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A bittersweet passing, summer's arrival



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Halverson (click for larger version)
June 12, 2012 | 03:47 PM
I e-mailed my girlfriend: It was a bitter-sweet day. Ray Bradbury, the writer, died.

Why bittersweet? she asked.

Well, bitter because he died. Sweet because it brought back memories of summer.

So, after work I went to the library to find a copy of "Dandelion Wine," Bradbury's ode to summer and boyhood.

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I thought it odd that the book was in the Young Adult section. I once worked at the library and shelved books, but had forgotten where the YA books were stored, so I had to ask the children's librarian.

She led me to a small paperback. I'll need my glasses to read this one, I thought.

What's the book about? she asked. Boyhood and summer, I replied.

She explained how she'd read Bradbury's sci-fi.

This isn't sci-fi, I said. Though there are flights of the fanciful.

I went to one of Lake Geneva's great outdoor cafes to read. Over a glass of wine, I watched the lakefront instead.

A skateboarder zoomed by. Then a few motorcycles.

"It's like California," my waitress said.

We started to talk. And as though awakened to her own personal dream, she went on to say that she had studied to be a journalist, but wanted to be a psychiatrist. Look at me now, she said in a bittersweet way.

With book in hand, over sips of wine, I searched for the words I knew I'd remember, the lyrical words of summer. The 12-year-old-boy, Douglas Spaulding, walking through a spider web and being awakened.

"I'm alive!" he says. "I'm really alive!"

When he and his brother tumble in a thicket he feels it again.

Everything, absolutely everything was there . . . the grass whispered under his body ... the wind sighed over his shelled ears Ö flowers were suns ... birds flickered like skipped stones Ö ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head ... the million pores on his body opened.

I'm really alive, he thought.

I want to feel all there is to feel ÖLet me feel tired now Ö I'm alive Ö I know I'm alive and I mustn't forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that.

I savored the words and the wine, and when my waitress returned a few minutes later, with another glass, she noticed something new on the horizon.

"It looks like a sailboat regatta," she said, a sparkle in her voice.

I looked up to see dozens of sails floating by like white party hats.

"Am I really in California?" she asked, the bitter having left her voice.

Yes, I said, you're in California, and you're a psychiatrist, and life is good.

A few minutes later a new waitress appeared. I'll be your waitress for the rest of the night? she said.

I smiled, and imagined my first waitress had floated into some California dream.

The essence of summer is that dreams come true when summer is young, and only die when you discover the first leaf on the sidewalk. But books, some books, can bring the season alive again.

You can make dandelion wine again, and remake your dreams into the moment, and stitch together summers and hope for the best.

A few years ago, I had a chance to see Ray Bradbury in the flesh, He'd returned to his hometown of Waukegan for a special event. I wanted to go, but didn't.

As I sat by the Geneva Lake waterfront the night I heard he died, I regretted for a moment the missed opportunity.

Then I thought, the magic of summer, the magic of new awakenings, always has a sunset. Maybe I would have been disappointed in Ray.

Maybe it's better to imagine, like Douglas Spaulding, that summer is forever in a moment.

"Since this was going to be a summer of unguessed wonders, he wanted it all salvaged and labeled so that any time he wished, he might tiptoe down in this dank twilight and reach up..."

John Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.

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