The World of Jack London

Some Memories of Daddy – Jack London

By Becky London Fleming

Part I
Becky London Fleming
Photo courtesy of
Connie Kale Johnson
BEFORE I begin to share with you some of the memories I have of my father, I must make clear several things. These are the recollections of a young girl. On November 22, 1916, [1] I was just one month into my fourteenth year. Remember that was many years ago and children were much younger acting, more naive, more immature than the children of today. Second, life was less complicated then; our pleasures were few and simple. Then my sister and I didn't see Daddy very often because he was away from the Bay Area for months and years at a time.
He was a newspaper correspondent in Japan and Korea during the Russo-Japanese War; he was away over two years on his trip on the Snark; he traveled for months at a time on lecture tours; and during the last years of his life he spent months at a time in Hawaii. After he had moved to the Ranch, he was too busy with his writing and superintending the reclaiming of the place to make the trip to Oakland very often. Remember the automobile was not yet an everday thing and freeways hadn't even been dreamed of. It meant at least an hour's ride from Glen Ellen to Sausalito, almost as long on the ferry, plus a shorter ferry and train ride to Oakland and his mother's house. There he would stop for lunch, then phone to tell us he'd be with us in 15 minutes.

The times he spent with Joan and me were always in Oakland or San Francisco. Why she took the position she did I never knew nor understood, but mother would never permit my sister and me to spend a day, let alone an entire vacation with Daddy on the Ranch. All our times together were just the three of us, Daddy, Joan and me. Except one — and I'll tell you about that later.

Looking back, Daddy's earliest visits take on a kaleidoscopic character. Everything is jumbled together, repeated over and over, yet each time different from the others. I see three people romping and playing together, the two little girls sitting on the man's lap talking and laughing, the two little girls standing at the front door watching the man walk away.

Then the pictures became clearer, more individual. I see a big man. Daddy of course, playing with two small girls, Joan and me; sitting on his lap resting and talking; and finally walking to the corner with him and standing there waving goodbye as he got on the streetcar and went away from us.

After a few years, the big man wasn't so big, but strange to say the little girls had grown a lot. We didn't play so much but had long, serious conversations about school, our teachers and friends, dancing school, and roller skating.

The excitement of his visits! Mother never told us when he was coming (She had had a letter from him, of course) until after lunch. She knew we wouldn't eat a mouthful if we knew daddy was coming. She could hardly get us dressed up to go with him because we were running around the house, calling loudly "Daddy's coming! Daddy's coming!" One day I'll never forget. We had gotten dressed at last and started running to the front door to look for him when mother said, "get your hats and coats, don't forget your gloves. Your father is taking you out this afternoon." Wonder of wonders! We had always spent the visit with Daddy at the house, had never gone anyplace with him before. And, oh yes, even little girls wore hats and gloves in those far away days.

Joan and Becky LondonSuddenly the phone rang. It was Daddy telling us he would be with us in about 15 minutes! We grabbed our coats, put on our hats any old way, shoved our gloves in coat pockets, ran out the front door, and raced to the corner to meet him. We were forbidden to cross the avenue to where the streetcar stopped so we stood there watching the streetcar come closer and closer. It went slower and slower, and we couldn't stand still but jumped up and down, calling, "Daddy, Daddy" when he swung off (he never waited for the car to stop) and ran across the street to us. He kneeled down, held out his arms to pull us to him and held us closely, tightly and kissed us many times. Then as Joan and I each held tightly to his hands, we ran along beside him, keeping even with his strides, and doubtless talking at the top of our voices, we went back to the house for a few minutes, just long enough for mother to tell us to be good girls and Daddy to say he would bring us back before dark.

We got on the streetcar and Daddy said we were going to Idora Park. (That was a large amusement Park in Oakland, now long gone. In Russ Kingman's A Pictorial Life of Jack London there is a photograph taken at the park one day. The three of us are standing in a large cart drawn by a small donkey, and I look as though I had too much ice cream and pink lemonade.)

Those afternoons went on for several years, and it seems to me now that they were all very much alike. The first thing we always did when we got in the park was to take a ride on the miniature train that went all around the grounds. As we rode, we could see the animal cages; but we never went closer than that because not one of us wanted to see animals penned in small cages. (No big pens with trees for the monkeys to climb or pools for the bears to swim in then.)

After that were many rides on the Merry – go – Round, slides on a three – or – four – story artificial mountain down which we whizzed, seated on mats. (Daddy never did this.) Oh, and all the many things that people do at amusement parks, we did.

I don't remember how old we were the first time we rode on the Scenic Railway. (It's called a Roller Coaster today), but I'll never forget it. We took our seat in one of the cars, Daddy in the middle and holding on to Joan and me with an arm around each. The ride ended, and we got off and my sister sighed deeply and said, "I'm glad that's over." "Didn't you like it?" asked Daddy. "You weren't afraid were you?" "Well," Joan said, a little." Then Daddy exploded, vocally, "No child of mine is ever going to be afraid - of anything!" I can hear him say that as clearly as if it happened an hour ago. He turned to the ticket collector and handed him a $5 or $10 gold piece. (You see we always used gold and silver, never paper, here in California until the World Fair in 1915 when people from the East insisted on paper money). "Let me know when that is used up. We are going to ride this thing until my daughter stops being afraid." As I think back, it must have been only a $5 coin because the rides were only 10 cents each.

How many of these rides we took I couldn't say. I do know I was terribly bored, and I have always loved Roller Coasters. Finally Joan said she wasn't afraid any more and the money was used up and we left. My sister never again rode a Roller Coaster in her whole life. I think she told Daddy that they made her sick to her stomach.

There were other things to do such as stopping at the roller - rink. Joan and I put on skates and showed off before Daddy as he sat on a bench watching us. He said he had never learned to skate and was too old to learn.

Maybe that was one of the days we went to see Ferris Hartmann and his company in one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. We went every time they were showing. I fell in love with those operas and see them every time I can.

All too soon it began to get dark and we knew it was time to leave. We had another wonderful day with Daddy who had seemed to enjoy it as much as we had. He always shared our times together, enjoying them as we did and seeming to be just as old, or young, as we were. He was the most perfect companion I ever knew.

It is sad riding back on the streetcar. All I could think of was - Daddy will go away again, and I won't see him for a long time. But I never cried. Daddy didn't like to see us cry, even if we had hurt ourselves. So I would sit as close to him as I could, hold his arm and smile at him when he looked down at me. I'd say to myself, maybe this time it won't be so long before he comes again. continued. . .

Editor's notes:
Part I Jack London Echoes originally published April 1981
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