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Donna's Journal
Of The Steinbecks, April 15, 2006


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 away.

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.


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