The Moth Balls of Memory

Going to California next week will be a trip into memory.
and as you may have experienced that can be joy and it can be painful. I expect my trip to be a bit of both.

Thinking about that brought back a memory of a trip Jim and I made to California a dozen years ago when we, along with our daughter Robin, - discovered the Steinbeck Museum in Salinas, CA. Last time I heard it was closed now and that is a shame. The way they exhibited and portrayed his stories so that the came to life was amazing.

Robin and I each bought a paperback copy of  Travels with Charley and dove into them for the next few days of our journey. There was a particular quote toward the end of the book when he describes his return visit to Monterey - where he had lived as a young man that moved me.  Now I wanted to see that quote again. I thought there was a hard-back copy of Travels with Charley in my office, found it with its stained cover and pulled it off the shelf.

When I opened the book I fast-traveled back further than our trip to Salinas.  Inside, on the fly-leaf, written by me, was inscribed Ellouise and Jim Schoettler, 1962. 
  In an instant I remembered the day I bought this book at the fabled, wood-floored Intimate Bookstore on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, NC. The Intimate burned down in the 1990s - a terrible loss to countless students of UNC and people who loved Chapel Hill. At the time it was lost it was owned by Charles Kuralt's brother. That block of Franklin Street was forever changed by the loss. You never know when or what will launch another trip to the past. I had read the book and enjoyed it. That's what I told Robin the day we stood together looking at the truck Steinbeck drove across country in which then parked on the floor of a large hall in the museum in Salinas.

Once in my hands from the bookcase, I read a little in my old book  - fingering the yellowed pages and feeling the dried paper - making a connection with my time in Chapel Hill. In 1962 I was 26 years old, married to Jim Schoettler and a mother of 4.  Jim was in the Psychiatry Residence at UNC Memorial Hospital. Our youngest daughter - only a few months old, was a Downs Syndrome baby with a severe heart defect.  Jim and I were trying to adjust to her reality.

Yikes. When I go back to that place in time its  prickly so nothing else from that story today.

I do remember reading Travels with Charley - being a bit young to fully understand Steinbeck and his need to make the trip - but something obviously stuck with me because I never forgot it and I kept the book - 54 years. That's a connection.

Back to the quote:
When he reaches his old and familiar place - Monterey - he finds an old friend and they talk of the old days, memories, and other friends. Steinbeck writes:

"I distorted his picture, muddied his memory. When I went away I had died, and so became fixed and unchangeable. My return caused only confusion and uneasiness. Although they could not say it, my
old friends wanted me gone so that I could take my proper place in the pattern of remembrance - -
and I wanted to go for the same reasons. Tom Wolfe was right. You can't go home again because home has ceased to exit except i the mothballs of memory."

Yes, just as I remembered it - - The quote has not changed.
But, I think I have - because I understand that quote more than before.

1 comment:

Still the Lucky Few said...

Steinbeck—what a wonderful author!Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flats, I think I read them all! For some reason, he resonated with me, and I considered him my favorite author for many years, until I discovered a number of female authors I liked better. Thanks for this post, Ellouise!