I love Florida. There I said it. And just like a teenage girl defending her bad boy sweetheart to her skeptical parents, I declare to you, you don't know Florida. The Florida of my youth can be found today but one must get off the beaten path and venture beyond Orlando and the coastal cities. Our next author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Cross Creek, Florida in 1928 well before my family moved to Jacksonville in 1955 but we both found the same Florida.
As I turned onto this road a sense of peace washed over me as one who was finally home. I remember this Florida. I had begun to wonder if the canopy of oak trees and dappled light that painted the roads of my childhood was a dream. As a girl had my family really driven down such a road on Sunday's after church to buy oranges at the local fruit stands? Up ahead I could see the remains of a time that was my Florida. The oak trees on the right have been butchered as happens to many an indigenous inhabitant once a conqueror decides to settle new land but traces of the former still remain.
I made my way to Cross Creek from Gainesville to visit the Florida home of Charles and Marjorie Rawlings. Marjorie believed as I do "there is of course an affinity between people and places". She also wrote in her book Cross Creek "along with our deep knowledge of the earth is a preference of each of us for certain different kinds of it, for the earth is various as we are various". Cross Creek and it rustic charm did not suit Charles so he left signaling the end of the marriage. Marjorie remained behind and flourished as a writer. During her thirteen years in Cross Creek she wrote multiple novels -including her Pulitzer Prizing winning novel The Yearling- short stories and letters.
The home she lived in is pretty much today as it was when Marjorie lived there. That fact is more due to luck than planning. She willed the home and land to the University of Florida at her death believing that it could be used as a writer's retreat by up and coming young writers. Marjorie's vision was never realized by the students or faculty of the University of Florida and it fell into disrepair. Eventually the State of Florida took over the place as part of its Historic State Parks program. Today you can tour the grounds and take a tour of the home with a knowledgeable docent.
Donna Wright led our small group of out-of-towners through the house regaling us with stories about Mrs. Rawlings and her life at Cross Creek. Ms. Wright is a petite woman who lives locally and is a Rawlings enthusiast. She and I talked about Mrs. Rawlings' independent streak and our mutual love for Old Florida. I had a thoroughly wonderful time discussing gardening, cooking on a wood burning stove and the joys of indoor plumbing with the other members of the tour. We learned on the tour that Mrs. Rawlings spent much of her first royalties putting a bathroom indoors and celebrated with friends by using the newly installed facility as a bar complete with a congratulatory flower arrangement. At the risk of sounding wistful for a time when less was actually less, indoor plumbing was a cause for a major celebration.
From there I moved on in search of a copy of Mrs. Rawlings' book Cross Creek and lunch. I was promised both at a restaurant by the name The Yearling. A copy of the book was not to be found but I did get a yummy lunch of fried green tomatoes and collard greens. As I ate I listened to eighty year old Willie Green sing the blues song Going To New York and tell stories about his life.
Mrs. Rawlings was inspired by and wrote about the events, people and nature that surrounded her while living in Cross Creek. She captured an attitude, a time and a place that no longer exists. When I was in school, I read The Yearling; it was required reading for all Florida students. Instead of rereading the book for the Pride of Place tour, I read her book, Cross Creek. It is a better choice given Mrs. Rawlings own sentiments about the pride of place.
Until next time,
PS: A personal thank you to Donna Wright and the other volunteers at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park who lovingly give of their time and energy to preserve Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek home and Old Florida.