Hail and (Never) Farewell

Have you ever wondered, “What if?”  What if you could fly–not with the aid of an eighty-ton aerodynamic metal ship, but simply with the rising and falling of your arms?  What if you could travel to Mars, or Jupiter, or Venus, and, once there, discover that other forms of life, non-earthly forms of life, exist elsewhere in our solar system?  What if you could go backward in time, millions and millions of years, to a green, jungled past inhabited by monstrous flying reptiles and larger-than-life thunder lizards that we of today can scarcely imagine?

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Have you ever asked?

Of course you have.  We all have.  “What if?” it can be argued, is the great creative expression, the launch pad to unforgettable stories and adventures.

One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, frequently asked, “What if?”  And, in fact, he asked the very questions presented above.

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The stories that resulted, masterpieces such as “Here There Be Tygers,” “The Long Rain,” and “A Sound of Thunder,” among many others, are gems of the highest order.

asoundofthunder

 

But there was another “What if?” question the prolific author asked . . . What if you never had to grow old?  What if you could stay forever twelve, forever young, regardless of the date printed on your birth certificate?

The resulting story, “Hail and Farewell,” is not as well known perhaps as some of Bradbury’s more recognizable tales.  But that takes nothing away from the story’s impact, power, and poignancy.

hailandfarewell

 

“Hail and Farewell” is about a twelve-year-old boy named Willie.  When we first meet Willie, and indeed, when anybody first meets Willie, he seems like any other twelve-year-old.  He looks twelve; he’s not inordinately big for his age–in fact, he is quite small.  If you were to walk by Willie on a street corner, you probably wouldn’t look twice–just an ordinary boy, perhaps returning home from school or strolling to a Saturday matinee or walking over to a friend’s.

matinee

 

But Willie is not your average, normal twelve-year-old boy–not by a long shot.  Willie is not, in actuality, twelve at all.  He is forty-three.  That’s what his records show, those are the facts.  But Willie discovered, long ago, that, in terms of outward appearance, he is forever twelve.  He cannot grow old.  He’ll never wrinkle, lose his hair, acquire the maladies and infirmities of old age.  A blessing of the highest order?  Perhaps.  But Willie also has a price to pay . . . a repeating cycle with no end.

He can never settle in, never remain.  He is a drifter, moving from town to town, school to school, state to state.  He learns of couples with no children, patiently, thoroughly researching his opportunities, trying to discover the people in whose lives he can inject some love and laughter, if only for a little while.  And then–Willie just appears.  He knocks on a door, rings a bell, and when the door opens, he introduces himself, and, if the stars are aligned, he will have found a new home, a new temporary set of parents.  He will stay with them, love them, bond with them.  But then he will need to leave.  After all, how can a boy remain twelve forever?  Classmates will mature, graduate, go on to college and careers.  Parents will gray and grow old, all while Willie stays a boy, always on the threshold of adolescence, but never quite reaching it.  So he can stay for two years, maybe three, and then he is gone . . .

travelingbag

 

Bradbury’s story essentially asks the question, “Would it be a blessing to remain forever young?  Or a curse?  Or maybe a little of both?”

Those are questions each reader must answer for him- or herself.

nostalgia

 

But there is another way each of us can remain forever twelve.  In our own way, we all have a little bit of Willie in us . . .

**************

In The Eye-Dancers, main characters Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski are all twelve years old.  They are all also inspired by friends I knew growing up; and so, as I wrote the novel, I was, in many ways, twelve years old again.  I spent the better part of three years continually entering the minds and consciousness of my pre-teen characters, seeing the world through their eyes, hearing it, feeling it, experiencing it as a twelve-year-old might.  (Some might argue I operate that way anyway, all the time, as my default mode!  But that is a post for another day.)

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It is also my hope that readers of The Eye-Dancers are able to share in that experience, too, hopping on, as it were, a literary time machine traveling back, back . . . to younger days–days that seem, sometimes, almost forgotten, like yellowed pages in a time-worn scroll.  But then, when you rediscover them, when the aroma and memories and sights and sounds and experiences flood back in, you realize–they were there the whole while, stacked in a neat pile just outside the door.

The door just needed to be opened.

opendoor

 

**************

“But of course he was going away,” Bradbury writes in “Hail and Farewell,” as Willie must leave another couple, and begin anew. . . . “His suitcase was packed, his shoes were shined, his hair was brushed, he had expressly washed behind his ears, and it remained only for him to go down the stairs, out the front door, and up the street to the small-town station where the train would make a stop for him alone.  Then Fox Hill, Illinois, would be left far off in his past.  And he would go on, perhaps to Iowa, perhaps to Kansas, perhaps even to California; a small boy twelve years old with a birth certificate in his valise to show he had been born forty-three years ago. . . .

“In his bureau mirror he saw a face made of June dandelions and July apples and warm summer-morning  milk.  There, as always, was his look of the angel and the innocent, which might never, in the years of his life, change.”

dandelions

 

We are all like Willie, I think, each in our own way.  But where Willie lives in a perpetual state of comings and goings, hellos and good-byes, bonding and heartbreak, we need not have to experience his gift in such a transitory manner.

As writers, readers, dreamers, we can all say “Hail,” without the need of ever having to say, “Farewell.”

stars

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

36 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. teagan geneviene
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 16:26:26

    Wonderful Mike. And the flying part… as a small child i was guilty of imagining laundry detergent was Peter Pan’s magic flying dust… fortunately there were no injuries. 😉

    Reply

  2. John W. Howell
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 16:26:52

    Wonderful post Mike. I am 85% finished with Eye Dancers and can say your characterization of twelve-year-olds took me back to some beautiful memories. Obviously I am loving the story and thank you for crafting it.

    Reply

  3. cindy knoke
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 17:14:18

    Oh I am a big Bradbury fan and so love this post! Thanks for posting~

    Reply

  4. winnymarch
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 17:33:12

    i always wonder what if i become a president lol

    Reply

  5. Elaine Jeremiah
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 19:55:03

    Great post Mike. I thought the story of Willie
    was very poignant and thought provoking. Although I’ve never read it, I thought you summarised it well.

    Reply

  6. Andrea Stephenson
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 19:55:32

    Great post Mike, I hadn’t read this story, though I do remember something similar with one of Anne Rice’s vampire characters who was destined always to be a little girl, though in her mind she was now a woman. The Bradbury story obviously shows the poignancy of never being able to move on and enjoy each stage of life. But as you say, we can always experience those stages by delving into a book.

    Reply

  7. renxkyoko
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 20:05:24

    That;s kind of sad. Forever 12. There’s one story I just read where the guy is forever 20, but at least he is able to fall in love, get married to a normal girl. His gift of love is , he doesn’t turn the one he loves to someone like him. She dies at 90 years of age, and the guy is still very much in love with her. They have 2 children, half human, half whatever they are…. they will age up to 20 , and will stay 20 , like their father. But they don’t wilt flowers when they touch them, so at their mother’s grave, there are 2 sets of roses… wilted ones and fresh ones. That story is so beautiful.

    Reply

  8. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 20:51:48

    Great post Mike…if I had 3 thumbs they’d all be up!

    Reply

  9. Lyn
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 21:03:22

    I’m with Donna on this… 3 thumbs up for sure. Another book to add to my “must read” list 😀

    Reply

  10. jjspina
    Oct 26, 2014 @ 00:31:20

    Another wonderful post, Mike! Sad to never grow up! When we are young we want to grow up. Then when we are grown up we want to be young again.

    Reply

  11. Julie Cacher
    Oct 26, 2014 @ 05:34:18

    Love this! And yes. I love, love, love my flying dreams! Haven’t had one in about a year. They used to happen a few weeks in a row, then vansish. I miss them. Forgot about them. Maybe tonight will be the night…

    Reply

  12. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 12:50:29

    Putting this book on my list, though as a woman waiting to have children, it will probably make me cry. 🙂 I have found it fun as well since I switched to writing YA to sink back into childhood at times and re-explore the joy there. 🙂

    Reply

  13. Sherri
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 19:05:54

    Oh to be young again…but at least we can still keep our childlike wonderment. Although it’s been a while since I dreamed I could fly… 😉 Wonderful post Mike as always. Hope things are going well for you 🙂

    Reply

  14. stockdalewolfe
    Oct 30, 2014 @ 14:43:59

    I guess the Bradbury story was an inspiration for the movie, “Ground hog Day”? In any case, thanks for this post, Mike. Didn’t know this story. All the best, Ellen

    Reply

  15. Sue Dreamwalker
    Oct 30, 2014 @ 18:14:05

    To stay forever young.. now that I am.. well, at least in my mind Mike.. great read.. Have a wonderful weekend.. and Happy Halloween… Hugs Sue xox

    Reply

  16. insearchofitall
    Oct 31, 2014 @ 01:09:05

    That sounds like quite a story and a bit sad in a way. I hated being 12. I’ve enjoyed every year since 18 though. I was an old woman born in a child’s body and just didn’t fit the world. Now I’m comfortable in it and having the time of my life. I get to play the way I want to with toys of my choosing. I hope we don’t reincarnate because I wouldn’t want to do childhood ever again. Perpetually older sounds like a better deal in so many ways. Like the series Forever where he stays 35. I could handle that.

    Reply

  17. Ali Isaac
    Nov 07, 2014 @ 08:43:43

    What if was the question I asked myself as a teenager which sparked off my writing… that story has been developed and rewritten, but its on my blog today.

    Reply

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