One of favorite books when I was younger was Ray Bradbury‘s novel of summer wonderment, Dandelion Wine. It is a semi-autobiographical novel that he published in 1957. It is set back in a sleep 1928 in the fictional Green Town, Illinois which is based on Bradbury’s childhood hometown of Waukegan. I have read that the novel grew out of a short story with the same title that he published a few years earlier, but I have never read the earlier version.
The title refers to that rather magical wine made with dandelion flowers and citrus fruit. In the story, the wine is made by the young Douglas Spaulding’s grandfather. In my childhood, it was old Mr. Hurley who made dandelion wine and shared a glass with me when I was at the tender age of 13.
For Douglas, that wine contains all the best of summer preserved into a single bottle.
Douglas is 12 years old and the story is nostalgic as can be, so I could see a modern young reader finding it “corny.” It is Bradbury looking back at his childhood through the yellow-amber, slightly cloudy bottle of dandelion wine that filters your view a bit softer and kinder on the past. I find his day-to-summer-day routines in a small town of yesteryear to be very appealing.
I wrote about this book a few years ago, so I won’t go into detail again, but I picked it up and read some parts again this past week after seeing a recipe for DIY dandelion wine online and considering trying to make some myself.
No wine yet, but it did yield a short ronka poem on my Writing the Day website yesterday.
Overnight, a field of yellow and white.
Dent-de-lion, “lion’s tooth” for leaf not flower.
Years ago, blossoms boiled, yeast, sugar, slices
of orange and lemon fermented, and then
we would siphon summer off the lees.
Here’s a nice passage from the novel about grandfather’s wine:
“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue.
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.”
My title for this essay, “All Summer in a Bottle,” alludes to a Bradbury short story titled “All Summer in a Day.” I also read that when I was quite young and later taught it my middle school students. It is about a class of kids who live on Venus, which is a place where every day is rainy. The exception to that is the hour or two of one day every seven years when the Sun is visible.
The protagonist is a girl named Margot who moved to Venus from Earth five years earlier. She is the only student in her class to know sunshine, which she knew every day on Earth.
She lovingly describes it to her classmates (who have never seen it) but they don’t believe her. In fact, they bully and reject her for her stories of sunlight. The story tells what happens as that magical day arrives for the class – but you can read that part yourself.
Those are my two Bradbury tales that are part of my summer reading memories.
I finally read Bradbury’s Farewell Summer recently. It’s the sequel to Dandelion Wine and I avoided it since it was published in 2006, because the synopsis made it seem like the opposite of what charms me in Dandelion Wine – a story about summer ending, growing old and dying.
It turns out that this novel also started as a short story. The first chapter is the story “Farewell Summer” that Bradbury published in the excellent collection, The Stories of Ray Bradbury. I must have read it when I bought that book back in 1980, but I didn’t recall it rereading it this year.
It is a much more modern take of youth. Though it takes place during the Indian summer of October 1929, it is more of Doug’s coming-of-age, including his “sexual awakening” as he turns 14 and gets his first kiss, rather than Dandelion Wine‘s nostalgic look at childhood.
It is a tale of autumn, and one that is viewed through the eyes of a much older writer.
When October comes and you get that first chilly night before Halloween, that is the time to get a copy of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and shiver a bit from the cold wind and from his Gothic tale about when Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town and two boys wishes become nightmares.