Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dandelion Wine

Image from Flickr courtesy of peppergrass

I've been back in the UK from my recent travels for 12 days. And it has rained, consistently and steadily, each of those twelve days, with only glimmers of sun peaking through for short-lived respites.

I'm starting to suffer from cabin fever and despair in equal measure; such wintry joys as curling up on the sofa under a blanket with a knitting project while watching Don't Tell the Bride don't seem so appropriate when the sky is still light at 9:45pm. Every night I go to bed hearing the tires splashing through puddles and every morning I am woken by pelting raindrops hitting my windows. Saturday provided one small burst of sun in the earlier hours, and I used it as an opportunity to forge on with sorting out my wardrobe, pulling my summer clothes out of storage, and packing away my winter woolens. But as I dropped sweaters and winter dresses off at the dry cleaner this morning, I secretly was wishing to be wearing some of those items instead of my lighter weight summer top and trousers.

I had a bit of a temper tantrum about our "summer", one of the wettest summers on record, on Saturday night; why are we trying to buy a house in country where there aren't differentiated seasons, and instead experience one type of weather with 3-4 variations? I want heat, I want cold, I want sun and I want snow. In the four years I've lived in the UK, the famed "British summer" has always turned out to be a damp squib, and this year's is no exception. I miss the scorching, searing, hazy summers of my youth, lazy days with my feet in burnt grass and caked dirt, when the loudest sounds waking me up and putting me to sleep were the constant drones of various types of insects. I'll even take the summers of my recent past, when my freshly applied makeup slid down my face as I trudged to the subway in a blanket of air so dense it was like wading through invisible soup. Chowder, in fact.

In the midst of my self-indulgent melancholy about the weather, Ray Bradbury passed away. The dimming and final extinguishing of a bright light always gives me pause, but Ray Bradbury was more than just an iconic author. He wrote my favorite book Dandelion Wine, assigned to me as summer reading before my senior year of high school by one of my favorite teachers, which I faithfully reread every summer after for about 8 years. That book touched me in ways I never thought literature ever could, and brought home to me the meaning and power of reading in a profound way.

If you've never read it, Dandelion Wine is about a young boy who reaches that pivotal age, neither boy nor man, where everything fairly sizzles with possibility yet also now holds that new and dangerous element of disappointment. The book is the story of that summer where everything changes and the boy has to make decisions about how he will live moving forward.

When I first read Dandelion Wine, I didn't realize how much I needed its lesson of containing nostalgia into a manageable sentiment – nor did I realize how powerful the effects of change, the passage of time, and the evolution of the human race would become. I just loved it for pulling out and shining a light on the shades of grey I was experiencing in my formerly very black and white worldview. Throughout college and graduate school, I returned to the book every time I found myself unsure of how to deal with a major life event, like 9/11 and the deaths of two of my grandparents. I would often stop into used bookstores to pick up spare copies (it's the type of novel you can find with a raggedy illustrated cover for $1) as I frequently foisted that book on friends and foes, telling them to read it to truly understand who I was.

Dandelion Wine remains such a powerful force in my life, like certain paintings and scents, that Ray Bradbury's death really did make me stop and reflect – on his life and talent and contribution to our world, but also on myself and my current state of mind. Do I really have the right to moan about the conditions of the place I chose? If I really wanted the things I had in the past again, shouldn't I just make the necessary steps to regain them? But really, do I want them – and if I got them, would they be as sweet as the ones I'm remembering so fondly?

Ray Bradbury's greatest gift to us, to humanity, was the gentle reminder of not living in the past but simply to learn from it as we blaze our collective trail into the future, and to remember along the way that we should be kind to ourselves and our fellow creatures. So as I sit here at my desk, staring out at the rain falling, still falling, steadily on the canal, I decided to again try and heed his lessons: I will be kinder to myself, kinder to humanity, and I will stop stressing out about the bloody rain. Weather patterns come and go, the past is never as sweet as your memory would have you believe, and nothing ever truly stays the same. So here I go, moving forward through June with a brave face and renewed hope for a lovely bright summer afternoon.

Oh look. I think the rain has stopped.


  1. we also read Dandelion Wine in school and I, too, reread it every year - the prose is so beautiful. It simply transports you.

  2. Glad you agree. I'm always happy to find others who have read it, it's sort of a sleeper classic!