Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dandelion Wine

The summer of 1971, I was 11 years old.  Sixth grade was behind me.  "Middle school" loomed ahead.  Both parents worked.  I and my two sisters were tended to by a nanny.  Her name was Mary.  Her son's, John and Jerry had been my playmates on and off for years.  I lived To Kill a Mockingbird and I'll Fly Away.

I woke every day that summer by 7:30.  I cooked my own breakfast--cereal, or cinnamon toast, or toasted cheese--and by 9:00 every morning I was in the garden.  I hoed and harvested tomatoes, squash, okra, radish.  With cousins who lived two houses up the road, I built "forts" in the field beside our home--areas where the near-head-high (to an 11-year-old) rabbit tobacco plants were bent down at the end of a maze of an entry path.  I played spin-the-bottle and got into all manner of other trouble with female cousins and neighbors.  (When I consider the freedom we had to wander back then, I consider it a wonder we survived.  Clearly none of us think our own children capable of the same responsibility at such early ages.)

But my favorite memory of that summer consists of the reading I did lying in bed each morning, enjoying that last fleeting hour of coolness before the sweltering southern summer sun turned house and world both into a place where any clothing more than cutoff jeans and a wholly optional tee shirt were too much to bear.  I remember Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles.  And by remember, what I mean is, I remember that I read them, and that I enjoyed the former in particular, tremendously. As for the action of either, I've not a clue.

Fast forward forty years.

Tonight, out walking with the family after dinner, the air was laden with the smells of summer in the country.  I live in the city mind you, or what native Richmonders refer to as "the near west end."  I laugh at that.  Four blocks "nearer" and it would be in The Fan, and no one disputes that as being essentially in the city.  But the alleys here are alive with the smell of flowers, of cut grass, of treated wooden fences, of the dirt beneath your feet, of gardenia, magnolia, and honeysuckle's last gasp.  Rabbits run down the alley before you and squirrels scold from fence top.

And if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, you can travel through time to a summer of lazy mornings, food fresh from the garden, Royal Blue spray paint and fresh bearing grease applied to a boy's bicycle, crawdads snatched from beneath flat rocks in streams about to be dammed to create perfect ponds for skinny-dipping deep in the hollows of grandparent's old homesteads.  You can smell the leather of new wallets perfect for tucking away money earned pricing groceries in a family store--money saved with the object of a new RCA clock radio in mind.

And you can wake again the next day to that clock radio, pull the paperback book from the nightstand, and embrace again a dawning day and the beginnings of a lifelong love of the wonder of the written word.

All in a breath, if the right four-year-old is tugging at your finger to show you the treasure of newly discovered unidentifiable metal plucked from the otherwise inconspicuous dirt of the roadway.