The original Odd Couple: Holmes and Watson

Detective Fiction’s First Odd Couple

There are all kinds of mystery stories, filled with all different types of detectives, but if you’re going back to the roots of the mystery series types, the Granddaddies of them have got to be Holmes and Watson.  They’re the original Adama-&-Eve, Mutt-&-Jeff, Odd Couple detective team and the template they set up is fierce.

An Early portrait of the Dynamic Duo
Thank you, Wikipedia!
The most noticeable team member is Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first and foremost consulting detective. Brilliant, acerbic, and emotionally detached almost to a pathological degree, he’s the star of the series and he knows it.  But Holmes isn’t chasing villains for glory or cash; he’s in it for the fun and the science. Believe it or not, Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world (and law enforcement agencies) to the world of criminal forensics through Holmes’s obsession with crime scene details and deductive logic.

But, if Sherlock Holmes is so great, why did the author need Watson?

Simple. Watson is the person who needs to tell the story because that’s the last thing Holmes would do.  If “The Great Detective” decided to write up his adventures, what would he emphasize?  Would he capture the creepy atmosphere of the The Great Grimpen Mire or dwell on the terrifying appearance of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  No!  Sherlock doesn’t see these things as important.  A Holmes version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” would consist of long narratives about newspaper fonts, the replication of certain facial features in familial descendants and (maybe) the application of phosphorus to flesh to create an unusual appearance.  None of the Gothic Setting or chilling story would survive because Sherlock Holmes rarely notices these things.  That’s one reason we need Watson.
Another reason we need Watson is he’s our Point-of-View, the guy we identify with, our average Man on the Street. We learn to trust him implicitly.  Sherlock Holmes is a master of subterfuge and obscurity but Watson always tells us just what he sees as soon as he sees it. Which makes the story all that much better when Holmes looks at the same puzzles Watson just described and comes up with an insightful answer.  But, as much as the readers need Watson as a character, these two characters need each other.

When Opposites Decide to Team Up

It’s the chemistry of this mismatched pair that creates the architecture of each story in the series and both characters bring out the best in each other.  It’s my belief that the Holmes-&-Watson formula has been the basis of many a mystery series because it works so well.  Look at Nick and Nora Charles, Morse & Lewis, Tony Hill & Carol Jordan.  They’re crime-fighting Mutt-&-Jeffs who bring out the best in each other by being completely different people.  They’re the descendants of Holmes & Watson.

Some favorite Holmes & Watson stories

 

 

And If You are interested in more….

 

 

What Makes up a Great Mystery Series?

So, I’ve been thinking….
(Yes, I have!  If you wonder where I’ve been for weeks and weeks, I’ve been lost in the woods thinking.  And, despite the heat of the oncoming summer, I believe I’ve come up with a thought.)
Of all the fictional genres out there, one of the most-popular (if not the most) is the mystery novel.  I’m not sure what it says about humanity, but almost half of us who read for enjoyment, find nothing more relaxing than curling up with a story about murder and mayhem.  Maybe we like these stories because of the implicit drama involved, or we like the good guy/bad guy aspect.  Maybe it’s the aspect of solving puzzles we favor.  For whatever reason, a lot of people like mysteries.   And some of the most successful mysteries are part of an ongoing series.
Go hang out with a book club or the mystery/thriller section any bookstore around, and you’ll see what I mean.  Sooner or later you’ll hear someone ask about “the latest Alex Cross” or “the next Kay Scarpetta,” which can sound a little odd, to a newbie.  Fact is, both names belong to fictional sleuths who each star in their own best-selling series of mystery stories.  And I’m talking about enormous popularity here, characters who inspire movies, and web pages and reams of fan-fiction and debate.  So, I have to ask myself, Self, what keeps readers coming back?
So I’d like to look at some popular mystery series during June when people are out at the beach, or in their hammock, head first in another tale about crime.  But, instead of looking at an individual novel, let’s break down some successful mystery series, past, and present, and figure out what made/makes each one work.    And I’d like to have your help.
Now I have my favorites, same as everyone else, but I’d like to hear which ones you like and why.  Do you favor a Mutt-&-Jeff team like Holmes and Watson?  An amateur busybody, like Miss Jane Marple?  A tortured justice professional, like Dr. Scarpetta?  Or an endearing accidental detective, like Odelia Grey or Stephanie Plum?  There’s no judgment here, I just want your feedback to learn what characters have really grabbed your imagination.  And, yes, I’m always hoping to find another good book.
So, fire up those grills, unpack those swimsuits and let’s get ready for some light summer reading.  Just remember not to trip over the corpse that usually appears by Chapter 3!

River of Life

I love rivers.
With all respect to ponds, pools, lakes, and oceans, I love being by a river the most.  Landlocked on two sides, it’s still a continuum of water that chuckles as it moves and brings down the heat in summer.  My rivers are peaceful most of the time but the last thing they are is boring, not only because they hold so much life but they seem to be living creatures themselves.  I guess I see life as a river.
More than anything, all rivers are made up of water, great googolplexes of H2O molecules, all moving in the same direction. Some of the droplets came up from underground springs, some fell into place with a rainfall, but the source isn’t what’s important here.  What’s important is that once those droplets meet up it’s hard to tell one from another and they impact each other.  It may be on a scale too small for us to see but the molecules of water bump against each other on the way to their common destination.  And each encounter changes the path of each droplet, however minutely.
I think all life is like that.  Our lives are continually changed every day by the other life we encounter.  It could be the homeless person we cross the street to avoid or the new friend we make at the market.  It could even be the virus that keeps us out of work or school but our lives and fates are changed on a daily basis by who and what we encounter.  And our actions bounce off someone else, altering their path in unexpected ways.  This perpetual ricochet is as much a part of every molecule’s journey as the forward momentum of the current, pulling it onward to its destination.
I felt that reaction that as I watched our new kitten, Steve this week.  We got Steve to be our Charlie-cat’s companion, shortly before Charlie died. The sad morning after Charlie’s burial, Stevie jumped in the bathtub to chase the water as it ran down the drain. When the tub was empty he turned to me and meowed, clearly curious about where the bath water went.  Up until that time, I had almost resented this new kitten’s dynamic presence, because he wasn’t Charlie and couldn’t make Charlie well.  It was then I realized, as much as I’d always miss Charlie-Belle, Stevie had something of his own to offer.  Steve looks at the world with inexperienced eyes, marveling over things Charlie and I had long since taken for granted. And, seeing the world through Stevie’s eyes makes it new again for me.
And now we have a second pet, Mollie-dog in the house.  As Charlie needed a four-legged friend, Stevie needs one too and Mollie-dog looks like a good match.  Bigger but gentler than Stevie-Cat, Mollie loves squeeky toys, my Jeep and jumping onto our bed.  For however long we have these two, I think they’ll be fine companions.
That’s what we all are: companions on our journeys through life, like waterdrops caught in the current. We go at different rates, encounter different things but we’re still parts of the River of Life. And someday, we’ll all reach the Sea.

The World Famous Author I didn’t Quite Meet

This day should be remembered each and every year.
For the birth of an author, many of us still hold dear.
Though he’s no longer with us, his books hold renown
When it comes to kid’s lit, Old Doc Seuss holds the crown
But I must add, in a tone of defeat
He’s the most famous author I didn’t quite meet

When I was small, Dr. Seuss was the Man
and I read each of his stories, like a number 1 fan

Like the Sneeches, my belly once had a small star
I recited his rhymes while we rode in the car.
I grew up and learned to love reading aloud
I’d choose Seuss to read to the younger kids crowd

That’s what my job was one year, long ago
At the main library branch in old San Diego
That place hosted a party each Winter to cheer
Any locals who’d published books in the last year.
For the party, my off-day, I agreed to forsake
And serve the literati their coffee and cake

I don’t want to brag, but I must confess,
I looked good that day! I wore my best dress.
I buffed up my nails and styled my hair.
My toes perched in the highest heels they could wear.
I practiced my small talk so it would be blameless
I’d be ready, I thought if I met someone famous.

Tell the truth? That party was a little bit bleak
Most writers, up close, don’t look that unique
A few leaned like beanpoles, several looked squashed.
I can’t say for certain each one of them washed!
But my boss, Lois, welcomed them all like guests in her home
and asked each to speak about his or her tome.

Now none of their books were on best-seller shelves
Most writers had published their books by themselves
Tales like “Granddad Lived his Life As a Bear”
and “Making a Million with Stray Body Hair”
Still, each author stood before us, head held high and proud,
and spoke on his or her story – too long and too loud.

The writers droned on, till I was ready to weep
For my wasted day off and my poor pinched up feet
When between the book stacks I happened to spy
A thick-browed old gent, in a suit and bow tie
Who he was, I wasn’t sure that I knew.
He reminded me of someone…I just didn’t know who.

As another writer described his obsession with warts
My boss leaned over and whispered, “At least that one didn’t wear shorts.”
“Having fun?” she asked. I lied and said “Yes.”
“Well, you’ve worked really hard, in that lovely dress
And because you helped make this day such a treat,
“Come on,” Lois said. “There’s Someone I want you to meet.”

Lois walked and I followed, away from the crowds
And into the stacks, toward the Gent with the Brows.
Lois and he acknowledged each other with smiles
Then she gave me a grin you could see for a mile!
And said with a chuckle that was soft, low and loose
“Ted, Leslie helps here.  Les, meet Dr. Seuss.”

My mouth fell open. My toe-blisters al broke.
The small talk left my head without even a note.
I stared till the man nodded and then looked away
I was facing my hero and I had nothing to say?!
My stomach became lead; my brain turned to glue
I blurted, “IREALLYLOVEDSOLLASALLEW:

And that, dear friends, I am sorry to say
Is all I recall about that fateful day
The memory though can still make me wince
Still, I’ve kept what I learned from that day ever since:
That for my self-respect, and the good of my heart
I avoid the artist when I worship the art.

Yes, the last thing I learned from that wondrous Seuss-man
Is when it comes to writers, I’m just a big fan.

#ObeseNoMore

The one question I kept asking myself:
How in hell did I get this big?
We all live our lives by labels.  Those governed by birth are immovable.  Whether you’re a baby-boom, Gen-X or millennial, you’ll be one for the rest of your life, even if you lie about it.  Some birth labels, like nationality, look permanent but can be changed, and some we have even more say on, at least in theory.  I’ve lived with one label too long.

Obese.

If there is a word in the language I hate, that’s the one.  Clinically, it means someone whose Body Mass Index is higher than 30; when the extra weight can really starts to compromise someone’s health. But to the many non-medical people, obesity is a character flaw, not evidence of a health problem, a weakness in someone else that can be exploited.
60 lbs. down and
I’m still OMG obese
And that kind of thinking can be hell to live with when you’re obese.
See, part of the pain of being really big is how that kind of treatment undercuts your confidence.  Graduate with honors? Yeah, but you’re still obese.  Complete a 5K? Doesn’t matter if you’re big as a house. Lose more than a hundred of those extra pounds? Well, that’s a really good effort darlin’, keep up the good work, but don’t think that you’ve earned my respect.  Only thin people qualify for that.

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve listened to that old song while I rode the roller coaster of weight gain.  And, as the scale numbers went up, my sense of self-worth plummeted. Like lots of other overweight people, I tried to compensate for my size by being smarter, funnier and nicer. Inside, I just got more tired, sadder, and fatter. So, instead of learning about getting healthy, I learned about the degrees of obesity.  I watched myself morph from an obese woman into severely obese one, then morbidly obese, and finally super obese.

Overweight, yes, but,
#ObeseNoMore

I also learned all my compensation efforts didn’t work. Those who liked me liked me at any weight; everyone else turned away. Eventually, my fat almost became an invisibility cloak. See, many people don’t like to look at fat ladies huffing and puffing along, so they turn a blind eye to us.  Even when we get into trouble. Part of me hated becoming invisible but, to tell the truth, by that point, I was working hard not to notice myself. Between that and turning a deaf ear to anything that sounded like negative criticism, I didn’t realize how my health was deteriorating until I was in very bad shape.  When I couldn’t look away any longer.

Funny thing was, my visibility as a person started returning (along with my physical strength) as I slowly descended the obesity ladder.  All of the sudden I could walk long distances again, run and cross my knees. But, for all of the improvement, I still was measured by that old label: obese. It felt like a death sentence.
Then, a few weeks ago, the scale numbers dropped again, and my Body Mass Index fell below the dreaded 30. If you looked at me, I doubt if you could tell the difference but a burden’s been lifted.  I’m still too heavy but that label with dread connotations no longer applies to me.  After 30 years, it’s the sun just rose and it feels like a whole new day.
#ObeseNoMore.
Being overweight never felt so good.

The Evolution of a Door: The Misadventures of a Would-be DIY’er

Madison Avenue thinks it knows what presents women wish for. They tell us through commercials all the time. What love token should you give a lady? Give her diamonds. Give her shoes. Give her a new car.  Well, Madison Avenue never heard of me.
I wanted a new front door.
Door, the First
In all fairness, I’ve wanted one for the past 27 years. Our little house came with a rather standard, wooden door; one that let in the weather, but kept out the light. Can’t say I liked it much. Matter of fact, I hated the thing. But, with one thing and another, the door never got replaced when we were a double-income family.  Now that we’re living on one, what were the chances my front door could change?
You’d be surprised.

Not that it was easy.  First off entry doors aren’t cheap, at least entry doors that have lots of glass.  Go ahead, google “3/4 lite entry door”. and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  I’ll wait.

Scary, isn’t it?

Well, I started scouring.  Craig’s List, LetGo, Facebook selling, you name it.  And I finally found this beauty at a price we could afford.  Only one small issue.  Can you guess what it was?
Yup.  We had to install it ourselves.
Now, you wouldn’t call us natural DIY-ers.  Actually, we’re probably closer to DDIY-ers (Don’t Do It Yourself).  But if I wanted a new door, this was the only option.  So, after Googling, You-Tubeing and streaming all the home improvement video I could find, I figured we were ready.
See what happens when you leave a
wife alone with a hammer?

The first part, (obviously) was removing the old door’s trim, molding, and frame, then the door, itself. That’s when I discovered my husband’s favorite DIY hack.  See, he doesn’t like doing this stuff so, whenever we ran into a problem, he went to the store. Always. And while he was gone, I’d get so impatient waiting for him, I work out the solution myself.  By noon, he’d been to the hardware store 3 times, and I had the door out of the frame.

The next part was the doozy because, it turns out, doors are like Goldilocks. For them to open and close in their frames, their plumb, level, and balance must be j-u-u-u-ust right. Close is not good enough, as we learned. We got the framed door into the spot, shoved in skinny wedges of wood called shims to keep it straight, and nailed everything into place. It looked great from the outside, but the damn thing wouldn’t open or close without a fight. And, once shut, it wouldn’t sit flat in the frame. My sis called about that time, asking how the project was going.  I said, “It’s not really functioning as a door right now, but the light is beautiful.”  My husband swore and said he had to go back to the store. And I sat down to study the problem. 
Is it the house or 
the door that’s tilted?

Turns out that doors function on reverse psychology.  If you need them to come up in the top left corner, you have to adjust the bottom, right part.  And vice versa.  I also learned there are two kinds of skims: some go between the door frame and walls and others go between the hinge and frame.  It’s a tricky business.  So, by tightening and nudging, making tiny adjustments, adding and pulling out shims, the door eventually straightened itself into the frame.  Finally, I was ready for hardware, just as my husband pulled back into the driveway.
In order to save money, I planned to remove the old handle and lock and transfer them to the new door, but the hardware had other ideas.  A tiny screw went flying while I unloosened the old handle and I haven’t seen it since.  One of those teensy, one-of-a-kind screws, of course.  Now I had to go to the hardware store, to buy a new handle and lock. These cost half as much as the new door but I must admit they look nice.

All told, it took almost a whole week to finish up (and the spray-on foam insulation made a mess) but the new door is magnificent.  It looks like it was made for the house.  And Sis, continuing in her role as Best Sibling Ever sent two flanking planters as an early Christmas gift, either for me or the Door, I’m not really sure which.  The sawdust is cleaned up, our pulled muscles have healed, and almost all the tools are back in place.  And the light shining through is magnificent.

So be careful what you wish for if you want a new door. Diamonds might be an easier, cheaper gift. But, then again, nothing in Zales’s catalog has this way of saying, “Welcome Home.”

A Sense of Taste, A Sense of Place,

With the arrival of the Holiday Season, everyone is focused on families, friends, and parties, which usually means food.  That’s great because I love to eat; but awful because I’m a lousy cook.  I mean world-class lousy.  I’m the gal who confused teaspoons and tablespoons in Home Ec. class and braised radishes with too much oregano. (Who braises radishes anyway?) My newlywed cooking turned Meat Loaf into Meat Cake and made my husband a permanent fan of take-out.  I’m slowly getting better at the domestic arts but it’s hard overcoming a kitchen philosophy I created years ago that states, “When it comes to cooking, I’d rather read.”  Luckily, I live in the South, a region of great writers, as well as great cooks, and, at times, those two fields overlap.  When that happens, the results are cookbooks that feed the body as well as the soul.

Cross Creek Cookery

I’ve written before about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her great love-affair with central Florida.  One of the most remarkable chapters of her wonderful book, Cross Creek, recounts Marjorie’s own development from lousy to gifted cook and her joy learning Southern cuisine. The only problem was the book was published during World War II and her rhapsodies on the Joys of Southern Food made an awful lot of American soldiers homesick.  One fellow, who loved food, wrote to her saying, “Lady, [after reading your book] I have never been through such agonies of frustration.” In response, Marjorie published “Cross Creek Cookery”, a collection of recipes and anecdotes that are equally enjoyable.  For example, there is the time she confused an electric ray with flounder and shocked herself trying to catch it.  There is also the tale of Godfrey, a Florida version of Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson who considers serving collard greens beneath his dignity. (Godfrey must have been out of his mind; collard greens are the first vegetable that made me fall in love with Southern Cooking.)  Cross Creek Cookery is the first cookbook that made me laugh out loud.

Recipies of My Life

 

But literature is more than love and laughter, and so is cooking, as Pat Conroy makes clear.  His cookbook, describes not just the art of preparing food he came to adore, but how food can become a short-cut to memories of other times, places, and people.  I know that myself; a taste of grouper, garnished with almond slices and stuffed with grapes, takes me back to an Augustine restaurant and one of the best dinners and nights of my life.  Pat takes his readers through his memories of life and garnishes the experience with recipes that recreate the scenes.   Here are the soft-shell crabs and shrimp salad of Beaufort, South Carolina, the Scottiglia and Saltimbocca of Italy, and Eugene Walter’s Pepper obsession. But more than anything, Conroy makes clear how close good writing is to good food.  Both are the results of creative thinking and memory, distilled to levels of clinical precision.  A recipe, Conroy says, is just a story that ends in a good meal.  That is a philosophy that could make me want to learn to cook.
Tell me about the cookbooks you love to read and re-read!

The Murder Mystery No One Expects

At one point, there was just Jane Austen.  A British lady, (by which I mean gentlewoman, not a member of the aristocracy) gifted with humor, keen powers of observation, and the tenacity to create fiction in a time where few men and no women were encouraged to write. Her novels were known to humorists and English Majors but considered too esoteric for the hoi polloi.  In those days, she was just Jane Austen.
Now, Miss Austen is an industrial source.  Her six major novels have been analyzed, adapted, pillaged, and parodied beyond belief (I have friends who debate the merits of filmed version of P&P), there are shelves heavy with revisionist tales drawn from her original stories and Jane-mania  has spawned at least two books of its own: Austenland and the Jane Austen Book Society. None of this surprises me.  In our culture, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. What I did not expect was murder, that darkest, most obsessive of crimes, would be linked to Jane Austen. And yet, the tie may be true. Of course, it would take a crime writer to see it.

The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

Enter Lindsay Ashford, a crime journalist, late of the BBC.  With a reference from one of Ms. Austen’s last letters and the analysis of a lock of Jane’s hair, Ms. Ashford realizes Chic Lit’s premier author may have expired, not from Addison’s disease, or tuberculosis, but arsenic poisoning. Add in some research, a few other strange deaths of near relations and the result is  The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, a story that irritates as much as it charms.
Sunny, sensible, practical Jane Austen: is there any less likely candidate for murder?  Yet, Ms. Ashford concocts a theory, narrated by Anne Sharp one of the few non-relatives the real Jane Austen corresponded with.  As a governess once employed by Jane’s brother, Edward, Miss Sharp has the education and sense to recognize literary genius when she sees it. She also has the perspective to see the tangled relationships and characters in the Austen clan.
Character is something Lindsay Ashford occasionally does well as she brings a younger brother, Henry, to life.  This Henry, who reinvents himself and survives on his charm, has some characteristics of Jane’s ne’er-do-wells like Wickham and Henry Crawford but he is also his sister’s champion. Unfortunately, Jane Austen had six brothers and, in the interest of setting out her murder plot, Ms. Ashford forgets to give each of them the necessary distinguishing detail needed to understand her theory.  In the end, you can see Jane’s murder was one in a series of attacks on the Austen family and you can see who had means and opportunity.  A reasonable motive for this act is what’s lacking.
Still, The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is fascinating in the research behind it and the questions it poses.  Why did Austen die at the young age of 41? Who were the real-life models behind her classic characters?  What was contained in so many of Jane’s letters that after death, her sister, Cassandra, was compelled to destroy them? In the absence of real answers, we at least have the joy of imagining what they may be.

A Tale of Autumn’s Light

If you listen to painters, they are obsessed with color and light.  Well, if you listen to stories of artists, that’s what they talk about.  Me, being a word instead of a picture person, I didn’t understand what they meant.  Color is color, light is light, right?  You either have it or you don’t.  Then I took a look at Autumn around here and I began to see what all the fuss was about. The qualities of light vary, hues change and the infinite combinations can blow your mind.  Then, I began to think that if we are made in God’s image, then the Supreme Being is also the Supreme Painter and autumn is when all the crayons come out of the box to vary the leaves with the light.
The light of Autumn has its own peculiar illumination.  If Winter is a pale, fluorescent bulb, and arc lights imitate summer, then Fall is like Edison’s first bulbs, full of amber, dim, uncertain illumination.  And when that yellow, watery light comes up underneath the clouds and hits the variegated leaves, the foliage seems to….glow.


For example, my neighbor has this incredible tree that puts on a show every year. (By the way, we don’t “plant” trees in my neighborhood; Nature does that on her own. What we do is continually clear enough new growth to keep a road to the house.) Well before the other leaves turn, this one shimmers first from green to yellow, then orange to red, signaling the show is about to start.  And even on a grey day, this thing stands out a mile. Now get a load of this view…

This was taken during a rainstorm, but can you see how the peachy-amber of my neighbor’s yard reflects the light?  To me, this is Nature worth watching.  Our autumn foliage season hits a little later than most, starting just before Halloween and peaking around Veteran’s Day, so the store’s outdoor holiday displays can sometimes look a bit schizophrenic, juxtaposing fake snow and Santa Clauses on top of blazing autumn leaves.  So, it’s best to ignore what the merchandising calendar for now and take in what this area really shows: radiant color and unearthly light.

For the next few weeks, these colors will intensify as the light dims and yellows until Thanksgiving’s sunrise will seem to set the trees aflame.  Then, in one fell swoop, most of the leaves will darken and plummet (never all of them) leaving bare branches and us back in winter.  But that isn’t today.

Today is part of the planet’s annual fireworks show, all color, and light. Today is when Nature is Art.  And I want to see everything in the exhibit.

Home Story

All stories are about being human and all humans need a spot they can call home. More than shelter or status symbol, “home” is part of a person’s identity and many writers are known for theirs.  Faulkner didn’t stir from Rowan Oak unless he was forced to.  Daphne du Maurier’s obsession for Menabilly changed the course of her life.  But both of these homes are grand houses of great estates, spots most of us could not relate to.  So I traveled to Cross Creek, the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a simpler structure if no less beloved. In fact, so much of MKR’s happiness and identity were tied to her home, she wrote one of her best books about it.  And, from the moment you enter her gate, you can see both Cross Creek and the writer are cherished by those who remember them.

City-bred, Marjorie didn’t flourish as a writer until she moved to the backwoods of Florida and Cross Creek is still off the beaten path.  No disoriented tourists, adrift from Disney, will turn up at its borders. No major hotels or even gift shops entice explorers with the “Cross Creek Experience”. You have to look for the place, but it’s worth the search. Instead, of the routine showmanship of manufactured amusements, you get something better: a view of a remarkable person’s home and life as she wrote about and lived it.
There is the porch with its writing table, complete with typewriter and ashtray.  According to the tour guide, Jack, Marjorie composed at this spot until her books brought her fame and a collection of unwanted visitors, eager to watch her actually write. (I can’t think of any activity with greater potential to bore the spectator or irritate the subject.)  
Here is the living room, equipped with fireplace and bookshelves, the very definition of cozy.  Marjorie planned for Cross Creek to become a writer’s retreat after her death but, the tour guide states, visiting authors made the spot a party spot instead.  When the state took over ownership of the home, Marjorie’s widower removed her furniture from storage and returned them to their spots in the house.  The chairs and tables fit the room so well, you would have believed they never left there.
Marjorie’s kitchen would earn the praise from today’s interior designers for its pantry and prerequisite farmhouse sink but the stove astonishes me.  How did this woman find the energy to run a farm, write books and become a gourmet cook using this wood-fed contraption?  Yet she did, and wrote her own cookbook as well, which I own but refuse to cook from.  Marjorie’s greatest strength was her drive but I am a person with limits.  
Another of the writer’s strengths was her honesty and the guides at Cross Creek honor that, noting Marjorie’s inconsistencies, and character flaws along with her virtues. Stubborn and volatile, her character was as uneven as the floor in her bathroom (made famous in her essay, “The Evolution of Comfort”) and she made many mistakes. These errors cost her dearly at times and she faced many, if not all, of them in hindsight. But she was an individual, vibrant as the land she wrote about, comfortable and homey as her living room chairs.   
Most of all, she was a person who understood the value of “home” wherever it turned out to be. She invested her fortune, her talent, her dedication and sometimes her sanity in the house and orange grove of Cross Creek while recognizing herself as a mere temporary tenant. In turn, the spot brought her poverty, wealth, friends, opponents, joy, frustration, unending work, heartbreak and a spiritual as well as physical home. Oh, and it gave her her writer’s voice.
All in all, not a bad deal.

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