Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.” – John Steinbeck
This year, mid-July in the heartland was a “scorcher” as they say. Day after day of temperatures breaking the 100° mark with no rain for weeks. Nighttime provided little relief with the lows staying in the 80’s. I was careful not to over-exert Mimsy, our Japanese Chin, on our walks. She is not as brachycephalic (flat-faced) as our pugs, but I was still cautious. As we walked along on our night-time stroll, I heard the tree frogs calling out and wondered how they were surviving this hot, dry spell. Then I remembered the passage from Cannery Row at the top of this post. I need not have worried about those little frogs … they are common.
God in his wisdom did not give the gift of survival to the peacock, panda bear or Bengal tiger. Beauty does not seem to be a criteria for continued existence. I find great comfort in this.
As Mimsy and I slowly made our way down the sidewalk running alongside Elizabeth Avenue, my mind drifted to God’s apparent love of the common. I believe that God loves all humanity equally, but in reading many of the stories in the New Testament, it appears that Jesus had his favorites. He clearly did not like to spend time with the pharisees and self-righteous, instead choosing to hang with fishermen, assorted sinners and the occasional woman of low-moral character.
Mimsy is pretty low-maintenance and our ambling pace allowed my imagination to take another leap.
What if Jesus had visited Steinbeck’s Cannery Row?
Where would he spend his time? Who would he hang out with? Since this musing is just a product of my over-active imagination, I can draw my own conclusions. I don’t believe he would be with the rich people at their houses on the top of the hill. I don’t believe he would be in the formal churches. But I can see him sitting with Mack and boys on the pilings down by the wharf, feet dangling over the water, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean as he tells stories of the creation from a perspective that only he would know. The boys listen in awe as they pass a pint of “Old Tennessee.”
I can envision him pulling up a chair alongside Doc in his laboratory. The two of them discussing the complexities of even the simplest of lifeforms while Doc’s record-player fills the room with the sounds of Bach’s, Art of Fugue.
I imagine Dora placing a “closed” sign on the front door while they prepare to have tea with Jesus. Feeling pure and clean, the girls are once again ladies as he tells them of the wonders of heaven that await them.
In the opening chapter of Cannery Row, Steinbeck described its citizens thusly.
…Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said : “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.
Our walk over, Mimsy and I head home. I look down at her plumed tail and prancing gait.
“You better watch out, girl,” I tell her, “You’re purebred, you could be in danger of extinction, you’re not common like me.”
She looks up, gives a little chuff, as if that’s the silliest thing she’s every heard of. We both have someone to watch over us.
If you have not read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, don’t waste anymore time. Find a copy now! The books are filled with love, hope and the enduring goodness of the common man, flaws and all.
Written as fiction but the characters are all based on people that Steinbeck knew. The photo at the beginning of this post is of Harold Otis “Gabe” Bicknell and his friends, the basis for Mack and the boys.