The two men walking up my
drive were obviously deep in conversation. Their talk was animated and
marked by gestures as they discussed something or another. If one was
trudging along and the other walking with a smoother gait, it didn’t matter.
Both were engrossed, in whatever they discussed at the moment. My brother
seemed to be trying to get a point across. The other man was responding and
it couldn’t be known if they were in agreement or not. Of whatever they
spoke it seemed to be of utmost importance to them.
My brother called earlier and
said Tom Steinbeck had flown in from London and he was going to bring him
out. Of course, Tom’s father, John, was known to every Oklahoman because of
his book, Grapes of Wrath and I like everyone else, was anxious to meet
someone, famous. We all rush to gather round anyone who has the golden
scepter of fame with which they can either tap on our head or ignore our
presence as bothersome at the least.
I wondered, “How will this
man react to our welcome?” All sorts of thoughts go through my head, and
ultimately, I’m a bit embarrassed by the dry hard ground in the flower bed
close to our front door. The effort for gardening at the time was less than
perfect. Red clay soil had been dragged up for what had been called
landscaping. The dirt was packed and would hardly grow weeds. What few
sparse, stringy plants there, were shriveled and wilted from the hot winds
of late summer. I’m thinking, “Is this man who is the son of a famous person
and a writer himself noticing what spoke in a certain way about the
conditions of our seasonal temperatures?” I knew he was because of the quick
downward glance toward the flower bed and just as quickly he was looking
As people of fame are
constantly under the scrutiny of any and everyone who come into their
presence most have learned to hide their reactions so completely it is often
hard to know how they feel about what is going on around them. It was this
way with Tom but still he seemed comfortable and was willing to join in
conversation with us.
Today, April 2006, I couldn’t
even tell you of what we spoke there in that year before 1986 when Dad later
passed away. I do remember what a pleasant, easy, personality Tom had. He
was almost like a little boy who was interested in everything around him and
had a questioning wonderment in his attitude. Still, he was removed, too.
There was a reserve he held, as so often those who have the knowledge they
will forever be never loved for only themselves. This is the price of fame
or the cost of wealth and most cannot get away from that reality.
Over a period of a few days
we did all that could be done to entertain him with what humble parts of our
lives we could offer as far a family and traditions of our Indian families.
A special dance and dinner were called in his honor. All things’ bright and
joyful of feast and friendly association was set before the man like a gift
of memories for him alone.
Tom repaid us in wonderful
ways. He sent an airplane for Mother and Dad a trip to this beautiful place
in Colorado and Dad spoke of it until he died. The fish he caught, the broad
golden lake, the cabin where they stayed, the fellowship with a large number
of people who were all guests of Tom, Dad enjoyed so much.
For me, Tom sent a book,
Steinbeck, of his father, John’s, letters that were saved and printed.
Twenty years later, while ill with this pneumonia was the first opportunity
I have had to read it and like a miracle of a hidden treasure, Tom’s father,
John’s life, opens up to me in such a personal way I can’t believe it has
taken me this long to learn about him. So now, Tom, wherever you are, please
allow me to thank you, personally, now and forever.