All stories are about being human and all humans need a spot they can call home. More than shelter or status symbol, “home” is part of a person’s identity and many writers are known for theirs. Faulkner didn’t stir from Rowan Oak unless he was forced to. Daphne du Maurier’s obsession for Menabilly changed the course of her life. But both of these homes are grand houses of great estates, spots most of us could not relate to. So I traveled to Cross Creek, the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a simpler structure if no less beloved. In fact, so much of MKR’s happiness and identity were tied to her home, she wrote one of her best books about it. And, from the moment you enter her gate, you can see both Cross Creek and the writer are cherished by those who remember them.
City-bred, Marjorie didn’t flourish as a writer until she moved to the backwoods of Florida and Cross Creek is still off the beaten path. No disoriented tourists, adrift from Disney, will turn up at its borders. No major hotels or even gift shops entice explorers with the “Cross Creek Experience”. You have to look for the place, but it’s worth the search. Instead, of the routine showmanship of manufactured amusements, you get something better: a view of a remarkable person’s home and life as she wrote about and lived it.
There is the porch with its writing table, complete with typewriter and ashtray. According to the tour guide, Jack, Marjorie composed at this spot until her books brought her fame and a collection of unwanted visitors, eager to watch her actually write. (I can’t think of any activity with greater potential to bore the spectator or irritate the subject.)
Here is the living room, equipped with fireplace and bookshelves, the very definition of cozy. Marjorie planned for Cross Creek to become a writer’s retreat after her death but, the tour guide states, visiting authors made the spot a party spot instead. When the state took over ownership of the home, Marjorie’s widower removed her furniture from storage and returned them to their spots in the house. The chairs and tables fit the room so well, you would have believed they never left there.
Marjorie’s kitchen would earn the praise from today’s interior designers for its pantry and prerequisite farmhouse sink but the stove astonishes me. How did this woman find the energy to run a farm, write books and become a gourmet cook using this wood-fed contraption? Yet she did, and wrote her own cookbook as well, which I own but refuse to cook from. Marjorie’s greatest strength was her drive but I am a person with limits.
Another of the writer’s strengths was her honesty and the guides at Cross Creek honor that, noting Marjorie’s inconsistencies, and character flaws along with her virtues. Stubborn and volatile, her character was as uneven as the floor in her bathroom (made famous in her essay, “The Evolution of Comfort”) and she made many mistakes. These errors cost her dearly at times and she faced many, if not all, of them in hindsight. But she was an individual, vibrant as the land she wrote about, comfortable and homey as her living room chairs.
Most of all, she was a person who understood the value of “home” wherever it turned out to be. She invested her fortune, her talent, her dedication and sometimes her sanity in the house and orange grove of Cross Creek while recognizing herself as a mere temporary tenant. In turn, the spot brought her poverty, wealth, friends, opponents, joy, frustration, unending work, heartbreak and a spiritual as well as physical home. Oh, and it gave her her writer’s voice.