January 6, 2014
In the final days of summer in 1953, Ray Bradbury and his family packed up for Ireland. Bradbury had been hired by film director John Huston to adapt Moby-Dick for the screen. Some deemed it a practical joke. The great Hollywood movie maverick had selected a man known for writing stories about rocket ships to Mars to adapt the Melville classic. But it was no joke. Huston had read Bradbury’s great coastal Kaiju love story, “The Fog Horn,” and sensed a hint of Melville in the prose.
In September 1953, Bradbury, along with his wife Maggie and their two young daughters Susan and Ramona, prepared to move to Dublin, where Bradbury would work closely with Huston on the screenplay for six months.
Just before leaving by train for New York (the family would then travel by the ocean liner SS United States across the Atlantic), Bradbury’s father came to say goodbye. Leonard Bradbury was tough, a longtime utility lineman who rarely showed his soft side. But on this day in the year of 1953, he ventured up the sidewalk of his son’s mid-century tract home at 10750 Clarkson Road to say farewell. And he had a gift. In Leonard Bradbury’s callused hand he held an object with a history—his gold pocket watch. The watch once owned by his father, Samuel Hinkston Bradbury. Ray long cited his grandfather as one of his important creative influences, and immortalized him in Dandelion Wine, the 1957 semi-autobiographical story cycle in which Bradbury rechristened his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois as Green Town. Ray’s wife Maggie once told me the book was secretly his favorite work—much of that had to do with the fact that it was a tribute to his grandfather.
Ray’s father knew that his son would be gone in Ireland for quite some time. He also knew his son had grown into a man. His writing talents were being recognized by Hollywood, and he was providing for his family. While he didn’t say it in words, the watch said everything. He was proud of his son.
And so Leonard Bradbury rang the doorbell. When Ray answered, he handed him the family heirloom. The gesture was a turning point between father and son, a moment of unspoken love that stayed with Ray for the rest of his life.
“I knew my father truly loved me from that moment on,” he said.
I photographed the pocket watch one afternoon in 2003. The detail I perhaps admire most is the words “Waukegan, Illinois” printed on the dial. A symbol of a bygone era, and of three men dearly departed: Samuel Hinkston Bradbury, Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and, of course, Ray Douglas Bradbury.