Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spring and All

You wouldn't know it from the snow on the ground or my heating bill, but spring is on its way. When I take the dog out first thing in the morning, I'm now greeted by the chirping of various birds rather than just geese, a sure sign that things are about to change. Thank god. I get tired of coats and sweaters and dark arriving before I've made dinner. I definitely get tired of the price of oil. By March, I'm generally tired of everything and in need of rejuvenation.

Last night I spent some time taking this notion of rejuvenation literally, which is to say that for no good reason I pulled out a book that I loved as a child and reread it for the first time in probably 30 years: Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. I loved this book when I was a preteen (or a tween, to use the 21st century term). What was that 11 year-old thinking?

This book is so sappy the pages morph into maple syrup as you turn them. For those of you who haven't read it, it's a memoir disguised as fiction, and tells the story of one young boy's summer in a mid-western small town at around the turn of the century. It features an entire chapter on the joys of new sneakers. Another chapter describes wet grass at night and running across lawns. Nothing much happens: summer begins, summer ends. Ultimately the text is about time's passage, not only the passing of this one summer, but the nostalgia of the author for the time of his childhood that is lost forever and can't be recaptured, not even in the purplest of prose.

I'm old enough now to well understand nostalgia, the yearning for the simple world of the past, and in particular for the safe world of childhood. But I was a child myself when I loved this book, and I recall loving it because it was elegiac (and no, I probably didn't know what "elegiac" meant at that age nor how to spell it, so don't get any ideas). What past did I feel was lost at such a young age?

It could be that Freud's right and we're born missing the womb, which is to say that we're born into a state of nostalgia. It's as likely that I was somewhat miserable during those early adolescent years, as we all are, and I longed for someone else's past, longed for a childhood that wasn't mine. I probably longed for any childhood other than my own, now that I think about it, because at that age we think no one knows or understands or shares our misery. Time tells us that it wasn't misery and that all we were feeling was the solipsism of the very young. Time tells us all the ways we were wrong about our selves and the world.

Which is why we so often want to be children again, and why we can't be. What we really want is to go back to a time before knowledge, a time before the fall. You can't be nostalgic for what you have, only for what is irretrievable. Grass can rejuvenate. So can tulips. Us? Not so much.


afury said...

Dandelion Wine was a favorite of my youth too, and each summer I'm haunted by my memory-version of the new sneakers chapter.I presented a copy of the book to my daughet when she was 13 and she hated it, so maybe 11 was the better age. However, I clearly remember that by age 12 when I read it, I knew life had already changed dramatically and I was not as care free as I once was. Summer is the time to yearn for that lightness and freedom that some of us were lucky to experience, usually for only the briefest of moments and usually as punction for long stretches of boredom. I also love the song "That Summer Feeling" by Jonathan Richman, which captures those romanticized memories and feelings so well.

Anonymous said...

I was very close 2 my parents[who r in my heart now]I can't see them but i know they r there.when i think of my youth i think of mom making pastries on the wood stove she did not like gas ovens.and i remember my father was a very comfortable time.I miss and love them profusely.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie