This morning Betsy called to tell me she had heard on the radio that Ray Bradbury had died. Just moments later on Facebook a friend posted the news of his death. Now, less than an hour later the story of his passing has been covered by virtually every news outlet and blog that I follow. He was 91.
Even though the most recent generation may not remember him, Ray Bradbury is certainly one of the most beloved American writers of all time. He is also one of the best. His prose lifts you to new heights of wonder. The pacing of his words is remarkable and no other author sounded quite like him. The legacy of his stories planted deep roots in our culture and entertainment. To me he had a special place in my heart, and here’s why:
I grew up in Beach Park, Illinois. This is just north of Waukegan, where he grew up. In the early to late 1960s as a small boy I roamed across a great expanse of fields, woods, streams and abandoned railroad tracks. Just a few minutes from my front door I entered a world where I could catch toads and turtles, chase water striders and search out wild strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. I discovered the remaining foundations of old houses buried and forgotten deep in the thick stands of trees. Small gullies and streams in the woods made for endless imaginary entertainment. On occasion I came across small clearings of tall grasses that I would flatten into a bed and watch the clouds sail across the sky.
As I began my journey into my teenage years in the early 1970s I began to discover the joy of books, science fiction in particular. Fortunately for me, Dandelion Wine was among the first I read. I didn’t realize at the time that the stories were influenced by Bradbury’s experiences growing up in Waukegan, but the adventures of his protagonist Douglas and the world around him resonated with me. Later when I found out more about Bradbury and the book, I was pleased to imagine that I had crossed paths with his trails of long ago. Later on I realized that I hadn’t, but it was a nice little fantasy.
A few years ago I made a trip up to Zion to attend my 30th high school reunion. Along the way I went through Beach Park to see my old childhood home. It was still there, mostly the same as I remembered. However, all of the woods, fields of grass and marshes were long gone. Streets and houses covered forever all the paths of my youth.
Earlier last year I picked up his book Quicker Than the Eye at a garage sale. I have to admit it was the first time in many years I had read any of his books. I plan on revisiting them again in the near future and hope to find a few I missed.