Readers of all ages have enjoyed The Yearling, a novel written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Published in 1938 and winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it was originally intended to be an adult novel, but was later marketed as a juvenile book and made into a movie in 1946 and 1994. Still popular today, the film is often seen on TV re-runs. It is the post-civil-war story of a boy who lives in the scrub area near the Ocala National Forest and rescues and raises a fawn in that hard-scrabble wilderness.
The story is actually a compilation of several events in the author’s life as she struggled to adapt to living in the solitude of that Florida wilderness called Cross Creek, striving to become a writer in the 1930s and ‘40s. She received dozens of rejections until she began writing about her neighbors and her “Cracker” neighborhood of Cross Creek.
A book club I belong to focuses on Florida authors, and we were intrigued by her writings, especially Cross Creek, published in 1942. It is the story of her actual adventures when she bought an orange grove in Florida after living the high life in New York. Rawlings was a gifted hostess, entertaining friends and famous visitors such as Robert Frost, Margaret Mitchell, and Zora Neale Hurston, in her “Cracker-style” farmhouse. She even published a cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery filled with her favorite recipes.
At the center of the farm is the barn, with chickens wandering about and clucking. The air is scented with orange blossoms as you stroll down the shady path, past the barn to the rambling old farmhouse. She did most of her writing on the screened-in front porch, seated at a round cypress table supported by a palmetto palm post. The improvements to the house were accomplished little-by-little, as she earned money from her writing, including the addition of indoor plumbing.
It is said that writing did not come easily to her, and sometimes she wrote for 12-hours to produce one single paragraph. A tour of the house is delightfully 1940s, as the house includes all of Rawlings’ original furnishings and possessions. At her death in 1953 she bequeathed the house to the University of Florida, to give aspiring writers a chance to live alone as she did as they honed their writing skills. But, the farm became more of a place for students to party, so in 1970 it became part of Florida State Parks, restored, and opened to the public.
Now, you can visit Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, and the homestead to experience rural life as Rawlings did in the 1930s. The Park is located in Cross Creek on County Road 325 a little north of Ocala, (about a three-hour drive from Longboat Key) a pleasant “Daycation” or a refreshing stop for snowbirds on their way to or from our area. Dogs on a leash are most welcome and adjacent to the park are a county boat ramp and picnic area.
Tours are available, but you can enjoy a self-guided walk around the house and grounds with brochures and maps available in the parking lot at the entrance to the site. For more information: http://www.marjoriekinnanrawlings.org or www.FloridaStateParks.org