July 21, 2005.
Joyce’s birthday was just the day before, and we celebrated by driving some 500 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota (where we’d visited quite a few sites related to F. Scott Fitzgerald), to Hastings, Nebraska, about forty miles north of Red Cloud, the girlhood home of Willa Cather. My journal reminds me that after supper that evening we went to see a film in Hastings—Wedding Crashers. In my journal I wrote: much funnier than I thought it was going to be, though juvenile, of course. Well, I have a weakness for the juvenile in films, a weakness Joyce tolerates (usually) and has not yet learned to celebrate.
In Red Cloud the next morning, we went on a tour of some sites in town (Cather’s home, the homes of friends, and the like), then drove around Webster County looking for (and finding!) the many markers that the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Education Foundation had placed around to commemorate/mark sites that were significant in her life and fiction. Many of the roads are dirt and traverse cornfields that come right to the edge of the roads. There were times we could see nothing but tall corn to our right and left, a rough dirt road in front and behind. We rarely saw another vehicle of any sort and felt, in a way, as if we were scrolling through some dream about the nineteenth century.
Once, we lost our way, but I knew that the roads were laid out like a piece of graph paper, so I merely checked the sun (oh, you former Boy Scout, you!) and headed east, where the nearest highway was—US 281. Found it quickly. (I should note that this was in the days before we had GPS.)
One of the sites I most dearly wanted to see was the old Pavelka farm, where “Ántonia” had lived. We acquired a brochure in town (Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial—$1), which is driver’s guide to the area, and off we headed in search of the sites. The “Pavelka farmstead” (as it’s now called) belongs to the Willa Cather State Historic Site.
When we arrived—after viewing the grave of Annie Pavelka (who died in 1955)—we found the place looking abandoned but with some signs of restoration efforts going on. The site was very remote, very rural. We turned into the driveway, got out of the car, took some pictures of the house, outbuildings, terrain.
Then I wondered aloud: Do you think we can get inside? We walked over to the rear entrance and saw it was not locked but was secured only by a piece of building block. Easy to move out of the way … should I?
|Red Cloud, Neb.|
|Cemetery. Bladen, Neb., where Annie Pavelka lies.|
|Note the building block near my feet.|