The report in the newspaper simply said, “An 18-year-old youth was killed after his car ran off the road and hit a tree near Seaspray at 2pm yesterday. Two others were taken to hospital.”
And my mind wanders back thirteen years.
As I walked around the classroom admiring the cut-and-paste pictures being created by the five-year-olds in my charge, my eyes were drawn towards Harry’s work. There, on the page, waiting to be glued, were several round pieces of soft blue fabric; each cut in a rough circle measuring about two to three centimetres across. 'Aren’t you using the paper like everyone else?' I inquired. 'And where did you find those lovely blue circles?' With the usual dazzling smile that Harry offered in answer to questions, he proudly held up one leg and demonstrated how he pulled up just a pinch of blue track pants and, with a deft snip, made another soft blue fabric circle, leaving yet another round hole in his pants.
Harry’s mother accepted my note of apology with good grace and a hearty laugh. She no more held me responsible for Harry’s adventurous approach to cut-and-past art than she had held his grandfather responsible for Harry’s backing of Grandpa’s farm tractor through a fence the week before. Yes, little Harry had already packed more variety and adventure into his first five years than most kids pack into ten or more. And his family was adjusting to life in a whirlwind.
Cute, mischievous, hyperactive, infuriating and lovable were just some of the adjectives used when discussing this little coiled spring of a kid. Ordinary school work held little interest for Harry. Apart from play-time recess, his favourite school subject was music, where he excelled; although sometimes the enthusiasm had to be (reluctantly) quelled a little for the safety of others.
Unforgettable was his first performance, at age seven, as a soloist at the city eisteddfod. When the time came for Harry’s number to be announced, we held our breath. His accompanist grandmother played a couple of opening bars on the piano and Harry appeared, eyes opened even wider than usual before he burst into song. It was hardly a customary eisteddfod item, but it was Harry's choice and, holding a banner 'high, high, high, high', he swung into the most wonderful version of the old Mickey Mouse Club song that I have ever heard. It brought the house down. And Harry bowed and swaggered off stage as if it were just another everyday happy thing to do.
In truth, music wasn’t his only talent. Harry had a gift for things mechanical. Although this was perhaps more of an obsession. Conventional toys were not for Harry, unless, of course, they could be dismantled and their parts examined. Many toys, household appliances and certain tools were unfortunately never re-assembled. Harry was able to start up the motor of a car or ride-on mower before he was even three years old. He was magnetically attracted to engines of any and every description and Harry’s close shaves with mechanical disaster were numerous and legendary.
At Primary school there were no motors to start, no engines to investigate and music sessions were too infrequent. So, Harry, being Harry, spent much of each day getting into one scrape after another. There were minor and major scrapes; some funny, others maddening. He was both a joy and a horror to have around. But his wide-eyed sunny grin continued to save his hide time and time again.
The last time I saw Harry was at a musical evening put on by the local secondary school. Great music of every variety was presented. Serious classical stuff, percussion displays, big band, gospel singing – the lot. And, near the end of the evening, out came the school’s rock band. The gorgeous light-up-the-room face was still in evidence, but Harry was now a tall, slim young man. He’d grown his hair a bit and some of the young cheeky look was gone and, as he tore into the electric guitar he held, his face took on an even more serious look. And it came back to me: 'Don’t worry Susie,' I had said to his mother when Harry was a little five-year-old, 'He’ll make a fortune one day as a pop star.' So, here he was, the budding pop star.
The racing hand of time had whisked the years along. Almost forgotten were those long-laboured sessions when we struggled to encourage Harry’s interest in the serious things of life – like reading, writing and numbers.
To look at the teenage Harry, belting away at some indecipherable rock song, I wondered if, years ago, I should have just let him be; to have let him always sing his own song, to dance to his different drummer. Perhaps we should have simply let him bounce and smile his way through life. We thought we had to pin him down; to sedate his bounce, to sober his grin, to depress his wildness and chasten his free spirit.
A small child’s life is not always, but usually, a safe condition and position in which to be. There is always a parent, a teacher or other wise person of some sort never far away. But children grow up and they become their own minders. It is a progression we are unable to halt. But we are never ready. And how could we ever be ready to cope with the news that the irrepressible Harry had, last week-end, spun a car out of control and into a tree. A tree which had more of a firm grip on life than Harry did. He was just 18.
I’ve tried to reason with this awful and premature end to a life. I’ve wondered on the wisdom of the moth, intent on burning itself in a candle flame, who says that '…it is better to be happy for a moment and be burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while.' * Is the moth right? I really don’t know.
And, now as I arrive home from attending Harry’s funeral, I wonder about all the different memories of Harry held in the minds of the 500 people who attended his farewell. For me, it’s the memory of those little blue fabric circles that won’t leave my mind.