This is what summer is like. Or was like, when I was a kid. It wasn’t a story. It wasn’t a plot. It was scenes, feelings, milestones, realizations. Each time I read a new chapter — really a scene, an event, an anecdote — I think, “I need to share this with someone.” And so I’m sharing it with you. Truth be told, I’ve never read anything by Ray Bradbury before. I was never assigned Fahrenheit 451. I was never interested in The Martian Chronicles. But my book club chose Dandelion Wine for the summer book, so I took the plunge and now I’m berating myself for taking so long to discover Bradbury. Who knew he was so poetic? Who knew he could capture the complexity of childhood and make it seem so simple? Who knew he could make me think, wonder, and worry so much about how I am raising my own children — and yet find peace in the answer, however different my answers are from what he is saying.
I am always conflicted about raising my kids in the city. Part of me wants to stay here forever, to give my kids the opportunity to live in New York City, to grow up here, a stone’s throw from museums, parks, and theaters, mixed up in the myriad of nationalities and cultures and languages. But there is the other part, and Bradbury is hitting it just right, that makes me think maybe I’m doing it wrong if my kids don’t have grassy spaces right outside their front door, and ravines to get lost in, and berries to pick and pop straight into their mouths. Because that is the kind of summer I remember, and that is the kind of summer Bradbury memorializes and idealizes in Dandelion Wine. It resonates so strongly with me that I want to move to Green Town, 1928 and take my kids with me.
So I wonder, what kind of memories will my kids have if we do stay in the city? There are no raspberry bushes here. We don’t have a yard to plant them in. There will, of course, be summer trips to visit grandparents and cousins, but aside from those few weeks, we’ll be in a concrete jungle, trekking to the park and beaches when we can, hiding out in our apartment when we can’t. Will my kids understand the freedom of summer? Will they recognize the sights and sounds and smells of it? Will they look forward to the warmer weather and track every adventure, every event, every milestone and revelation with the knowledge that this is how summer is meant to be lived and they have a responsibility to savor every drop of it?
The answer, I’m sure, is yes. They will. If we stay here summer may look and smell and taste a little bit differently than it did for me. But they’ll have their own memories — the mornings playing in the park, the evenings sitting on the stoop with ice cream cones, the train rides to the beach and back again. It will be different than what I had, but it will still be magical for them. And they’ll look back with a similar fondness on the discoveries and revelations they make through their own summer wanderings and adventures.
My siblings and I had our milestones in in the 90s, just as Tom and Douglas had theirs in the 20s. Along the road on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house there was the Flying J in Blackfoot, the border crossing from Montana back to Idaho and from Idaho to Washington, and the first sighting of the blue-roofed IHOP and Dad’s totem pole were always celebrated, as were the first Grandma hugs, the first cookie from her jar, the first raspberries from her bushes, the first game of Yellow River in the front yard with the cousins.
My kids will have their own milestones, though it is a different place and a different time. Green Town in the 1920s is not Brooklyn in the 2010s, but kids are the same. They imagine and they discover. They anticipate and they celebrate. They are carefree and exuberant. And this is the passage that makes me think that no matter where we live, city, suburbia, country, there will be summer magic and summer memories for my boys to make. Because as long as there is the freedom to run and the ability to imagine, there will be magic and there will be memories.
Mr. Sanderson leaned forward. “How do they feel?”
The boy looked down at his feet deep in the rivers, in the fields of wheat, in the wind that already was rushing him out of the town. He looked up at the old man, his eyes burning, his mouth moving, but no sound came out.
“Antelopes?” said the old man, looking from the boy’s face to his shoes. “Gazelles?”
The boy thought about it, hesitated, and nodded a quick nod. Almost immediately, he vanished. He just spun about with a whisper and went off. The door stood empty. The sound of the tennis shoes faded in the jungle heat.
Mr. Sanderson stood in the sun-blazed door, listening. From a long time ago, when he dreamed as a boy, he remembered the sound. Beautiful creatures leaping under the sky. gone through brush, under trees, away, and only the soft echo their running left behind.
“Antelopes,” said Mr. Sanderson. “Gazelles.”
He bent to pick up the boy’s abandoned winter shoes, heavy with forgotten rains and long-melted snows. Moving out of the blazing sun, walking softly, lightly, slowly, he headed back toward civilization . . . .