Who remembers the opening to “Dandelion Wine”, Douglas lying in bed on the first day of summer? Wake up , world! He exhaled and the streetlights went out, blinked, and the old people across the way stepped onto their porch for the morning paper. Opened his fists and dawn spiraled across the sky, spilling gold and pink and lavender over the mist-shrouded town. Mourning doves rustled their feathers and sighed like complacent church women, a new breeze tickled the willow branches, and the windows slapped open on the house next door. And . . .
And Douglas knew, even though he was only twelve, that he was completely and utterly alive that day. And he recognized the responsibilities of being alive – the main one being, of course, to be aware of said life. In a way that, quite possibly, only a child could master, he goes through the summer with a sort of hyper- awareness, noticing . . . well, the snap of a silken web across his cheeks, the heady stink of a dandelion beneath his nose, the power of feet and legs, sinew and bones that enables him to run forever.
Dear God, I want to be twelve again.
But summer is upon us, and here is what I know about that: if, in the evening, when the light is a lemony slant through the green tangle of the lilac bushes, I take a tall glass of rum-and-coke to the porch swing and wait there, the Winter Girl steps back. She who huddled in the cold shadow of her losses begins to stretch in the sun’s dying rays. Tears already drying, she sniffs the wind like a small forest creature and registers the sweetness of grass and new tomato plants. Her skin goosebumps beneath the tread of a tiny ladybug and her eyes follow the circle of bats at the streetlight. And summer explodes in her mind with the fizz and pop of a thousand Thunder Snaps.
Summer. Is here.
Douglas took the summer of 1928 and bottled it. Dandelion Wine lined up in gleaming bottles on the basement shelf, each with its own label and its own memory. This bottle: the smell of peonies, this one: the cold rush of creek water over toes. So when the inevitable winter returned, he had only to traverse stairs - spiders and damp mold stink – to find, again, his joy.
Were people smarter back then, or is a child, simply by the nature of the best, always more intelligent than the rest of us?
The girl on the porch swing sips through a straw, closes contented eyes and toes her shoes off onto the porch boards.