Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meeting Jack London's Daughter, II

Sonoma State University
As I wrote yesterday ... in the summer of 1990 I drove from our home in Hudson, Ohio, to Rohnert Park, California, home of Sonoma State University, where I would spend five weeks with about a dozen other teachers from around the country who'd been selected to study Jack London with Prof. Earle Labor. It's 2477 miles, says Google Maps.

I drove 600+ miles a day, the vast majority of it on I-80 across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, where I swung north to Rohnert Park, which is about 50 miles north of San Francisco.

In 1990 we did not yet have a cell phone (our son did!), so I called Joyce each night from my motel and heard the day's news. It usually wasn't all that good--her dad's health, her mom's struggles with Alzheimer's--but I could tell she was trying to be encouraging. Our son, Steve, by the way, had a summer job at the local McDonald's, and that experience quickly convinced him (not that he needed much convincing) that minimum wage was not--to say the least--a living wage.

I arrived at beautiful Sonoma State, got my room assignment (a single--whew), unpacked, and began preparing for my stay. Among the things I'd brought along--my Kaypro II computer and a dot-matrix printer. I was contemporary!
Our seminar routine involved a class all morning (where we talked about London, the various works we were reading); afternoons were "free"--although we had chunks of reading to do--and research for a project for the seminar. I'd settled on doing a set of annotations for The Call of the Wild, a project that, five years later, would result in the publication of a fully annotated edition published by the University of Oklahoma Press. (I told you the seminar was life-changing!) In the evenings we sometimes had various get-togethers here and there around the area. We got to meet other London scholars and folks--including Clarice Stasz (who taught at Sonoma State and has published extensively about London) and--not far away in Glen Ellen, Calif.--Russ and Winnie Kingman, who ran the World of Jack London Bookstore about a mile away from London's former ranch, which was the the Jack London Ranch State Historical Park. We made several class trips to the ranch--did some hiking--and met London's literary executor, Milo Shepard, a descendant of London's stepsister, Eliza London-Shepard. Milo owned a winery adjacent to the London ranch and was very knowledgeable about the world of Jack London.

I had been to the London bookstore a few years earlier and had corresponded with Russ Kingman (who wrote an illustrated biography of London--and, later, published a very detailed chronology of his life). He had been an Oakland businessman, had gotten involved in the development of the waterfront there--an area called Jack London Square--and had become so interested in London that he'd devoted the rest of his life to reading, collecting, and, eventually, selling. I dropped quite a few bucks in his store over the years. He and Winnie--both sadly now gone (as is their store)--were two of the kindest, most supportive people I met in LondonWorld, which had, I must say, an abundance of kind folks.

I sometimes drove over to their store in the afternoons after lunch--fifteen miles east across and through some beautiful mountain terrain (on some twisting narrow roads) with patches of redwoods that towered beyond imagination. It remains one of my favorite drives in the world--not that I've driven a lot of the world!

Tiny Glen Ellen--well aware of its Jack London heritage. 

One day--at the bookstore--Russ asked me if I'd like to meet Becky.

"Becky who?"

"Becky London."

I was stunned--I'd had no idea she was even still alive. "Where does she live?" I asked.

"Right here."

It seems she'd had an apartment in Oakland, had been robbed, had felt insecure, so Russ had invited her to live with him and Winnie--had built an apartment onto his store.

"So," he asked again, "would you like to meet her?"

I think I broke the world's record for saying, "Yes."

To be continued ...

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