This past weekend, before it got impossibly hot, my wife and I took Sophie to the toy store to get some sand.
When her older brother saw it he said, immediately jealous, “I never had one of those.”
He’s almost eighteen years old. And he wasted no time lying down in it.
It’s in the backyard now, filled with pale white sand. Very pale, very fine . . . like sugar. It was wonderfully cool to the touch and I’d forgotten how nice it felt to just let sand run between your fingers.
Fortunately, Sophie liked her sandbox as a sandbox — possibly more than as a ballpit in the living room.
But she’s a particular little girl. She doesn’t like getting her hands dirty.
The sand is very fine, it clings to you a bit. This bothered her and she would stop playing from time to time to brush it off of her legs or arms.
While I, of course, had a lot of fun sprinkling sand on her when she wasn’t looking. Because I’m that kind of dad.
I don’t know what her brother was complaining about. He got a sandbox for his second birthday, way back when. His sand wasn’t white, though. It was darker, tan . . . like sand from the beach or a school playground. I don’t think it was white. Maybe it gets darker over time. I honestly don’t remember.
My son graduated from high school. My middle daughter graduated from junior high. She’ll be starting high school in the fall and her older brother will be starting college.
I figure it’s more productive to save it for when my son graduates from college. He’s going to school here in town so it’s not like he’ll be far away. But once he graduates, I know all bets are off. He will most likely shake the Midwest off his feet and head back to California, where he was born. He doesn’t really remember much of it, if anything. But he loves it there.
I’m saving all of my maudlin, self-indulgent fatherly sadness for that day.
I turned forty-three a few days later.
Honestly, it feels no different. I don’t mind it one bit. Every year is better than the one before and, if the gods are kind, that’ll hold true for a long while yet.
It’s hard to resist nostalgia. It clings to you. You forget it’s there until you feel the little scrape of grit somewhere, unexpected.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Ray Bradbury died.”
It was all right there in a flood, I could feel it . . . but I decided not to get upset, decided not to go to pieces.
Instead, I went back to playing with my little girl, with these little plastic monsters and mythological beasts she has. She’s learning their names, just like her older brother and sister did.
Ray took nostalgia and concentrated it, distilled it down. He let it ferment like, sure, like those bottles of dandelion wine in the basement of the Spaulding house.
My dad was the one who introduced me to Bradbury. He gave me a second-hand copy of Dandelion Wine and told me “You could do this. You could write this stuff. You’ve got a weird head like him.”
He meant it — and I took it — as a complement.
All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was Ray Bradbury.
Like my dad, I gave my son Sam copies of Bradbury when he was young. His sister Julia got a few of them too, when the time came. And, when Sophie’s old enough, I’ll give them to her as well.
I remember those things, I look forward to those things.
You can be nostalgic about the future. Ray was brilliant at it.
I called my dad later that day, just to talk. It took me three tries to leave a voicemail that didn’t end with me breaking down in tears. Like I am now.
Downstairs in my office, once Sophie was down for her nap, I lit a candle on my desk — sometimes it’s my altar — and I said a prayer for Ray.
My god is a psychopomp. He takes care of the dead, helps them get to where they need to be. I knew he’d take care of Ray.
After we played in the sandbox this weekend, I picked up Sophie and brushed her off. I knew from experience how easily sand travels into the house. Even still, hours later, we’d find a little patch of it on her skin, between her toes, drifting out of a fold in her clothing.
Sand drifts through your fingers, leaves just enough behind so that you don’t forget.
It clings to you. Nothing you can do about it.
Memories, nostalgia, sadness, and sand . . . it’s all just time, really, at the end of the day.
It all runs through your fingers. Some of it clings.