It’s the birthday of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1896). As a girl, she loved to write, and she published stories and essays in the children’s section of newspapers. As a young wife, she moved to Rochester, New York, where she wrote for a society magazine. She suggested to the editor of the Rochester Times-Union that she write a daily column in verse, called “Songs of a Housewife.” The editor was unconvinced, but he finally agreed to let her try. Her column was extremely popular, syndicated in 50 newspapers. She wrote poems about cooking, being a mother, gardening, neighbors, housework, and the weather. Her first column was called “The Smell of Country Sausage,” and it began: “I let the spiced aromas / Call up the kitchen stair / Before I have my table set / The family all is there.” She wrote 495 columns of “Songs of a Housewife.”
Then she and her husband purchased an orange grove in Cross Creek, Florida. She spent the rest of her life there, even after her marriage ended because her husband did not like rural life. A few years after her divorce, she published her best-known book, The Yearling (1938). It’s the story of Jody Baxter, a lonely Florida farm boy, and Flag, his adopted orphaned fawn. Jody grows up along with Flag, but when Flag eats the family’s corn crop, his parents tell Jody that he has to shoot the deer. Although The Yearling is now marketed as a children’s or young adult novel, at the time of its publication it appealed to a general audience. It was the best-selling novel of the year 1938, and Rawlings’ editor was Maxwell Perkins, who was most famous as the editor for Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize, and like several of Rawlings’ other novels, it was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
In her memoir Cross Creek, she wrote: “We at the Creek need and have found only very simple things. We must need flowering and fruiting trees, for all of us have citrus groves of one size or another. We must need a certain blandness of season, with a longer and more beneficent heat than many require, for there is never too much sun for us, and through the long summers we do not complain. We need the song of birds, and there is none finer than the red-bird. We need the sound of rain coming across the hamaca, and the sound of wind in trees — and there is no more sensitive Aeolian harp than the palm. The pine is good, for the needles brushing one another have a great softness, and we have the wind in the pines, too. We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban confusion, and while this can be found in other places, Cross Creek offers it with such beauty and grace that once entangled with it, no other place seems possible to us, just as when truly in love none other offers the comfort of the beloved. We are not even offended when others do not share our delight. Tom Glisson and I often laugh together at the people who consider the Creek dull, or, in the precise sense, outlandish.”