Thomas Wolf took that one for Wikipedia.
Can you remember anywhere in John Steinbeck’s fiction where he discusses San Francisco? Whole books about Monterey, but does he even mention the place? I couldn’t remember. A friend’s been working on Steinbeck’s letters, he couldn’t think of any mention either.
Turns out Steinbeck does talk about San Francisco in Travels with Charley in Search of America. The chapter begins:
I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many – one printed over another until the whole thing blurs.
He mentions growth:
I remember Salinas, the town of my birth, when it proudly announced four thousand citizens. Now it is eighty thousand and leaping pell mell on in mathematical progression – a hundred thousand in three years and perhaps two hundred thousand in ten, with no end in sight.
(The population of Salinas is, in 2022, 156,77.)
Then he writes some about mobile home parks, and property taxes, concluding:
We have in the past been forced into reluctant change by weather, calamity, and plague. Now the pressure comes from our biologic success as a species.
Then he gets going on San Francisco:
Once I knew the City very well, spent my attic days there, while others were being a lost generation in Paris. I fledged in San Francisco, climbed its hills, splet in its parks, worked on its docks, marched and shouted in its revolts. In a way I felt I owned the City as much as it owned me.
A city on hills has it over flat-land places. New York makes its own hills with craning buildings, but this gold and white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which can never have existed.
Steinbeck can’t stay though. He has to hurry on to Monterey to cast his absentee ballot (it’s 1960; he’s voting for John F. Kennedy).
One of the things my father had going for himself is he talked to children like he talked to adults. Kids loved my father, because he didn’t talk down to them. They asked him a question, he gave a serious answer, he treated them as serious human beings.
My mom did the same thing, when I was young. She used to talk to me, even before I could talk, like I was an adult. I think that’s the right way to go about it.
I think so, too, especially if you expect your children to talk like adults. It’s really quite amazing what children will absorb if you give them the benefit of the doubt to understand that the intelligence is there. They may not be able to verbalize themselves completely, but comprehension is there.
And if you feel that someone is taking your question seriously, you’ll take the answer seriously, even if you don’t quite understand it all.
I’ve been really appreciating the lively conversation all 12,000-odd of you have been generating in the comments. If you know how to talk to children please discuss.
Bear in mind, though, Thom Steinbeck’s final warning:
Well what do you think it is about this letter that resonated with so many people, though? I mean, it was all across the internet, everyone was passing it along.
You can’t trust the internet for that, they’d pass along a car accident if they thought it was amusing!
(photo: “[Girl next to barn with chicken]” from the Library of Congress.)
In Shark’s life there had been no literary romance. At nineteen he took Katherine Mullock to three dances because she was available. This started the machine of precedent and he married her because her family and all of the neighbors expected it. Katherine was not pretty, but she had the firm freshness of a new weed, and the bridling vigor of a young mare. After her marriage she lost her vigor and her freshness as a flower does once it has received pollen. Her face sagged, her hips broadened, and she entered into her second destiny, that of work.
In his treatment of her, Shark was neither tender nor cruel. He governed her with the same gentle inflexibility he used on horses. Cruelty would have seemed to him as foolish as indulgence. He never talked to her as to human, never spoke of his hopes or thoughts or failures, of his paper wealth nor of the peach crop. Katherine would have been puzzled and worried if he had. Her life was sufficiently complicated without the added burden of another’s thoughts and problems.