Recently, I had the joy of traveling to Salinas with my daughter and granddaughter. It was a business trip for them, but I was going to reconnect with one of my heroes since childhood: John Steinbeck. Salinas is his birthplace, and the setting of so many of his books. Long before I moved to California I knew the Long Valley, the Monterey peninsula and the central valley very well, thanks to those books.
Salinas has done a wonderful job of documenting the legacy of John Steinbeck. Visiting the National Steinbeck Center is a joyful reunion with the heroes and villains of his books. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rocinante – the truck and camper he drove while writing Travels with Charley. Years later I had my own Rocinante. However, my book was not a best seller.
His novels explored the human condition and presented unforgettable characters that you want to know. These characters showed us the best and the worst of the people of California’s heartland and are as real to me today as they were when I first read his books in the 1960’s.
Not everyone liked his work. The Grapes of Wrath, long considered his masterpiece, was not well received by the corporate farm owners or the Dust Bowl refugees of the time. Years later, during the McCarthy era he was criticized as a leftist liberal and a communist sympathizer. Yet in the ’60’s he was a friend of President Johnson and supported the Viet Nam war.
He was the best of America – someone who stood up for his beliefs, thus was controversial at times, and a deep thinker with an eye on the future. He saw the good in everyone – who doesn’t love the people of Tortilla Flat, or the bums holding court on Cannery Row? The Steinbeck center shows us bits and pieces from his books, plays and films, reminding us of the extent of his work.
Salinas, we salute you for creating this wonderful memorial of a great writer. Thank you.
Previously published in the Western View from AgNet West.