By David Spear
(Editors’ note: David Spear, son of Marion “Mimi” Anderson Spear, Sherwood Anderson’s daughter, wrote this account of his visit in 1997, a year after his mother’s death, to Fairhope, Alabama. Spear was attempting to find the location of Anderson’s residence during the winter and spring of 1920, where he finished Poor White (1920) and began Many Marriages (1923). Just so the record is clear, Faulkner would not have visited Anderson there, since they first met in 1924.)
I had about given up hope. Finding the cabin in Fairhope where Sherwood Anderson once lived for a short period appeared to be at an end. I had covered most of Bay View Street where grand mansions are folded among the giant live oak trees overlooking Mobile Bay. But I had one more drive to check. One that led to an apartment complex. A building that stretched along the bay. A shabby looking colossus covered in cedar shakes turned orange and black. I parked between a Corvette and a Mercedes. There was a board walk leading to the bay at the northern end of the lot so I took to it. The fresh smell of treated pine was being pulled from the boards by a hot humid July sun.
In my hand I carried a zip-lock plastic bag, which held traces of gray ashes, a few of the remaining ashes of my mother, Mimi. Sherwood Anderson’s only daughter. I had my instructions from my sister, Karlyn, who had taken it upon herself to see that our mother’s ashes were scattered to the far points of the earth. When she last read me her distribution inventory sheet, it read as follows: Los Angeles (performed by Anna, granddaughter), San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge (performed by me in 1996 on a windy day), Fire Island, New York (cousin Margaret Anderson), Sherwood Anderson’s grave in Marion, Virginia (my sister’s work), brother Robert’s grave, also in Marion, the croquet court at Ripshin, Virginia ( my sister again), my brother Mike’s garden in Richmond, Virginia, ( I ain’t through yet, she said to me on the phone when she gave me this list), Central Bridge, New York, (granddaughter Tippie), Key West, Florida. (by Karlyn), The Great Wall of China, Tian’amen Square in Beijing, and the Yangtze River (all done by my sister and her husband, Joe, on their recent trip to China. And of course there are a few ashes buried at the family grave site in Madison, North Carolina.
Out on the newly constructed dock, I looked at the water. It was the color of pale rose wine. There was some motion in it. Small waves. And there was the smell of sulphur. I don’t know if I should do this here, I was thinking. But I know it will change and it will cool down and water will clear up in the fall; the ashes will dissipate. So I opened the bag and waited for a gentle breeze and then I turned them loose. They filtered down like dust glimmering a bit in the sunlight until they caught the surface where they floated for a time. Finally they sank toward the “lodonous” bottom.
I turned to leave and my eye caught a small building. It was nestled beneath a three-story vacation home still under construction. I wanted a closer look but I was apprehensive, for there were private property signs posted everywhere. But I decided to look anyway. What the heck.
Soon enough my presence got the attention of a couple up the hill near the vacation home. They came walking rapidly and soon I was confronted.
“What do you want here?” asked the man. “What are you doing here?” chimed in his wife.
“I’m looking for a cabin where a famous person once lived. This little building looks as if it may be it.” The woman was tall. She had deep-set sharp blue eyes and high cheek bones. Possibly German extraction I thought. She stood in her Bermudas, with hands on her hips as if she might be surveying recent acquisitions. Definitely Germanic in manner, I thought.
“Anderson was his name. Sherwood Anderson.” I could see her wheels turning. Calvin Klein, Armani, Valentino, Banana Republic, Bill Blass, Prada, Sherwood Anderson?
“How did he make his money?” she said finally. She was doing comparatives now and looking at my bargain box trousers.
“Oh, he was a writer,” I said.
“Never heard of him.”
“People heard of him in the early part of this century,” I said, trying to defend his importance.
“What kind of stuff did he write? Was it like John Grisham’s stuff?”
“No. But he was a friend of William Faulkner.”
“Oh! yeah! Well, I have heard of him,” she said. Then she turned to her husband. “Frank! You heard of Faulkner, haven’t you?” Frank was expressionless.
“Not unless he sold real estate, honey. I don’t know him.”
“Well, there is a good possibility that he spent time here, sat inside this little building and wrote,” I said. “Anderson that is. And maybe Faulkner came to visit him here. And that would make it important historic real-estate if that is true.”
“We are debating whether to tear it down. I want it down,” she said. “Frank wants to turn it into a tool shed.”
“I hope you will leave it here,” I said. “Maybe sometime in the future it will be identified as the actual place where he lived and worked and it would be important.”
“Well,” she said, “if you can get some kind of proof, I’d like to see it. That might make a difference.”
They both had warmed a bit. I felt uncomfortable.
“You want to see our house?” she volunteered.
I didn’t want to see it.
“Thank you, but no,” I said. “I have to go.”
“Let me give you my card,” she said. “Hope you can find some proof.”
“They are all dead and gone now, and that may not be possible,” I said. “But thanks for your interest. Thank you for letting me walk around this place.”
“We’d let you in, but Frank nailed it shut. He holds on to everything, but I like to get rid of junk. Looks like a good place for snakes to hide to me.”
“Well, good-bye,” I said.
And I wandered back to the parking lot where it was hot. Hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement, and I wanted to get shed of that place.