Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FLORIDA: CROSS CREEK AND MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS

My husband knows I enjoy literary tourism, and when he was planning our trip to the South last January, he scouted out THREE author-related sites: The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, The Monroe County Courthouse (which houses artifacts related to Harper Lee and Truman Capote,) and Cross Creek, the Florida home of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (hereafter referred to as MKR) for thirteen years. To be honest, before this visit, the only thing I knew about MKR was that she penned The Yearling, and that it won the Pulitzer Prize a long, long time ago.

It turns out that The Yearling was based on MKR's personal experiences in Cross Creek. Her farm is now a state historic site, and it is a great place to visit.


MKR's house and farm have also been designated a National Historic Landmark:
I recently read Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, and in many ways MKR's challenging experience trying to farm oranges in Florida among the backwoods people reminds me of Dinesen's struggle to make a living growing tobacco in Kenya among the Kikiyu and Masai people. Both women had husbands who were instrumental in purchasing the farms but then disappeared, leaving the women to make a go of it on their own. Both books are full of short, loosely related anecdotes about their experiences.
One of MKR's orange trees still grows in her yard, but most of her grove has been overtaken by the forest.
When MKR moved into the house, it was pretty decrepit, and over the next few years she remodeled it and connected two buildings on the property to make them one.

There is a 1940 Oldsmobile parked in the carport that is similar to the car MKR drove.
Here she is with her original car:
I liked the sundial in the yard. The quote from Robert Browning is one of my faves:
Chickens and ducks are still raised on the farm:
. . . and a small garden is still growing in the yard:
We started our tour of the house by admiring MKR's typewriter on her screened front porch, her favorite place to write:
I've had a thing for old typewriters on this trip. Before Cross Creek, I had already seen an Underwood at the F. Scoot and Zelda Fitgerald Museum and a Remington in a Harper Lee exhibit in Monroeville. It was fun to see another old Remington at Cross Creek:
It's hard to imagine writing ten books on this baby, isn't it?

The screen porch included a bedroom--very practical for hot, humid Florida summers:
MKR bequeathed this house and most of her property to the University of Florida, and they've kept her furnishings pretty much as she left them. No one else has lived in the house since she left it, and so the furnishings are actually hers.

One of my favorite things in the house is this light fixture, jerry-rigged from a mixing bowl to cover and soften a harsh light bulb. MKR was of the generation that lived by the phrase: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."
Part of the remodeling included adding a bathroom.  Apparently it was such a popular room that for parties MKR used to fill the tub with drinks and the toilet bowl with flowers. That seems a bit counterproductive, doesn't it?
Books are tucked in every nook and cranny of the house. The collection includes many of MKR's contemporaries, including Steinbeck, Hemingway . . .
. . . Robert Frost, Thornton Wilder, Zora Neale Hurston, and Margaret Mitchell:

There is also a nice display of MKR's own books, some of them in multiple languages.
And here is a rather somber rendition of the Great Author herself:
View from one part of the house to the other:
The famous artist N.C. Wyeth illustrated one of the early versions of The Yearling. In fact, it's the one I have a copy of. Many years later it was made into a calendar.
I absolutely LOVE these woodcarvings of Pa, Jody with the yearling Flag, and Ma (especially Ma). If reproductions had been for sale at Cross Creek, I would have purchased them.
This isn't a great photo, but I had to take it for my friend at Occasional Piece, a lover of old sewing machines. Isn't the painting exquisite?
You can tell a lot about a person by what she surrounds herself with. Here is MKR's bedroom:

I like the way she rolls.  A suitcase . . . 
. . . a camera, and binoculars:
The guestroom bed has a wonderful crazy quilt and is attached to the second bathroom added to the house:
The kitchen and dining areas are often my favorite rooms in any house:
I used to have eight Hitchcock chairs like this one. I sold six, but I kept the two armchairs:
How would you like to sweep your floor with this corn husk broom? Ack!
The kitchen is bright and airy:
MKR loved to cook, and she published a cookbook of her own recipes. The cookbook was open to the recipe "Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie," which is followed by "My Reasonable Pecan Pie."
She cooked those pies--and everything else--on this old stove:
The pantry adds a little storage space:
Our very knowledgeable guide explaining how the ice box worked:
Another very important structure is in the backyard: The Outhouse. The panel in the middle is a screen, which allows air to circulate inside the outhouse. However, there is a great view of this from the house, so MKR added the zig-zag white line to provide a bit of cover, but not enough to make much difference in my opinion.  The red flag, when out, indicated that someone was inside and that all other visitors should divert their gaze.
Beautiful palm trees soar into the blue sky in the backyard:
Not too far from the main house is this "duplex" where some of MKR's workers lived:
Visitors can take a walk on the path that winds into the woods behind the house. The trees are covered in the Spanish moss that hangs everywhere in the South and gives the trees a spooky, Gothic appearance:
The sun shining through the palm fronds and illuminating the moss is somehow incongruous, like ragtime being played on a cathedral organ.

READING:

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote ten novels, but The Yearling is by far her most famous. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939. I remember reading it in about fifth grade and counting it among my favorite books for many years.  I re-read it for the first time after our trip and found that I still loved it.

Set in the Cross Creek region, it is the story of a little boy named Jody who wants a pet and finally gets a fawn when his father is bit by a rattler and has to shoot the doe mother so he can use her organs to suck the venom out of his leg. There are so many beautifully written passages, but my favorite parts tell of Jody's friendship with a handicapped child on a nearby farm and of Jody's innocent, crushing love for the fawn he names Flag.

I followed up my reading by watching the 1946 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Jody's father and Jane Wyman (yes, Ronald Reagan's first wife) as his mother. (She doesn't look anything like the wood carving mentioned earlier in this post, or like her description in the book.) The movie version of the story can't beat the print version, but it was a fun post script to my reading.
That's an awfully young Gregory Peck. He was thirty years old, and it was just his fifth film out of the seventy-four he made. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor for this role and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. (He was up against Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life and Laurence Olivier in Henry V, but the award was won by Fredric March for The Best Years of Our Lives, which I haven't even heard of.)
I also picked up a copy of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.
 Cross Creek is essentially Rawlings's journal, beginning at about the time she moves to Cross Creek. The story of a pet fawn is in this book, but the owner is a backwoods little girl with siblings, not a little boy who is an only child. Many of the other details are the same as those found in The Yearling. I was impressed by MKR's sense of adventure and courage. She definitely did not let being a woman stop her from anything.

I'm looking forward to cooking that "Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie" in Cross Creek Cookery, along with Mrs. Chancey's Spanish Bean Soup, Greek Lemon Soup, Cream of Peanut Soup (aka Potage Dixie), Florida Backwoods Biscuits, Beets in Orange Juice, Cheese Grits, Crab Salad, Spanish Chicken Fricassee, Minced Lamb, Picnic Potato Salad, Avocado Francis, Watermelon Cake, Black Bottom Pie, Fried Plantains . . . and that's just a sampling.

There are also many recipes that would appeal to my adventurous husband: Jellied Tongue, Orange Lake Frog-Legs, Coot Surprise, Pot Roast of Bear, Alligator-tail Steak, Blackbird Pie, Turtles and Gophers, Minorcan Gopher Stew, and Coot Liver and Gizzard Pilau, to name a few.

Yeah, I had better keep this cookbook away from him.

3 comments:

  1. That bathroom floor is quite amazing, and the light cover is ingenious. I love the simplicity of the house.

    If you haven't seen "The Best Years of Our Lives" you should rent it. It's an excellent movie, one of my favorites.

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    1. I will do that! To beat out It's a Wonderful Life, it must be terrific! I see it is available for streaming on both Netflix and Amazon. It's in my queue!

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  2. I'm not literary at all, but I loved the visit to Cross Creek. I loved that MKR was able to go from New York to the backwoods of Florida and thrive, willing to blend in with the locals, hunt, eat what they ate, and adapt to her surroundings. One of my favorite activities of our trip.

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