Thursday, January 26, 2012


No, the subject of today's post is not the chap pictured here whose band, Hootie and the Blowfish, was a pop music sensation in the 1990s. The man I am referring to was Flannery O'Connor's confessor, spiritual director, and among her closest confidantes (unfortunately, I was unable to find a photo of him). Affectionately known as "Hootie" to all who loved him, Fr. James H. McCown, S.J. was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1912, the eldest child in a large family. He graduated from Spring Hill College in 1932 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1947. During Fr. McCown's ministry, he served the church as a missionary in Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, and Alaska. In addition to his missionary activity, Fr. McCown worked in retreat houses in Texas and Louisiana and authored a number of books. It was while he was assistant pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon (1953-58) that he met O'Connor. Taken as he was with her first collection of short stories, Fr. McCown decided to drive out to Andalusia to meet the author. The two hit it off immediately, and Flannery later confessed that Fr. McCown was "the first priest to say 'turkey-dog' to me about liking anything I wrote." Besides being the priest she trusted most, Fr. McCown recommended O'Connor to Harold C. Gardiner, SJ, the literary editor of America, who published her essay "The Church and the Fiction Writer" on March 30, 1957. Besides turning to Fr. McCown for spiritual matters, Flannery also consulted the priest about literary concerns. In March, 1962, O'Connor was having serious writer's block and feared the well was running dry. She wrote to McCown asking him to pray for her. "I've been writing for sixteen years and I have the sense of having exhausted my original potentiality and being now in need of the kind of grace that deepens perception, a new shot of life or something." (The Habit of Being, p. 468). Some six years before Flannery died, Fr. McCown was reassigned to Houston, Texas, and though they continued to correspond, the two never saw each other again this side of heaven. It was in 1991, when he was on the road leading a retreat as he loved to do, that Fr. McCown died at the age of 80. Last week, Southern Cross, the newsweekly of the Diocese of Savannah, ran a story on Fr. McCown. The reader who is interested in learning more about Fr. James H. McCown is encouraged to check out this interesting article by Rita H. DeLorme (Southern Cross, vol. 92, No. 03, January 19, 2012, p. 5).
- Mark

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dazzling Designs

For the last couple years I've noticed a fashion trend among our female visitors to Andalusia. As a sign of their devotion to Flannery, or perhaps as a signal to us that they are die-hard O'Connor fans, some women come out here wearing peacock feather earrings. Because they are very "in" now, we decided to start carrying them in our gift shop. The ones we have were hand-crafted for us by J. Drexler Designs in Gainesville, Georgia. Each pair of earrings is a one of a kind creation and no two are exactly alike. Selling for $19.95 a pair, they are as original as the author who inspired their design and make a wonderful souvenir.
- Mark

Friday, January 13, 2012


Recently, one of our friends donated a 1959 Milledgeville telephone book along with a vintage phone (now displayed in Louis Cline's bedroom in the back parlor). The ads in the yellow pages of this directory are a real eye-opener and a sobering reminder of just how segregated things were back in the '50s. But I digress. The real point of interest is the listing for the O'Connors:
O'Connor Edw. F. Jr., Mrs.
Andalusia-Eatonton Rd. .....GL2-4335
Times sure have changed. For those too young to remember, in those days the phone in the house - they had only one - was rotary dial and owned by the phone company. Wondering about the "GL?" It was a mnemonic chosen by the phone company (in this case it stood for "Glendale") to help people remember phone numbers. Just as today, numbers on the phone corresponded to certain letters. Therefore, the O'Connors number was 452-4335. There were no area codes in those days and, hence, no direct dialing of long distance numbers. If you needed to make a long distance call, you dialed the operator. Calling long distance was expensive and rarely done. The other feature about phone service back then was that several parties shared the same line. It was possible that if you tried to call out you might get a busy signal if someone who shared your "party line" was using the phone. According to a letter Flannery wrote to Fannie Cheney, phone service was established at Andalusia in July 1956. She writes: "Lon called up the day before we got our telephone and that afternoon I went in and tried to get him...Our phone number is 2-5335. I run in all directions everytime I hear it ring." (The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor and the Brainard Cheneys, p. 40). She may have "run in all directions," but according to a friend of the family it was Regina who always answered the phone, not only to screen her daughter's calls, but also to save Flannery the physical exertion it would have taken for her to get to the phone on crutches. At some point subsequent to this time the O'Connor's number changed by one digit. In a 1962 letter to Brainard Cheney, Flannery writes: "Our telephone no. is 452-4335 but it's hard to get us on it as there are 8 parties on it representing about 150 head, 2/3 of them idiots." (The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor and the Brainard Cheneys, p. 160). Ah yes...the good old days of telecommunications.
- Mark

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Charming Cheneys

When Flannery O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, was published in 1952, it was almost universally panned by the press. One notable exception was a favorable review written by Brainard Cheney. Nicknamed "Lon" after the actor of the same name, Cheney was a literature professor at Vanderbilt. In addition to being a novelist and playwright, he is remembered today for being one of the first interpreters of O'Connor who "got it." Flannery was so flattered by his astute reading of Wise Blood, that she decided to write him and thus began a friendship that was to last the rest of her life. Flannery was also close with Cheney's wife, Frances ("Fanny"), who taught library science at Peabody College. Because the Cheneys owned a home in St. Simons Island, they would frequently stop by Andalusia on their way to the Georgia coast. Flannery also visited the Cheneys at their home in Smyrna, Tennessee and enjoyed the time with them immensely. O' Connor's correspondence with the Cheneys (published by the University Press of Mississippi in 1986) comprises some of the most delightful letters she ever wrote. My daughter, Mary, surprised me with a first edition of this book for Christmas. And even though I am just a quarter of the way through it, I must say that these letters are as good as anything in The Habit of Being. They also provide another glimpse into what life was like for Flannery at Andalusia. The reader of these letters sees her little peacock brood growing from 9 to 16 to 20 birds. Then there is the comical account of Flannery adjusting to life on crutches: "I tell my mother she had better take out insurance on me and on all the people I trip and kill while I am on these things. There is always something crashing now in my wake." (p. 23) Everywhere in these wonderful letters, there is the dry, deadpan humor Flannery was known for, as when she describes a bull on a farm down the road from Andalusia that had a bad habit of ramming pickup trucks (hmm...). The O'Connors' bull, on the other hand, was a more "contemplative" type. "His name was Paleface and he sat all day on a hill where he could look down and see the Fords go by on the highway. He is now tinned beef. We are going artificial." (p. 40) I could go on, but in the interest of brevity let me just say that The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor and the Brainard Cheneys is simply splendid, and I would heartily encourage you to read it. The book is still in print, and while we don't stock it in our gift shop, a paperback edition is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
- Mark