Spring has sprung, at last, as a weary winter waves goodbye.
For my wife, Elyse, daughter, Elissa, and me, it is a gross understatement to say that this time of year—this week specifically—tastes as bittersweet as life gets.
Sixteen years ago, on March 20, the first day of spring, which happens to be my birthday, our 15-year-old son Harrison went in for open-heart surgery number 3 (his previous operations were at ages 5 and 10).
Although Harrison came out of the operating room OK, in the next 24 hours, his system started to rebel. The day after my birthday turned out to be Harrison’s last day.
So go the mysteries of life: Celebratory one minute, catastrophic the next. What we never will stop celebrating is the gift of a lifetime: His.
It’s a legacy that endures through the town of Yorktown ballfield named for him, and in the Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation that benefits the community by raising money for the betterment of recreation and education (see info attached here on April 19 golf fundraiser.)
Harrison entered the world with a rare form of dwarfism that was never to be diagnosed with absolute certainty. He looked about half his age, if that, and fought lifelong heart and lung disease as a result of his biological aberrations.
As a high school student, he stood all of 38 inches and weighed that same number of pounds. One unconfirmed medical diagnosis surmised that his was the same condition as that of diminutive high-profile TV actor Herve Villechaize, who played Tattoo (“The plane! The plane!”) on “Fantasy Island.”
Another actor who shared Harrison’s nearly identical symptoms was Josh Ryan Evans, who played an enchanted doll named Timmy on daytime soap opera “Passions,” and with whose mother we were in contact with to compare notes. Josh died about seven months before Harrison, at age 20, from the same causes.
Harrison’s can-do attitude was “size doesn’t matter.” And he proved it, repeatedly. In the classroom. On the playing field. On stage. In his witty way with words. Both his tongue and his pen were rapier-sharp.
March 20, 2003 was quite eventful, having nothing to do with spring’s arrival—or my birthday. That was the day we invaded Iraq. Staring in the face of an operation he knew was high-risk, yet unavoidable, the stoic and mischievous Harrison wrote in his diary that evening, “I only hope Saddam doesn’t disguise himself as my surgeon.”
Such was Harrison’s well-tuned irony. Before they rolled him into the OR on the gurney, a male nurse softly said to him, “Now, Harrison, do you know what’s going to happen next?” Without missing a beat, Harrison looked him in the eye and said, drily, “You’re going to put me to sleep, I hope.” The nurse looked at me, then cracked up, as if to wonder, “Who is this kid?” Harrison had that effect on people for the entirety of his short but memorable life.
One of those people was our dear friend, Doug Press and family. Doug was Harrison’s basketball coach in the Yorktown Athletic Club. (Yeah, Harrison played hoops—dubbing himself a “half-pint point guard” and dribbling the ball virtually between the legs of opposing players.)
In eulogizing Harrison, Doug underscored his court courage: Proportionally, Doug had figured out that, height-wise, Harrison was to his peers as a six-foot player would be to players standing 10 feet tall. That’s the daunting situation Harrison willingly walked into.
Yet, nobody had more fun than he did. Knowing full well he never could score a point, Harrison was grateful to just be one of the guys. He didn’t have to play the center position to be the center of attention.
Doug Press happened to be friends with a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, Wayne Coffey, which led to Harrison receiving a full-page tribute in memoriam in that paper’s sports pages. It was titled “Big Man” and you can read it here: facebook.com/HarrisonAparFoundation.
In the article, Mr. Coffey quotes Harrison’s close friend, Billy Gaffney. Together, they were sports editors of the Yorktown High School newspaper.
“He’s probably the most secure person I’ve ever met,” Billy told the hundreds of people attending Harrison’s memorial service at the high school, adding, “He just loved challenges. His attitude and personality could light up a room. I’ve never had a friend like him, and I probably never will.”
Join Us April 19 for the 9th Annual Good Friday Golf Outing
This event at Putnam National Golf Club in Mahopac benefits local recreation and education through the Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation.
It is hosted by Yorktown High School alumnus and lacrosse letterman, Ryan Froats, and other classmates who grew up with Harrison.
For more information, visit facebook.com/HarrisonAparFoundation. Greens fee $125. Hole sponsorships $125. For more information, email email@example.com or call/text 914-275-6887.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.