Andalusia – the name alone invites many exotic images. The site most associated with Flannery O’Connor was a nine hour drive to Milledgeville, Georgia, but well worth it. Here was a place where a writer lived with her mother as she dealt with the daily reality of lupus and composed stories that reveal a shocking view of grace. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want to go to a farm where peacocks used to roam?
I saw this journey as one to a fellow writer’s home, not a time for literary criticism. What would I find? What did she see when she wrote? What may have inspired her? The entrance is a non-descript drive off a four lane highway across from a big-box shopping center. I turned in and started to drive down the one lane path. Quickly the traffic behind me disappeared and I was enveloped in another space. Trees and other bushes lined the one-lane, unpaved road as I followed signs to park. At a turn in the road the view opened and I saw the house – a white farm house with red roof.
Several other buildings were on the property – a barn, sheds, house – all in difference states of re-construction. There was a lot to explore. First, I headed to the main house. The yard in front was filled with towering oaks, providing some shade in the oppressive heat of southern summer. I walked up the red brick stairs to the screened-in porch that spanned the length of the house. Opening the door I was greeted with the scent of lives lived. This was not a pristine tourist stop. It’s a re-opened home. Paint is peeling from walls, drapes are fraying. There was a sense of forlornness about the place. Yet, at the same time I knew that this is the repository of great stories.
The tour was self-guided, though the director, Craig Amason, was ready to answer any questions. Looking down the hallway, the dining room was on the right and Flannery’s bedroom on the left – a typewriter still at the ready – though not hers. The bed was made, but the bookcases were empty. Through the small gift shop shop at the end of the hall and on the right was the kitchen and then a room where people could watch a short video about the author. Retracing my steps I returned to the front of the house and walked up the stairs. The curtains in the upstairs bedroom were yellowed and torn. I could sense this place had been lived in. In a way, it needed the grace about which Flannery wrote. A life in the midst of questions, of imperfection. The ideal doesn’t need grace.
I didn’t feel drawn into the life of this house, though it did intrigue me. There was a sadness of the life lived here no longer and I couldn’t see myself writing in this space. When I stepped out onto the porch again, I sat in one of the white rocking chairs and looked out over the land. This farm, a working farm when Flannery lived here with her mother, provided much to think about- the live oaks shading the summer sun, a land that had seen war between the states, the barn, the milk shed, the water tower, and much more. Here was a whole world that could infiltrate the imagination of a writer.
This was a place
- to create stories;
- to think away from the crowd;
- to understand a new life.
I walked around the yard – down to a pond and around the outbuildings. Sat on the benches in the gardens near the house, looked at the peacocks – now safely in a pen and not walking around the yard. I could detect spurts of life. Seeds of stories. Maybe I couldn’t write here, but I shouldn’t. This was someone else’s world. But I could look at my world more fully. Where are the places I would write? Not an old farm house with peacocks walking in the yard – but a campus ministry house, a small home in the suburbs, a local church. My own exotic places.