The Literate Kerry (Vol.11)

The following passage was taken from Travels with Charley, in Search of America, 1962, written by John Steinbeck. Charley was the name of Steinbeck’s dog, who accompanied him on his travels across America. Nobel and Pulizer Prize winning author, Steinbeck also wrote Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, The Red Pony and Of Mice and Men,among others.

Charley likes to get up early, and he like me to get up early too. And why shouldn’t he? Right after his breakfast he goes back to sleep. Over the years he has developed a number of innocent-appearing ways to get me up. He can shake himself and his collar loud enough to wake the dead. If that doesn’t work he gets a sneezing fit. But perhaps the most irritating method is to sit quietly beside the bed and stare into my face with a sweet and forgiving look on his face; I come out of a deep sleep with the feeling of being looked at. But I have learned to keep my eyes tight shut. If I even blink he sneezes and stretches, and the night’s sleep is over for me. Often the war of wills goes on for quite a time, I squinching my eyes shut and he forgiving me, but he nearly always wins. He liked traveling so much he wanted to get started early, and early for Charley is the first tempering of darkness with the dawn.

Inscription on a Monument
Senator George Graham Vest
1870
(Senator Vest (1830 -1904) was a Democrat from Missouri, who served in the Senate from 1879 to 1903. Senator Vest’s dog was killed by a neighbor. Below is a record of Senator’s statement to the court which considered the offence in 1870.)

Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honour when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the Jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sicknss. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintery winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege that that of accompanying him to guard against dangers, to fight his enemies, and when the last scene all comes, and death takes the master in his embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.

Last Updated: 10/15/2004, 12:04 pm