08/08/03
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
    by John Cech

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These are the sounds of Cross Creek, near the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, just a few minutes south of Gainesville, Florida, where we produce these programs. It's Ms. Rawlings' birthday today. Everyone around here calls her "Miz Rawlings" or "Marjorie" -- as though they had just had a chat with her over at the fish camp, or ten miles down the road at the store in Micanopy, the closest little town, and they place where the filmed Cross Creek and Doc Hollywood.

In the house where she lived and wrote The Yearling, Cross Creek, and The Secret River, and rollicking short stories like "Bennie and the Bird Dogs" the historical interpreters come every day to bake in her kitchen or trim back the angel trumpet vines when they start to overtake the back porch, or lead the many visitors on tours of the house, or box the oranges from the groves that Miz Rawlings brought back to life when she moved here with her husband Charles, also an aspiring writer, in 1928 from Rochester, New York. She and Charles thought they would grow oranges and write. Marjorie did, but he didn't. He wasn't happy in this rural isolation; she was. In many respects, the move ended up costing her her marriage, but it gave her the subject matter for most of her books -- the proud, hard-working people and their hardscrapple lives in the Big Scrub of Florida. We forget that Florida was the southern frontier in America's expansion in the late nineteenth century, and, long before the developers came, Florida also had its explorers and pioneers, cowboys and homesteaders. And these were the people who were here when she arrived.

The Yearling, Miz Rawlings's masterpiece about a boy, Jody, and his pet deer, Flag, is set in the woods of this area, and sixty-two years after it was published, there are still places nearby that are as wild and as magical as the scenes Miz Rawlings describes in that book. Take a canoe out on the River Styx (believe it or not, that's its name), and you'll be certain that you're the on the same river she wrote about in The Secret River -- the only book that she actually meant for children. The movie, Cross Creek, gets the mood of the place just right. Better yet, come on down some time and see for yourself. They'll give you a bag of oranges at the homestead, and you can linger awhile, too, on a bench in the shade of the barn. Those Parson Browns can be pretty sour, but you'll see and taste and hear why she stayed.

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Copyright 2003 John Cech

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Friday, 11-Jul-2003 15:46:53 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."