Little did I know, as the old saying goes, that when publishing my “Dandelion Wine” story in gourmet in 1953 I was starting a novel.
The history of my books is most strange. My stories, essays, and poems suddenly grow full and tall.
The Martian Chronicles, for example, born in 1944 as a collection of stories, along the way civilized an entire planet.
Similarly Green Shadows, White Whale. My life in Ireland, written as poems and plays, finally became a novel about John Huston and Moby Dick.
Dandelion Wine then was a series of word associations about my hometown, remembering how it was to run in a new pair of tennis shoes or to perch on the family porch on those wonderful summer nights when we filled the sky with rockets and fire balloons.
The novel was published in 1957. Since then, I’ve been astounded to receive letters from Sweden, where summer lasts perhaps three or four days, or Kenya, where summer lasts forever. Then, Tokyo. Where is there room for grass anywhere in Tokyo, how in hell could they grow dandelions to make wine?
But every Christmas for 20 years, 40 Japanese students airmail me essays, poems, and novel fragments about Dandelion Wine as a special gift to end the year. Their exquisite writing cracks my heart. How peculiar that my grandfather’s cellar pressings would be a proper vintage for those students halfway round the world.
Along the way the book has shifted locales and costumed itself in stage plays and musicals. Three different composers have written music for the productions that have appeared in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
In my pantry, at this moment, sit nine bottles of dandelion wine, arrived from every continent. The bottle I treasure most was made from flowers on my grandparents’ lawn, next door to the house where I was born, in upper Illinois.
Last summer, in Minneapolis, I was stunned to see a vast ocean of dandelions brimming the entire city. No lawn existed that had less than 1,000 flowers. I was overwhelmed because in California, as soon as we see one flower in the middle of the yard, we run out and stomp it.
Next year I will send my Dandelion Wine play to Minneapolis and go for the re-premiere and run out on one of those lawns, surrounded by 10,000 dandelions, and fall to roll like a happy dog.Here is the original article we published in 1953
On this one special afternoon in the great oasis of summer, the dandelions flooded the world, dripped off lawns into brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows, blew and agitated themselves so that on every side lay this green lake, dazzling and glittering with molten sun.
The boys picked the golden flowers.
“I encourage them,” Grandfather said. “For two weeks, at the very heart of summer, the lawn mower is banished! Let the dandelions run, I say! Run amuck, like a herd of African lions in the yard. A beautiful flower. So common, however, that we have forgotten how beautiful it is. Why, look right at it and it’ll burn a hole in your eye.”
Plucked tenderly, one by one, the dandelions, in sacks, pots, and pans, were carried to the cellar. In great buckets of sunshine they arrived. The cellar glowed with them.
The wine press opened. A golden bushel of flowers poured in. The press, replaced with the large rotating screw, personally twirled and twisted by Grandfather, gently squeezed upon the harvest. “There,” he murmured. “So.”
And before long, the golden tide, the essence of wild summer, of the good fair months, trickled and then ran and then rushed from the spout below. A clear essence, like a breath of July, the color of stars on August nights, gathered to be crocked and waited on, to be worked, to be skimmed of ferment, to be bottled in crystal and cut glass, and shelved and ranked in glittering rows in cellar gloom.
The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer in a bottle. It was all the warm afternoons and the cloudless skies, stoppered tight; to be opened, said the label, on a January day with snow falling fast. To be drunk, was the intimation, when the sun had gone unseen in 39 days. Then let those who seek after summer tiptoe with stealth into the dim twilight netherworld of the cellar and put up a hand.
There row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers open at morning, with the light of a June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, lies the dandelion wine. Uncork it, hold it up, peer through it at the wintry day. The snow is melted to grass, the trees are reinhabited with bird, leaf, and blossom, like a continent of butterflies breathing on the air. The sky is colored from gray to blue. Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, take a great sniff of the wine and change the season in your veins by the simple expedient of raising the glass to your lips and tilting summer in.
“All right, now, to the rain barrel!”
Nothing else in the world would do but the rare waters which had been summoned from the sweet lakes far away and the sweet fields of grassy dew on early mornings, lifted to the open sky, carried in laundered clusters 900 miles, brushed with wind, electrified with high voltage, and condensed upon cool air. This water, falling through space, gathered still more of the heavens in its crystals. Taking something of the east wind and the west wind and the north wind and the south, the water made rain and the rain would soon be well on its way to wine.
Douglas ran with the dipper. He plunged it deep in the rain barrel. This water must be carried in dipper and bucket down to the cellar, there to be ladled in freshets, in mountain streams, upon the dandelion harvest.