Jody Writes

#Growing up in California served John Steinbeck well. Born in Salinas, in 1902, California was the setting for twelve of his seventeen novels. John’s father owned a feed and grain store in Salinas and was the Monterey County treasurer. His mother was a school teacher before having children; two girls and then John. Steinbeck wrote what he knew best, and his readers learned about California field workers and migrants.

He left the Salinas Valley after high school graduation and enrolled at Stanford. After five years in Palo Alto, Steinbeck left without graduating. Writing and discussing literature were more important to him than completing a degree. After leaving Stanford he moved to New York -didn't feel he belonged there and returned to California. He married and moved to Pacifica with his wife. His father helped with expenses so John could devote his time to writing. Steinbeck's mother died in 1934 and his father passed away the following year, which was the first year John achieved commercial success with TORTILLA FLAT, an instant hit and one of my favorite books. His marriage, which functioned well when poor and struggling, began to disintegrate with financial success and his wife's desire to have a more conventional life. John seemed to feel suffocated by domestication.

The following year, OF MICE AND MEN and THE RED PONY were published.Writing about labor problems and violence in Salinas did not make Steinbeck popular in town. In 1938, THE GRAPES OF WRATH was published bringing national attention to living conditions and exploitation of farm workers. Steinbeck wrote a friend that he was "vilified" by the large landowners and bankers in his hometown. "I am frightened by the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand; I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy." Two years later the film version was made, and Steinbeck received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel.

An interesting combination is reading GRAPES OF WRATH, and afterwards watching the 1940 movie, starring Henry Fonda. The fact the movie looks dated is part of its charm. The acting is heartfelt - the story is poignant - and the message still rings true. It chronicles events in American history we should never forget. Although Steinbeck was well educated and from a middle-class family, he identified with the manual worker and the common people, realizing that poverty can inflict humiliation and devastation upon human beings. He felt it important to help the poor before they become desperate enough to take what they need by force.

"The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line…….and the anger began to ferment."

# THE GRAPES OF WRATH, title is significant. It acknowledges disenfranchised farmers driven from their land in the dust bowls of Oklahoma, coming to work the grape harvest in California. The actual phrase comes from the song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic…“he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” It's a poignant story of one family and their attempt to stay alive and together.

Although his writing career was doing well, his personal life was not. Steinbeck's first marriage did not last and in 1943 he married his second wife. The second union lasted five years and produced two sons. He was no more comfortable with children than with his wives. After two divorces, Steinbeck said, "the difficulty, of course is that I like women - it is only wives I have trouble with." He finally overcame that hurdle. His third and last marriage in 1950, when he was 48, lasted until his death eighteen years later. Shortly before he died, he wrote, "I love Elaine more than myself. Her well being, comfort, and happiness are more important than my own."

The Steinbeck Museum opened in June,1998. A fun trip includes the Monterey Bay. His book, CANNERY ROW,chronicles people inhabiting Monterey's waterfront.Doc Rickets is an interesting character. Doc (Ed Rickets) was a real person and Steinbeck's closest friend. The two shared a love of the ocean, philosophy and ruminating on life. The two friends collaborated on a book, THE SEA OF CORTEZ, telling of their trip collecting sea specimens. Some of Doc's instruments and his laboratory are on display at Cannery Row.

Steinbeck's last book was, TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, written in 1960. It immortalized his cross-country trip in a small mobile home truck with his black poodle, Charley. It’s delightful, especially how he sent Charley ahead to charm people before he approached them himself. Although it was just the two "guys" traveling he kept in close contact with his wife and home.

The Steinbeck Museum opened in June,1998. A fun trip includes the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row followed by the museum. Much of Steinbeck's fame and fortune came from working on thirteen films. Some were based on his books - some were original screenplays he had written. The museum displays personal artifacts and interactive exhibits for each of his novels and has seven themed theaters showcasing movies Steinbeck was involved in making. Some of these include, EAST OF EDEN, CANNERY ROW, OF MICE AND MEN, THE GRAPES OF WRATH and VIVA ZAPATA, one of his screenplays about Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. A visitor can sit in the small, enclosed theaters and watch as much, or as little of these films as they wish. It's worth it to see Zapata, just to see Spencer Tracy with darkened skin, trying to act and sound like a Mexican. (Not some of his best work).

A visitor can also have lunch at the house where Steinbeck was born, only a couple blocks from the museum and the food is wonderful. The Valley Guild owns and operates the restored Victorian where he was born and spent his youth. The gourmet lunches are created with local produce and are excellent, plus the homey atmosphere and the gracious hostesses from the guild are worth the trip. Reservations are encouraged. The Salinas Valley has found peace and pride with John Steinbeck. They honor him well.