His grave site wasn’t even under the Steinbeck name—that’s the first thing I noticed.
The stone obelisk that loomed over John Steinbeck’s final resting place read Hamilton.
And rightly so. Hamilton was his mother’s name. A name that, I was told, meant many generations of wealth and affluence in the town of Salinas. And yet to me, a fan of Steinbeck, it felt unfair.
Below the obelisk was a large concrete slab inlaid with small, flat markers. Most of the markers were for various Hamiltons … one passing as recently as ten years go. But the one on the middle right was for John.
It held his name. His birth year and death. That’s it.
I’m one of those people who loves to visit old towns and walk in the footsteps of those long gone. I’ve visited James Dean’s gravesite and walked his family’s farm, and I’ve seen where F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, where he lived when he first got word that his book was going to be published, and where his daughter was born.
And it’s always funny how real it all gets when you see where these famous names came from and how those places and people shaped who they became.
For Steinbeck, I was blown away by this. In Salinas and in Monterey and in the strawberry farms and cattle ranches in between it was as if I had been transported to a world that I’d always thought of as fake. And yet there it was—real. It had been modernized, no doubt. But the winding coastal streets, the smell of the ocean, the whales in the bay, the ever-pressing presence of the distant ranges surrounding the Salinas Valley were real. And they were just as he had written.
This is the power of writing what you know. Of taking something that may seem ordinary and plain and boring to you and describing it with such truth and care that a girl thousands of miles away can visit for the first time decades after the stories have been written and published and think, “I’ve been here before. Many, many times.”