Kerouac’s family was incredibly important to him. His father died when Jack was just beginning his career as a writer and that search for a missing father fuels much of On the Road. He and Neal Cassady both had very difficult relationships with their fathers and it’s one of the things they bonded over.
When Keoruac was a child, his older brother, Gerard, died at the age of 5. Losing a father and a brother impacted Kerouac’s small family in many ways, including their need to always remain fairly close to each other, resulting in a pattern of following each other wherever they moved. Jack’s sister, Carolyn or Nin as she was usually called, moved to Orlando, and that’s how they came to live in various parts of Florida.
He was living in Winter Park when On the Road was published, and wrote Dharma Bums there. This was in a home on Clouster Ave. in Winter Park, which now houses a Writers in Residence program.
Here in St. Pete, he wrote a novella called Satori in Paris based on a trip to Europe he took with what he considered his second family, the Sampas’ from Lowell, MA.
The Sampas family were sort of a rough and tumble family. They owned some bars in Lowell, and the father spent some time in jail for manslaughter. But one of the Sampas brothers, Sebastian (or Sammy), was much like Jack – writing all the time, very dreamy, and prone to more quiet pursuits. He and Kerouac were best friends from a very early age, and his death during the War was another devastating blow to Kerouac. At various times in his life, the Sampas family has taken care of Jack. When he would come home to Lowell, they’d always make sure he made it home safely, they took him on a trip to Europe, which resulted in a novella called Sarori in Paris, which he wrote while living here in St. Pete. They lent him money many, many times throughout his life. One of the older Sampas sister, Stella, nursed a lifelong crush on Kerouac, and eventually married him in 1966.
So, in essence, there were two families looking out for him, not to mention entire tribes of Beats all over the world who were looking out for him.
In 1964, his sister was in Orlando, and not having an easy time. Her husband had a mistress, they had a rebellious teenager, Paul – whom Kerouac loved very deeply, and she and Jack were barely on speaking terms because of $5000 loan he’d given them. This resentment was unusual for them because Nin and Jack were very close, even though she did have to call the police on him at various points because he’d show up incredibly drunk and belligerent. She died of a heart attack in 1964, while she was arguing with her husband about his affair, and Kerouac was devastated. He felt that he’d focused too much on the money they owed him, which went strongly against the Buddhist teachings he tried to live under. His mother was devastated, having lost two children and a husband by this point. Shortly after, he was picked up for public urination and held overnight in the St. Pete jail, which at the time was the top two floors of the building. The original building has just been demolished, and the photo you see below is of the façade added in 1978.
Research provided by Margaret Murray