One of the more enchanting things about visiting a writer’s house is getting a glimpse of his personal habits. At Faulkner’s handsome, Greek Revival house, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, I was astonished to learn that he wrote on the walls.
In his study he outlined the plot for A Fable--a novel about Holy Week during World War I, using graphite pencil for the points he wanted to cover, and red grease pencil for the days of the week. (He won a Pulitzer Prize for that work in 1954.) The outline is a disconcerting sight, partly because the house is rather formal and staid; such eccentricity isn’t seen anywhere else. But this was his private office; he had it double locked, and when he went out, he went so far as to keep the doorknob in his pocket.
In the pantry, the old black rotary phone sits on a shelf wedged into a corner, and the walls are covered with the phone numbers of everyone from friends to the YMCA to doctors. Apparently everyone in the family scribbled numbers on the pantry wall--you can see different handwriting styles. Numbers were erased and kept up to date over the years. The previous owner of my house wrote phone numbers on the wall, too; I never painted over it--small town, most of the numbers were still useful! And in his memory I now do the same thing, though I have to confess, I held my breath and tried to keep my hand very steady the first time I defaced the fresh white paint so meticulously applied after the house was renovated. Still, it always gives me a smile to see my sons’ hand recording the number for the local pizza joint and movie house. One of the things I miss most about not having a Forever House is the doorjamb record of the boys’ heights over the years--and if I ever move into an old house, I’ll have a hard time erasing someone else’s family history, carefully inscribed inch by beloved inch.