Chapter no 5

East of Eden

On the ranch the little Hamiltons began to grow up, and every year there was a new one. George was a tall handsome boy, gentle and sweet, who had from the first a kind of courtliness. Even as a little boy he was polite and what they used to call “no trouble.” From his father he inherited the neatness of clothing and body and hair, and he never seemed ill dressed even when he was. George was a sinless boy and grew to be a sinless man. No crime of commission was

ever attributed to him, and his crimes of omission were only misdemeanors. In his middle

life, at about the time such things were known about, it was discovered that he had pernicious anemia.

It is possible that his virtue lived on a lack of energy. Behind George, Will grew along, dumpy and





imagination but he had great energy. From childhood on he was a hard worker, if anyone would tell him what to work at, and once told he was indefatigable. He was a conservative, not only in politics but in everything. Ideas he found revolutionary, and he avoided them with suspicion and distaste. Will liked to live so that no one could find fault with him, and to do that he had to live as nearly like other people as possible. Maybe his father had something to do with Will’s distaste for either change or variation. When Will was a growing boy, his father had not been long enough in the Salinas Valley to be thought of as an “old-timer.” He was in fact a foreigner and an

Irishman. At that time the

Irish were much disliked in America. They were looked upon

with contempt,

particularly on the East Coast, but a little of it must have seeped out to the West. And Samuel had

not only variability but was a man of ideas and innovations. In small cut-off communities such





regarded with suspicion until he has proved he is no danger to the others. A shining man like Samuel could, and can, cause a lot of trouble. He might, for example, prove too attractive to the wives of men who knew they were dull. Then there were his education and his reading, the books he bought and borrowed, his knowledge of things that could not be eaten or worn or cohabited with, his interest in poetry and his respect for good writing. If Samuel had been a rich man like the

Thornes or the Delmars, with their big houses and wide flat lands, he would have had a

great library. The Delmars had a library-nothing but books in it and paneled in oak. Samuel, by borrowing, had read many more of the Delmars’ books than the Delmars had. In that day an educated rich man was acceptable. He might send his sons

to college without comment, might wear a vest

and white shirt and tie in the daytime of a weekday, might wear gloves and keep his nails clean. And since the lives and practices of rich

men were mysterious, who knows what they could use or not use? But a poor man- what need had he for poetry or for painting or for music not fit for singing or dancing? Such things did not help him bring in a crop or keep a scrap of cloth


his children’s backs. And if in spite of this he persisted,

maybe he had reasons which

would not stand the light of scrutiny.

Take Samuel,

for instance. He made drawings of work he intended to do with iron or wood. That was

good and

understandable, even enviable. But on the edges of the plans he made other drawings, sometimes trees, sometimes faces or animals or bugs, sometimes just figures that you couldn’t make out at all. And these caused men to laugh with embarrassed uneasiness. Then, too, you never knew in advance what Samuel would think or say or do-it might be anything.

The first few years after

Samuel came to Salinas Valley there was a vague distrust of him. And perhaps Will as a little boy heard talk in the San Lucas store. Little boys don’t want their fathers to be different from other men. Will might have picked up his conservatism right then. Later, as the other children came along and grew, Samuel belonged to the valley, and it was proud of him in the way a man who owns a peacock is proud. They weren’t afraid of him any more, for he did not seduce their wives or lure them out of sweet mediocrity. The Salinas Valley grew fond of Samuel, but by that time Will was formed. Certain individuals, not

by any means always

deserving, are truly beloved of the gods. Things come to them without their effort or planning. Will Hamilton was one of these. And the gifts he received were the ones he could



a growing boy Will was lucky. Just as his father could not

make money, Will could not help making it. When Will Hamilton raised chickens and his hens began to lay, the price of eggs went up. As a young man, when two of his

friends who ran a little store


to the point of despondent bankruptcy, Will was asked to lend them a little money to tide them over the quarter’s bills, and they gave him a one-third interest for a pittance. He was not niggardly. He gave them what they asked for. The store was on its feet within one year, expanding in two, opening branches in three, and its descendants, a great mercantile system,


dominate a large part of the area. Will also took over a bicycle-and-tool shop for a bad debt. Then a few rich people of the valley bought automobiles, and


mechanic worked on them. Pressure was put on him by a determined poet


dreams were brass, cast iron, and rubber. This man’s name was Henry Ford, and his plans were ridiculous if not


Will grumblingly

accepted the southern half of the valley as his exclusive area, and within fifteen years the valley was two-deep in Fords and Will was a rich man driving a Marmon. Tom, the third son, was most like his father. He was born in fury and he lived in lightning.



headlong into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and its people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended. Tom was as inventive as his father but he was bolder. He would try things his father would not dare. Also, he had a large concupiscence to put the spurs in his flanks, and this Samuel did not have. Perhaps it was his driving sexual need that made him remain a bachelor. It was a very moral family he was

born into. It might be that his dreams and his longing, and

his outlets for that matter, made him feel unworthy, drove

him sometimes

whining into the hills. Tom was a nice mixture of savagery and gentleness. He worked inhumanly, only to

lose in effort his crushing impulses. The Irish do have a despairing quality of gaiety, but they have also a dour and brooding ghost that rides on their shoulders and peers in on their thoughts. Let them laugh too loudly, it sticks a

long finger


their throats.

They condemn

themselves before they are charged, and this makes them defensive always. When Tom was nine

years old he worried because

his pretty little sister Mollie

had an impediment in her speech. He asked her to open her mouth wide and saw that a membrane under her tongue

caused the trouble. “I can fix that,” he said. He led her to a secret place far from the house, whetted

his pocketknife on a stone, and cut the offending halter of speech. And then he ran away and was sick.

The Hamilton house

grew as the family grew. It





unfinished, so that lean-tos could jut out as they were needed. The original room and kitchen soon disappeared

in a welter of these lean-tos. Meanwhile Samuel got

no richer. He developed a very bad patent habit, a disease many men suffer from. He invented a part of a threshing machine, better, cheaper, and more efficient than any in existence. The patent attorney ate up his little profit for the year. Samuel sent his models to a manufacturer, who promptly rejected the plans and used the method. The next few years were kept lean by the suing, and the drain stopped only when he lost the suit. It was his first sharp experience with the rule that without money you cannot fight money. But he had caught the patent fever, and year after

year the money made by threshing and by smithing was drained off in patents. The Hamilton children went

barefoot, and their overalls were patched and food was sometimes scarce, to pay for the crisp blueprints with cogs and planes and elevations.

Some men think big and some think little. Samuel and his sons Tom and Joe thought big and George and Will thought little. Joseph was the fourth


kind of mooning boy, greatly beloved and protected by the whole family. He early discovered that a smiling helplessness was his best protection from work. His brothers were tough hard workers, all of them. It was easier to do Joe’s work than to make him do it. His mother and father thought him a poet because he wasn’t any good at anything else.

And they so impressed him with this that he wrote glib verses to prove it. Joe was physically lazy, and probably mentally lazy too.


daydreamed out his life, and his mother loved him more than the others because she thought he was helpless. Actually he was the least helpless, because he got exactly what he wanted with a minimum of effort. Joe was the darling of the family. In feudal times an ineptness with sword and spear headed a young man for the church: in the Hamilton family Joe’s inability properly to function at farm and forge headed him for a higher education. He was not sickly or weak but he did not lift very well; he rode horses badly and detested them. The whole family laughed with affection when they thought of Joe trying to learn to plow; his tortuous first furrow wound about like a flatland stream, and his second furrow touched his first only once and then to cross it and wander off. Gradually he eliminated himself from every farm duty. His mother explained that his mind was in the clouds, as



were some

singular virtue. When Joe had failed at every job, his father in despair put him to herding sixty sheep. This was the least difficult job of all and the one classically requiring no skill. All he had to do was to stay with the sheep. And Joe lost them-lost sixty sheep and couldn’t find them where they were huddled in the shade in a dry gulch.

According to the family story, Samuel called the family together, girls and boys, and made them promise to take care of Joe after he was gone, for if they did not Joe would surely starve.

Interspersed with the Hamilton boys were five

girls: Una the oldest, a thoughtful, studious, dark girl; Lizzie-I guess Lizzie must have been the oldest since she was named for her

mother-I don’t know much about



early seemed to find a shame for her family. She married young and went away and

thereafter was seen only at funerals. Lizzie


a capacity for hatred


bitterness unique among the Hamiltons. She had a son, and when he grew up and

married a girl Lizzie didn’t like she did not speak to him for many years. Then there was Dessie,




so constant that everyone near her was glad to be there because it was more fun to be with Dessie than with anyone


The next sister was

Olive, my mother. And last was Mollie, who was a little beauty with lovely blond hair and violet eyes. These were


Hamiltons, and it was almost a miracle how Liza, skinny little biddy that she was, produced them year after year and fed them, baked bread,


their clothes,

and clothed them with good manners and iron morals too. It is amazing how Liza stamped her children. She



without experience in the world, she was unread and, except for the one long trip from Ireland, untraveled. She had no experience with men save only her husband, and that she looked upon as a tiresome and sometimes painful duty. A good part of her life was taken up with bearing and

raising. Her total intellectual association was the Bible, except the talk of Samuel and her children, and to them she did not listen. In that one book she had her history and her poetry, her knowledge of peoples and things, her ethics, her morals, and her salvation. She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it.

The many places where it

seems to refute itself did not confuse her in the least. And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening. Liza enjoyed universal respect because she was a good woman and raised good children. She could hold up her head anywhere. Her husband and her children and her grandchildren respected her. There was a nail-hard strength in her, a lack of any compromise, a Tightness in the face of all opposing

wrongness, which made you

hold her in a kind of awe but not in warmth. Liza

hated alcoholic liquors with an iron zeal. Drinking alcohol in any form she regarded as a crime against a properly outraged deity. Not only would she not touch it herself, but she resisted its enjoyment by




result naturally


that her husband Samuel and all her children had a good lusty love for a drink.

Once when he was very

ill Samuel asked, “Liza, couldn’t I have a glass of whisky to ease me?” She set her little hard chin. “Would you go to the throne of God with liquor on your breath? You would not!” she said. Samuel rolled over on his side and went about his illness without ease. When Liza was about seventy her elimination slowed up and her doctor told her to take a tablespoon of port wine for medicine. She forced




spoonful, making a crooked face, but it was not so bad. And from that moment she never drew a completely sober breath. She always took the wine in a tablespoon, it was always medicine, but after a time she was doing over a quart a day and she was a much more relaxed and happy woman. Samuel and

Liza Hamilton got all of their children raised and well toward adulthood before the turn of the century. It was a whole clot of Hamiltons growing up on the ranch to the east of King City. And they were American children and young men and women.

Samuel never went back to Ireland and gradually he forgot it entirely. He was a busy man. He had no time for nostalgia. The Salinas Valley was the world. A trip to Salinas sixty miles to the north at the head of the valley was event enough for a year, and the incessant work on the ranch, the care and feeding and clothing of his bountiful family, took most of his time -but not all. His energy was


His daughter Una had become a brooding student, tense and dark. He was proud of her wild, exploring mind. Olive was preparing to take county examinations after a stretch in the secondary school in Salinas. Olive was going to be a teacher, an honor like having a priest in the family in Ireland. Joe was to be sent to college because he was no damn good at anything else. Will was well along the way to accidental fortune. Tom bruised himself on the world and licked his cuts. Dessie was studying dressmaking, and Mollie, pretty Mollie,


obviously marry some well-to-do man. There was no question of inheritance. Although the hill ranch was large it was abysmally poor. Samuel sunk

well after well and could not find water on his own land. That would have made the difference. Water would have made them comparatively

rich. The one poor pipe of water pumped up from deep near the house was the only source; sometimes it got dangerously low, and twice it went dry. The cattle had to come from the far fringe of the ranch to drink and then go out again to feed. All in all it was a good


family, permanent, and successfully planted in the Salinas Valley, not poorer than many and not richer than many either. It was a well-balanced family with its conservatives and its radicals, its dreamers and its realists. Samuel was well pleased with the fruit of his loins.

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