Playing at Faulkner’s House

Several days ago, we went to Oxford, Miss., with “we” being me, baby, husband, and students involved in husband’s Faulkner class. We were nervous about the trip both for baby reasons (loud, chatty baby who is still pretending to be a barbarian even though Halloween is long over) and weather reasons (ice and snow.)

The roads were clear, but about the time we got to Mississippi, the trees were shining with ice. Gleaming silver. And this held true when we got to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. For anyone who has any remote interest in Faulkner, I highly recommend going to Oxford. (Also, side note, I recommend Oxford to anyone who loves books (Square Books, a phenomenal independent bookstore) or food (Ajax Diner, Big Bad Breakfast, McEwan’s–all fabulous).

Anyway, back to Mr. Faulkner. His columned, two-storied house looks exactly like Faulkner’s house should look. As if a Civil War colonel or Miss Emily could step onto the porch at any moment. And when we walked onto the grounds, curving past the dead flower garden–having driven there afraid that the bitter cold and the ice might destroy the trip, make it so much less pleasant to walk around the lovely Oxford Square, to wander around Ole Miss–it was a pure miracle. To see the pines and magnolias coated in ice, shining, as surely very few visitors see them. The air was biting but not unpleasant, and–in an attempt to save the very smart and very kind man who runs the house from my baby–I took the boy outside while everyone else strolled around the rooms inside.

Now, keep in mind, this boy had his diaper changed in William Faulkner’s pantry the last time we went to Rowan Oak. So he’s in like Flynn already, having established a deep and true connection through, well, through bodily processes. But this time we walked out the front door and into the crunching grass, and the shrubs and trees were heavy with ice, leaves and branches smooth and cold. I showed him how to shake the trees and make ice slivers rain down. And it was good. And I thought back to my own childhood–with the rare icings in Montgomery, Al.,–and how I loved peeling off a perfect ice leaf or perfect icicle or perfect branch. (The fact that it was ice, that you could have a carbon copy of something–a soft leaf, a rough branch–out of cold, hard, bright ice, made it perfect.) I would peel it and eat it, licking it, biting it, consuming it with great glee, these little reflections of leaves, no color to them, always reminding me of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.

So my boy and I ate ice leaves at William Faulkner’s house, and, even better, the smart kind man that runs the place explained that you could do the same with MAGNOLIAs. He threw on his hat and coat and walked to a magnolia tree as tall as the house, showing us how you could peel off the leaves with icicles hanging from then, and the end result was something that looked like a sea creature, anemone tentacles dangling, long as my forearm. So the boy and I peeled more leaves, freezing our hands, me eating entire leaves and him practicing using his few teeth to at least gnaw at them.

And all that to say, I am extremely grateful that my baby has been able to run and fall and laugh and eat ice leaves along the same muddy, winding paths that William Faulklner walked. Not such a bad trip.


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