While opening and looking at some computer files that I'd not seen for a long, long time, I discovered that, back in 1990, I'd written a journal entry--a fairly detailed one--about meeting Becky London, the younger daughter of writer Jack London. I'd forgotten that I'd written the account--and, as I read it, I realized I'd forgotten so much of the detail about that meeting. So ... the next couple of days, I'm going to, first, set the stage for the meeting and, second, paste into this blog the account of our meeting.
Almost exactly twenty-five years ago--in the summer of 1990--I was preparing to leave home for more than a month. I was planning to drive to Rohnert Park, California, home of Sonoma State University, where I would join some other schoolteachers who'd been selected to participate in a seminar in the works of Jack London (1876-1916), a seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and led by the world's principal Jack London scholar, Prof. Earle Labor, whose great biography of London--a work of a lifetime--appeared late in 2013. (Here's a link to the NPR interview of Labor in October 2013.)
I was honored to be among the teachers chosen. (We all received a stipend, too--a couple of thousand, as I recall.) In the 1982-83 school year I'd started teaching The Call of the Wild (1903) to my 8th graders at Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio). I'd gotten fascinated with London and was reading my way through all fifty of his books--he wrote 50 in fifteen years. Not bad in the days before word processing! I was animated, too, by the discovery that my own great-grandfather (Addison Clark Dyer) had gone to the Klondike, just as London had in the summer of 1897.
Joyce and I (and son, Steve) had already driven out to the Sonoma Valley to see London's ranch (near Glen Ellen, Calif.), and I was excited to spend five weeks working closely with my colleagues and with Earle Labor near the very terrain that had been so important to London.
But there were problems at home--emotional ones. Our son had just graduated from high school and would be heading off to college in the fall. He was our only child, and I knew his departure was going to be wrenching for both Joyce and me (it was).
And in a darker way: Joyce's parents (who were living in Akron's Firestone Park) were having profound problems. Her mother was declining into the Alzheimer's that would eventually kill her. It was the horrible pattern--the transition from not remembering where her car keys were to, eventually, not knowing what food is, what eating is. Joyce's father had done a heroic job of taking care of her, refusing to confine her somewhere. But it was wearing him out.
And worse. That summer of 1990 he was diagnosed with the aggressive lung cancer that would kill him in mere months.
So it was with great reluctance that I packed the car and drove off into the west. I didn't make it very far--just to the first Ohio Turnpike interchange beyond where I'd entered. I'd been weeping the entire way, was overwhelmed with sorrow and guilt. How can I leave Joyce and Steve to deal with all of this?
So I got off the Turnpike, drove home, unpacked the car.
And then Joyce had a "chat" with me. She told me that she and Steve could handle it. That her father and mother would want me to go--that she wanted me to go. She told me that I would forever regret it if I didn't. And Joyce does not say things she does not mean.
So--weeping even more--I repacked and drove away again. I wept practically till Indiana.
And it would turn out that Joyce was exactly right. The seminar was a life-changing experience--to be more exact: a series of life-changing experiences.
And one of them was meeting Becky London (1902-1992).
To be continued ...