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Sam Weller

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Come Home

Posted: 07/16/2012 12:03 pm

There, on a gracious green corner lot in West Los Angeles, where the mature palm trees rustle in the night wind and beads of dew gather on the ice plant, you can't miss it. The house. Even in the moonlight, the color, is unmistakable. The big, rambling house, is painted dandelion yellow.

The lights are dark now. For the first time in more than a half-century. The Bradbury family moved in on Thanksgiving Day, 1958 and there has always been motion and commotion and activity ever since.

A Dixieland jazz band plays on a small balcony on Halloween night.

Actor Rod Steiger drives by in a brand new luxury convertible and screams, "Eat your heart out!"

Visitors walk up the flagstone steps: actors and film directors and writers and famed animators and friends and loved ones and family and, of course, the four children. Four beloved daughters raised in the home. Four girls who played and schooled and grew there. And when they were young, their father told them bedtime stores each night; stories that often involved a young male protagonist--a Midwestern boy hero--on globetrotting adventures, side by side with Blackstone the magician. The little girls listened with rapt attention, hardly able to stand the cliffhanger endings that picked up the very next evening, at bedtime.

It is likely that these were the greatest Ray Bradbury yarns ever spun, for the most important audience of all.

On halcyon California days, the girls played badminton on the small parcel of grass in the backyard. And today, all those decades later, a shuttlecock still sits in a rusty rain gutter. Their father, unapologetically sentimental, never wanted to remove it. Leave it alone, he thought, so time could stand still. So the girls could stay young forever.

"I love my daughters," the older Ray Bradbury often said, "but I miss my children."

Tonight, in the house, the lights are off. Inside, the countless books sitting on the many shelves throughout the home almost seem to know he will never open them again. He used to love coming down the three steps into the living room late at night, pulling the chain on an old green banker's lamp (a prop remnant from the 1983 film adaptation of his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes). He would pluck a book off of one of the clean white built-in shelves and settle into a plump arm chair and open and read it and think: By God, I wrote that! And, By God! It's good!

Fahrenheit 451. Dandelion Wine. The Illustrated Man. Green Shadows, White Whale. The Toynbee Convector. The Martian Chronicles. Death is a Lonely Business.

June 5, 2012 was his departure date. When he left, he had an in-home care provider, a heroic nurse named Santiago, who loved him like a father. And his grown kids, his glorious daughters, visited often. His beloved wife of 57 years had passed in 2003.

But now, today, that big yellow house with all of the memories in it, sits quietly. Almost like the house in his famous story "There Will Come Soft Rains," going through its daily machinations with no one there to see it.

Little toy tin robots rest on shelves, waiting to be wound, one more time, to life. An old gold pocket watch, once belonging to Samuel Hinkston Bradbury--Ray Bradbury's beloved grandfather--has stopped ticking. The large screen television that played Turner Classic Movies on constant rotation over the last several years, is dark. Over-sized stuffed animals sit perched on sofas and chairs, waiting for their Peter Pan to return and hug them one last time.

And the awards, a lifetime of staggering achievements: the Emmy, and the Saturn, and the Medal for Contributions to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, and the Medal of Arts from the President of the United States, all sit in quietude.

And then there is the basement. The famed basement office of Ray Douglas Bradbury. The fluorescent lights that hang from the joists will never buzz again. Not over him, at least, perched over his hulking metal office desk, as he loved to do, stout fingers gliding over the keys of his IBM selectric typewriter.

The basement filing cabinets, stuffed with unpublished tales and fragments of story starts waiting to be finished will now, likely, go to a cold repository for study and academic rumination. All the toys and the books and the old pulp magazines have lost the man who collected them all with love and fervor over a lifetime of excitement. This basement, this repository of a man's childlike wonder, will never see the man ever again.

And it is as if the very house itself, on a moonlit California summer night, says, hushed, "Come Home. Come Home."

And we, his readers, think the very same thing.

Sam Weller is the authorized biographer of Ray Bradbury. He is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago and the co-editor of Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, just published by William Morrow.

 

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