I felt dry as a brown pile of fallen leaves, unable to muster an image or a passage of serviceable words for my humble service for the day, so I do what I sometimes do to lubricate my imagination: I pulled a book of Bradbury short stories off the shelf.
The Machineries of Joy, first published by Simon & Shuster in February 1964. Mine is a New Bantam edition, second printing, from February 1983, purchased new for $2.75 sometime shortly afterward.
I read “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” because I opened the book to that page first. Ray Bradbury, like me, was baffled by the concept of war, and this story of a chance meeting between drummer boy and general the night before the grisly battle drips with melancholy. “You’re the heart of the army,” the general tells the boy.
I needed more than one dose, and second to last in the table of contents was “To the Chicago Abyss,” which I’m sure I read before but forgot. Ironic, that, because it’s a story about remembering.
In a post-apocalyptic city, an 80-year-old man is beaten, then sought by police, then protected by Samaritan strangers, because he dares to remember and remind people of the simple pleasures of better times, like the aroma of a freshly opened can of coffee. He hopes to inspire people, discouraged by their totalitarian overlords: “For the things, silly or not, that people remember are the things they will search for again.”
Sometimes I remember the soothing balm of a Bradbury story, and I search for one again. Thank God there are hundreds of them.
For me it is a Bradbury tale. Others seek out a Beatles song or an Eliot poem or an old-time movie about a ghost in a wishing well. We need these reminders that there is beauty to be found and good that comes from human hearts.
The man in the story dug even deeper, to remind people of fresh coffee and candy bars (“Milky Ways — swallow a universe of stars, comets, meteors”). Remember good things inspires us to seek out good things while they are still there to be had and preserved and cherished.