“Are you here to let us in,” asked the lady standing with a few other people by the east wall of William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak.
“No, Ma’am,” I replied. “I’m just here to take the tour.” I no more had the key to Faulkner’s house than I did to his writing. The screen on the door they were standing beside was coming out of its frame.
“Mr. Faulkner needs to repair this or the flies will get in,” I joked. She looked toward the porch ceiling and said, “The paint could use a little touch-up, too.”
The group was in Oxford for an afternoon wedding and had time on their hands so they came to Rowan Oak. I had been to a fraternity reunion and decided to visit Faulkner’s home before I headed back to Nashville.
My new friend and I discussed “Mr. Bill’s” screenwriting which he did between novels to make money. Among the films he worked on was To Have and Have Not. The credits at the beginning are very impressive – “Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway; Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Screenplay by William Faulkner.”
As Guy Clark once wrote in a song lyric, “Now there’s a pride of lions to draw to.”
It had been over twenty years since my last visit to Rowan Oak. When I was a student at the University of Mississippi, I went many times because I was interested in learning about Faulkner. And admission was free to students. The summer before my senior year I attended the ceremony at which the property was officially designated a National Historic Landmark.
My friend Howard Bahr was the curator of the antebellum home for several years and I enjoyed stopping by to visit with him during those times. Howard, now a successful author, was also a Faulkner scholar and had a lot of “walking around” knowledge of the writer and the house. I suggested to my new friend that she pick up one of Howard’s books. My favorite is Pelican Road.
I’d also learned about Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying when I was an Ole Miss sophomore and had two lines in a play called Journey to Jefferson that was based on the book. As I Lay Dying has an entire chapter that is just one sentence: “My mother is a fish.” By contrast, some of Faulkner’s sentences go on for pages without punctuation.
By and by, a young man with a backpack came up the tree-lined walkway and said, “Give me just a minute to go in and turn off the alarm. Then you can come in.”
Inside, we learned that Faulkner drank cheap whiskey because it was easily obtainable. There was the outline to A Fable written on the walls. And the window air conditioning unit in his wife’s bedroom installed the day after his funeral. The author who lived in the Mississippi heat had an aversion to air conditioning. His widow Estelle did not.
I walked back out into that heat to the smokehouse – once a kitchen before one was built in the house, past the stable Faulkner built himself, then back through the stand of trees known as Bailey’s Woods to my car, which I aimed toward Holly Springs, Mississippi, then Jackson, Tennessee and finally to Nashville.
Text and photos copyright Les Kerr 2011. Click images to enlarge them.
Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com