Summer for me begins a season of rituals, none more sacrosanct than my annual reading of Dandelion Wine. I think this will be my fifteenth time through. I’m getting to it a little later than normal this year, but thankfully not so late that my OCD has decided to take up the cause. Dandelion Wine, and Farewell Summer with it (at least for the last several years), is a warm precursor to the pumpkin-and-dead-leaf-and-promise-of-frost-scented tales of newborn assassins, dark carnivals, and October mansions that will dominate my September and October.
As I’ve already had Bradbury on my mind, I was delighted a few days ago to bump back into a story I first read in late May. It’s a small write-up on the listing of the Bradbury family home in Los Angeles.
Of course Ray painted the house “dandelion yellow.”
Creeper that I am, I’ve kind of kept my eye on it, and according to the realtor’s site it just sold for $1,765,000. I guess I got outbid a little. Sigh.
Along with the chance to glimpse where Ray wrote and found inspiration for so many of his classic stories, the article links to a quiet, beautiful piece written by Sam Weller, Bradbury’s official biographer. Part eulogy and part reminiscence, it paints the home as it was before and just after Ray’s death. Weller is a genuine fan, and he’s always written about Ray with less objectivity than serious literary critics might find appropriate. Which is, I would imagine, exactly how Ray would want it.
I think Ray was giving himself something to aspire to as he gustily typed out Granger’s words to Montag. A direction to guide the next six decades of his life. Something even the most eloquent admirer would be unable to top. And it worked. We knew exactly what to say two summers ago when Ray died. “He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”
And since I’ve geeked out this far, I might as well let Granger speak a bit more of his wisdom.
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between you and the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.
What a great reason to write. Or to garden. Or to paint a picture or raise a child or build a car or a treehouse or a time machine or take a photo or listen to and record the stories of a loved one or go to Mars or learn to play music or …
Well, I was going to stop there for the day … but I can’t. So …
I don’t think it surprises anyone that my literary hero is a true puer aeternus. My own dusting of Peter Pan is pretty obvious. The small part of me that is more or less grown up will forever marvel at Ray’s craft, his mastery of metaphor and theme. But it’s the boy in me who will run with his young poet-guide cohort through the jungle-hot midnight ravines and dusty Egyptian attics and into white-xylophone-bone-littered Martian ruins and through hobo camps where Moses and Plato and Byron and Thomas Jefferson warm their renewed flesh around phoenix-flame campfires.
And here I was getting ready to lose it even further and launch into Mr. Electrico for a few minutes, but I think the damage has been done. So instead, one of my favorite quotes from Ray. It’s not his deepest granted, but it’s among his most honest and it pretty handily sums up my love for him and his work.