The books & the burro came today and I do appreciate them. I’m not up to the books yet but I will be let us hope later on. I’m up to the burro. Equinox inside and out. (HOB 595)
The rest of the letter suggests Flannery O’Connor’s doctor was prone to heart attacks. He’d already had three. Maybe in a time before, the doctor had travelled out Highway 441 to Andalusia for house calls, but his patients had to start visiting him due to his heart. Flannery O’Connor then insinuates traveling to the doctor has her worn out, which just means tired here in Georgia.
July 27th fell on a Monday in 1964. A week later, on August 3rd, Mary Flannery O’Connor passed away. One last letter remained on the table beside her bed in an almost illegible scrawl (HOB 596). The letter was to Maryat Lee. That hand-written letter meant Flannery’s words were done, but her words were far from silenced. Her death left a literary legacy that becomes more pronounced with every passing year. The legacy resounds with, an artificial leg and an artificial statue, rapture and redemption, blinding light and the shining sun, sunglasses and sight, suits, hats, and an over-sized sweat shirt, rivers and fires, priests and pariahs, Baptists, Methodists and the occasional Catholic, buses, cars, trucks, and trains, freaks and monuments, grace and false prophets, God and Jesus, New Jesus, a mummy and a gorilla suit, a loving bull and the descending dove, The Holy Spirit in a water stain, cigarettes and raw milk, sons and daughters, New York and Georgia, East Tennessee and Florida, sometimes Alabama, black and white, rich and poor, tractors and transients, simple and smart and possibly demonic children, innocent ones, disfigured ones, grandfathers and grandchildren, and maps of the universe revealed in the patterns of peacock plumage.
The feathers might reveal mysteries of the universe if I could read them, but I cannot read them right. I’ve tried, yet many mysteries remain to me. Peacock feathers adorn book covers and fill vases at Andalusia. Old curtain patterns at Andalusia suggest their feathers. In the world of Flannery O’Connor, they’re almost synonymous with her. Sometimes, fresh sheds from Manley Pointer’s tail decorate the green grass at Andalusia under the tall cedars behind the house. Feathers are available in Andalusia’s gift shop for a small price. Often, feathers, along with pennies and pictures of saints, are offerings or alms left on Flannery’s grave in homage, in remembrance, of her at Memory Hill Cemetery in downtown Milledgeville. But, rarely, if ever, does anyone leave a jackass or mule or a burro, which is another mystery because burros should be at least as synonymous with Flannery O’Connor as peacocks.
I do not know what Janet Mc Kane sent to Flannery, but she didn’t send Equinox through post; I doubt. I do not know what book along with what token or representation of a mule came through Milledgeville’s post office to Andalusia, but Equinox was on Flannery’s mind in the last week of her life. Flannery did thank Janet Mc Kane for whatever it was, and Equinox inside and out suggests to me that Flannery either thought the token resembled Equinox inside and out or Flannery, herself, had become Equinox inside and out, for she was up to the burro.
Burros live a long time even if Flannery O’Connor wrote that it’d be the peafowl that’d have the last word. She writes in “The King of the Birds,” I intend to stand firm and let the peacocks multiply, for I am sure that, in the end, the last word will be theirs (MM 21); however, some of Flannery’s original peafowl went to Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia. Others went to other places, but the burros remained. Equinox and Flossie roamed Andalusia’s woods together until Equinox died in 1998. Flossie lived alone until 2010 often climbing the hill behind the horse barn to the place where Equinox was buried. I have been told that Flossie worshipped Equinox. She would follow him wherever he’d go. Although the replacements of Flannery’s peafowl, Manley and Hulga/Joy and Mary Grace, have the last words, often screaming a mysterious language at Andalusia, other voices are heard at Andalusia too. Peafowl are not the only animals speaking the last words. The other voices are more faint, but, in a way, the voices are louder in their animal sounds, and their animal words are clearer. Equinox was more than a mule or a jackass just as Ernest, Marquita and then Flossie were more than animals. Their bloodline lived at Andalusia until 2010, and, though they’re gone, like all things O’Connor, a mystery remains. It’s been reported many times by visitors of Andalusia that they hear the baying of burros, but there are no burros.
Flannery’s mother, Regina Cline O’Connor, named Equinox because he was sired by Ernest, carried by Marquita and born near, or on, the Autumnal Equinox during the month of September in 1963. Equinox was less than a year old when Flannery passed away. Equinox was still growing when Flannery was alive, and I imagine watching Equinox grow was, both, joy and comfort to Flannery during the last year of her life when she was in so much pain. Equinox inside and out. Even from her side bedroom window, Flannery could see Equinox graze in the green pasture that’s at its widest at the horse barn near the house until it tapers to a point behind the tool shed. Even at that far distance, Flannery could see Equinox from her bedroom if only a tan blur on the field of green, for in Flannery’s time, there were fewer trees.
For Mother’s Day in 1962, Flannery gave her mother Ernest who was Equinox’s sire. I have no idea how Flannery arranged the delivery of a donkey to Andalusia, but it’d be fascinating to know the details of the transaction. In an excerpt of a letter that I cannot find in The Habit of Being, Flannery wrote to a friend named Rebekah on June 16th of 1962,
I am through with my traveling and hope to do nothing this summer but set and write. I gave my mother a jackass for Mother’s Day. His name is Ernest. Somebody said, “oh, for the mother who has everything?”
In December of 1963, after Christmas on December 31st, Flannery wrote to Janet Mc Kane,
Ernest—that is Equinox’s pa—did the honors for the burros this Christmas and went both to the Christian manger and the Methodist pageant. He did very well in the Christian manger—in which there were also a cow a pig a Shetland pony & some sheep and he did all right at the Methodist dress rehearsal but when the big moment came and the church full of Methodists, he wouldn’t put his foot inside the door. Doesn’t care for “fellowship” I suppose. Balaam’s ass. (HOB 555)
It’s clear to me that Flannery O’Connor loved her mules. They’re stubborn, you know? They do not die easily and some say they’ll live as long as fifty years, but they could live forever. Legend has it that near Christmas, animals can talk in a language that humans can understand. At Christmas, animals and humans can understand one another. Look into the legend and listen on Christmas Eve, for it’s an old legend and maybe an old fact. Near Christmas especially, listen for the burros at Andalusia that are not there. Balaam could not see, or refused to see, the angel of God in his path, so God spoke through Balaam’s donkey.
Flossie, daughter of Marquita (and an unknown pony stallion).
O’Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, 1979.
---. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Ed Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, 1969.
--Jim Owens is a nonfiction MFA candidate at Georgia College. He’s a graduate of Auburn University and The University of Alabama at Birmingham. These days, he spends time working at Andalusia on the tool shed that’s being rebuilt and oftentimes giving impromptu tours of Andalusia’s grounds. He’s proud to work closely with the land that Flannery O’Connor called home. Jim was fortunate to be an assistant to Bruce Gentry and Bob Donahoo during The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor in July where he met some of the world’s most awesome Flannery O’Connor scholars that exist.