“You’re going where?” asked my mom. “Milledgeville,” I told her. More specifically to Andalusia Farm, the home of Flannery O’Connor in Georgia. I also told her it would be a day trip…6 hours there and 6 hours back because I had to be at work the next day. When she still didn’t understand, I said: “It’s a little like Graceland. Remember how you felt when you took the bus to Elvis’s home?”
That did the trick. And while Andalusia is about as far from Graceland as you can ever get, for Flannery fans, it’s a “must-see.” I’m happy to report that we did not encounter the “Misfit” but we did indeed experience a little of the culture that Flannery wrote about when we stopped at a gas station for directions and were told by a charming and bemused septuagenarian that we simply had to wait for the “bump” in the road (“You’ll feel it, you can’t miss that!”) and to turn right after the speed limit sign.
U.S. 441, the highway leading to Andalusia, with its fast food restaurants and hotels, would have been unrecognizable to Flannery these days, but as soon as we swung onto the dirt road, we were immediately transported back to her world. It seemed as if time had stopped. The sun was bright, the air was balmy, and of course, there was the eerie cry of a peacock who announced our arrival. The house and the interior had changed very little, thanks to the fact that the property had remained in the family since Flannery died in 1964. Her room was intact, even with her single bed and the curtains sewn by her mother, along with the Hotpoint refrigerator she had bought with her earnings from the sale of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”
Save a busload of retired tourists who were delighted to see us “young people,” we had the place nearly to ourselves. This gave us plenty of time to walk the grounds and imagine the world through Flannery’s eyes. Later, we were lucky enough to sit down with the executive director, Craig Amason, who graciously gave us his personal attention and answered all of our questions. Flannery didn’t suffer fools gladly, Craig told us, which is proven out by her proclivity to satire. But she didn’t spare even herself from the razor of her wit, as she tended to save her worst for the “intellectuals” and the writers in her stories. However, if you look deeply enough, you can’t help but see a little of yourself in her characters. I admit to sometimes sounding a little like Mrs. Hopewell in “Good Country People,” as I have a tendency to see the glass half full. And who hasn’t believed in other people a little too much, as did the mother in “The Comforts of Home?”
Of course I had to ask Craig if they ever felt the spirit of Flannery at the farm. While we know that Flannery would have decried the idea of the supernatural, he did acknowledge that from time to time, they felt a special energy about the place. And as we sat there rocking on the porch talking about her life, her religious fervor and her taste in literature, it did feel as if she might indeed turn the corner and join us. And in that sense, perhaps Flannery never really died, as her legacy endures, in her books and the joy her words continue to give us. I know I’m loving what I’m learning in the book I picked up: At Home with Flannery: An Oral History.
We ate lunch downtown at The Brick (making sure to stress that Andalusia had sent us there!) and our pixie of a waitress vaguely remembered her own high school journey to the farm but admitted she hadn’t read much of her work. However, when she found out that we had driven all the way from N.C. just to be there, she was inspired enough to say that she might just have to give Flannery another look, we are proud to say.
The journey passed fairly quickly thanks to the recordings of her stories that we listened to along the way. Of course we laughed and were shocked yet again by old favorites such as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and the sometimes overlooked “Greenleaf.” I loved Jen’s reaction to the end of that one: “Why did the bull have to die?”
So what’s next on our literary jaunts? There’s talk of a drive to Connemara (vacation home to Carl Sandburg in Flat Rock) and perhaps to Edenton for a glimpse into the life of Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. But as Mrs. Hopewell might say, if you can drive to Georgia in a day, anything is possible!