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

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Adventure Continued

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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Liza leaving the cemetery

After Liza and I left the Garden of Memories, we walked down Romie Lane. Romie is a busy street with lots of doctor’s offices, because it is right near Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. Liza and I have both been to the hospital a few times. I went with Great-Grandma Billie years ago when she got hurt, and their Emergency Room gave Liza stitches in her forehead and me stitches in my lip. Auntie Olga even gave birth to Liza in that hospital! They have taken good care of our family.

We discovered some interesting things along the road. Liza found moss, like the kind I miss in Portland, under some bushes. Because of the recent rains, the moss was soft and green. It was lovely.

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Soft, green moss…

We kept walking and got to Claremont Manor Park, which is right next door to Monterey Park School. This is a park with trees that are good for climbing, small and large play structures, and even a baseball field right next door. Liza found some kids to play with and I sat in the sun and relaxed.

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Lovely Bradley family

I ran into a friend who used to work at my school, Krysta Bradley, and her family, including their youngest son and new puppy.  He is a very soft golden retriever and very friendly. Their oldest boy, Mikey, was playing baseball at the park.

Liza found a tree to climb that was just the right size. As she was busy climbing with some new friends, Krysta told me that when SHE was a little girl, SHE climbed that same tree! That has been a happy tree for many years! Liza and her new friends made up a game that they were monkeys and were growing banana trees. “The more trees we grow, the more bananas we can eat!” they chanted. “We are monkeys!”

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“We are monkeys!”

Leaving the park, we continued down Romie Lane. We found a little boy and his tiny puppy, going for a short visit on the sidewalk. Then we got to Main Street, and the MYO Frozen Yogurt Shop! What good fortune, a cool snack and place to sit, right next to a bus stop. We snacked and met a student of mine, Brandon, who had just finished bowling at Valley Center Bowl next door. Then we stepped out the door and, after a while, caught the number 23 bus downtown where we transferred to the number 20 which took us just a block from home.

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Bus stop on Main Street

 

Boy, was I ready for a nap! I think I fell asleep before Liza did. What a fun day!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Drizzly Saturday Walk

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Saturday was rainy but warm here in Salinas. I woke up knowing the report cards were waiting for me, but also knowing they could wait a little longer. I called my friend Pat van Noy and we made a date for Brunch at Ellie’s Great American Restaurant. Uncle David was taking Liza to a friend’s house, so he gave me a ride.

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Pat, looking good!

Pat and I ate and talked for about 2 hours! It’s amazing how fast time goes by when you are laughing and telling stories with a dear friend. I caught her up on our life and plans for Portland…the new house we are buying, the neighborhood, Auntie Bridgett’s art shows, and my story-writing. She told me about her singing in The Senior Singers and playing bridge with friends.

I had a Mojo Cuban Sandwich which was spicy and sweet. Pat had a patty melt, which she liked very much. The service was friendly, as usual, but a bit slow because it was busy for Saturday brunch.

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Musical Birds

After we had talked ourselves dry, Pat offered me a ride home, but I wanted to have a long walk after my week being mostly inside. I buttoned up my jacket, wrapped my scarf, and slapped on my hat. I was ready.

There were lovely grey clouds and such tiny drizzle drops I could hardly feel them, which made for lovely soft light. Neighborhood sights are small and quiet, and if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you miss them. Birds on the wire looking like Schroeder’s notes in Charlie Brown…. a lost teething ring carefully hung on a branch, waiting to be retrieved…. an adorable Beware of Dogs sign.

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Oh, No! Dogs!

I stopped  by to see one of my oldest friends in Salinas, Rick, and we talked for a long time. He is headed to Disneyland, which he calls The Holy City, this Spring on his annual Pilgrimage. I envy him the fun but not the drive or the crowds!

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Lost teething ring

When I finally got home, Uncle David and Liza were back and Liza was napping. I used her naptime to get all the report cards entered into the computer. Now all I have to do is print them out (keep your fingers crossed!) before conferences start on Wednesday.

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The Paperwork

Love,

Grandma Judy

Adventure to History (Part 2)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

After Cousin Liza and I left the Steinbeck Center, we went to the Historic Harvey House, the oldest house in Salinas, which is 150 years old. Since it was the first Saturday of the month, it was open, and we could go inside!

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The Historic Harvey House

The Harvey House was built in 1868 for Isaac J. Harvey, the first mayor of the city of Salinas. He was a businessman and traveler, always on the lookout for new places and opportunities. He saw the wealth of Salinas’s rich soil and good location and decided to settle here for a while. He helped build the town and bring the railroad here, and had his own business, a mercantile store where folks could buy anything they needed.

I. J.  had this house built for his wife Sarah and his three daughters, Saphronia, Josephine and Mabel. After a few years of working and being the mayor, Isaac’s business went bankrupt. He moved away to find other work for a while, but Sarah and the girls were tired of moving, and stayed here. The girls got married and had their own kids. The house stayed in the family until Isaac’s grand daughters got too old to stay by themselves and it is now open as a museum once a month, and for school field trips.

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Larry Showing Liza all of Sarah Harvey’s things

My friend Larry Smith was at the House, and he showed us around. He showed Liza things that had belonged to Mabel and Sarah. Some things, like the hairbrushes, were pretty familiar, but a shoe button hook was pretty strange to see.

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Running the carpet sweeper

Larry took us out to the cottage, which is used as a classroom when students come to visit. It is a great place to learn more about the history of Salinas and to see old tools people used. Larry showed Liza how to bang on a triangle to call folks in for supper, clean carpets with a carpet sweeper (no electricity!) and even use a boot jack. Outside, she got to pump some water with a real hand pump and run around the garden.

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The pump!

Finished with our tour of the House, (Thanks, Larry!) we wandered to the Model Railroad Museum and saw the whole Salinas Valley in miniature. Trees, farms, stores, with trains hooking it all together. We got to climb up into a big old caboose and see how a telegraph works.

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Model trains, model valley!

Almost ready to crash, we said goodbye to all the history and walked to see Adrian at Blue Aces Bakery. We chatted and got some cookie dough to nibble on, then asked Uncle David to come fetch us.

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In the caboose

What a long, wonderful day!

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

 

 

 

Bird Wars

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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After school rainbow

It is spring, and all the birds are getting ready. Here at Uncle David’s house, there are two different groups of birds, and it gets interesting.

Over the back patio and the front porch are small areas of roof that are totally sheltered from the wind and rain. Each isn’t much bigger than a loaf of bread, but every spring they become home to several nests of birds….bluejays in the front, robins in the back. Uncle David calls it the Bird Wars.

The wars start in late February, when the birds start collecting twigs and grass for their nests. The blue jays will be in a bush collecting bits, and a robin will fly in. Whoosh! All the jays fly out in a blue cloud. When the robins are done, a jay flies in and the robins create a reddish-brown flurry as they fly away. The birds never seem to fight each other, but there is a lot of bird-language yelling going on. I have no idea what they are saying to each other.

Once the nests get built, the baby birds come, peeping all day long, front and back. I look forward to the noise! Baby birds sound like spring, hope, and life.

In addition to the jays and robins, there is a flock of sparrows that flies around. They fly to a bush and then hop around on the ground underneath, eating bugs and tiny seeds. The blue jays and robins ignore them, as though the sparrows were too small to be part of the bird wars.

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Busy Crow

There is also a crow who is making a nest in the tall eucalyptus tree behind an apartment building. The other day I saw her (or him, I can’t tell with crows) snipping little bits of branches from a curly willow and letting them fall to the sidewalk. There was quite a patch by the time I noticed. I am guessing the crow will come back later and collect the twigs to make her nest.

This is a good neighborhood for birds. The lawns all have lovely worms, the schoolyard has leftover sandwiches and chips, and the eucalyptus and palm trees are like bird condominiums. In the morning and evening, the trees seem to be shouting at each other.

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Crow’s collection of twigs

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Goodbye, Old Trees!

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Salinas is an old city, as I was reminded of yesterday at Salinas History Day. It is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and some of the houses still standing were built in the 1890s, over 100 years ago. Back then, Central Avenue was a street lined with expensive, fashionable, Victorian style houses; two story wooden houses with pretty gingerbread details and delicate paint jobs.  Central Avenue was also home to hundreds of trees, planted when the neighborhood was new.

In recent and not-so-recent years, these trees have gotten too big for their parkways. Their roots have cracked sidewalks and lifted them up to 45 or 50 degree angles, making walking hazardous, especially for the elderly. On walking field trips, when crossing University at Central, I always directed my students to cross the street and continue “until the big tree, you’ll know it when you see it.” And they did.

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Pile of chips from ancient tree

But not anymore. As I was walking to Roosevelt School yesterday, my path was blocked by a pile of wood chips on the sidewalk, marked with caution tape, and a BIG place where the tree was NOT. This carnage was recent…I could smell the fresh wood. I stopped and stared. How could it be gone? I took some pictures and continued on my way, thinking about how long that tree had stood there, how many field trips it had seen, how many birds had called it home.

As I continued west on Central, there were more…dozens of trees, some four feet in diameter, no longer there, damaged sidewalks removed, sand laid down for pouring new ones. The destruction  was systematic and thorough.

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Four foot diameter stump

I noticed evidence of the damage the trees had caused…streets and driveways uplifted and distorted, pipes damaged, branches that had grown through power lines, still dangling when their trees were gone. I know why the city arborists needed to remove the trees. I understand, really. But I will miss them, anyway.

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Street Repairs

I also noticed a pattern. Magnolia trees were mostly left intact, with just their invasive roots trimmed when the sidewalk was removed. Are the magnolia trees younger? Are they more amenable to having their roots trimmed than other trees?

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There was a spot where the repairs had been completed and the sidewalk was clear and fresh. I am sure the people who walk down Central everyday to get groceries or to walk their children to school will appreciate the easier path.  And I hope they remember the old trees fondly, as I will.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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Fresh, safe sidewalk