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Tag: ashes

Where Steinbeck’s saga began, and ended

The ashes of the man who inspired our — as of today — six months on the road are buried in the town where he was born, at the Garden of Memories in Salinas, where another funeral was underway when Ace and I pulled in.

There was a trumpet playing on the other side of the cemetery as Ace and I sought out John Steinbeck’s final resting place. Members of the Garcia family were — in a ceremony that included the sounding of some joyous notes – sending off one of their own.

As trumpets played a peppy tune, and with help from a sign, we found the short, flat grave marker of the author whose legend looms large as redwoods, and we stood there silently.

Not all of Steinbeck’s ashes are here. Some, after his death in 1968, were spread by his family at Point Lobos, a state reserve in Carmel, where, one can only imagine, they scattered in the wind, caressed the rocks, and made their way to the churning sea.

Our gravesite visit — along with scoping out Steinbeck’s boyhood home, now home to the Steinbeck House restaurant and gift shop — was sandwiched between the highly informative four hours we spent at the National Steinbeck Center.

In the morning, my dog waited in the car while I spent two hours talking to Herb Behrens, a curator there who I could have listened to all day.

Then Ace and I walked around downtown Salinas, grabbed lunch and drove out to the cemetery, where I explained to him that urination, or any other bodily functions, would not be permitted. Between making sure he was well-drained beforehand, keeping him on a short leash, and uttering a few “No’s” when he got to sniffing, that was easily accomplished.

Back at the center, Ace waited in the car again as I spent some time wandering through exhibits based on Steinbeck’s books, ending with “Travels with Charley.” That’s where we finally spied Rocinante — the camper, named after Don Quixote’s horse, that Steinbeck and Charley toured the country in.

It sits behind protective plastic shields, restored and gleaming, with a foam Charley in the passenger seat. Of course, I had to reach over the barrier and touch it, likely leaving a greasy fast food fingerprint on its well-polished green surface.

Rocinante ended up at General Motors headquarters in New York City after Steinbeck’s trip with Charley, where it was displayed in a window.

A New York banker named William Plate saw it there and bought it, using it for hauling hay and other light chores at his farm in Maryland.

After putting another 10,000 to 15,000 miles on it, Plate donated it to the center — a museum and memorial to Steinbeck that opened in 1998.

Steinbeck opted to travel the country in a camper mainly so that he could remain anonymous. Staying in motels and hotels — though he ended up doing that more than the book lets on — might have led to someone identifying him, which he wanted to avoid. He wanted to experience regular people being regular, not fawning over or trying to impress a famous author.

So he wrote to General Motors.  “I wanted a three-quarter ton pickup truck, and on this truck I wanted a little house, built like the cabin of small boat.”

The truck he received was a new GMC, with a V6 engine, an automatic transmission, and an oversized generator. The camper was provided by the Wolverine Camper Company of Glaswin, Michigan.

The decision to take his poodle, Charley, along, was actually an afterthought — one that was encouraged by his wife, Elaine, who reportedly had concerns about her husband traveling alone.

Inside the camper, Steinbeck had a pretty sweet set up — a refrigerator and stovetop, lots of wooden cabinets and a big table to write on, though most of what he wrote during the trip consisted of letters to family and friends

Rocinante is probably the ultimate, and definitely the heaviest, piece of Steinbeck memorabilia that has ended up at the center, where items continue to arrive.

Behrens showed me two of the more recent acquisitions – a chair and globe from Steinbeck’s apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Steinbeck was living at the time of his death in 1968. His widow remained there until 2003, the year she died. Some of the apartment’s contents were put up for sale at an auction this year. The globe and chair were purchased by a man whose father lived in Salinas, and he donated them to the center in his father’s name.

The light-up globe lights up no more. Its electrical cord is still attached but there’s no plug on the end of it. On the globe, there are lines either John or Elaine drew, indicating the trans-Atlantic trips they had taken.

But the trip Steinbeck remains best known for was the one with his dog.

Almost every year, Behrens hears from someone who is repeating it — with a dog, without a dog, on a motorcycle, in an RV.

When I asked Behrens why — what moves people to retrace the path of “Travels with Charley,” moreso than they do Jack Kerouac’s route in “On the Road,” or William Least Heat-Moon’s in “Blue Highways” — he answered the question with a question:

“Why are you doing it?”

I hemmed and hawed — it being a question I’d pondered silently, in my own brain, over much of the 18,000 or so miles Ace and I have traveled thus far.

A complete answer might have taken another two hours, given all the variables: My respect for, and interest in, the author. To see America’s dogs. To further bond with Ace. To feed the blog. To revisit places and people of my youth. To retrigger memories. To maybe someday write a book about it — a “Travels with Charley” for modern times. But I gave him the condensed version:

“I guess because I’m unemployed, and it gives me something to write about,” I said.

And maybe the real answer is as simple and gramatically incorrect as that: A writer’s gotta write.

Clearly, considering the body of his work — fiction and non — that was the case with John Steinbeck.

For him, it was an obsession, and a private one. He valued his privacy so much that, when he lived in Sag Harbor, Long Island, where he wrote “Travels with Charley,” he built an eight-sided shack to write in, and  built it in such a way that only one person could occupy it, Behrens said.

Selling books was never Steinbeck’s strong point, Behrens said. “He felt his job as a writer was to write, and not go on book tours. Nowadays he would be a failure because he wouldn’t go on tours and talk shows.”

His last complete book – not counting those compiled by others — was “Travels with Charley,” not his most powerful work, but clearly his most beloved.  Unlike “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was burned in several locations, Salinas included, “Charley” was, for the most part, adored by America. And it still is.

Behrens — and I agree with him — gives Charley most of the credit. “Without Charley, I don’t think Steinbeck would have sold 10 copies,” he said. He was exaggerating, but only to make a pretty valid point. The author’s skills and fame aside, there’s one reason the book was such a hit, one reason its popularity hasn’t wilted:

The dog.

Charley is buried back at Sag Harbor, beneath a tree in the yard, in a grave with no marking, at the opposite of the continent from where Steinbeck’s ashes rest and are still visited by flower-bearing friends and fans, and once in a while, a dog.

Barney gets last wish, Susan gets crabcakes

This one’s about a dog named Stella, a carny named Barney and the woman who sort of adopted them both — a Nashville photographer who motored up to Baltimore last week to carry out Barney’s last wish: that his ashes be spread upon the grave of his mother.

Susan Adcock became enamored with carnival workers more than a decade ago, and continued to count them as her friends long after she completed a newspaper assignment documenting their lives in photos. A highly compassionate sort, she helped them through troubles and sometimes even gave them shelter in her own home.

Among those she befriended was Barney, a down on his luck, hard drinking sort from Baltimore who she met while taking carnival photos. Barney, for a while, had a job as Barney, the dinosaur. He’d put on his purple dinosaur outfit and delight when the audience cheered and called his name, which was actually his name.

When Barney died, it was Susan who saw to it that he was cremated, in accordance with his wishes, Susan who took possession of his ashes, and Susan who cleaned out his apartment.

“I packed up his apartment over the weekend and by Monday afternoon, twelve years of hard living evaporated into space,” she wrote on Pitcherlady.com, one of her blogs. “People that hadn’t seen Barney in forever stopped by to say how sorry they were. They asked for things and I didn’t mind them asking. Most of them loved Barney too. Just not enough to stop by and help him get to the bathroom when he needed it …”

The next day, she took the Baltimore native’s ashes back to her house in Nashville, and found some comfort in having them around.

“Often you have three days or so to say goodbye and then that person in in the ground under a stone. This experience taught me that being able to take the remains of the deceased home with you is much more bearable. I knew in my head that Barney was gone but I was able to sit the box on my kitchen table and we hung out all summer together. That was a gift. My grief was tempered by having him around.”

As summer wound down, Susan planned the trip to Baltimore. Barney wanted to be “returned to the arms of his mother.” She died in 1978. This week, Susan drove to Baltimore with her dog Stella in the back seat, and Barney’s boxed ashes in the front. She took the ashes to a cemetery on Eastern Avenue, where she me Barney’s daughters, and a grandson he had never met.

“Their pictures used to be stuck on the side of his refrigerator with magnets and he told me once that he wanted them there so he could see them from his bed whenever he looked up. He used to tell them goodnight before he went to sleep, ’like the Waltons,’ he said.”

Barney was a big fan of TV, and, for 12 years, never turned off the one in his apartment. “I remembered Barney saying once that wherever he ended up, they better have cable,” Susan wrote.

Once Susan accomplished her mission and the ashes were spread, she — along with Stella, a pit bull also adopted from the carnival — saw a little of Baltimore. She visited Edgar Allan Poe’s house, they took a ride in a water taxi, and she went in search of crab cakes — finding none below $20. That’s when she wrote me.

A regular reader and commenter on ohmidog!Susan knew Ace and I were on the road, and didn’t know we were back in Baltimore for a bit. Long story short, as they say, we emailed back and forth, talked on the phone, met with our dogs in Riverside Park, and went to Captain Larry’s for crabcakes.

Susan, though she has a degree in psychology, decided to become a full-time photographer almost 20 years ago. You can see her work on her blogs, including pitcherlady and carnydog, which centers on Stella, the pit bull she adopted two years ago. Stella belonged to some carnival workers and was three months old when Susan took her in. By then, she — Stella — had already been to four state fairs and a variety of other spots throughout Wisconsin and Illinois.

Knowing how hard carnival life can be, on dogs and people, Susan volunteered to adopt her and the owners agreed.

Stella and Susan left Baltimore Thursday, headed for a visit to the beach before going back to Nashville. We wish them safe travels, and count ourselves lucky to have met someone so compassionate, so talented and so aware that not every creature in need of rescue has four legs.

(Photos: Barney photo by Susan Adcock; Stella photos by John Woestendiek)

Millan plans to build a temple for “Daddy”

Cesar Millan says he plans to build a temple to his deceased pit bull, “Daddy,” and bury the dog’s ashes there, on the highest point of his California ranch.

In an interview with People Pets, the star of National Geographic Channel’s “Dog Whisperer,” also revealed that he and his famiy lit 500 candles in honor the the dog, who died after a long battle with cancer.

Millan has also announced the establishment of the Daddy’s Emergency Animal Rescue Fund, (DEAR) which will be operated by the Cesar and Ilusion Millan Foundation. The DEAR Fund will provide assistance for dogs who are victims of abuse or violence, man-made disasters, and large-scale natural disasters.

And our wiener dog memorial award goes to …

paco sosaPaco Sosa, reportedly New York’s oldest dog, died last week.

The dachshund, owned by Bernadine Santistevan, of the upper East Sice, was 20 years old and five months in human years, according to the New York Daily News.

“He was such a gift in my life,” said Santistevan, who met the dachshund when he was a month-old. “He taught me that all life is precious. He was amazing in that respect.”

Paco Sosa had been having frequent seizures and neck pain for over a year, and suffered a particularly bad convulsion three weeks ago.

Santistevan said her dog was put down at a veterinary hospital. “He was very peaceful, very happy,” she said. “He let me know it was time to let go.”

Santistevan plans a “celebration party” in coming weeks for Paco Sosa, whose ashes she plans to scatter in the mountains around Taos, N.M.

(Click here for all of the Wiener Awards.)

The story behind the dramatic photos

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This happened way back in August, but since the dramatic photos are now making the email rounds — without attribution, photo credit or any citation of the original source —  we thought we’d show you what happened when gale force winds blew a Maltese-Shih-tzu named Bi Bi off of Brighton Pier in Victoria, Australia.

1The unleashed dog splashed into the choppy waters as owner Sue Drummond looked on.  “I thought he was going to sink and then maybe I wouldn’t be able to find him,” she told the Herald Sun. “I didn’t really want to hop in the water either because I wasn’t quite sure if I could make it to shore with a struggling dog.”

Raden Soemawinata — on the pier for a family ceremony to scatter his grandmother’s ashes into the bay, showed no such hesitation. He stripped down to shirt and underwear and dived in after the dog: 

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“It was pretty cold and windy, but it wasn’ such a hard decision to jump in, it wasn’t such a great feat,” Soemawinata, 20, said. “I’m a part-time model, so getting into my jocks isn’t so different to what I do for work.”The photos were taken by Chris Scott, and originally appeared in the Herald Sun in Australia.

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Again, it’s old news, but given we missed it the first time around, and the photos have bobbed up to the surface again, we thought both the photographer, the rescuer, and Bi Bi deserved to be more than anonymous.

Another dog and guardian die a day apart

Yesterday, we told you about Natt Nevins, and how her beloved dachsund, Nikkie, died the day after Nevins passed.

Now comes news out of Orlando of Becky Carter and her Doberman pinscher, Tasha, who enjoyed life together, fought cancer together and comforted each other through chemotherapy. Over the weekend, they also died within a day of each other — in this case, Tasha first, on Saturday, and Carter on Sunday.

We’ve all heard, and maybe even put a little credence in, those tales of married couples who have grown so close to each other that, when one dies, the other quickly follows. Might we be getting so close to dogs that the same holds true, or at least has anecdotal support?

“This dog and Becky were so close. It’s kind of like they were tired of fighting,” Becky’s husband, Kenny Carter told the Orlando Sentinel.

At the time of her death, Becky hadn’t been told of Tasha’s demise, which came as the Doberman was chasing squirrels. Tasha was 7. Funeral services were held yesterday for Carter, who was buried with Tasha’s ashes.

Carter, who was 62, found Tasha through an ad in the paper when the dog was a puppy.

In 2005, Carter was diagnosed with lung cancer and began chemotherapy treatments, Tasha would lay by her owner’s bed or at her feet. Two years later, as Carter’s cancer went into remission, Tasha was diagnosed with lymphoma and given three to five months to live. The couple started the dog on chemotherapy to buy a little more time. A month ago, veterinarians, detecting an abnormal heart rhythm, decided against another round of chemotherapy for the dog.

Her husband said he thinks Tasha died first so she would be there to welcome his wife into heaven.

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