Monday, January 26, 2009

Dandelion Wine

My annoying habit of reading more than one book at once led me to picking up Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. It was meant to serve as a palette cleanser between the heavier courses of the Lincoln biography I've been working my way through and a couple of books about the goings on in the White House during that dark spot in history known as The Bush Years.

What started out as being an easy breezy sort of read turned into a melancholy trip through time. If you've ever read Bradbury, you know you have to pay attention because he rarely just says something. The meanings of things are all wrapped up in beautiful little word puzzles which your mind is required to unravel in order to grasp them. It's lovely.

My childhood was not idyllic by any stretch of the imagination, but the one fantastic thing about having parents who are too preoccupied by their own lives to pay attention to you is that you're left to your own devices to entertain and educate yourself.

There were a few glorious years of my own childhood in Southern Illinois. There were tree giants everywhere and the world was green and vibrant everywhere I turned. Cornfields begged daily to be ran through with bare feet making child-sized indentations in the cool damp soil between the towering rows. Pennies smashed on the railroad tracks were prized possessions and the clay pots formed from the clay in the cliffs near our house were precious treasures. 4-leaf clovers were bookmarks and books were devoured in my own wooded secret garden near my grandparents farm house. Toys weren't needed. I had the streams, the trees, the cornfields, the whole of the great outdoors as my playground.

This is the essence of Dandelion Wine. Ray Bradbury is from a small town in Illinois and he captures the feeling of being a child in a time and place where childhood was a right of passage not skipped over as it sometimes is today. Summers were meant to be spent running free and wild and there were no malls or cell phones or Gameboys and not so many reports of weirdos on the news every night. He captures the feeling of being a kid during the summer so beautifully. It makes you long for that feeling again.

One of the passages that really connected with me was one where an old woman in the town attempts to befriend a few of the local children. As she tells them about herself and the things she did as a child their age, they refuse to believe that she could have ever been young. The old woman is angry and indignant because she still feels as young as the children, but as she ponders her feelings about aging, she remembers a conversation she had with her husband before he passed away: "It won't work," Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. "No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you're nine, you think you've always been nine years old and will always be. When you're thirty, it seems you've always been balanced there right on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You're in the present, you're trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen."

All in all, Dandelion Wine was a very pleasant trip back to a place and time of innocence and discovery.

1 comment:

Angie said...

Sounds like a great book. I'm going to add it to my to-read list.