Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I first read Dandelion Wine in my teens, back in the late 1960s. I had read through all of Bradbury's books, and a few years later when my younger brother needed a boost in his interest in reading I gave him my collection. It revitalized his interest. And my son has also read this novel, and most of Bradbury as well.

Because it had been so many years since I had read this book, when a local book club chose it for their monthly read I knew I had to fit it into my heavy reading schedule.

Reading Dandelion Wine in my mid-sixties was very different from reading it as a teenager. I read it in small bites, drawing it out over several weeks. I would pick it up and read a few paragraphs, or pages, or a scene, and my heart would hurt and my mind would thrill and I had to let the feeling just be for a while.

The nostalgia overwhelmed me. I was not alive in 1928, the year in which the book is set, and I never lived in this small Indiana town with the trolley and front porches with swinging chairs on creaking chains. Two Black Crow records and stereoscoptic viewers are antiques to me. But I felt the perfect beauty and preciousness of the time and place, of which the protaganist, Doug, finds himself suddenly aware.

Doug is a boy who is on the cusp of growing up, and has just discovered he "is alive." The other side of that knowledge also comes to him over the summer, for all that he wants to deny such knowledge: all that is alive will die, and all that is changes and passes.

"...does everyone in the world..know he's alive?...I hope they do," whispered Douglas. "Oh, I sure hope they know." 
Douglas takes a notebook and makes lists about life: Rites and Ceremonies, the cycle of known things, and Discoveries and Revelations/Illuminations/Intuitions, what he is just learning about life.

The passage that most hurt with bittersweet truth was when Douglas's friend John notices the colored glass in the attic window of a house. "I never saw them before today," John marvels. "Doug, what was I doing all these years I didn't see them?" "You had other things to do," Douglas responds. John is upset, "It's just, if I didn't see these windows until today, what else did I miss?" And since John is moving, it upsets him all the more, and he makes Douglas promise to never forget him.

I set my tablet down and looked around me. It is the end of August and the days are growing shorter. I felt the urge to go out, do something, see something new. Life is passing by, and here I am caught in the web of 'something else' and missing the colored glass in a window I pass every day. There are so few years left me, so few years of health and ability, and what am I missing? What have I not noticed?

In the forward, Bradbury writes, "I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiement and was statles when truths leaped out of bushes like quail before gunshot. I blustered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true."

He uses the wine metaphor as a way of fathering "images of all my life, storing them away, and forgetting them." He plunged his memories and they bloomed into flowers that were captured in this rare vintage of Bradbury wine. I am so glad to have sipped it again.

"Here is my celebration then, of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror, written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his cat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first "novel."

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