Sunday, August 17, 2014

Until I Win the Lottery

Dear FO'CA,

I am enclosing my check for $50, and I wish I had a million to contribute. I am a 79-year-old widow (for 14 years), and I live on Social Security and a very small pension. But my gratitude and love for Flannery O'Connor know no bounds. It's funny, I had just said goodbye to a luncheon guest, Jeff Blake, who is also an avid O'Connor fan, when I found your request in my mail. We had shared our books and talked about O'Connor at great length.

He was fascinated with my photos of her, and the fact that I had visited her when I was a student at Wesleyan in Macon. He asked to copy them, and I was glad to let him do so. The photos were taken by Dr. Thomas Gossett who is mentioned in The Habit of Being along with his wife, Louise, and he sent them to me during the time that we corresponded after we had both left Wesleyan, up until the time of his death several years ago, of pancreatic cancer.

I first read O'Connor's story "Good Country People," while lying on a blanket out in my back yard in Decatur, the summer before I was to go off to Wesleyan. I believe it was in "Harper's Bazaar" magazine. I had been raised a Southern Baptist, and I was both fascinated and puzzled by this story. Was this author a man or a woman? Was he/she making fun of the South? Of religion? Later, I read A Good Man is Hard to Find and was delighted to understand a bit more about O'Connor. When I went to Wesleyan and learned that she lived a short distance away, I couldn't wait to go out there and meet her. And the opportunity to do so was provided by Dr. Gossett, and also another professor, Dr. Warren Gignilliat, who took his Writing Lab students out one day.

I remember having lunch at the Sanford house with O'Connor, her mother, and Katherine Anne Porter. I was paralyzed with awe, and I didn't open my mouth. But the talk around the table was very interesting.

Sorry to be so long-winded. The main point of my story is that through my reading and re-reading of O'Connor (I'm now re-reading Wise Blood for the umpteenth time), I wanted to become a Catholic, and I did, finally, going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at Christ the King in Buckhead, and then transferring my membership to Sacred Heart in Atlanta, now the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where I volunteer for Meals on Wheels, the Prison Ministry, Habitat for Humanity, and anything else that will have me.

And, the most important thing to me is that my husband, Francisco Fontsere, who was raised Catholic in Spain (Barcelona) and turned against the church during the Spanish Civil War, became interested in O'Connor because of my constant references to her, and he read her letters and then the stories, and he eventually returned to the Church with me, through RCIA. The ripple effect... O'Connor has had and continues to have such a profound effect on my life. My husband passed away in July of 2000. At the time, he was also a great fan of Teilhard (?) and the Spanish Christian mystic, Unamuno. I had written on his headstone a quote from Unamuno, "With reason, without reason, against reason, I believe."

Again, I wish I had a million dollars to contribute, but this will have to do until I win the lottery.

With love and gratitude,
Helen Poole Fontsere