Henry: An ode to an old school chum

He looks down from the top of the bookshelf. I guess we have been friends for over 30 years. When I found him, he was lying in a field near the La Plata River bottom, west of Breen. I couldn’t say how long he had been exposed to the elements, but I thought it was about time for him to have a home. I cleaned him up a bit and let him rest in the barn. I chose to name him Henry. One day I decided to take him to school, where he became an instant hit. Students would ask from where he came. Kindergarteners thought him to be a bit scary.  Third-graders thought he was pretty cool and prehistoric. Fifth-graders imagined him living during the frontier days while eighth-graders made jokes about his gaping smile. High school students thought of him as gross, especially the girls. I really didn’t reveal much about his past to them, nor did I answer many of their enquiries; they would find their own answers in due time. Regardless of their reactions, they grew to accept and respect him as the years passed.

Through the school years, Henry helped me teach math and measurements, grammar and writing, history and science. Numerous times, I would defer an answer to him. He became sort of my sidekick, a teaching assistant, so to speak. He never wavered, never complained, and never stopped staring through those large hollow eyes. His best attribute was that confident and determined stare. Sometimes it was darn annoying! In silence he always waited… waited patiently for his turn to join in on the lesson of the day.  Students would ask, “Why don’t you let Henry answer?” Some students snickered and contended that Henry knew more than I. It sometimes stuck in my craw. At times, Henry’s grin would surprise and amuse students with hand-written jokes sticking out from his comical, protruding incisors. They would insist that they wanted to hear it “straight from the horse’s mouth.” As the school years past, Henry became an inseparable ally. He would bail me out on stress-ridden days or when unforeseen melancholies pervaded the room. I guess I owe my teaching survival to Henry and his perseverance and loyalty.

When I had to move to a different room or building, he was the first to go. Sometimes I would situate him by the window where he could get a good view of the mountains. I usually placed him there on holidays so he wouldn’t be too lonely when I was gone. There, he could reminisce about his past. I guess in his better days he would have roamed those trails or worked for some “ole geezer” on the farm. High school students would write narratives about him, or imagined him in some sub plot of Macbeth. Sometimes they would set him on their desk for inspiration or for companionship. High school days could be quite lonely, and Henry never played favorites and was always willing to listen. Poems were written about his adventures and follies. Periodically, imaginings and apologies would be given to him when he least suspected them.

Henry was modest. You couldn’t ask him personal questions. He would just stare beyond you with a proud, determined look, but he was not without affection and compassion, for there was a soulfulness in his character. He patiently waited in his corner, a quintessential example of magical personifications found in the remnants of the past. It is known to all dreamers. It is known in the imaginings of childhood, in the seed of a narrative, in the creativity of myth. It is known in coloring life’s journey and in making sense out of the mundane. Henry was never really rewarded, other than with a quick dusting, but then again, he never needed to be, for he was contented in just being appreciated for what he was and for what he could do beyond his years.       

Burt Baldwin