William Shakespeare, that quotable fellow, said “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” That’s how I feel about home. Many people I know are raised with a real sense of identity, knowing who they are and where they belong long before they learn how to read. That place of origin, for good or for ill, is home, undeniable as DNA. Others have to make a place for themselves in this world and a few of us enter a strange site and realize with amazement that this place centers us like no other. It’s a shock, like first falling in love, and it changes the folks who experience it. That realization of finding home is central to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s book Cross Creek because it’s not just about the first heady days of romance. Cross Creek is the love affair between a discoverer and place.
The two were an unlikely match. Mrs. Rawlings was a thirty-two year old journalist whose career and human marriage were both showing wear but not many signs of success. She was educated, politically liberal and although she could write, she had not found her “voice”, that prerequisite of transcendent writers. Cross Creek was an undisturbed pocket of the Old South populated by black and white families who eked out an living on the land, through farming or sharecropping, hunting, trading or fishing. Probably no one believed she would stay. The greatest trait both parties shared was stubbornness.
Well that, and a love of the place. It must have held beauty beyond measure because Marjorie stuck there without friends, without encouragement and soon, without her husband (who couldn’t tolerate the isolation) or her dog (who hated the heat.) Marjorie tolerated it all, including the bugs and the outhouse, adapted, repaired and plugged away at fiction that wasn’t getting published. She was also writing to an editor about her neighbors. Those letters mark the beginning of her voice.
From these new friends and the things they taught her, Marjorie gleaned the material for her best known work, The Yearling (when her editor suggest she write a boy’s story set in the Florida scrub, she replied to his suggestion, saying, “How calmly you sit in your office and tell me to write a classic!” Irony, thy name is Marjorie.) Cross Creek was the follow-up, a love song to the area she loved.
As in so many romances, the one between Marjorie and Cross Creek did not make it to the finish line. First, she remarried and living with her second husband meant living some seventy miles away. Far sadder is the fall out that came from this book. One of the people Marjorie wrote of with affection and respect took offense over the description and sued for libel. The case went on for years, dividing the community and draining the parties. Marjorie stayed away after that.
In the end, Frost described it best: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” When Marjorie died, she was buried in a cemetery less than five miles from the place she’d recognized as home. Other Creek residents are spending their eternity there including the woman who sued her. Thus far, the residents seem to be keeping their peace.
Marjorie wrote she was not the real owner at Cross Creek noting, “Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.” Instead, she belonged to this place that defined her, defied her and nourished her soul. For good or for ill, Cross Creek became part of her, like DNA. Call that what you like, I think it means “home”.