G3 - Growing
GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's home at Cross Creek
Marjorie and Me: A Relationship
In April of 1938, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was published, and the next April it won the Pulitzer Prize. During the fall of 1964, The Yearling saved my life. I was twenty-two going on fifteen and had just begun to teach English in a high school said to be the roughest in a city with several. The kids were only a few years younger than I, and many were far more experienced in worldly matters.
Armed with the love of literature and well-founded in English grammar, I marched into that classroom with confidence. Instructional periods were seventy minutes, and the kids were grouped according to ability. The longer time was great for the better students, but I had one bunch with severe disabilities, barely able to read or write. Totally unprepared for such a group, I panicked. What was I supposed to do with these kids for so long? Just the year before I had fallen in love with The Yearling, and I began to read it aloud. I remember how Joe, almost my age, twice my size, and dressed always in filth, would ask each day as he came in, “You going to read about the bear, Miss Hoover?” I assured him I would read if he worked hard. For twenty minutes I attempted to teach the rudiments of the English language. Then guilt-ridden, I reached for the story. Other novels followed. Mostly I stood at the back of the classroom as I read, my gaze going often to the door. What would happen if someone important came in and discovered I was wasting time?
Finally, in January, I attended a teachers’ meeting where an expert teacher of English said from a high stage, “Be sure to read aloud to your students, even those in high school. They need to hear the beauty of language.” I could hardly keep from shouting!
My admiration for Rawlings changed into what I have somehow come to think of a relationship last December when I visited Cross Creek, her home in rural Florida. My two daughters, their children, and I were driving to Disneyworld. The girls watched the little ones play on swings on the grounds while Paul, who was nine at the time and who wants to be a writer, and I went inside. We were both enthralled.
If you don’t know how Marjorie came to own Cross Creek and how living there led to The Yearling, you should read her autobiographical account with the same name as her home or at least watch the movie, not totally true to the story, but close. Hoping the citrus grove would support her writing habit, Rawlings bought the place, including a house that had been assembled by connecting three tiny buildings with porches. Built from cypress and pine, the dwelling is plain, simple, and open for cross ventilation. There is a great article about Cross Creek in the Florida section of American Author Houses, Museums, Memorials, and Libraries, by my sister, Shirley Hoover Biggers, published by McFarland. With money from one of her early short story sales, the new owner had the first indoor bathroom added. She celebrated by putting ice and soda in the tub, a tray of glasses on the sink, roses in the stool, and inviting the neighbors in for a “gala social event.” She also screened in the front porch where she wrote, her typewriter resting on a roughly made table.
Orange Trees at Cross Creek
After the trip, I read a book of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s letters and a biography. She loved company, just as I do. So far none of my writer friends have achieved the fame of those who slept at one time or another in the narrow handmade bed found in her guest room. Still, I don’t think she could have enjoyed Margaret Mitchell, Robert Frost, or even Thornton Wilder more than I enjoy my friends, writers and others. Maybe I should reconsider that statement because Gregory Peck, who starred in the movie version of The Yearling, also visited.
With my grandson, Paul, at Cross Creek.