Friday, February 20, 2015

The Yearling's Birthplace

The Yearling was never required reading for me in high school or college, but I was interested in reading it...eventually.

And then life, marriage, babies.

Eventually finally arrived and I recently read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' book.

I have seen the 1946 movie (which made Rawlings very famous) a few times. I must admit I watched it mainly to see Gregory Peck.

He is one of my all-time favorite actors. I think he was a very handsome man. I particularly love his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird...step aside Miss Maudie!

I normally read the book before I see the movie because I don't want Hollywood's version of the book to taint my reading experience. I sometimes disagree with what actors or actresses they have chosen to portray the literary characters.

When I read The Yearling, I did not have Penny Baxter looking like Gregory Peck, nor Orry Baxter, Penny's wife, looking like Jane Wyman. My mind's eye had Penny looking small, wiry and sinewy; a younger Pa Kettle and Orry looked like a younger Ma Kettle. Jody and Fodder-Wing still looked like their Hollywood versions.

I enjoyed reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Pulitzer prize-winning book.

In 1928, Mrs. Rawlings inherited some money after the death of her mother. She purchased a 72-acre orange grove with that money. The orange grove was located in the remote hamlet of Cross Creek, Florida. Mrs. Rawlings became fascinated with the remote wilderness and lives of the Cross Creek residents. She felt a profound and transforming connection with the region and land. Mrs. Rawlings lived at Cross Creek for thirteen years.

Mrs. Rawlings began writing stories set in the Florida scrub about poor, back-country residents who were similar to her neighbors at Cross Creek. She wrote The Yearling while living at Cross Creek.

Cross Creek is roughly three hours north of where The Colonel and I live. Rawlings' house and part of her orange grove is now the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park.

Having read The Yearling and Rawlings' memoir, Cross Creek, I just had to visit Cross Creek.

The Colonel and I woke up early on the morning of June 10th of last year (I know...what took me so long to finally write about it...I can offer no good explanation at this time) and after a good breakfast made the long drive to Cross Creek. We had just gotten a Garmin GPS, thank God, because Cross Creek is in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at Cross Creek before the first guided tour at 10:00 am. The Colonel and I were the only ones waiting for the tour. Perfect! We love private tours!

Our tour guide met us in the barn and told us a bit of history about Mrs. Rawlings before we went inside her home. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and you could swear he knew Mrs. Rawlings personally.

The Colonel and I loved the look of the house. It is a beautiful example of a Florida Cracker-Style house. Florida Cracker refers to the descendants of the colonial era English and American pioneer settlers. The first pioneers came around 1763 after Spain traded Florida to Great Britain.

I loved the outside of the house and the grounds surrounding it. There were still some old orange trees in the yard that were part of the original, 72-acre orange grove Mrs. Rawlings purchased. I could not wait to see the inside of the house.

We entered the house from the front porch. This is where Mrs. Rawlings did her writing. It was exciting to see where The Yearling was born.

Next was the living room.

During the tour, I noticed the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. I asked our guide about them. He said that when Mrs. Rawlings bought the place there were just bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. She did not like that, so she painted some wooden bowls and covered the bulbs with them. I really liked her ingenuity and the way they looked.

I really loved Mrs. Rawlings' little kitchen. Cooking was one of her vanities. She said, "I get as much satisfaction from preparing a perfect dinner for a few good friends as from turning out a perfect paragraph in my writing." I do not know how she did all this gourmet cooking in such a small and somewhat primitive kitchen. She even wrote a cook book!

When she did have guests over (some were famous writers like, Robert Frost and Margaret Mitchell) she served dinner in her dining room. Mrs. Rawlings always sat in the chair that faced the window. She did this so that her guests would not have to see the outhouse that was perfectly framed by the window.

Once, a visiting uncle was interrupted during his outhouse usage, so he devised the "flag method". If the outhouse was "ocupada", the red flag was displayed.

Eventually Mrs. Rawlings made some money from her writing (as well as the orange grove) and was able to have two bathrooms put inside the house.

She had a guest room in the house. When the movie The Yearling was filmed, Gregory Peck stayed a few nights in the guest room (just knowing he was on that bed made me want to lie down on it). Margaret Mitchell also slept in the bed.

This is Mrs. Rawlings' bed. It was given to her from one of the friends she made while living at Cross Creek. The bed was an antique when he gave it to her.

The Colonel and I enjoyed the tour of Mrs. Rawlings' house. I would love to spend a couple of nights there.

There is a tenant's house on the property. This is the house where Mrs. Rawlings' maid lived.

The grounds around The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park are beautiful.

The Colonel and I knew that Mrs. Rawlings was buried in the Antioch Cemetery located about five miles from Cross Creek. We visited the cemetery. The drive to the cemetery was pretty and we saw some old houses and a sagging church along the way.

It wasn't difficult to find Mrs. Rawlings' was the one with deer on it. Her second husband, Norton Baskin, is buried next to her.

As a writer, it was an honor to visit the home and especially the final resting place of the writer who brought the world The Yearling

If you ever want to visit the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, I recommend that you first read Rawlings' book entitled Cross Creek. It is about her time at Cross Creek and the people she met there. Many of the people in her book are also buried in the Antioch Cemetery.