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Famed phone number means more than just digits to columnist

Digging through my purse for a receipt, I discovered another piece of paper with numbers scrawled across it. I pulled it out, read the numbers and smiled.

It's nice to know you have William Faulkner's phone number close by.

Now, how did I get William Faulkner's phone number? This revered Nobel winner for literature, who died in 1962? This man who is lauded as the father of Southern literature?

Let the story begin.

I met up with Angie, my beauty queen girlfriend from Arkansas who's in television, in Oxford, Miss. Since Angie, like me, is always searching for good Southern stories, we thought we'd hunt through Mississippi. We started in that scholarly, yet not-afraid-to-party-hard, university town. A light breeze was blowing majestically through the huge trees as we sipped cappuccino in a cafe on the picturesque square.

"Let's go out to Faulkner's house," I said to the beauty queen, who nodded, smiled prettily and picked up her purse.

Rowan Oaks, the four-acre estate surrounded by Bailey's Woods, was purchased by the writer in 1930. It is an antebellum home covered in white clapboard and black shutters, dressed in columns and a balcony that dangles over the front entrance. The grounds are a bit shabby, with bare spots in the lawn and trees with only a few limbs, but still, it's the home of a legend who was America's gift from the Deep South.

Others were touring the home - it is now owned by the University of Mississippi - when the beauty queen and I began our self-guided tour. The curator caught our eyes and motioned for us to come, but be quiet.

Silently, we followed him to the dining room where, with the power bestowed upon him, he removed the Lucite barrier to the room. Our eyes widened and we looked at each other excitedly as he took us to a butler's pantry, then stepped back and with a dramatic flourish of his hand, motioned to the corner.

Our jaws dropped.

We looked at where he pointed, jerked our heads around to stare at each other for a stunned second, then back to the spot.

That was the spot where Faulkner's old black rotary dial phone, covered in dust and age, sat on a little triangle-shaped shelf built into the dingy beige wall. Two feet above it, a thin 1963 Oxford phone book dangled on a long dirty string, attached to a nail that had been painted over.

It was here that much of Faulkner's life revealed itself. For, on both walls that converged to form a corner, he had written in pencil the names and phone numbers of whoever had given their information while he stood there. I counted 187 names, including one to Charlottesville, Va., where the Southern master of pen had noted "Long distance."

I was reverenced enough to restrain myself from adding my own name and number, but it did not stop me from jotting down the number on the yellowed tab of paper in the center of the dial.

"Hey, look what I've got," I said to the beauty queen when we settled into the car. "It's William Faulkner's phone number!"

She gasped like a starlet.

"I'm going to call it and tell the current owners that they have Faulkner's phone number!" I said.

"I'll film it," offered the beauty queen.

This magnificent plan was interrupted by Jon Rawl, the publisher of the Oxford-based Y'all magazine, who, prior to our dinner with him, looked up the number in the reverse directory.

Turns out that William Faulkner, dead for nigh on 45 years, is still the owner of that phone number. It rings to that old rotary phone. But it's nice to know that if I ever need to call him, I've got his number.

Ronda Rich is the author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."