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Cross Creek is one of the finest memoirs ever written, filled with grace and beauty from one of America's greatest writers, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Perhaps no other writer has so perfectly and honestly captured a place and time like Rawlings did in Cross Creek. It will transport you to that small acreage of backwoods Florida and cause you to wish for a life such as this.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings purchased a seventy-two acre orange grove in this remote area and fled her aristocratic life in the city to perfect her craft and get published. It is here all her beloved books would be born, including this memoir covering the years of hardships and beauty at the creek. Rawlings herself would become a part of the earth and land as she was reborn here in Cross Creek and would leave behind literary achievements such as "South Moon Under," "Golden Apples," "When the Whipporwill," "Cross Creek Cookery," and of course, her Pulitzer winning, "The Yearling."
Her close relationships with her neighbors at the creek, both black and white, are told with humor and humanity. Their lives were often filled with hardships but serenity as well, for all of them had chosen to live this kind of life rather than conform to society. Especially poignant are Rawlings' observations of a young destitute couple who would be portrayed so movingly in Jacob's Ladder.
Rawlings' recollections of her friendship with Moe, and especially his daughter Mary, who was Moe's reason for living and the only one in his family who cared when he came or went, are told with such beauty we feel pain ourselves when he takes his last breath at the creek. Her deep friendships over the years with Tom and Old Martha are told with humor, honesty and a gift for description few have ever had.
Tinged with sadness is Marjorie's relationship both as employer and friend to 'Geechee. Rawlings would attempt to help her to no avail as this sweet personality slowly became an unemployable alcoholic. Her mistreatment at the hands of a womanizer unworthy of her love was at the heart of her problem. It is perhaps at the bottom of a few bitter comments from Rawlings.
But Cross Creek is about the earth and our relationship to it. When we stray from it we become less because it is a part of us. Rawlings came to believe over time that when we lose this connection to the earth, we lose a part of ourselves. The great and wondrous beauty of nature, from magnolia blossoms and rare herbs to Hayden mangos and papaya, are as much a part of this memoir as the people. Particularly hilarious are Rawlings' descriptions of a pet racoon of mischievious nature and such cantankerous disposition as to almost seem human.
Rawlings' world at the creek is perhaps her legacy, a gift given to the reader we can never forget. In order to enjoy this memoir, however, one must read the entire book, taking into consideration a number of factors. Published in 1942 and covering many years prior in a backwoods area of Florida, at a time when racial equality was a distant dream, some may be offended by Rawlings' casual, though never mean spirited observations. Rawlings honestly relates actual conversations from this time and place between blacks and whites, and blacks to other blacks. Rawlings treated everyone fairly but a long string of farmhands prone to drink and violence, including the one who would destroy her friend and employee 'Geechee, prompted her to lump an entire race into one group, her friends at the creek being exceptions. I do not feel the comments of this southern woman and most gifted of writers should keep anyone from reading this most beautiful and heartwarming of memoirs.
Rawlings' graceful prose, whether describing a chorus of frogs singing at night as a Brahms waltz, the scent of hibiscus drifting through the air at dusk or a myraid of dishes meticulously prepared and labored over for hours, is delightful and unforgettable. Cross Creek will make you hungry for succulent fruits, cornbread and hot biscuits with wild plum jelly, and the living of life itself.
Reading this lovingly written memoir will leave you with a wistful desire to walk away from society as Rawlings did and live the life we crave in our very being, even if it is not possible, and can only be lived in our hearts.
"Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time."
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings