- Introduction Part II -
Helen Abbott, Vallejo, March 2000

Introduction II

to the Jack London Family 
by Helen Abbott
copyright August, 2000

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When I married Bart Abbott, the only child of Joan London, I became a significant part of her life for twenty-four years until her death in 1971.

World War Two had just come to an agonizing end. Channel Heights Housing Project in San Pedro (California) was divesting itself of its military arsenal with landing barges stacked high in the streets, and army-grey metal boxes filled with unknown material.

Chaos was the order of the day as it had beenduring the war. It was time for many of the project's temporary residents to head back to their home lands; north, south, east, west, mid-west, south-west. Bart's home was Berkeley, California. And so we went Berkeley, and there I met Joan London, Bart's mother and my soon-to-be-mother-in-law. She had written to me inviting a meeting and a stay-over at her home. I must admit to almost losing my senses. I was to meet the daughter of my idol, Jack London, whose book of essays, REVOLUTION, had inspired me, at age 12, to become a life-long socialist and revolutionary.

Bart and I arrived at 17 El Camino Real in Berkeley where loud music and sounds of merry-making were streaming out the open front door as we climbed uphill. Through the open door, framed forever in my mind, was a tall woman, descending a wide carpeted staircase, gracefully, with one hand on the rail, the other raised in greeting, and an aura so dynamic my head filled with visions of master paintings, stars of the "silver screen", actresses, such as Tallulah Bankhead, Jane Russell, Joan Crawford, those bold women who could make strong men their slaves. It was fitting, I thought, that such a woman of power and grace, would live along the "King's Highway" .[editor's note: this is a reference to the street name, "El Camino Real", the Spanish term for the King's Highway]

And like those strong, bold women, Joan approached us with a husky laugh, gave Bart a comradely handshake and soft punch on the shoulder, all the while carefully scruitinizing his face as though analyzing his condition of well being for better, or for worse; and turning to me with both hands outstretched, clasped mine and drew me closer to study my face. What did she read there I wondered, as turning to Bart, still holding my hands, she said; "My God! Such eyes!" nodding her head to affirm approval. I had passed the test. I was accepted.

Thus began a 24 year family journey. I would say it was more of a meteor flight than a serene sail on the Good Ship Lolipop¹.

Soon after that first meeting with Joan, Bart wanted his "Nana" to meet me; his grandmother, Bessie Maddern London, first wife of Jack London and mother of the only two children to carry on his name, Joan and Bess (later known as Becky). I'd been told that Nana had suffered a stroke and was in hospital at the Kings Daughters Home on Broadway near MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. I was ill-prepared and visualized a kindly grandmother giving her blessing on the approaching marriage of her grandson and myself. The shock of seeing a long, sheet-wrapped bundle lying immobile on a narrow hospital bed had me transfixed, speechless, until Bart actually introduced me by name and connection. I still could not speak. Bart knelt beside the bed, stroking the sad face, explaining the turn his life had taken. I moved close at his beckoning for she could not even turn her head.

I leaned over so as to be face to face and there I saw life's illumination; a serene face, large luminous eyes, hazel, I think, brown with flecks of lght green and gold. The soul within searching for my soul, and found it...soul mates. She died that year, September 7, 1947. Years later I would become her defender against the cruel onslaughts leveled against her by incompetent historians; the tragedy of being an abandoned wife earning her scorn from those so-called experts.

After her mother's death, Joan rented out the main part of the large, two storied brown-shingled house, and moved into a large, one room cottage above the big house, but connected to it by a long narrow room with equally long windows oriented toward the sun; for this had been the conservatory. Joan was then, and always unto death, the inveterate gardener.

The big house had been bought during her marriage to Barney Mayes, her third husband. The marriage proved to be a stormy one, despite a political, and work related affinity. Both were socialists and active participants in union organizing. During the major clashes of the 1930's when union pie-cards² were battling for control, Joan and Barney were so heavily involved in the struggle that their lives were at risk to the poin that they hired a gun toting ex-convict to defend them.

They had been publishing a
controversial newspaper entitled THE VOICE OF THE FEDERATION. Barney wrote a novel about the strike battles, titled EMBARCADERO, unpublished. They divorced on friendly terms. Barney signed the big house over to Joan who was unable to meet the mortgage payments.

There was a short period of time after the divorce, when for reasons bewildering to her friends, Joan befriended a young art student who was studying at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He was the younger brother of one of her women friends. Apparently they became lovers. During this short relationship, brutality erupted. Joan suffered very serious facial injuries which altered the symetry of her nose, forhead, and mouth. She was never one to harbour a grudge, so we will nvere know who or what caused such a disaster. She maintained that it was a car accident, due to her own negligence.

However, the relationship ended, Joan moved to her little cottage. Within a decent time after her mother's death, someone from her past showed up a'courtn' [courting] at her cottage door. Charlie Miller, gone to war and lost to time and space for twenty years.

(to be continued)

Editor's Notes:

*1: [a popular saccharine children's song sung by Shirley Temple]

*2:[In this instance, the author (HA) told me that she meant the union bosses, the upper echelons within the union power structure. A broader definition is: piecard; a union membership card...as shown to a stranger who is a union member in order to borrow money, obtain food and lodging, or the like--Hobo use, circa 1925. Definition from The Dictionary of American Slang by Harold Wentworth & Stuart Berg Flexner, 2nd ed., Crowell, 1975.]

©. Helen Abbott / Jack London International 2000 | Jack London Home | eMail