Ray Bradbury left a mustard stain in my sister’s autographed book. It’s a story we like to tell about the one time we met him – unexpectedly at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books nearly a decade ago. We hadn’t even known he would be there until we arrived. I remember our scramble to go buy books for him to autograph, the wait in line hoping they wouldn’t say that he wasn’t going to be signing anymore. But he kept on going, having a quick bite of a hot dog along the way. There were no dedications or even conversation, just a quick signature on the pages of our newly purchased paperbacks – and that mustard stain – and the moment was over.
But it was never really over. Meeting him that day was like reading one of his stories, he was a writer whose words stay with you, rattle in your brain over and over again, stretching what you thought were the limits of your imagination. I mean, after all, he more than autographed our books – he gave us a story we’ve told for years.
This morning when I heard about Ray Bradbury’s passing, it felt like a little kick in my stomach and my heart grows steadily more heavy. Just the other day I read his Take Me Home in the latest issue of The New Yorker, where he wrote about his inspiration for “The Fire Balloons”. I wonder at those who also read this story, who haven’t picked up a Ray Bradbury book in awhile, but was taken back to them like I was.
My favorite Bradbury book was the one he autographed on that day a decade ago: Something Wicked This Way Comes. I remember it among the books that I sped through, the words and pages taking me away to the dark world of a traveling carnival and the tattooed “Mr. Dark”. For me, reading that book – like any of Bradbury’s works – was a little like those two boys who grew up in that novel:
And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young anymore….
You never left a Ray Bradbury story the same way as when you began it, and though he is no longer with us, I am so glad of the legacy he left behind. There will be so many generations to come who will know this feeling, who will remember him still as we remember him now.