Friday, March 21, 2014

Backyard redux

 "From the beginning, relations between these birds and my mother were strained."
- Flannery O'Connor

One of wonderful things about museum work is the idea of preservation. Preservation is like a thread that sews together past and future. Preservation can engage people in sentimental remembrance of things past (yes, like Proust and his Madeleine) but also introduces others to new things or activities that can still have relevance today but have been lost in a tide of time. For me, the exciting part of my work here at Andalusia is remembrance and discovery of life ways that were part and parcel of life on a Middle Georgia dairy farm during the 1950s and early 1960s, the “period of significance” (that is preservation-speak for the time period we are focused on interpreting here). The frayed fabric of the farm is complex and I (a city girl!) am only beginning to wrap my brain around the functional layout of the farm, the realities of twice a day milking, and the ghost-like meaning behind the vestigial fence rows, abandoned equipment, and the various gates and enclosures. What has been especially gratifying this week has been bringing the backyard back to life. It all started with removal of a volunteer water oak. This tree must have been 40 feet tall and its branches were overhanging the house and providing access by all sorts of creatures to the warmth of the upstairs rooms. The root system was threatening the structure of the Main House and the rough and tangled roots were tearing up the paved carport/patio and were not for the faint of heart to traverse on the way to the back door. Now that the tree is gone and the healing process has begun, we can start to envision the backyard as it was. We have some indication in historical photographs showing the backyard with trimmed shrubs, edged beds and of course peacocks fanning their tails. In her essay “The King of the Birds”, Flannery offers a vivid evocation of backyard life, with of course the spectacle of the peacocks doing their spring thing, but she also names specific roses (Lady Bankshire and Herbert Hoover) and even fig trees that were part of the gardens here. That is helpful information as we work to restore and reinvigorate the gardens that Flannery's mother had to go to great pains to protect from the ravages of the free-range peafowl. Now living in an aviary, the peafowl are no longer a threat and we can begin to get the gardens in shape and can enjoy some of the heirloom roses and fruits and vegetables that were once grown here. Flannery's essay also reflects long term and keen observation of the peafowl, an activity that surely took place largely outdoors. Outdoors? Today that is somewhat anathema to 21st century lifestyles that take place largely indoors and involve screens of all sizes (big to little: smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and televisions). Being outdoors is indeed a life way and is something we are preserving here. Yesterday we placed in the yard two period garden chairs and a table (given to us by a generous donor right out of her backyard!). Today, a group made immediate use by ‘visiting’. Beautiful!

- Elizabeth Wylie, Executive Director
The Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation

1 comment:

Amy said...

Great post, Elizabeth! So happy to learn about the work to restore Flannery's garden. That's exciting!