birthday to my daughter, Maggie, just before the movie began. I was crushed at the end of the movie. Not only because so many beloved characters had died in the film, but because I wanted to wish my own daughter a Happy Birthday. The line for reaching Maggie was too long... By this time, my daughter Maggie, was renowned for being one of the biggest Harry Potter fans in existence. Well, next to her younger sister, that is. At any rate, they had each read some of the Harry Potter books so many times, they were deemed as local experts among their peers...
It was still much later when I learned that J. K. Rowling said - in fact, told Oprah Winfrey - tthat the Harry Potter books had been her way of dealing with her own mother’s death.
According to Rowling, “If she hadn't died, I don't think it's too strong to say that there wouldn't be Harry Potter. The books are what they are because she died.”
One could say that the Harry Potter books were a gift that J. K. Rowling had given to the world and were very significant to my family and to the rearing of my children. The books were constantly intertwined throughout events of my daughters’ childhood experiences. Because of timing they happened to be a significant part of my children’s lives, inseparable, really, from all the other things that occurred. One could also say that perhaps had those books not been a gift from my mother, my daughters growing up experiences could have been significantly different.
When I woke up last week and learned that Alan Rickman had died, it rocked my world, for about a day. In the back of my mind, I felt such loss, but I did not take the time to think about the significance and the symbolism of Severus Snape… I went to my yoga class before I went to work.
I parked my car on College Street and went into my yoga class and worked out. At the end of the session, during my Shavasana, the yoga instructor put on the Beatles tune, “Let it Be.”
I wish she had not done that… I began to cry. Silent tears ran from my eyes into my ears. My eyes were closed shut, but I felt my instructor put a tissue into my hand. I felt embarrassed. Then she changed the music to John Lennon singing Imagine! I lost it!
Things are not always what they seem. It may seem that Snape did not have Harry Potter’s best interest at heart, when in fact he always did. It might seem that Snape had been disloyal to Albus Dumbledor, when in fact, he never was. It might seem that the morning that Alan Rickmand died, I burst into tears at the end of my yoga class, because I am no different from some teeny bopper who lost a silver screen idol. But things are not always what they seem.
I know that I cried for the loss of my mother, even though it happened 16 years ago. I cried for the loss of childhood. I enjoyed the childhood of my daughters immensely- all of that gone now. I cried for myself and for the losses I will continue to experience… until I too am among those who are no longer.
I struggled to put on my shoes and coat and left my yoga class with my eyes still blinded by tears. As I opened my car door I saw it lying there- the biggest buckeye I have ever seen! So big, it surely could not have been there when I got out of the car, or I would have tripped over it! Suddenly I had an overwhelming feeling of peace. My mother is still with me- a part of me- a part of everything. She continues to give us gifts. We all do that. A deed here, a deed there, and our deeds carry on the wind like ripples on the pond. They are infinite- there is no way of knowing how far they travel or how significant and life changing our gifts continue to become.
Teresa Christmas is a teacher at Art Matters, the mother of three beautiful women, the step mother of two incredibly charming young men and the grand mother of three above average grandchildren. She is a fan of Harry Potter, David Bowie and The Eagles. Therefore please humor her during these difficult days...