Sometimes when we let our memories run wild, they come up with a collection of disjointed pictures. That happened to me last week when I thought about Harry.
Possibly the winter-like air triggered the memories, because I clearly recall Harry against a backdrop of the frigid Alberta countryside. As far back as I remember, he had a trap line where he would set up steel traps for weasels and snares for rabbits. I had no interest in killing animals; I’d just as soon let them run free. On rare occasions, from about the time I turned 9 and he 11, he would convince me to tag along while he checked his traps. I’d follow him up and down the coulee banks, leaning against driving snow, or breaking through the wind-dried crust of snowdrifts. I hated it when we found dead creatures in the traps.
I hated going home cold and wet from snow that had penetrated my clothes. Why did I tag along? Somehow, Harry had a hold over me.
I recall also Harry in the prairie spring and summer when we would climb trees and raid birds’ nests. We’d steal only from the birds we considered pests: the crows and the magpies.
When he a found a nest of abandoned baby hawks, he chose to raise them. Although I don’t remember the outcome, I do recall his determination as he risked fingers in an effort to feed them. I’d follow him through thickets and around coulee ponds as he pointed out various birds, naming them and telling me about their habits. One summer following a visit to a lake, he brought back containers filled with lake water and tiny fish.
"The ponds don’t have any fish," he said. "So I got some."
Six decades later, their descendants still populate the ponds. Harry always captured my imagination.
I recall that Harry always had a book in his hands or at his side. He’d lie on the sofa reading with a pile of books on the floor around him. When dinner call sounded, he would never hear it, or any other call for that matter. Someone would shake him to return him to reality. He remembered what he read, sucking up knowledge like a Hoover with a bottomless bag. When he got to the tenth grade, he faced a serious problem. He knew more than the teachers in the small town school, able to challenge them in sciences, mathematics, and history. He made the only decision he could at the time: he quit school. Harry always made me look like a dummy in comparison.
When I had moved away, Harry remained in the small Alberta town, but stories about him found their way to us. Sometimes, he would make himself unpopular with the coffee crowd in the local restaurant by jumping into arguments, often taking the least popular side. When some of the more-intellectual types laughed at his reasoning, he would say, "I have a book. I’ll go home and get it."
Folklore has it that he and his ever-growing library never lost an argument. I’m glad I didn’t live there then where Harry could continue to embarrass me.
If you haven’t already guessed, I once had an older brother named Harry. He died in his 40s, but sometimes a blast of cold air, the call of a bird, or his name scrawled on the flyleaf of a book brings him back.
No matter how long ago you lost them, or how much you miss them, no one can take away the memories of those you loved.