John Steinbeck in Town

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

As you may know, Salinas is the town where John Steinbeck, the famous author, was born and raised. His family home still stands on Central Avenue, open for luncheons, along with its gift shop, The Best Cellar.

I was thinking the other day that if you could be a school kid in Salinas at different periods of time (and not get any older as the time passed), you would have been taught very different things about John Steinbeck.

In the decade of the 1910s, you wouldn’t have been taught about John, you would have been in school with him. He attended the West End School (where Roosevelt Elementary now stands) and Salinas High, when it was still on West Alisal Street. John was a fine football player and wrote for the school paper.

In the 1920s you might have heard gossip that John wasn’t attending classes regularly at Stanford, after his parents were so happy that he got in. After 6 years of irregular attendance interrupted by travel and odd jobs (like being an apprentice scientist at the Spreckels Sugar Factory near town), he left without graduating and moved to New York.

In the 1930s John’s name became a hated thing in Salinas. You would have been taught he was a Socialist and un-American for his views about labor and unions. His book In Dubious Battle told of the striking farm workers and the horrible living conditions and injustices they faced. The growers, who were (and are) the power and money in town, resented his point of view and many copies of his books were burned. This happened again when The Grapes of Wrath was published. Though wildly popular, the book was criticized for vulgar language and showing the growers as greedy men.

In the 1940s you would have heard about John’s travels with the Army in World War II and his part in directing documentaries about the war. And maybe questioned his being labeled a Socialist.

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The Infamous Book now celebrated in the National Steinbeck Center

In the 1950s you would have been warned not to read East of Eden because of its scandalous story, but amazed by the street by street accuracy with which John described Salinas.

By the 1960s, John’s local reputation was mended somewhat by his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize  in Sweden and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 you would have been taught about  the death of John Steinbeck, great writer and local hero, who had written so many American classics and put our little town on the map.

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Sign to help tourists find his grave

And, if you were paying attention, you would have noticed how a city’s opinion of a person is closely tied with that city’s own self-interests. And often, still is.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Adventure to History (Part 1)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Our adventure yesterday covered some familiar ground also some new adventures. Uncle David gave Liza and me a ride downtown so we could have more energy and time to spend there. It was a very chilly, bright day.

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Bright winter sun

Our first stop was the National Steinbeck Center, which Liza had asked to go visit again. She calls it “Mr. Steinbeck’s Newseum”, which I love! We found another one of the big boulders carved with a quote from Mr. Steinbeck. It says, “I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.” This what John Steinbeck did, really. He wrote about this place as a metaphor for all places, all people, all struggles, all opportunity.  His writings were always true to the spirit of the people.

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Liza and John
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Climbing a Steinbeck Boulder

 

 

We took some silly pictures of Liza posing with a life sized cut out of John Steinbeck, then pretended to drive a 1915 model A that is inside the exhibit. I got to be the driver, and this was my view:

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There is another section of the museum that has the bed John Steinbeck slept in as a child. There are photographs of his school days and his classmates,  a box of books you can read and comfy chairs to sit on. It was so much fun to read, feeling like we were visiting with such a good writer.

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Reading with John’s school

Liza spent some quality time with her old friend The Red Pony, combing his mane and climbing on and (carefully) off. She visited the poor children in the Grapes of Wrath exhibit, and spent some time watching the captioning on the filmed reading of the novel, picking out words she recognized. She is becoming such a good reader!

She used to magnifying glass to look at the collection of sea animals from Doc Rickett’s Lab, reading the words “Crab” and “Sea Star” but stumbling a bit over “Anemone”. We took a pretend trip to the Sea of Cortez in the little rowboat in the exhibit, looking at the map of Mr. Steinbeck’s and Doc’s trip.

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At Doc’s Lab

Since it was getting close to lunchtime, we stepped onto the patio and had some cheese, apples and crackers. The sun was bright but chilly, so we had our coats on, but it was delightful. After we ate, we took another quick walk through the exhibits to say goodbye to everyone, then Liza was anxious to go to our next destination: The Harvey House, the oldest house in Salinas.

More on that tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy