Sunday, October 13, 2013

An essay for Open Link Monday

I was gathering books together recently, after some of my blogging friends had written “sorted book poems” —poems arrived at by arranging book titles into phrases or sentences. I decided to stack some of my own books together, in an attempt to do the same.
Below is my first small success. I have more piles of books awaiting me. My house looks as if I've decided to move, with stacks of books hither and yon. My husband looks at them but doesn't dare ask what I'm up to this time.

Metzger’s dog
travels with Charley:
unfinished journey

(4 book titles)

During the book-collection process, I started to re-read an old favorite: John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

I remember my young self thinking how very old he was to be traveling alone. The vanity of youth—the book was written in the early 1960s, when I was in high school, and John Steinbeck was younger then than I am now.

Wikipedia photo of
Steinbeck's truck and his
camper "Rocinante"
He decided to drive the small highways and byways across the USA with only his standard poodle Charley for companion. To this end, he actually commissioned an automobile company to build him a home on the back of a truck, one of the first truck-campers.

He outfitted it so as to appear to be an outdoorsman rather than a writer, because he knew people would be more open with him if they didn’t think they’d be interviewed or quoted.
John Steinbeck
via Google
All this I remembered from reading the book years ago. What I didn’t remember was what I already knew—what the world was like in the early 60s.

There he was, one of America’s leading writers, talking about how handy it was to have the “new” disposable aluminum plates on his boat, where he’d throw them overboard when he was done with him. They would be perfect for his traveling home, he thought.

I’d always admired, almost idolized, Steinbeck for championing the people who most needed a friend, and his novels of the 30s, 40s and 50s contained ecological themes, but he was throwing used aluminum plates into the Atlantic Ocean with complete disregard for the consequences. He, who had traveled the Sea of Cortez with his friend, a marine scientist and early ecologist, had written a book about their trip, didn’t stop to think what our oceans would be like if everyone did that.

And then...and then...I was utterly horrified when he said he cooked by emptying a can of stew into one of those aluminum containers, then slow-cooked his meal by putting the aluminum container onto a piece of asbestos he'd placed over the flame. Asbestos!

I was beside myself with shock until I remembered my father building a beautiful rock wall in the basement of our home, when I was of college age. He bought a free-standing stove known as a “Franklin Fireplace” to go in front of the rock wall, and put a sheet of asbestos board under it for fire-proofing.

That is what people did then. I didn’t know about the dangers of asbestos, nor did my father, and nor did John Steinbeck.  Of course, not everyone had a boat off which to throw aluminum plates, but littering is littering! However, no one thought about recycling in those days. Greenpeace wouldn't even come onto the scene until after Steinbeck's death, and tree-hugging was for young lovers in the early 60s. Both writers, John Steinbeck and my father, can perhaps be forgiven for what they did not yet know. 

* * *

It’s often fun to reminisce about family and friends, just as it’s often fun to re-read old books, but we all have to remember how much the world has changed in the intervening years, so that we aren’t shocked by the things we did, by the things we didn’t know, or by the things we once believed.

Posted for Open Link Monday
at the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads


Vandana Sharma said...

Books hold a vast treasure and their charm can never be matched by the technology we use today.

Robert Bourne said...

I am never without a book..especially books from the past...your right when you compare the world from today to yesterday and all the change...

Susan said...

This kind of memory is a good measure. In some cases, like this, of how far we've come--but in other cases, sadly, the opposite. I think I leapt straight from Herman Hesse to Ken Kesey, missing an appreciation for Steinbeck, tho I read Rachel Carson. Odd, huh? I like your spine poem a lot.

Kerry O'Connor said...

It is amazing what doorways to memory may open by rearranging old books on one's shelf.

Jim said...

I like your ditty, Kay. Makes me want to go with Charlie (my Grandfather) again. But I can't, he died years ago.

I too am going back, reading Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" about his Paris in the early 20's.

georgeplaceblog said...

Nice book poem and loved the info about Steinbeck!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I love this post, Kay - and your title haiku is PERFECT. Wow, about the asbestos, hey? yikes. So much we didnt know back then that we are all paying for now.........this was a good read.

Fireblossom said...

Wow, that was really interesting. Travels With Charley was one of my father's favorite books.

Tammy said...

I loved The Road and Travels with Charley, so you're making me want to read the other two. Nice poem and essay!

Kay L. Davies said...

@ Tammy — Are we talking about the same book called "The Road"? It was fascinating in a hypnotized by a snake kind of way, but I didn't find anything lovable about it. But of course I don't like anything that gives me nightmares. I'm a coward that way.

Lily Hydrangea said...

OMGosh, The Road - I'm scared to read though I know I must & Travels with Charlie, my son read it this past Summer & said I must read that as well. So many books, & so little time!
: )
PS The world used to be a much smaller place, less people w/o any internet, I think everyone thought the ocean was huge & could absorb the littering. At least most people know better by now - hopefully they do!

Ella said...

I love this Kay! Today we are committed sins, yet I think this time we know~ I want to go find that book ;D

kaykuala said...

It's interesting to see how book titles can save the day! Nicely Kay!


grapeling said...

Keenly observed, Kay. I also admire Steinbeck, and interested to learn of his willingness to engage in disposal so cavalierly. ~