Gone, but never forgotten he is. He was bigger than us and the aftershocks of his earth-shaking literary genius will forever reverberate down through the Oxford ages, and up the drive at Rowan Oak. Into Memphis they fly. Down through Mississippi they drive. In twos and threes and in bussed groups they come. Into Cofield’s Studio they would come; speaking French, Japanese and Russian, they came, will always come.
He did not like the approach of strangers to his private space. He made it clear that he saw no connection between his home life and his words, but in the end he was bigger than himself. So much so that our postage stamp of earth is immortalized in the minds of as yet unborn pilgrim poets of Rowan Oak’s.
He loved Oxford. But it was the Oxford of old that he bemoaned with each slipping away of the former. He made it clear that he could not leave behind his connections with the past. But, in leaving it all for the world to read, he made Oxford’s future bigger than its past.
They made fun of him. Old Judge Falkner was shy to even admit kinship, but when pressed, wasn’t shy in his disdain. His brother’s oldest boy wasn’t going to follow in the line of great Mississippi Falkners who’d honored the family name in battle, who’d mitigated the damage and litigated and legislated the future. Who’d, one spike at a time, hammered their way through our long hard Reconstruction rise and built a railroad. And while the locals with dirt under their chipped and work-worn nails thought writing was not true to a man’s wife’s and family’s needs, he would stand aloof on a bustling Square, taking them all in. Aloofness mistaken for airs, they called him Count “No Count,” to no account of his. Then Sanctuary was published. Chapter one, line one of a never-ending story. Whether he took Oxford to the page in protest, or willingly as they soon learned his was a pen that would write the road map to Rowan Oak, and us, we were taken away by something bigger than the collective sum of our opinions of him. From the moment he left us, we’ve been playing catch up. And now whether or not there’ll be a last laugh, if there is, it is his.
For now they come in twos and threes and bus loads. They long to be where he was, and for a short time and story, they live with us, they dine with us, they envy us, and they enter their pin numbers with us. But the time is coming when they’ll be none of us who knew him. Memories will become the myth and a hundred years from this reading they will make their way up Rowan Oak’s drive softly speaking French, Japanese, Russian…and Faulkner!
John Cofield is a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, J. R “Colonel” Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was The Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at email@example.com.