May 29, 2024

WILLIAMS | Between Seasons, From Green Town to Boston

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Douglas Spaulding is alive. All at once, he feels the grass “[whisper] under his body,” the wind “[sigh] over his shelled ears”: “He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened. I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!”

The young protagonist of celebrated science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine realized then, at 12 years old, what I’m still struggling to internalize now: the incontestable realness of feet planted against ground, the woosh of a body moving through air. I am still in search of that ultimate moment when life — frightening, beautiful, real, grotesque — speaks its own name and must be heeded.

In Farewell Summer, Dandelion Wine’s 2006 sequel, Douglas and his young friends grapple with the frightening logic of their initial realization: If they are alive, they must age, and if they age, they must die; if summer shows itself in trees’ glowing greens and bold sun, autumn will bring chill wind and fiery leaves. So the young boys wage a war against the aging people in their native Green Town, Illinois; they make plans to blow up the courthouse clock which slowly ticks toward forever; to carve haunted effigies of the old men’s facces into autumn pumpkins; and to steal the old men’s chess pieces, which the boys imagine they use to manipulate time and space.

By the end of the book, though, the boys have mellowed on their war and begin to consider what aging might really mean. Douglas’ friend Charlie muses on this subject after he sees his 25-year-old uncle riding in a Buick with his wife:

“I got an uncle, twenty-five years old. Came by earlier today in a big Buick, with his wife. A really nice, pretty lady. I was thinkin’ all morning: Maybe I’ll let them make me twenty-five. Twenty-five strikes me as a nice medium age. If they’ll let me ride in a Buick with a pretty lady like that, I’ll go along with them. … Just a nice car and a pretty lady with me, ridin’ along out toward the lake. Boy! I’ll take about thirty years of that.”

Bradbury creates a tight coupling between youth and summer, aging and autumn. In Dandelion Wine, we see the wonders of boyhood in the most stunning and mundane of ways, not least because Bradbury uses such evocative, flattering language that such common things as tennis shoes become almost holy — for the shoes aren’t only shoes. They are “antelopes, gazelles,” that will bear Douglas alongside the Green Town trolley, through the ravine, into the broad country fields.

In Farewell Summer, the summer acquiesces to fall and the tennis shoes are damp with the swell of autumn rain.

But in between summer and fall, youth and old age, there is a flash of something wonderful, this not-too-old, not-too-young, “medium” age in one’s 20s where a beautiful woman in a beautiful car alongside a blue wave comprise the world. This is where I find myself, in this twofold process — first, attempting to live and feel as alive myself as Douglas does at the beginning of Dandelion Wine; second, attempting to grasp that cool, easy car-ride joy.

Here in Boston, where I’m spending the summer, the challenge has a third element: creating a home and finding a sense of place for the next three months. So far, it has come at odd moments: walking on Cambridge Street past stalls selling local and handmade pottery, jewelry and dresses. I bought a hand-sewn canvas pouch and a locally-printed card that feature cormorants soaring high over a river; the woman who sold it to me told me that she paints each figure individually, then pastes them onto a background.

I put my crochet hooks and paint brushes into the pouch. I sit at the plaza with the card and write a letter to a friend — and isn’t writing in the sun the same as riding out toward the lake with a pretty girl?

At night, I make chicken piccata, my first ever. The lemon becomes fragrant as it dances in butter and chicken stock. The kitchen is awash in lamplight and the television murmurs from the other room — and isn’t this life, cooking a new meal in a new apartment as a Cambridge night stirs beyond the window?

I am trying to take Bradbury’s advice. He asks us to consider what these days mean, to realize how irretrievable they are — with incredible clarity and imagination, with a pen bursting with love, he writes of the candy store counter, the ravine that runs dark and deep through town, the junkman with his horse-drawn wagon of treasures. He says, “Look around.” He tells me to see, really see, the blue-green waters of Back Bay Fens that cradle the trees above them like a mirror and the children cutting bright construction paper in the plaza. In this, in this incredible feeling and recognition, will be the realization that I am alive, here, real.
There will not be 30 years of 25. This is the only summer I will be 21. This observation is special and mundane. So find me sprawled in the grass beneath a dome of sky in Boston Common with Dandelion Wine open on my chest. I will be thinking of these days so long-lasting and so quickly gone, living and hopefully feeling myself alive.

Finley Williams is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Kaleidoscope runs alternate Tuesdays.