I was treated to a birthday lunch, by my DH, at The Yearling restaurant in Cross Creek, which is the home of Pulitzer prize winning (1939) author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Although I’ve lived in this area since the seventies, I’d never visited Cross Creek! It was a wonderful treat.Of course, I read the book The Yearling as a child, and later as a young adult. I remember how haunting and impressive Rawlings’ descriptions of central Florida were; she nailed the ambiance of this place. DH ordered catfish and I got the appetizer sampler platter with gator tail, fried green tomatoes, frog legs and portobello slices. It was too delicious, with the spicy coating and fried to a crisp! My favorite dipping sauces of the 5 offered were the remoulade and the honey mustard. My plan was to order some cooter, which was advertised on the restaurant’s web site, but we were told by the waitress that cooter is on the endangered species list now, so no cooter lunch for us! But we did run into Misty (my dear former co-worker) and her husband Bill, and caught up with some friendly hugs.
We waited around for a tour guide (they were dressed in clothes of the 1930’s era and thus were a bit more rumpled-looking than the tourists in their Perma-Prest duds) to show us the house and grounds. One thing we learned was that chickens burrow and bathe in the cool, moist dirt when it gets hot. The guide said they hate being around water.
Rawlings lived here for about twenty years, starting in 1928. She installed two bathrooms in the house, a rarity for the time and locality. She was a popular hostess and entertained many folks here, both locals and celebrities. She had a refrigerator: a wooden cabinet that held a spot for a large block of ice with a slanted shelf that directed the melted water to flow out the back through a pipe. She also had a pantry and a stock of fine Wedgwood china serving pieces. After her death, her second husband Norton Baskin donated some of her personal possessions to the property for public view. The guide showed us Rawlings’ Singer treadle sewing machine and mentioned that she had some trials with sewing while living in the house. 🙂 I can only imagine what it must have been like to home sew in the 1930’s.
Our tour guide was a descendant of folks who had lived in Cross Creek during Ms. Rawlings’ time. He was very well-read and set the record straight about what was reality vs what Hollywood made of it. DH asked if he had any children or grandchildren who might continue on in his work as caretaker of this historic park. “Well, you see, it’s not likely,” he said. “They all like air-conditioning too much.”
One of the park fliers had this Rawlings quote: “Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees, to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in a geometric rhythm, to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic.”
In the pages of The Yearling, you can read about central Florida and be transported right here by Rawlings’ truthful, powerful and illuminating prose.