I’ll begin this post with an admission. When I was in college in Milledgeville, I thought we mainly studied Flannery O’Connor’s work because she was an alumna of the college. I didn’t completely realize that she was a significant American writer until I taught English and found her work in every American literature textbook, along with any textbook I considered for Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. And when I started teaching O’Connor, reading and parsing her stories every year, more than once a year, I could see that she was indeed a master of the craft of the short story.
I’d been to Andalusia, her family dairy farm, when I was in college. I think it was the Literary Society that got to go to the farm on an outing. Whatever the group was called, it was a bunch of English majors, and we had a nerdy, English-majory scavenger hunt. What I remember from the hunt is that glycerin and caramel (we found those under a shed) stood for Glynese and Caramae, and there was a sweatshirt similar to what Joy Hulga wore (was the whole scavenger hunt based on “Good Country People”? Maybe?). We didn’t get to go inside the house, though, so this pilgrimage now would let me see the interior of the house for the first time.
The day we visited was a perfect early April day, clear, crisp blue skies, bright green new growth everywhere. I was excited as we turned at the small sign and went up the drive to the house. It had to look very similar to what Flannery’s guests would have seen when she was living there. I could imagine her and her mother, Regina, hearing a car coming up the drive and being happy (or not) to have guests. Flannery had such a rich assortment of friends who went to Milledgeville to see her.
We followed the signs and parked in the back and then found our way to the front door. It was such a treat for me to walk up the steps to the porch, knowing that so many people of whom I’ve read had taken that same route and had opened (perhaps) the same screen door. I’ve visited many authors homes and graves over the years – 30 or 40, I think – and I always find it meaningful to be in the same place that they were, even though years or decades or centuries later. My friend and I were greeted warmly by the tour guide and foundation director, and we talked about our favorite O’Connor stories and what we each found interesting about Flannery.
The house is much as it was when Flannery lived there with her mother. A few rooms have been changed to accommodate tours and a selection of items for sale and an office, but most of the house is unchanged, and people visiting Flannery and Regina would have seen much of what we saw.
Flannery’s bedroom was the front room downstairs, a living room or sitting room converted to her bedroom because the steep stairs were too difficult for her to negotiate with her crutches. She had lupus, and that’s what brought her home from Connecticut, where she was living with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald and their brood of children. This converted bedroom was the room that interested me the most. I was wanted to see where she did her writing, getting up and working on her stories or novels each morning, crafting them into the well-constructed pieces that they are. I was surprised to see that she wrote with her back to the front window. I’d have done the opposite, writing facing the window so I could gaze into the trees and horizon. But the tour guide said she wrote with her back to the window so as not to be distracted. I guess it shows in her stories and novels, because they’re full of characters who do not get distracted!
After touring the house, we nosed around the grounds a bit. There was the water tower, a couple of barns, the Hill House where the farm caretakers used to live. But where were the peafowl? Flannery was famous for her love of peafowl and other birds and always had several peafowl (sometimes many) on the farm. We finally spotted their pen not far from the back of the house. The tour guide was heading over to feed them, and we hoped that Manley Pointer, the peacock (named for the Bible salesman in “Good Country People) would put on a show. Alas, he did not. But he and the peahens, Mary Grace (“Revelation”) and Joy Hulga (“Good Country People”) were still beautiful.
Andalusia also has walking trails, and if we weren’t headed to the college and cemetery for the rest of our O’Connor pilgrimage – and if I had more energy – it would have been fun to walk the property and see the settings for so many of Flannery’s stories. But we had a full day planned, so we said goodbye to the farm and got back on US 441 for the drive into downtown Milledgeville. I’ll tell about that part of the pilgrimage in my next post. But even if we hadn’t gone anywhere else, I was full of O’Connor and happy to see where she’d lived the last years of her short life.