After spending the morning at Andalusia, I headed to Savannah, Georgia. This time no exotic name or farm house with expansive grounds drew me. Instead I found that I was looking for a row house off Lafayette Square just past the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This non-descript building of beige stone had only a small sign on the front indicating that here was the childhood home of Mary Flannery O’Connor.
I walked up a set of stairs that were right that off the sidewalk and opened the front door. From the back corner of the the living room, a voice greeted me. The docent welcomed me to the home and asked if I had read O’Connor’s works and whether or not I wanted a tour. Just minutes later another woman entered and we were soon surrounded by the stories of this home.
A difference from Andalusia I noticed immediately was that recent renovations had brought the home up to a state that echoed the time when Flannery lived here from 1925-1938. Pictures of work showed how a modern apartment kitchen was returned to a turn-of-the-century version, complete with ice-box. I felt I was in the midst of the place where she lived as a child, not a place that showed decay from the time she left.
In this setting our guide shared stories of a young, mischievous Flannery with a very keen sense of self. She kept other children at arm’s length, reading them stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales when they came over, and attending the adult, not the children’s mass at St. John’s. In the library area (the former dining room) he pointed out a copy of a book in which Flannery started her critical work at a young age by writing “this is not a good book” on the title page. Upstairs we saw the twin beds in which she had slept. Since they were on wheels she could roll them to the window in her bedroom – not something that was encouraged.
From her parent’s bedroom windows she could watch the people in the square – their comings and goings. She also saw the cathedral – the center of the community and also her faith life. However, she did not blindly accept the teachings of the church or the expectations of others. She asked questions, developed her own understandings of faith, and decided who would be part of her life. As she melded what she saw from these windows, within her protected life within the home, and during the interactions she had outside, the foundation of her worldview was forming. Add to this the times she listened to her father’s stories as she sat by near the fireplace in the living room – and one can almost see her future as a writer solidify.
Walking through the house I sensed a place of life. But also of quiet. Not many visitors came to to this out of the way home today. It provided space to reflect as I looked out the windows where as a child, Mary Flannery, stood and observed the scenes before her. What does it mean to look out the same windows and see the same view – though with a few more trees in the square. Does this put me in a place of copying? Or in a place to look out my windows more clearly? What is the writing life that this home encouraged decades ago and encourages today?