Call it providential. I grew up less than 50 miles from Oxford, Mississippi. By my teen years I was reading and writing papers on William Faulkner for school. That started a lifetime of reading Faulkner for pleasure and for my own edification. Yet I had never visited Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford.
My wife and I rectified that on Friday, September 25, 2015. That’s right, on Faulkner’s birthday, 118 years to the day after he was born.
We parked along the shady dirt road on the property and strode up the gravel drive to the brick-paved walk lined with old, towering cedars to the stately white house, two-storied, columned, clapboarded, built in 1844 and purchased by Faulkner in 1930. We saw all the rooms in his house, including his study where he outlined the plot of A Fable right on the wall. His manual typewriter sat on the little portable desk Faulkner sometimes carried outside to write in the yard. Although Rowan Oak is a large spacious house, Sherrie and I were both struck by the simplicity of the furnishings. It felt like a home.
Soon Bill Griffith, the curator, and I were sharing our favorite anecdotes and thoughts on various Faulkner novels. He recommended some critical works and a memoir by Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, for whom he was guardian after her father’s death. I bought a copy in Square Books later that afternoon.
We wandered about the grounds and saw the stables, barns, and servants’ quarters. it was a perfect fall day in Mississippi. We could hear the Ole Miss marching band practicing for tomorrow’s halftime show during the Vanderbilt game. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is only a little over half a mile away as the crow flies.
The Rowan Oak staff was expecting guests from New Albany, Mississippi, Faulkner’s birthplace. In addition to it being his birthday, actually because it was his birthday, they were dedicating the 35-mile stretch of Highway 30 between New Albany and Oxford as the William Faulkner Memorial Highway. Sherrie and I showed up for the reception, and Mississippi being Mississippi, we met Kenny Ferris, the Assistant Director of Visit Oxford, who was from Tupelo where I grew up. Additionally her husband was from Macon, Mississippi, and through him she had met some of my extended Catledge family who had married into the Adams clan. That’s just Mississippi.
It was a rare and good day. Providence is like that.