Forgotten Classic, Perfect for Summer: Dandelion Wine

“The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

The book is childhood caught and stoppered.

And more.

Ray Bradbury takes his readers through a summer in 1928 in a small Illinois town as seen through the eyes of 12 year-old Douglas Spaulding. Douglas is teetering on the edge of life-awareness. As his physical senses sharpen to the natural, burgeoning world, he awakens to a sense of mortality as well. Green Town is a community of grandparents, a retired army colonel, spinsters, ladies-of the-club, magic shows, a junkman, children playing Statue and Hide-and-Seek, front-porch gatherings, firefly chasing, a trolley, a shop that sells Royal Crown Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Tennis Shoes, hand-dipped ice cream store, hand-pushed lawn mowers and long, hazy days that savor them all.

At the edge of this idyllic town is the Ravine – an area of untamed vegetation and cool, dark, hidden places. The shadows of this forbidden place seem to reach out ominously throughout the story. Rumors of The Lonely One, an unnamed force of evil, waft from chapter to chapter, culminating in death by sewing scissors! Though seemingly at odds with much of the lush pleasure of Bradbury’s little town, the Ravine, with its icy spew, serves to hone the edge of innocence and forewarn the reader of ultimate loss.

But Bradbury has as much fun as sorrow.

Elderly Miss Fern and Miss Roberta cower in the attic, hiding out, fearful that they have bumped off Mr. Quartermain while recklessly “speeding” in their electric Green Machine, waiting for the evening paper to seal their doom.

A 91 year-old woman meets a young man at the ice cream store, and they fall in love – the real kind that meshes spirit with spirit and for weeks they frolicked through their dreams of faraway places and times with the unbridled delight, despite the inequity of age and space.

A well-meaning Aunt Rose sweeps into Grandma’s gastronomically-delightful, albeit chaotic kitchen and attempts to straighten out the mess creating orderly disaster.

Leo Auffman creates a Happy Machine, which causes his wife to at first weep with delight as she views Paris and Rome and then weep with despair when she realizes all she has missed. (Thankfully the machine burns up, and they return to true happiness within their four walls which shines through the ordinary daily routines.)

The Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge nearly collapses with the weight of hexes and counteracting magic potions.

Summer through the lens of Douglas Spaulding’s heart ends, but a new cycle begins. "Way out in the country tonight he could smell the pumpkins ripening toward the knife, and the triangle eye and singeing candle." Life was moving on. And as methodically as the children picked the dandelions to be pressed into wine to peer at on winter days and "color sky from iron to blue," Bradbury seems to be murmuring over the hum of crickets and the flash of fireflies that it’s prudent to store, in our dark cellars, memories to brighten, strengthen, sustain, enrich and nourish from June to August and all the way to eternity.

--Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

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