I discovered Ray Bradbury my sophomore year in college, when I was barely 19. On a break from a double major in drama and English, I was enjoying a lazy day reading just for fun in my own version of a cupola bedroom (an upper flat of an old house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin).
Bradbury's imagery was so musical and his language so dynamic that I was compelled to read passages aloud to my roommate. We spent that whole afternoon taking turns reading to each other from Something Wicked This Way Comes until we finished the book.
That fall, I was cast as the narrator in Dandelion Wine, the university's first Readers' Theatre production. A bunch of kids transformed into Douglas Spaulding and his family unfolded summer in Green Town, using only our voices and imaginary props. We were proud to introduce this new theatrical genre, but we were thrilled to speak the words of Ray Bradbury. The mere sound of his writing bonded us tightly through each rehearsal as we acted and reacted to Great-Grandma, John Huff, Mom and Dad.
Death of a friend
A year later, our dear friend who played Douglas Spaulding died suddenly. I had never lost someone so close to me and didn't know how to recover from it. I read (and read again) all the wisdom of 12-year-old Douglas as he bids farewell to his great-grandmother and calls goodbye to his best friend, "Good bye, John Huff! Good bye!"
At a Christmas party that same year, while visiting friends near Milwaukee, I met Miss Clara Hunder, who had been Bradbury's elementary school teacher in Waukegan, Illinois. (She's mentioned in Dandelion Wine under another name.) She was a lovely older woman who circulated the room, chattering happily about her special Christmas gift from one of her former students: a signed copy of Ray Bradbury's new book. As I bounced around her, hugging and laughing, she encouraged me to write Bradbury to tell him how much I enjoyed his books. So I did.
On February 10, 1970, I received his response, complete with cross-overs and a footnote typed along the margin. That letter came from his now-famous manual typewriter, full of condolences for my friend and humble joy that we had performed his wonderful story. He acknowledged that he was, indeed, Douglas Spaulding, and he had loved Miss Hunder. Coincidentally, he said, his best friend, (a.k.a. John Huff), had moved to Eau Claire when they were 12 years old.
Twenty years later, my husband and I met Bradbury at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he was a guest speaker. No, he didn't remember his letter to me, but he was very pleased to see it. He was gracious and lovely, and generously signed all my books.
What a remarkable lesson it was for me to hear his voice, a genuine melody of words and images tumbling in mid-air until they hit the ear just as they hit the page. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
Summer on the tongue: dandelion wine. But Ray Bradbury died on June 5. Goodbye, Douglas Spaulding. Goodbye.♦
To read a response, click here.
To read another tribute to Ray Bradbury by Tom Purdom, click here..
To read another tribute by Tom Quinn, click here.