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Faulkner and Yaknapatawpha Country
by Mary A. Scobey



Well, okay. Yaknapatawpha was what William Faulkner called it, but we all know he was talking about Lafayette County, Mississippi.

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I was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi but my father, being a man afflicted with wanderlust, always grew restless and we moved about quite a bit. It was twenty years before I returned to the county of my birth. At that time Dad purchased the old Hedleston place, “Sunset Hill,” built in 1842 and located about six miles northwest of Oxford in the little community of College Hill. When we first drove up the curving driveway to the beautiful Greek Revival cottage sitting in the midst of 740 rolling acres, it was love at first sight. This time Mother and I were eager to move again. “Yes, yes,” we said, “please buy it.” And so he did. Thus began a new era in my life on this lovely, old plantation.


On the front porch the bronze plaque reads:

Sunset Hill
House of many dreams
It looks out over the whispering tree-tops
And faces the setting sun


This plaque was made by a missionary relative of Dr. David Hedleston while she was in Korea and aptly describes the setting and aura of the property.

We soon settled into life in the small community – attending church at the old College Hill Presbyterian Church at the edge of our property; my dad and brother overseeing the tenant farmers who worked the land; Mother taking care of the household while I enjoyed teaching a youth group at the church, playing tennis with friends from the university on week-ends, riding my Tennessee Walking Horse and taking classes at “Ole Miss.” It was almost like Tara revisited. I’m sure I fancied myself as some sort of modern-day Scarlett O’Hara, but if so, regretfully, Rhett never made his appearance. Heaven knows, no one was more enthralled with “Gone With the Wind” than I was when it came out in 1939. I must have seen the movie and read the book a dozen times!

On the north side of our property was a thick scope of woods surrounding a nice-sized lake, and on several occasions we noticed a dusty, old Jeep parked at the edge of the woods. One day Dad approached a rather scruffy-looking fellow sitting by the lake and in no uncertain terms, informed him that this was “posted” property and he was to leave at once. Without returning a word, the man got up, climbed in his Jeep and left. A few days later, Dad mentioned this occurrence to Miss Lucille Shaw, who owned one of the two local stores. She told him that his intruder was William Faulkner. It seems Mr. Faulkner was known to frequent the lake for many years and often brought his troop of Scouts out there to camp when he served as Scout Master. Believe me, Dad lost no time calling the Faulkner home and apologizing. He told Mrs. Faulkner her husband was welcome there any time, and after that his jeep was frequently seen turning in the dirt track which led to the lake. We respected his privacy and never bothered him.

To this day there are conflicting opinions as to where William Faulkner and Estelle Oldham Franklin were married. It is known that they came to Sunset Hill to ask Dr. David Hedleston, a Presbyterian minister and university professor, to marry them, but while one faction insists that they walked over to College Hill Church where Dr. Hedleston performed the ceremony, there are members of the Hedleston family who say the ceremony was performed in front of the mantelpiece in the front parlor of Sunset Hill. It was an intriguing thought to think of the couple saying their vows in front of our fireplace, so I prefer to stick with that version.

In the spring of 1949, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer brought a crew of actors and technicians to Oxford to film Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust.” The star of the film was fifteen-year-old academy award winner, Claude Jarman, a handsome young man who set all the young girls’ hearts aflutter. Also among the cast were well-known actors David Brian, Will Geer, Porter Hall, Juano Hernandez and Elizabeth Patterson. Many local folks, among whom was my brother, were also hired for bit parts. I was delighted that Galloway’s Store in College Hill and the surrounding area proved to be the setting for some of the film and often joined the crowd watching the action. Actually, “action” may not be the proper word for it seemed to me that an awful lot of time was spent with everyone just sitting around waiting. Usually among the crowd looking on was Mr. Faulkner, always standing alone but observing everything. I bought a copy of “Intruder in the Dust” and was able to get autographs from most of the actors and even Clarence Brown, the director…but never got up my nerve to approach Faulkner.

At last the film was ready for showing and the World Premiere was held in Oxford at the Lyric Theatre on October 11, 1949. It was a spectacular event with many of the stars present and even the famous author was prevailed on (reluctantly) to attend. It was also with reluctance that William Faulkner agreed to fly to Stockholm in 1950 with his daughter, Jill, to accept the Nobel Prize for literature. Although I had read many of Faulkner’s books, it was only after reading his acceptance speech that I came to realize what a genius I had rubbed elbows with. This speech concluded with the now famous quote: “I decline to accept the end of man…I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” And so he will!

It was about this time that I completed my Master’s Degree in French and English at Ole Miss and the “spirit of wanderlust” overcame my father again. No amount of pleading and tears deterred him, and he sold Sunset Hill. Even though more than fifty years have passed, my reoccurring dream is that I am back at Sunset Hill walking among the flowering shrubs on the spacious lawn. The scent of jasmine twined around a steel pole by the capped-over cistern fills the air…and the world is full of promise and wonder.

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      Mary Ashmore Scobey was born in Lafayette County and proudly admits to having just reached the stage of octogenarian. She graduated from Booneville (Mississippi) High School and, after moving to College Hill with her parents, she attended "Ole Miss," receiving her B.A. degree in 1948 and her Master's (in French and English) in 1950. She then began a career in teaching and has been employed in recent years as counselor for the American Intercultural Student Exchange. She is married to Eugene Scobey of Coffeeville and they have two children: Dr. Eugene Scobey who serves as Hospitalist at Baptist-East and Julianne Scobey, who is Director of Programming at WMC-TV in Memphis.

Writing short stories and poems has always been a favorite pastime of Mary's. She wrote her first poem at the age of eleven, got it published and has been "hooked" ever since. She currently has a book of her father's World War I memoirs titled French Memoirs - World War I for sale on the shelves of Square Books in Oxford and Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis.


Here are more fascinating memoirs by Mary Scobey:
I Remember Guy Bush
Les Pommes A Paris
Paul Rainey ~ A Legendary Figure
Out Of My Element
Love At Last

Want to leave a comment on Mary’s story?
Please write Ye Editor at bethjacks@hotmail.com.




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