If you haven’t read Dandelion Wine yet, please, do so before June slips away, before you wear out your new sneakers (or perhaps flip-flops) and before the apricots begin to ripen because after them, implacably, the peaches ripen and then the grapes and the figs and then September comes.
This seemingly simply written but full of childlishly expressed wisdom book contains – just like the eponymous wine – the whole summer. The summer, on its part, contains the entire life as well as death which has always been the other side of life, anyway. It contains joy, separation, fear, laughter, vitality, sickness, sun and rain. It begins and ends with rituals.
The rituals with which Douglas Spaulding – the main character – associates the beginning of the summer are the swing being taken out, the first days when people remain on their front porches long after night has settled, the first ice cream, the new sneakers, the lawn being mowed, his great-grandma reparing the roof and, of course, the dandelions being picked for the wine. One of the rituals that singals the end of the summer (so far – in the Wine – just the “astronomical summer” whereas in Farewell Summer it’s the end of the “physiological” one, either), on the other hand, is the town bookshop getting a new supply of school materials. Something which, Douglas and his brother Tom think, must be forbidden and postponed until the very last day before the beginning of the new school year.
Beautiful rituals. They take me back to the years of my own childhood which, although very similar and as rich in contrasting emotions and feelings, isn’t, after all, the childhood of a boy. It must be different.
But I also have my own rituals.
The first strawberries picked still green from the garden. (Bought first from the Vietnamese and then from the temporary stalls supplied from the near strawberry fields.)
The first cherries ripened for the St. St. Cyril and Methodius Day – I know because I remember how we recited Varvi, narode vazrodeni (note: the anthem of Bugarian literacy, roughly translated as Go Forth Reborn/Reawakened People) while devouring cherries, perched on the neighbour’s tree. (The first cherries picked late in June and put into a motorcycle helmet alongside a small road in Eastern Bohemia.)
The first time you go outside with bare legs and you somehow feel lighter. (You’re happy because you know the temperatures can drop 10 degrees the next day.)
That’s the beginning.
And then the summer proper comes which is always by the sea.
Here the brackets are (still) redundant. It’s the 26th consecutive year since I have begun to spend my summers by the sea. For the last six and a half years my life has been moving farther and farther into the west but when the cherries get overripe (or have just ripened) I know it’s time for me to go back.
Am I a pedantic person… or a migrating bird… or hostage of a conch shell… I don’t know.
But for a 26th consecutive year I’ll be spending my summer by the sea.
It will be different from last year.
But it will be there.
(One day when the cherries have long been overripe I’ll probably buy a bag of yellow rather than orange in moles apricots from the little market of a town far from the sea. I’ll sit down, eat the apricots, make a pile of kernels and then start tossing them into the imaginary water.
That will be my Farewell to Summer.)