Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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The Magic in Green Shoes and Memories

January 22, 2024

Amanda Cleary Eastep

Are you ready to go back in time and space?”

The six-year-old with the window seat asks this of the young man sitting between us in row 29.

There’s an “affirmative” from the man.

I’m glad that this one time I chose the aisle seat, giving up my view of another Chicago farewell.

The plane rolls along the taxiway.

“We’re going faster than a car. Faster than a train,” the boy reports.

Then the plane slows and takes its place next in line for takeoff.

“Are you ready to go back in time and space?” the boy asks again.

“I told you I am,” says the man.

I’m ready, I want to say. How far back are we going? Yesterday? Your sixth birthday? My grown son’s sixth birthday? How about when dinosaurs roamed the land? (No, that would be my birthday.)

“10-9-8…” The boy counts down the magic words. And the plane begins to crawl down the runway.


We pick up speed.


The earth drops away. The past week falls behind me. I’m sad to leave my children, my family. I’m excited for my first flight in a time machine.

In an introduction to the 1976 edition of his novel Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury writes: “Somehow I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.”[1] 

He explains that, over the space of twelve years, barely a day passed that he didn’t write down recollections of strolling across the grass of his grandparents’ yard, collecting fragments of past summers and past lives, hoping to contact the older person he’d become and “remind him of his past, his life, his people, his joys, and his drenching sorrows.”[2] 

It is the 1978 edition of one of my childhood summers.

I am a streak of green sneakers and sinew. 

I am one of the dorkiest kids in my parochial grade school. (In case you never attended parochial school in a farm town in the 1970s, believe me, there is stiff competition.)

I am the last runner in the four-kid relay race at our regional track meet. And I am running on air.

How do I know this is true?

Because ten seconds after the baton has been slapped into my sweating hand, my mother, with her Instamatic camera, snaps a photo. When the film is developed the following week, we see that beneath the blur of my body, my feet aren’t touching the ground. 

My bright green shoes are running on a road of air just above the trampled grass. I am not a sixth grader leaving her competitors in the dust; I am a gazelle.

In his introduction, Bradbury goes on to say that he learned to allow his senses and his “Past” to tell him “all that was somehow true.”[3] 

Once I learned to keep going back and back again to those times, I had plenty of memories and sense impressions to play with, not work with, no, play with. Dandelion Wine is nothing if it is not the boy-hid-in-the-man playing in the fields of the Lord on the green grass of other Augusts in the midst of starting to grow up, grow old, and sense darkness waiting under the trees to seed the blood.[4]

Eventually, through recollecting his childhood, Bradbury sees (for the last time as far as he can remember) his grandfather. During the last hour of a Fourth of July family celebration, he and his grandpa walk across the lawn; light a red, white, and blue paper balloon; and watch it rise into the air. 

Decades later, in the stories Bradbury writes, the dandelion wine still fills his grandparents’ cellar shelves with summer. His “beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark,” and “the fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer.”[5]

Why and how? he asks.

“Because,” writes Bradbury, “I say it is so.”[6] 

In the plane, the boy, the man, and I climb steeply on the air.

“Look how white everything is!” cries the boy, his face and palms filling the oval window.

“Those are clouds,” explains the man.

“No,” is all the boy says.

No! I want to say too. We are going back through time and space! 

This isn’t the right moment to teach the boy about altitude or weather patterns. Enjoy the possibilities, I want to tell the man. Encourage the boy to imagine, to hope, if just until we break the mesosphere. Let him imagine we can go anywhere, into any time, because he says it’s so. 

During my relay race, the one thing I left behind, besides my fellow winded peers, was running. Today, I walk, I hike, I even fly, and, as a writer, I am a champion sitter. But the most important skills for the race to every deadline are—as reading Bradbury will teach you—remembering, listening, and hoping.

How can I write for children (or even grownups) unless I remember? Remember that I am, as Madeleine L’Engle said, every age I’ve ever been? Remember the green shoes that gave me the power to barely touch the ground? Remember the screeching cheer of my mother on the sidelines and the smell of my father’s Barbasol-ed neck when he hugged me after I’d run the race? 

In fact, all of us must–like Mr. Sanderson the shoe salesman in Dandelion Wine–respond to the plea of twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding to slip on the sneakers we’re selling but haven’t worn since childhood…and feel

“Feel those shoes, Mr. Sanderson, feel how fast they’d take me? All those springs inside? Feel all the running inside? Feel how they kind of grab hold and can’t let you alone and don’t like you just standing there?” … “How do they feel?”

“Antelopes?” said the old man, looking from the boy’s face to his shoes. “Gazelles?”[7]

We must remember the long-ago sound of running over grass, “through brush, under trees, away, and only the soft echo [our] running left behind.”[8]

Not only do we need to remember, but we also need to listen, especially to the stories of our elders. I think our grandfathers in particular. They repeat the stories so they won’t forget. We should listen every time so we will not either.

In Dandelion Wine, there’s a scene in which Douglas and his friends step into a “time machine”—the ancient Colonel Freeleigh and the stories he tells. The three boys sit in his room, empty except for the old man’s dust and memories. They breathe it all in, and they are whisked away to witness the horrible death of the variety act magician, the rumbling storm of stampeding buffalo, and everybody losing in the Civil War.

“‘Well, is he or isn’t he?’” asks Douglas’s friend after the last story ends.

Douglas answers, “‘He sure is.’” 

The colonel opened his eyes.

“I sure am what?” he asked.

“A Time Machine,” murmured Douglas. “A Time Machine.”[9] 

Finally, in remembering and listening, we must hope. Because we believe in the God of all hope. This is imperative, especially when others, when life, tell us we’re only surrounded by clouds and our sneakers are not full of power.

We are beginning to make our descent into Asheville, North Carolina. 

“It’s 1985,” the boy announces.

How do I know this is true? Because he begins to sing. 

“Ev-ery-bo-dy wants to rule the world…” 

The song is by the ’80s band Tears for Fears. 

The boy sparks hope in me. 

More so, his voice urges us all to step back into our memories, into the shoes of our childhood. He reminds us that we are gazelles. We are time travelers. 

Why and how? 

Because Ray Bradbury and Douglas, the graying time machines and the magic six-year-olds, the writers who remember and listen and the people who hope, all say…it is so.

[1] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, viii.

[2] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, viii.

[3] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, ix.

[4] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, ix.

[5] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, xiii.

[6] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, xiii.

[7] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, 23 and 25.

[8] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, 25.

[9] Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine, 86.

Featured image is courtesy of Steve Moon and used with his kind permission for Cultivating.


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