Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday. I neither feel sadness nor shock, he was 91 after all. Yet another tiny bit of my childhood has gone. See, when I was young, he was my friend and one of my mentors. Of course, he didn’t know that. We never met.
Imagine if you will, me as a young girl, probably about age 10, though I cannot say for sure, maybe I’m 11. I am about to leave the Children’s fiction area in the Sylvan Public Library and wander into the land of Adult Fiction. My mom is with my sisters looking at kids books and toys, but I am much too old for that now. I don’t remember if my brother is there, but he would have been 14 or 15 at the time, so he didn’t always come anymore.
I had (and still have) brown hair. I am sure that I am ugly, since I don’t know within a few years, boys will start showing interest. I’m not a unpopular kid who gets picked on too much, but not popular either. My grades are good, but I’m not spectacularly good in anything. I come from a fairly large extended family, and though I am well-loved, I often consider myself an outsider. I think I want to be a writer, but everyone always makes jokes about it.
The Sylvan Library is one of the bigger libraries in the Kitsap County System. (Though small compared to the massive libraries of Seattle which I am now used to.) There was still an old-fashions card catalogue, but I tended to use the double row of biege computers and had tiny golf pencils and slips of paper beside them. Plastic and metal chairs surround tables and the independent reading stations which are made out of mdf covered with an oak veneer. The short rough brown carpeting.
One of the first authors who I discovered was Ray Bradury. I think I recognized the name, maybe my brother mentioned it, I don’t know why out of the many books there, my finger stopped on his.
I do remember while checking out, being asked by the librarian, “Who told you what to look for?”
My response was something to the effect: “Nobody, I just picked these books up. They are cool.”
I think she agreed with me, but maybe she was just happy to see us three girls (and maybe our brother) with a mom who cared enough to bring her kids to the library every few weeks in the summer.
I wish I had the vocabulary back then to explain that I had sat down on the floor and already scanned a few stories. And within a few thousand words, I cared about the characters and their situations which Bradbury portrayed. He wrote things that were terrifying and exciting. Technology was always part of the work, but it was never at the expense of the characters. But ultimately he could burn an image into my mind with prose.
And 25 years later, I can still remember the images.
The first time I read There Will Come Soft Rains. I remember seeing a vision of the outline on the house of the dead family–especially the little boy and girl playing with the ball. I put myself in the place of the little girl and imagined it was my ashes that stained the wall with my brother and sisters. The image remains in my mind to this day. I kept hoping the story wouldn’t end the way it did. That the kids would miraculously reappear, that no one was dead, but they were. In a story published 26 years prior to my birth, I saw death. And the fear of what a nuclear war might really look like. In this way, war became something more than the bunch of dates they kept trying to get us to remember at school.
I remember crying for Margot in All Summer in a Day. Maybe its growing up in the Pacific Northwest and having days upon days of rain, I wept because I felt like I had locked her up and made her miss the sunshine.
I could go on, but the point is that Ray Bradbury, while truly a master at writing short fiction, was more than that to me. Along with many other writers (who did not write for children) he was a friend of my childhood. He inspired me to stretch my imagination and not fear writing about the dark sides of just about anything and everything. After all, he wrote dystopic science fiction long before it was popular.