Barreling through rural Georgia, you’ll see lots of stuff to jot down, if one writes down these sorts of things:
- A road whose very name, Crossroads School Road, points to an anomaly in the space-time continuum.
- An antique store with a rusting mid-century children’s rocket ride on the outside (and a functional Donkey Kong arcade game on the inside, we discovered. If we’d been in the truck, there would’ve been quite a row between the wife and me.)
- Billboards that proclaim “LUST DRAGS you down to HELL” — with those last four ominous letters swaddled in flames.
We were starting the first day of a three-day “staycation” — more on this in a later post — and on our way to a day trip to Milledgeville. I joked with Jenn that they manufactured tax rates there, but didn’t know how to spell them. (I can hear my friend Casie groaning now. “Ugh. Smart people humor.”) I mean no disrespect to the fine people of the city. One resident was a hell of a speller: Flannery O’Connor, whose stories tend to start as charming Southern comedies of manner, up until someone gets shot to death, or a head bashed in, or gored on a bull.
We were heading to her old place.
We’re both students of literature and art, Jenn and I. O’Connor produced both. And, diagnosed with lupus in her 20s, she retired to her mother’s farm, called Andalusia, to write and to fight the same disease that killed her young father.
This was a family that plied its trade on the land — mostly through dairy and cattle — and for O’Connor, it was a means to continue her passion with writing.
Andalusia is not a working farm today, though it feels like it could be with the addition of a few head of cows. It’s a beautiful setting, and it’s no wonder the author’s writing desk was turned so her back was to the window. The rolling fields, the small lake, the country lane must have just been a distraction. These things could not have helped conceive the human tragedies that, I’m sorry, Quentin Tarantino ain’t got nothing on.
From the front porch, lined with rockers, you can faintly hear the roaring of transport on U.S. 441. There’s a Walmart less than a mile from their drive, mercifully out of sight from the property.
Some of O’Connor’s stories presaged this development, a kind of horror as well, when done as in the outskirts of Milledgeville. Store signs fight for both eyeballs and physical real estate on the edge of the four-lane cutting through the former-paradise-turned-parking-lot. In her short story “A View of the Woods,” tension comes from the ominous rumbling of clamshell diggers, and its stubborn leading man is determined to sell the scenic lot across from his house so that he might have easy access to a gas station to be built on it.
O’Connor was certainly too crippled when she moved to Andalusia to do much serious help on the farm. Her bedroom and writing room were moved to the first floor for accessibility, and she could only even manage to write for three or four hours in the morning. But she did enjoy raising fowl in the backyard, including chickens and peacocks.
Even as she saw torment beyond the edges of her pastoral home-front, she took solace in her immediate surroundings. And we can relate to that.
Visiting Andalusia: The house is open daily, save Sundays and Wednesdays. It’s free to visit, but the foundation keeping the place open very much appreciates a donation (of, say, $5). There’s an interpretive walk on the grounds, nice bits about the wellhouse, and three vibrant peafowl penned in the back. Check out the website for directions and hours. For food, we ate at the Metropolis Cafe, downtown, which serves delicious Greek and Indian cuisine and had lots of veg-friendly options for the good wife. Also recommended: Downloading O’Connor’s reading of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and listening to it en route.