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Letters About Literature National Winners 2002

National Winner, Level 2: Ledah Wilcox

Missoula, Montana
Autumn 2001

Dear Ray Bradbury,

From this day forward I pledge to notice I'm alive. I'll sit on the porch and listen to my neighborhood. I'll revel in lime vanilla ice. I'll wade through creeks barefoot and let peach juice drip down my chin. I promise to realize the individual smell of each new morning, be it summer's sun, autumn's frost or winter's nipping chill. Never again will I scorn dandelions as weeds, nor will I mock those who believe in the Lonely Ones who haunt us. I will believe unfailingly in love crossing boundaries of age, class and circumstance.

Like Douglas Spaulding in Dandelion Wine, I'm heightening my senses and feelings, resisting a pace of life that is too hectic, overly frenzied. Reading Dandelion Wine makes me long for summer, 1928, and trolleys on their hot tracks instead of impersonal subways cool underground. Secretly, I wish for evenings spent chatting on the porch, and berry picking expeditions instead of my computer and television. But it's not big things like a motion picture, telephone, or trolley that make Douglas realize he's alive. It's little things, like the mess of his grandmother's kitchen and the marshmallow feel of a new pair of sneakers as they pound across the pavement.

I am positive that if Douglas had the Internet, he would still be the observant person I'm striving to become. Dandelion Wine has inspired me to look beyond my Doc Marten boots to the miracle of the ground they're treading upon. In short, my eyes have been opened, my ears tuned, my tongue has swollen to four times it former size in order to taste each morsel I give it, and my skin has grown a million new sensors to feel each touch and brush of my world.

Douglas has John Huff, a miracle of a friend who fills a space none of his other friends even see. I have Anna, a friend who fills a gap in my heart even I wasn't aware was aching until it was healed by her. Like John Huff, Anna will leave in a few months for another life. I read Dandelion Wine at the end of every summer, and every time I read about John leaving, I cry. John's departure and especially Douglas' reaction to it instill in me a resolve to treasure Anna even with the knowledge that she's on the brink of leaving me. I refuse to pull away and get angry like Douglas does. "You're dirt, John Huff!" he shouts from his porch after John leaves. By shouting this, he denies not only that John filled his empty space, but that it was ever there. I've learned from Douglas' mistakes. Now, every time I read that part of Dandelion Wine, I promise myself not to do that.

Not everything Douglas does is a mistake. When they play statues, he freezes John and seizes that opportunity to memorize him, to make sure he remembers his every detail. I 'm doing to the same with my friends. With the knowledge that soon we'll all be separated, I'm choosing to absorb everything I can about them. I know their quirks, passions and fears. I know who bites his nails and who showers only once a week. I can conjure up a hundred random Anna-Facts and I'm still adding to my collection.

All of this is a promise to live. It's a vow not to cower in the face of possible pain that accompanies living every day. Instead, I embrace the grass, drifting snow, hands, squirrels, brick-patterns, Anna, music, the breeze, the essence of everything. Thank you.

Ledah Wilcox