Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Henry, son of John and Jean, named after John's brother, Henry Walker

I often write of people, particularly when a person has left us.  I decided to ask myself some of the same questions I ask of survivors about the person they know/knew well.  Below are some of the basics of my life.  I have opened myself as far as I can at this point.  If you want to learn what I remember of who I have been, which informs who I am now, read on. . .

Little Henry

in the hills of East Tennessee,
a third child is born, a third son,
not the daughter his mother might have wished for,
she who often said:
“I would not change you for all the girls in the world.”
he often thinking: “What about one girl?”
little old ladies often looking at him and declaring
“You should have been a girl with those long eyelashes!”
his mother knew this was her last child,
born to her when she was 38,
and she savored each moment of his development,

both she and his father were teachers,
each of whom loved learning
and taught him to love the realization of ignorance
for then learning is possible,
his father reading bedtime stories to him
out of The World Book Encyclopedia, by his request,

nuclear war was a palpable terror in his imaginings,
one time, as a little one, he feared to cross the street
because a bomb might go off,
he threw himself to the ground
under a white pine tree, just in case,

public school a place of friends and easy mastery of material,
he would play touch football with his friends, Army vs. Navy,
the Scouts a place to grow up, particularly at camp,
where he hated being away from home,

in the eighth grade, around his fourteenth birthday,
his father abruptly died,
and responsibility, more than guidance, fell upon him,

high school, where his self-deprecating humor
got him elected president of his sophomore class,
then re-elected president of his junior class,
though, as a senior, he got the third most votes out of three,
seemingly every organization voted him president:
Key Club, the Knoxville Junior Academy of Science for two years,
as did organizations that only existed for the yearbook,
he won the Optimist Club oratorical contest for Tennessee,

in the eighth grade playing Ferdinand in The Tempest,
and continuing in plays with U.T.’s Carousel Theater in high school,
speaking before the Knoxville City Council in support of monies for teachers,
helping organize the Young Democrats, 
enjoying debates and role-playing the United Nations,

then off to Duke University:
his first “F” ever on an assignment in history,
which pulled him into excellence later,
as a teacher finally demanded thinking of his students
in a way he could understand and rise to such expectations,
invited into an elite sophomore history class,
and finishing Duke as a history major,
though political protests about the Vietnam War
eliminated many of the professors he most liked,
as a freshman, the Symposium Committee excited his drive to know
with their symposium on the university,
one speaker pointing out that many classes seemed to not realize
Guttenberg had invented the printing press,
his need to know, to learn, to grow,
excited and fed,
so he got on the committee and became its chairman as a senior,
the caring heart he learned from his mother
also leading him into anti-war protests and civil rights support,

a thread—school, a place to cross with long dry deserts,
interrupted by occasional oases of teachers
who mattered and who knew he mattered,
the whole point of education to recognize the itch to know,
the emptiness within that can be filled
with the right attitude, the right support, the right effort,
and then we can grow closer to understanding
where we are, how we are, who we are,

a thread—family, for him a grandmother 
who knew he could do no wrong,
so he did no wrong, he let the best of himself out,
in the tempests of adolescence he and his father rubbed each other wrong,
his father shouted with his disapproving eyes
when he copped an attitude,
neither he nor his father found time and words to work it out,
then a massive heart attack took his father away
around his fourteenth birthday,
making the temporary estrangement into a finality,

a thread—the Smokies, nature as friend and parent,
summers a time of immersing in nature,
as in learning a foreign language,
nature all around him, and he could not understand its words
for the longest time,
when he seriously, fixedly started writing poems,
he spent two years pulling words from the ether
to understand the forest, water, the seasons, animals, the mountain,
no humans in his words till he finished his apprenticeship
to the world without us,
so that who we are could then fit into a world
whose rules hold us as parent, as God,
as the underlying truth, the rightness,
with which we humans can align
or find ourselves in peril,

he and a partner found each other
and fell into each other’s arms,
into each other’s worlds,
and that partnership completes much of who he needs to be,
two incredible sons, three incredible grandchildren,
further completing their world,
their simple home tucked into the woods,

he and a school found each other,
and he devotes himself to middle school students,
to be as an anchor, guide, cheerleader, editor of efforts,

words his primary tool to frame question, answer, to understand,
to express that understanding,
his lovingly crafted poems on the Web in his blog,
compiled every year into a booklet to share,

photography his art,
knowing when to take a picture,
when the incredible person before him
guardedly looks out,
when a flower, a waterfall, an animal, a sunrise,
releases itself before him for a moment
long enough for camera and effort to hold a bit
of the awe that hides in every moment.

by Henry H. Walker

November 24, ‘17

No comments: