I’m still recovering from our trip to Red Cloud - a long, long road trip few would be crazed enough to undertake in one day - and after a scary midnight detour on a dark road between Lincoln and Omaha, I was voting for the Super 8. But we kept going and The Driver got to sleep in his own bed. Two-thirty a.m. found me wide awake and reading “Old Mrs. Harris,” so I was happy, too. The trip was worth it! The hours in Red Cloud were intense, precious, and inspirational.
I’ve read a couple of very entertaining blogs about other trips to Red Cloud: one blogger arrived when the Willa Cather Foundation was closed and had to devise a self-guided tour:
"We picked up a map of all the sites, but grossly overestimated the size of the town. We drove to Willa Cather’s childhood home, approximately 2/3 of a block away."
Another stopped at a bar in Red Cloud during BRAN (Bike Ride across Nebraska) for lunch and was impressed by the gorgeous Opera House:
"The Willa Cather Foundation is located in a downtown building that is really cool."
Still another seemed unmoved by Cather's birthplace but warmed to Cather & Co. Bookstore:
Cats meandered and slept in old typewriter cases and a few older visitors browsed through the shelves of used books. There were finds just about everywhere.
The Willa Cather Foundation itself has an excellent bookstore: I purchased a first-rate short biography of Cather's Nebraska years, The World of Willa Cather by Mildred R. Bennett, first published in 1951, and reissued by University of Nebraska Press. Bennett was one of the founders of the Willa Cather Foundation and moved from Lincoln to Red Cloud in the 1940s specifically to work on a memorial to Cather. The guide referred to her book repeatedly: much of the tour is derived from it. Bennett’s book is a primary source no one could replicate today: she interviewed and corresponded with Willa's family, friends, and residents of Red Cloud who had known her. She is a graceful writer: I'm flying through this book.
Here’s a quote from Willa (from an interview from the Lincoln Sunday Star, Nov. 6, 1921):
“The ideas for my novels have come from things that happened around Red Cloud when I was a child. I was all over the country then, on foot, on horseback, and in our farm wagons. My nose went poking into nearly everything. It happened that my mind was constructed for the particular purpose of absorbing impressions and retaining them. I always intended to write, and there were certain persons I studied. I seldom had much idea of the plot or the other characters, but I used my eyes and my ears."
I plan to reread Hermione Lee's biography, too: the American title is Willa Cather: Double Lives, though the Cather Foundation sells the Virago edition, with a different title.