Coffee with Warren – a great way to celebrate his 70th

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 28, 2010

The year was 1940. Brightening those dark opening days of World War II, Walt Disney produced “Fantasia,” a feature film that broke new ground with its animated interpretations of classical music.

On May 2 my parents, Merle and Edna Harbeck, were also breaking new ground. As my maternal grandmother wrote in her diary on that occasion:

“Today Warren Arthur Harbeck was born. The baby is a little darling.”

Well, what more can I say?

Yes, this coming weekend I will be celebrating my 70th birthday. That’s 70 cycles of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

During my childhood I was living in the Great Lakes port city of Buffalo, New York. I think much of my enjoyment of life back then can be traced to my exuberance over the changing seasons.

For this week’s column, since advancing age presumes licence to reflect on one’s youth, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite memories with you.

Not surprisingly, many of my memories from back then have strong visual, season-specific qualities about them, no doubt influenced by Disney’s interpretation in “Fantasia” of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite according to the progression of the seasons.

There was that mid-spring afternoon before I started school when I was riding my two-wheeled red scooter along the sidewalk. As I approached our house, I was captivated by the bright yellow dandelions and buttercups covering our sloping lawn.

Abandoning my scooter, I climbed to the top of the slope and rolled over and over down that hillside of gold, totally caught up in the moment, though a bit dizzier for the journey.

Then there were those hot-summer-evening trips to Niagara Falls, less than an hour’s drive north of our home. We usually parked on Goat Island on the American side and took the aromatic maple-lined trail past roaring, roiling rapids to the edge of the Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls.

There we’d linger in the cool mist till dark, when the coloured spotlights from the Canadian side magically transformed the cascading white water into refreshing soda pop – cherry, orange, lemon, lime and grape. As we walked back to the car, the wooded landscape came alive with darting, blinking fireflies to show us the way.

Nothing compares with the experience of autumn in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The bright red, orange and yellow of maple and oak leaves mingled with the arching beauty of Dutch elms that once lined Buffalo’s residential streets (a casualty some years later to Dutch elm disease). There was a large, park-like institutional lawn across the road from our house, and we kids gathered humongous piles of leaves and conducted leaf-wars or simply dove into them for the sheer fun of it.

Other times I loved the sound, smell and feel of just kicking those amazing leaves as I walked to and from school.

A block from our house there was a stand of horse chestnut trees. These yielded hard-surfaced, dark-brown “nuts” encased in spiny green outer shells. The real macho guys – we were all of seven or eight at the time – would challenge each other to games of conkers, threading the nuts onto a shoelace, then taking turns swinging at each other’s conker till one broke and the survivor was declared the winner.

Of course, as in “Fantasia,” the late autumn winds inevitably blew away the last of the leaves and the snow of winter took over. Buffalo is famous for its heavy snows, situated as it is downwind from Lake Erie. The snow has that special quality that is perfect for making great snowmen, snow forts and snowballs (about which passing bus drivers were never very happy).

I especially loved the big snow flakes that floated softly to the ground on still days. Often I’d lean my head back and let the giant flakes land on my outstretched tongue. What a treat!

Then, of course, the cycle of the seasons would start all over again, the earth breaking forth in the new life of spring, maturing into summer, aging into autumn, and resting once more in winter, so that now, as I celebrate the end of my 70th cycle, I have a heart full of the most beautiful memories one could ever hope for. And I’m very happy about that.

In fact, I’m so happy about those memories – memories that you, my readers, are very much part of – I’d like to invite you to celebrate with me over coffee and goodies this Saturday.

My wife, Mary Anna, has reserved the Frank Wills Memorial Hall, 405-1st Street East, Cochrane, for May 1 from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. So, if you’d like to help make my day and meet some of our other coffee companions in the process, drop by for a few minutes.

But no presents, please. Just your presence.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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