[Ron McKenzie contributed this wonderful piece.]
I was eleven years old when I spoke to Ray Bradbury.
It was fall of 1980, just before Halloween and CBC Radio was doing an interview with Ray Bradbury. it was for a kids’ show on Saturday mornings, and the best part was that kids could call in to ask questions of the guests. Excitedly, I dialed the number and waited patiently for my turn. here I was, a kid out in the middle of nowhere, about to talk to an honest-to-goodness author – and one of the greats (even at 10, I knew this). They took my name and told me I’d be on-air in a few minutes. I spent those minutes wracking my brain for an articulate and intelligent question that wouldn’t sound like it came from a 10-year old kid.
The line opened up, and I heard Mr. Bradbury ask me, “Hi, Ron. How are you?” the voice was jovial, cheerful, like taking a phonecall from my grandfather. Voice warbling, the most I could get out was “um…good…”. I distinctly remember a chuckle on the other end. the host then asked me what I wanted to ask. my question was somewhere along the lines of “what advice do you have for kids who want to become writers.” While the particulars escape me, I remember the tone: warm and sincere. He said it was important to read everything you could get your hands on and write everything that came to mind. at the end of it all, he thanked me for my question and wished me well. I floated on air for days after that. it was like being touched by magic itself.
And that’s what Bradbury’s writing was: magic. Growing up in Northwestern Ontario, a town where hockey was king, a less-than athletic child like me had to find other avenues. my arena was the library, and I would lose myself in tales of fantasy and escapism for hours on end. the works of Ray Bradbury were chief among those flights of fancy. I journeyed to the alien and unforgiving plateaus of Mars. I took a ringside seat with Will and Jim at Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow show. I experienced wonder and terror, all with Mr. Bradbury as my tour guide. his words, the vistas he created still resonate with me. the turning leaves and gentle nighttime breezes of fall instantly take me to the October Country. the key to Mr. Bradbury’s longevity is that he understood the power of memory and nostalgia. He was also a master of balance: amidst all the darkness and foreboding, there was humanity, compassion and hope – the beauty that could be found amidst all that shadow and fog.
There will be plenty of eulogies and many stories similar to mine from those who knew him very well. I can only write about what he meant to me… which probably isn’t all that different from anybody else. He inspired generations of writers to put pen to paper. He took us into the shadows and found the light hiding inside. Writer Richard Gavin summed it up perfectly when he heard the news of Mr. Bradbury’s passing:
He was October.
R.I.P., Mr. Bradbury. Godspeed, Prince of October.