Thursday, February 16, 2017

One life lesson

February 16 is a bit of a dark day for my family. Eighteen years ago my Grandma Rushton passed away, and then three years later to the day we lost my brother's best friend. We've got death anniversaries spread throughout nearly every month of the year now, but February 16 has cemented itself in my mind as "the" dark day, probably because it the first time I experienced a loss of this magnitude. These deaths were also the hardest, the most unexpected, and came far too soon.

I knew my Grandma Rushton as someone who had one of the most bedecked houses/yards in Payson during Christmas season, who gave wonderful gifts, and who made every holiday special. And her cherry tomatoes and homemade rolls were almost too good for my little body too handle—on at least one occasion Grandma had to come out to the tomato patch to get a hug from me before we left her house.

But I never really knew her when she was healthy—she died of cancer when I was 11—so most of what I know about her now I've picked up from stories. It's enough to elevate her to sainthood: mother of eight biological children (seven of whom are boys) and to anyone else who needed safety and love, the first person I think of whenever a Relief Society teacher asks us to think of someone who characterizes service, a fierce competitor, someone with a diverse collection of talents who wasn't afraid to use them.

I'm fortunate to know her as well as I do, but what I really wish is that I had had more one-on-one time with her. Something of my own to solidify her specific-to-me presence in my life.

Fortunately, I'm not completely deprived; one memory keeps resurfacing, and it's time I wrote it down.

I was about 10 and it was Super Bowl Sunday (I think). Football was the most boring thing in the universe at the time, so after we wrote down our score predictions, a group of us shut ourselves up in Grandma and Grandpa's room to play Hand and Foot. My sister Tiffany and I were on one team, my cousin Shamra and her friend Carrie on the other.

About halfway through our game, Grandma came in to check on us. Tiffany and I were winning, and at least one of us was ready to go out. Shamra and Carrie, on the other hand, didn't even have any canastas yet. Not wanting to be mean, we debated giving them one more chance to get some points.

Grandma passed on a lifetime of card-playing wisdom in two words: "I wouldn't."

We didn't listen. And we paid for it.

Shamra or Carrie picked up the pile on their next turn, which was stacked so high it kept falling over, and ended up beating us by about 6,000 points.

When Dad and his brothers joke about fearing their mom's scolding more than possibly bleeding to death because of some injury caused by stupidity, I believe them. When people tell stories about Grandma taking chili over to a neighbor in need, I'm not surprised. But when the subject of Grandma's merciless card-playing comes up, I know they're speaking truth, because I learned it from Grandma first-hand.

I haven't taken pity on an opponent ever since. Grandma says.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Some thoughts from my latest Harry Potter re-read

I have this fear that I'll eventually have read Harry Potter so many times that the joy they bring into my life will disintegrate. It's one reason I put forth so much energy in restraining myself from diving into the books again whenever I feel the urge. (Every few hours or so.)

But if there's one thing I can count on, it's that the need to read Harry Potter will eventually become too distracting to ignore. I have to allow myself this treat occasionally—my mental health demands it.

The "wizzy sense" started hitting me hard at the beginning of the year. My family started a Harry Potter movie marathon around New Years, and I finished it on my own after life went back to normal. Thoughts like "You've never gone so long without reading the Harry Potter series—you might have actually forgotten stuff by now" and "You did say you would allow yourself to read whatever you wanted this year" and "You actually do need this in your life right now" kept flitting through my mind.

So I gave in. And turns out, I did need Harry Potter right now. We're undergoing some pretty major changes at work, which means my workload has doubled and I'm working through some new challenges. My nightly escapades into Harry Potter's world have been a steady comfort and de-stressing mechanism, something I needed to keep me sane.

As for my fear that the Harry Potter magic would be watered down on—for some books—my 12th read, I needn't have worried. When you've got a story as good as this masterpiece, each reading experience will be a little bit different. Because you're different. That's the mark of a great book—it just keeps giving.

Some other thoughts I had during this re-read:

I've changed a lot as a reader in the last 3.5 years. Since the last time I read the series, I've really upped my reading game. My to-read pile just got bigger during the month or so I was dedicated to Harry Potter, and I felt guilty neglecting it for something I'd already experienced several times. Which made reading Harry Potter both a sacrifice and an indulgence. It also meant that for the first time ever, I didn't try to stretch the reading experience out as long as possible. Instead I let myself plow through it without restraint, which felt a bit like eating the forbidden ice cream straight from the carton. I'm also hoping that knowing I have so many other good reads waiting for me will make the Harry Potter Withdrawals less intense this time. Although I know the crushing feeling of loss will be unavoidable tonight.

This is the first time I've read the series during the winter. In the past, I've always read them in the summer and fall; I don't think I've ever read Harry Potter during a snowstorm. And what could be cozier than reading Harry Potter on a snowy day next to a cheery fireplace with a steaming mug of hot cocoa in your hand? Nothing, I tell you. It was also great to have a reliable source to stave off the gloom of January and February. BYU basketball usually does that for me, but not this year.

New(ish) character standouts. Every time I read the series, I appreciate different characters more, or I understand old favorites differently. This time, Kreacher stood out. His constant mutterings to himself are hilarious, guys, especially when Hermione is trying to be nice to him. And then he makes my heart grow three sizes when Harry finally starts being nice to him and you see how much he thrives.

Sirius' death still is, and probably always will be, the hardest death for me. I don't know why I keep putting myself through it.

Professor McGonagall is my hero—I want to be just like her when I grow up. She's a perfect example of something you appreciate more as you get older. I didn't care all that much about the teachers when I was a kid, but I can't get enough of her now. Maybe I love her so much because we're pretty similar in some ways, but I've got a looooong way to go before I achieve her level of awesomeness.

And then there's Ron. The movies do a huge disservice to him by making him a bumbling sidekick and giving all his good lines to Hermione. He has so much to offer that so often gets brushed aside. It's usually Ron, not Hermione, who is first to say to Harry, "We're coming with you, mate." He's a good friend in ways Hermione isn't because he's not a bossypants. He is the sun that makes everything better, something that becomes blatantly obvious whenever he's not around. And his sense of humor—especially during stressful situations—is fantastic, something the movies are never able to capture despite relegating him to the role of comic relief. ("I don't know how to break it to you, but they might have noticed we broke into Gringotts." Ron, I love you so much.) Ron isn't perfect, but he's real. It makes me angry sometimes how much the movies (and even the fandom) undervalue him.

And while I'm on the topic of undervalued movie-Weasleys—Ginny. That is one fabulous character (another one I want to be like when I grow up), and what the movies did to her is a travesty.

It is possible for me to love a book (other than book 7) more than book 3. I didn't think any of the books would knock book 3 out of its solid spot in second place, but this time book 4 did it. It's fascinating to me how much my favorites order changes with each re-read. For instance, last time it went like this: 7, 3, 5, 4, 6, 1, 2. This time all but three changed spots: 7, 4, 3, 6, 5, 1, 2. Like I said earlier, each re-read is a new experience.

The 2013 order. I'm too sad to take a picture of the 2017 order.

J.K. Rowling will go down in history as using more ellipses than any author, living or dead. She tones it down by book 5, but man all those dot-dot-dots bugged me.

It's a post–Cursed Child/Fantastic Beasts world. I refuse to accept Cursed Child as canon, but it was interesting reading the series—nearly 10 years after the last book was published—with some fresh HP material to consider. I paid more attention to Dumbledore's backstory in particular, which the Fantastic Beasts movie has given more depth to. Especially relating to Ariana. And now that we know the adorable Newt Scamander, I am 1000% OK with Luna marrying his grandson. So perfect.

And with that, it's over again. I'm a little heartbroken. Again. But this isn't really the end. (And let's be honest—I'm never far from Harry Potter's world anyway.) I'll be back at it before too long.