Issue 79, Spring 1981
Dean Faulkner Wells, who has put down here William Faulkner’s ghost story “The Werewolf” as he told it to her and her cousin Jill (Mr. Bill’s daughter) and her cousin Vicki and the other children of Oxford, is Mr. Bill’s niece. She was named after her father Dean, who was Mr. Bill’s youngest and favorite brother. Ten years separated the two brothers, but they were very close and enjoyed one another’s company in many moods and moments. Dean Swift Faulkner was killed in an airplane crash when he was only twenty-eight.
His daughter, Dean, describes Rowan Oak, and the “Pappy” of her childhood, with a rare eye, and with the Faulkner care and genius for words, and with the emotion of love. Rowan Oak today remains just as she pictures it—beautiful and serene in the daylight hours, full of dancing shadows and ghostly imaginings at night. Every afternoon I take my big black dog Pete there for his run. Once we found ourselves on the grounds in a wintry twilight. Suddenly, quick as could be, it became dark and forbidding; the magnolias seemed grotesque monsters, and strange sounds rustled in the darkness. Pete, who usually fears nothing, quickened his steps toward the front gate, and then so did I—an adult man and an adult dog getting out of there fast.
Many people have the impression that Mr. Bill was an aloof presence. He put up a PRIVATE sign in his driveway to discourage curious visitors who came to Oxford to have a glimpse of him. But he loved children, and they felt free to play at Rowan Oak whenever they liked and often asked him to tell a story. This was their privilege, because he was their friend.
Dean Faulkner Wells has recaptured the sorcery of her uncle’s story-telling, and the mood and texture of those vanished moments when he told it.
The house stands far off Old Taylor Road in Oxford, Mississippi, hidden behind long rows of tall cedar trees. The driveway which leads up to the house is dirt, marred by deep ruts and holes; and on each side grow tangled brambles of honeysuckle and blackberry thickets. The house cannot be seen from the street, but at the end of the driveway, it looms big, and white, and beautiful. It looks as if it has been there forever, its two story wooden frame rising so high that the second story balcony looks into the very tops of the cedar trees.
In daylight, you would love this house. Sunshine streams through the tall windows into the large, airy, high-ceilinged rooms which offer plenty of places to play. There is ample space on the front parlor rug for a dozen children to sit cross-legged in a circle and play card games like “Spit’’ and “Spoons’’; there is an open fireplace in the library, large bedrooms upstairs for spend-the-night parties, secluded places to sit and read and think. The grounds surrounding the house are paradise: the croquet wickets stay in place from late spring until school starts in the fall; a ping-pong table stands under the porte-cochère; in the front yard wild grapevines, some of them as thick as a man’s arm, trail from the tops of the magnolia trees to the ground, providing natural swings. The tall trees and sand gulleys in the uncleared acres that border the house lend themselves to endless Saturday outdoor games—“kick the can” and “capture the flag’”—and there are secret mossy glades for a noon meal of Indian cornbread cooked in a black iron skillet over a small campfire.