Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chasing Willa Cather, Part 2

I wrote last week about why I began, back in the summer of 2005, my obsessive pursuit of Willa Cather and her works.  My students were going to read Cather's novel My Ántonia over that same summer, and I wanted to be ready for them--ready in every way I could be.  And so--as I wrote last week--I took a solo trip to Pittsburgh (where she lived, worked for a publication, and taught high school English for a bit) and to tiny Gore, Va., where she was born and lived until she was about nine years old.  It was then that her family moved to Nebraska, near Red Cloud, where she grew up and went to high school--and then off to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

In July 2005, Joyce and I took one of our massive "literary trips" through the Midwest and Central Plains and Rocky Moutains--and
Cather was very much on our agenda.  First, though, we went to Michigan to visit the Hemingway sites (his family had summered in the region throughout his early life); then off to St. Paul, Minn., where we visited and photographed as many Scott Fitzgerald sites as we could.

From there, we zoomed off to Nebraska, stopping briefly in Des Moines, Ia., where my parents had lived and taught (Drake University) and retired.  Saw their former home, looking forlorn--like me.  My father had died only about five years earlier, and seeing the place where he used to live was surprisingly wrenching for me.

The Cather home
Red Cloud, Neb.
We spent a couple of days in Red Cloud (where they have many Cather sites--and much to see).  We drove around looking for My Ántonia locations.  We were following a little map we'd gotten somewhere in town, and we weren't following too well, apparently, because we got lost in a maze of country roads and maize (!)--the corn was indeed as high as an elephant's eye, as Curly sings in Oklahoma!--and we suddenly found ourselves in a field with very little road remaining.
Annie Pavelka home near Red Cloud
But--not to worry!  Nebraska is nothing if not a piece of graph paper, and I knew the highway was to our east, so I just tooled around until I found something heading east--and--yes!--we were back on the highway.  We saw the (deserted) farmhouse where once had lived Annie Pavelka, the woman on whom Cather based Ántonia--we went inside, looked around.  (They were doing some re-modeling.)  I took a zillion digital photographs those days--inflicted them all on my students when we got back.

As a bonus, we decided that since we were so far west already, we would just head on out to Sun Valley, Idaho, and see Hemingway's final home--and grave--in Ketchum.  And so we did.  The house was posted (NO TRESPASSERS), but that surely did not mean us (!), so we drove back in there anyway; I leaped out, ran around the building taking pictures (Joyce kept the car running, ready to peel out when necessary).  No problem.

And then ... we ate a meal in the restaurant where he ate his final meal (Christina's)--we sat at "his" table.  But I did not order the same meal (New York strip steak, baked potato, Caesar salad, Bordeaux wine).  That seemed--even for me--a little stalker-y.  Nor did I go home and look for a shotgun ... I know ... tasteless way to end a blog ...

TO BE CONTINUED: more adventures on the Willa Trail ...

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