The deep darkness of the world has come home to us in recent days. It’s a combination of things, really. The shooting of innocent young black men, the shooting of police, our nation’s finest, and then two political conventions with two candidates that, more than any election I can recall, define the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils. Truly this is a “Come, Lord Jesus” moment in our nation’s history. But there have been a lot of such moments, haven’t there?
So…I was moved to tears last week listening to Gary Sinese read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I hadn’t read the classic since high school (sophomore or junior year?), when I wrote a thesis on how the book shows that “man is basically good.” How I ever came up with that out of this book, I can’t tell you 35 years later. It sure wouldn’t be what I would say now.
But what touched me was one of the familiar scenes in the book when Lennie asks George to tell about the dream the two of them have. Do you remember? It’s a dream of a place of their own. It’s a dream of a place where they don’t “buck barley” for a task-master. But mostly, it is a dream of hutches, and rabbits and hope. And as I heard Sinese’s masterful reading, I realized that George and Lennie’s dream is really the dream of all mankind…a better place. A safe place. A place of belonging. A place, sadly, that is not of this world…
Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. “George?”
“George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’— an’ rabbits?”
“I don’ know,” said George. “We gotta get a big stake together. I know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain’t givin’ it away.”
Old Candy turned slowly over. His eyes were wide open. He watched George carefully.
Lennie said, “Tell about that place, George.”
“I jus’ tol’ you, jus’ las’ night.”
“Go on— tell again, George.”
“Well, it’s ten acres,” said George. “Got a little win’mill. Got a little shack on it, an’ a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, ’cots, nuts, got a few berries. They’s a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig pen——”
“An’ rabbits, George.”
“No place for rabbits now, but I could easy build a few hutches and you could feed alfalfa to the rabbits.”
“Damn right, I could,” said Lennie. “You…damn right I could.”
George’s hands stopped working with the cards. His voice was growing warmer. “An’ we could have a few pigs. I could build a smoke house like the one gran’pa had, an’ when we kill a pig we can smoke the bacon and the hams, and make sausage an’ all like that. An’ when the salmon run up river we could catch a hundred of ’em an’ salt ’em down or smoke ’em. We could have them for breakfast. They ain’t nothing so nice as smoked salmon. When the fruit come in we could can it— and tomatoes, they’re easy to can. Ever’ Sunday we’d kill a chicken or a rabbit. Maybe we’d have a cow or a goat, and the cream is so…damn thick you got to cut it with a knife and take it out with a spoon.”
Lennie watched him with wide eyes, and old Candy watched him too. Lennie said softly, “We could live offa the fatta the lan’.”
“Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunkhouse.”
“Tell about the house, George,” Lennie begged.
“Sure, we’d have a little house an’ a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an’ in the winter we’d keep a fire goin’ in it. It ain’t enough land so we’d have to work too hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn’t have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An’ when we put in a crop, why, we’d be there to take the crop up. We’d know what come of our planting.”
“An’ rabbits,” Lennie said eagerly. “An’ I’d take care of ’em. Tell how I’d do that, George.”
“Sure, you’d go out in the alfalfa patch an’ you’d have a sack. You’d fill up the sack and bring it an’ put it in the rabbit cages.”
“They’d nibble an’ they’d nibble,” said Lennie, “the way they do. I seen ’em.”
“Ever’ six weeks or so,” George continued, “them does would throw a litter so we’d have plenty rabbits to eat an’ to sell. An’ we’d keep a few pigeons to go flyin’ around the win’mill like they done when I was a kid.” He looked raptly at the wall over Lennie’s head. “An’ it’d be our own, an’ nobody could can us. If we don’t like a guy we can say, ‘Get the hell out,’ and by God he’s got to do it. An’ if a fren’ come along, why we’d have an extra bunk, an’ we’d say, ‘Why don’t you spen’ the night?’ an’ by God he would. We’d have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out them cats don’t get the little rabbits.”
Lennie breathed hard. “You jus’ let ’em try to get the rabbits. I’ll break their…damn necks. I’ll . . . I’ll smash ’em with a stick.” He subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits.
George sat entranced with his own picture.
When Candy spoke they both jumped as though they had been caught doing something reprehensible. Candy said, “You know where’s a place like that?”
George was on guard immediately. “S’pose I do,” he said.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (pp. 55-56). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.