When John Steinbeck was 58 years old – the age I am right now – he took delivery of a pick-up truck with a custom-designed camper resting on the back, invited his poodle Charlie (a "big poodle", he hurries to point out -- not one of those little ones), to sit in the passenger seat, and the two of them set of on a road trip to see America. I know this because of my Aunt Vera. She is on my mind at the moment: a big birthday party was held on December 2 in Yuba City to celebrate her 80th.
In the summer of 1962, the Yuba City relatives, my Aunts Vera and Theresa and their respective husbands, Bud and Bob, decided to travel together with the kids to Seattle to see the World Fair. And my Aunt Vera was gracious enough to invite me to go with them. Her oldest daughter is just a bit older than I am, and Vera knew we would have a good time. I was 13 years old. I had never gone away from my family like that (except to church camp for a week), and I got to fly on an airplane for the first time. The trip was wonderful. Among the things I remember: Uncle Bud was a bit annoyed with me because I fell asleep with gum in my mouth and gum ended up on the seat of the car. The campground outside of Seattle where we stayed was in the rain forest and it was mysterious and I blundered into stinging nettles. We took a ferry ride to Vancouver, and the tree-covered islands off the coast were like emerald jewels, porpoise appeared off the side of the ferry, and I got a little seasick.
As I was getting ready to leave to go back to Los Angeles, Aunt Vera pulled Travels With Charley from the shelf and gave it to me to read. And read it I did. And I kept the book for 50 years. Many books came and went, but not that one -- after all, it did belong to my Aunt Vera and it wasn’t mine to give away or sell at the used bookstore. It moved with me to Orange when I got married, and it moved with me to Oregon, and it moved with me when we took our own road trip East to set up housekeeping in Missouri.
In 2002, Aunt Vera and Uncle Bud stopped here during a visit further East. I finally remembered to give the book back to her, I think she was a little surprised to see it again, and it made the return trip to California. But just the other day, I was at the used bookstore and there was a copy of Travels With Charlie, for a quarter. I don’t know where this book has been, but the trip appears to have been a hard one. It has found a home now. Anyway, happy birthday, Aunt Vera.