Seasons’ Greetings from the Steinbeck Family! -The Toast

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Dear friends and family,

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! It has been another dry and brutal year in the Salinas Valley. In case you do not have our previous holiday letters on hand, I will remind you that the Salinas Valley is a lush depression winding through the mountains west of the San Joaquin Valley. There is enough sunlight and enough rain in the Salinas that just about any crop a man plants should grow and flourish. A man could live off the land, if he put his mind to it. He could sell enough beans or corn or, hell, oranges even, that he could keep his belly tight and his flask full, and he could put a roof over his head, and once in a while, if he got the urge to, he could even go into town and lie with a woman. Of course I (John) am only joking about that last part!! As many of you know, Elaine and I will be celebrating 30 years of marriage this year!! We are Truly Blessed.

Elaine and I celebrated our anniversary the way we do every year: shivering outside by a dying fire. Our friends tried to throw us a surprise party, but there are no surprises in this world: only choices a man makes and things a man does. So we sat next to each other on a log, huddled together for warmth, our faces drawn and serious. We passed a whiskey bottle back ‘n forth between us, taking long pulls from it, and in this way we passed the time. We knew that in a few hours, all of the men in the Salinas Valley would rise and would look for work, but they would find no work. The women would rise and look for their men, but they would find no men, only animals–for that is what being without work does to a man. But until that time, we would stoke the fire and we would take pulls from our whiskey and we would delight in each other’s bodies. We also exchanged gifts! The 30-year gift is traditionally pearl, but, well, you know, so I gave Elaine what I give her most years: something fashioned from a corn husk. She in turn gave me what every man desires from his wife: a personalized flask with a moustache on it. When I drink from it, it appears as though I have a moustache, which brings me endless delight, and even Elaine, whose body has borne many children and has known unspeakable suffering, when she sees me drink from it, considers me as a man and desires me.

Our youngest, John Jr., is an exceptional student and was given responsibility for the class pet, a turtle. We were not surprised when it died, for the crops were bad that year. John’s teacher took pity upon us, and trusted us to care for the class mouse, which died, then a bunny, which died, then a bitch pup, which died, then a shoat pig, which died, and then finally, a beautiful chestnut mare, who gave birth to a foal late one winter night, and then died before the foal could suckle from its teat. It was a slow and anguished death and brought no pleasure to the world. I watched as John Jr. pulled the foal from the mare’s steaming belly, and saw that it was barely bigger’n him. Its ears were slick and wet and its legs wobbled when it stood. In the morning, John Jr. and I took this pony out behind the barn and let it lower its head into the feed bin, and while it ate I put the muzzle of my gun to its head and I pulled the trigger. I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried when the  body fell to the unforgiving earth, for the death of a horse is one of the times in a man’s life when he will want to cry, and should. I buried the foal beneath the magnolia tree and then I returned to work. When my son asked me why I shot the class pet, I told him the truth, which is that the Salinas Valley is no place for children.

Tom, our oldest, has become engaged to a plain woman with sturdy hands. She puts a light in him in the way only a woman can. Several things imitate this light: a belly full of whiskey, maybe, or the way a man feels when he’s built something with his own hands. Hell, a man walking in his fields may consider the dirt under his feet and feel something swell up inside him like creation. But these lights are all imitation when held up to the great sun of a woman’s love. That love can bring a man back to life. Why, a good woman might do more for a man’s resurrection than any preacher. Also Tom and Diane are registered at Crate and Barrel. They would be humbled to own either.

There’s a lot to say about this year that hasn’t been said, and maybe a lot that’s been said that shouldn’t’ve in the first place. Elaine and I finally took our dream vacation, which was a grueling eight-month trek west in search of fertile soil. We did not find it, nor did we expect to. Elaine and I also have begun several new hobbies this year, among them Bikram yoga. There is a saying I found on a Pinterest board regarding Bikram yoga, and it is this: “Sweat is the most honest thing to leave a man’s body, not takin’ into account blood, or piss, or bile. Of course most bile does not come from the liver, as some suppose, but rather from the mouth of a man who’s been made to feel that he’s nothin.’ A man like that is dangerous’n any snake.” What was delightful about this quote is that it was typed upon a postcard where two young women appeared to be whispering this very thought to each other while drinking milkshakes. This juxtaposition brought me a quiet pleasure, and it is the sort of pleasure I shall live off of for several months. 

That’s all until next year. In the hustle’n the bustle of the holiday season, don’t forget to focus on what truly matters this Christmas: defending the migrant worker and doing honest labor with your hands.

This is the only thing a man can do, and it is enough.

–The Steinbecks

Riane Konc is a freelance writer living in the Midwest with two cats, a husband, and a daughter.

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