“It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window and know that his indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.”
–Ray Bradbury, author, Dandelion Wine
Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928. A collection of short stories linked into a novel, the book catalogs life’s little celebrations, and incremental losses. Summer is the perfect backdrop, lending itself well to happy childhood memories when kids get to go out adventuring on their own, teaching themselves instead of being taught.
Each June, I devote myself to re-reading Dandelion Wine, letting it transport me back to my own childhood days – to mornings rich with warmth, birdsong, and promise. Life seemed full of joy, long anticipated, and even magical. Freedom was in the air and the days were long and luscious.
One of the reasons I cherish the words of Ray Bradbury is he grew up in Illinois close to my hometown. He knows summer well as he spent his youth being a boy in “Greentown”, Illinois. However, the main reason I read Dandelion Wine each summer is the stories on the pages take me back to my own childhood: to the green grass and cornfields of Illinois and to all the lessons I have learned in life. And for me, each year is different as I read, once again, how it is to grow up, to accept being truly alive, to know I will die someday … and the many other pearls of wisdom learned along the way.
Everything that occurs can be looked at as a blessing. It’s not that there aren’t sad or evil things in life. Rather, Bradbury points out that there are always many beautiful and grand things occurring in life, from the cutting of grass and the bottling of dandelion wine to the love between a man and a woman. And even in sad situations, we still have so much around us that is beautiful and magical, so happiness comes naturally. Bradbury paints a picture of humans as essentially happy creatures.
As June rolls in, the first days of summer are ahead with a promise of sunny mornings, lazy afternoons, and warm evenings. For those of us living where winter and spring are cold and lengthy, the thought of the balmy days ahead can be intoxicating. So, I am looking back…remembering how I felt being a young girl in June in Illinois.
I can revisit my own lessons learned along the way and how I relate to these lessons in my life right now. Was Mrs. Bentley ever young? According to the children in the neighborhood, she was not. She is a woman in her 80’s. But in her own memories, she had lived a lovely life – with her husband, Mr. Bentley. Yet according to the children, he never existed – because he is not there, now, in their lives. And so the question remains for any of us: what is real? And how do we know? My answer changes every year…
Setting Dandelion Wine in the summer allows Bradbury a bigger stage on which to tell his story, due to the characters’ increased interaction with their neighborhood and their neighbors in warm weather. In a sense, summer allows for greater examination of one’s memories, and therefore more time travel. What is your favorite summer memory? How old were you when it happened? For 10 minutes, relive your fondest childhood memory, writing about it as if you were right there recording it in real time.