It took me 27 years to get my first tattoo. Like many, I wanted to make sure I didn’t regret it the next day or 10 years down the road. When I was ready, I sat down in front of my travel-size Remington typewriter and punched in two words: Dandelion Wine, the title of a novel written by the recently late Ray Bradbury.
Now inked on the underside of my left wrist in the same standard courier new font, my students always ask me, “What is that? What does that mean? Why did you get that?” Answer: Mr. Heyn. He was my high school English teacher, who inspired me to really start writing. After we read Dandelion Wine in class, and I had to give the book back to the school, Mr. Heyn flipped through the pages and said, “You keep it.” Sentences after sentences were underlined, words circled, and every so often a star was drawn in the margin with a “wow!” next to it.
I have read Dandelion Wine seven times. I saw and see myself in Douglas the twelve-year-old protagonist in the story. Douglas is curious, naïve, hopeful, and full of life. Making dandelion wine, fearing the Lonely One, keeping his eyes peeled for the Green Machine, yearning to try out the happiness machine, laughing at the aging Mrs. Bentley, feeling the grip of death, and attempting to bottle innocence, he only found out that life, well, it moves, and you can’t contain it.
The second to last page in the novel Douglas writes: “Everything runs backward now. Like matinee films sometimes, where people jump out of water onto diving boards. Come September you push down the windows you pushed up, take off the sneakers you put on, pull on the hard shoes you threw away last June. People run in the house now like birds jumping back inside clocks. One minute, porches loaded, everyone gabbing thirty to a dozen. Next minute, doors slam, talk stops, and leaves fall off trees like crazy.”
Yes, things change, but Douglas, I believe you can bottle innocence. My mother always tells me, “Don’t forget that little girl in you. Don’t forget her.” You bottle innocence by not
forgetting it, by being able to take a chance, love, and do what you love.
College is an adventure for my students where they continuously try and create that perfect bottle of dandelion wine. It is a tedious and labor-intensive process, plucking each petal off at a time and sprinkling it into the mix. They are creating and recreating themselves again, and sometimes they may spill, but that is ok.
I encourage my students every day to fall in love with a character, with a world, with language, with a book. I remind them that we read for three reasons: to be entertained, to gain knowledge, and to make a connection with the human spirit.