All the Days of Summer

“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”

–  Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

When I was a kid, summer was all about freedom – from school, from homework, from having to close the book and turn out the light too early every night, from bells ringing and chalk squeaking on a black board and being expected to sit for most of the day. And from staring out the window daydreaming about being out there, outside under the fierce sun and fathomless sky watching clouds scud across the blue like clipper ships with full sails.

Sometimes, I think I remember my childhood summers like stories Ray Bradbury wrote just for me. If you picked up my copy of I Sing the Body Electric or Golden Apples of the Sun, you’d find them there, my stories, like the thirteenth floor in tall buildings, invisible until you looked for them. And when you did, there I’d be in print – running with the neighborhood kid pack, riding my bike and going barefoot and wading in ditches and scooping polliwogs into pickle jars.

The summers I remember smelled of pine sap and honeysuckle and sounded like cicadas. There were water moccasins in the garden, gators in the bayou, and graveyards in the woods. All old homes were haunted, especially if they were built before the Civil War, and people said the river sang with the voices of a vanished Indian tribe. I wore cut-offs and drank water from the hose, got bitten by mosquitoes and deer flies and horse flies and ants, climbed trees and neighbors’ fences, and rode my bike around deserted schools and vacant ballparks. Sometimes I’d stay out until the bats swooped in the evening sky and the streetlights flickered on and my mother’s voice began calling me home.

If I was inside on a summer day, I was reading a book – Bradbury or Heinlein or Asimov or Clarke, stories where anything could happen and usually did. A trip to the Pascagoula Public Library to stock up on new stories was even better than a visit to the Pixie Pet Shop where we got our dog (a 12-pound miniature dachshund named Caesar) and where they kept a real piranha in a huge murky tank. The library was seemed dark when you first stepped in from the afternoon sun until your eyes adjusted and you could see all the daylight the old building let in, dust motes drifting in rays of light from walls of paned windows. The air inside was cool and smelled of aging paper and ink and glue. Its stacks were labyrinthine and had creaky wooden floors, high shelves, and secret corners perfect for reading. The librarians were traditional and enforced the quiet so it was easier to dive out of the world and surface in another where dinosaurs still lived or spaceships were real.

“He brought out a yellow nickel tablet. He brought out a Ticonderoga pencil. He opened the tablet. He licked the pencil…”

When Ray Bradbury passed away a few weeks ago, just before what would have been his 92nd summer on the planet, all I could think was – the world will be poorer without him but thank goodness for all the stories he left us –  The Martian Chronicles,  Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes. And especially for my favorite, Dandelion Wine. In that novel, he created the most magical summer I’ve read (or experienced) making me feel nostalgic about growing up in the Midwest in the 1930s though I was raised a thousand miles away and 40 years later.

So I might have semi-mythologized the summers of my own childhood and it might have been at least partly Ray Bradbury’s fault. I might have glossed over all the mundane details, and I’ve realized lately – I really owe him for that. Because what else are we but a set of selective memories we take out to re­-live, tell it like a story, polish it like a stone, and then put it away again? I’ve got some good stories now, and like dandelion wine, they get better with age. Thank you, Ray. RIP.

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17 Comments

  1. I miss carefree childhood summers – I too spent hours reading books in the shade of our lilac trees. I wondered all over the countryside on my bike, explored, caught frogs, played with the dogs. My kids are at that stage now, so I guess I get a little of it vicariously.

    Reply
    • You hit on the subject of my next essay! Summers when you’re a parent with kids of your own. I got to vicariously relive a lot of the good stuff when they were little but now that they’re teenagers, I can’t seem to pry them off of video games or their laptops.

      Reply
  2. Oh, what a beautiful ode to summer and tribute to Bradbury. This piece is worth submitting somewhere. Well done. Lovely.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, Kathy. His prose was so lyrical and imaginative and seemed so effortless. You can’t honor a man like that with lazy, flaccid words so I worked at it a bit. I’m glad you think the result was lovely. (I love that word.)
      T

      Reply
  3. Paul J. Stam

     /  July 16, 2012

    Well said! Thank you for saying it.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Paul! I will be back soon to catch up on your story. It’s a shame that summers as a parent aren’t nearly as free as a child’s. I keep thinking they can be if I can just figure out the secret.

      Reply
  4. Nice visual; I feel like I’ve been in that library now. I recall books being a part of my summers as a child, too. Fortunately, my children made it a part of theirs as well, but I feel bad for those who have missed out on the unavoidable pull of a compelling read. Great post; I love stories from a simpler time!

    Reply
    • One of our boys is a reader, one is sometimes (when he’s not on the computer), and the third can’t be bothered because video games and the internet are just so cool. It’s my goal to get him to voluntarily (i.e. not assigned for school) read a book before he graduates high school. And we haven’t been to a library together since they were little. I finally gave up when they just stood around and looked bored every time I took them. Oh well. Libraries are changing too. They call them “media centers” at their schools now. I still take them to my favorite used bookstores though and I try to stay long enough until they get so bored they actually look around. Last time, my non-reader actually picked a book – a video game guide.

      Reply
  5. Anita Gallagher

     /  July 16, 2012

    I remember the gigantic stone lions that guarded the Richmond Public Library as I climbed the stairs to the entrance. I was on a mission to find the original Tarzan books that my mother had told me about. I love libraries and the treasures they hold. I so glad my daughter does too.

    Reply
    • Thanks to Nana! I still can’t believe they tore down the old Pascagoula library and built that ugly modern thing. That was just wrong.

      Reply
  6. Me, too! Me, too!
    I felt the same gratitude and loss when Bradbury passed. His was such a gentle, unique voice.

    Reply
    • I knew you would understand! Yes, he was unique. He could lift you up and break your heart and make you long for something that is gone forever. There’s are several short stories (and couple of chapters in The Martian Chronicles) that I read the first time as a teenager and I still think are among the most poignant things I’ve ever read. Nobody told a story quite like he did.

      Reply
  7. I’m thankful for childhood carefree summers. It makes me wish the world was different and our own kids could experience more summers like that without being so inundated with all of the technological devices out there.

    Reply
  8. Me too! It’s a different world. I can’t even imagine what our kids’ future will be like.

    Reply
  9. hello, again, Tori… it’s still summer here and i thank heavens for the sun while i curse the heat, haha. 😉 got to find myself a yellowing copy of Dandelion Wine in the thrift bookstore. nice tribute to your fave author. 🙂 waving…

    Reply
  10. My grandfather, Athal Layton Lowe, owned the Pixie Pet Shop! I remember the warning sign on the piranha tank!

    Reply

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