Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Dolly's Proud Peacocks — A Little-Known Faulkner Legacy

Dogs didn’t mess with the peacocks of Dolly Faulkner. Google Images

A remembrance by Faulkner authority and Oxford writer Larry Wells:
In the 1970s, Lucille Ramey Faulkner kept peacocks. She was the wife of John Faulkner, William’s brother, and the aunt of my late wife, Dean Faulkner Wells. The old Ramey home place, “Memory House,” was sold to the University of Mississippi and today houses the Development Office. Aunt Lucille’s nickname was Dolly. She was a serious Episcopalianour lady of the churchfirst to kneel in prayer, last to leave. Dolly kept an artificial Christmas tree in her living room year round, never turning on the lights until Christmas. For some reason that Dean never explained (I don‘t think she knew), Dolly and her mother-in-law, Maud Falkner, existed in a state of war. According to Dean, Maud wouldn’t allow Dolly to enter her home.
Her peacocks, a cock and a couple of hens, were equally combative. Dogs didn’t mess with them. Like town criers with a piercing screech that could be heard all over town, they’d strut down University Avenue like they owned it. Cars stopped for them.
Peacocks are bigger than Turkeys. And easier to spot.

For some reason these big fowls (larger than a turkey) chose our garage as a roost, their home away from home. We lived in Miss Maud’s house on South Lamar, about half a mile from Dolly’s house. The garage, at the end of the driveway, was separate from the house. The birds often spent the night. Peacock poop is like tar. You can’t wash it off.
After Dolly died, her sons Jimmy and Chooky Falkner stopped feeding the peacocks, and they were reduced to begging for scraps. We could hear them screeching their way from yard to yard like a peacock protection racket: Feed us if you want peace and quiet. Dean and I weren’t about to adopt them. We still had year-old poop on the garage. (It weathers well.) Not to mention that adopting them would be like giving Dolly posthumous revenge on Nanny. Dean did not want to get on Nanny’s bad side. She believed her grandmother’s ghost haunted the house.
One day, the peacocks disappeared. Maybe they found a home. Maybe a kind stranger unfamiliar with the habits of peacocks took them in. Maybe they returned to the wild and took over a flock of turkeys.
Artists’ imaginations take flight with the ground-bound peacock.

No one who has experienced peacocks misses their dawn wakeup calls, but when I think how strange and unpredictable the Faulkner family could be, with its inexplicable feuds and misalignments, and how we couldn’t have lived any other way, and how I thought those days would last forever, I miss Dolly’s peacocks.
Comments by Oxford residents:
Deborah Freeland: “Miss Dolly’s peacocks owned the street. When I was a student working at the museum they would often strut right in the front door of the Ole Mary Buie. We would make loud noises and fan papers trying to chase them out but the peacocks would just run in circles. After all- they were Mrs Dolly’s peacocks and they wouldn’t leave until they were ready. Finally we decided to ignore them and they quit coming around. Maybe it wasn’t any fun any more. Hahahaha!”
Kaye Hooker Bryant: “How well all of us ‘old Oxford’ residents remember the Peacocks! I adored Miss Dolly and Mr. John! One of my favorite stories about Mr. John: Guy Rogers of New Albany was boarding with the Falkners. Chooky was in high school and at dinner began to beg Mr. John to allow him to go to a party. Mr. John said “No.” Chooky continued to beg, and Mr. John repeated “NO.” After Chook’s third try, Mr. John got up from the table walked to his easel stand where he had been painting, picked up his palette and brush, walked back to the dining room where he painted NO in big letters on the dining room wall. With that, he sat down and resumed eating his dinner. Guy Rogers used to tell this story, and I can’t vouch for the truth but it sure sounds like Mr. John.”
Chris Stead: “Once, when the bypass was brand new and no one used it very much, I was driving down there and saw Dolly’s red chevy convertible stopped in the fast lane, with Miss Dolly sitting on the trunk. I stopped and asked if her car had broken down, and she said ‘No, honey, I just got tired of driving and decided to take a rest.’”
Proud as a peacock had meaning to the Faulkner family.

Lawrence Wells is the author of the WWII novel Rommel and the Rebel. Wells has written three novels and edited six non-fiction books including William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection.With his wife Dean Faulkner Wells, he operated Yoknapatawpha Press, an independent press in Oxford, Mississippi, and co-published a quarterly journal, The Faulkner Newsletter. Co-founder of the Faux Faulkner Contest, he also scripted an Emmy-winning PBS regional documentary, “Return to the River.” He has been a frequent contributor to American Wayand Southwest Spiritmagazines and The New York Times Syndicate.