Friday, February 27, 2015

HWY 441 to Andalusia

My boyhood trips each summer to Milledgeville (a bird sanctuary!) with my older brother Peter Cline, Great Uncle Louis Cline and his sister, my Great Aunt Cleo Cline Tarleton were always an adventure. We would stay just outside of Milledgeville at Andalusia, known to us simply as “the farm.” Until her death, Aunt Cleo would chaperone as she didn’t think our host, my Great Aunt Regina Cline O’Connor, as energetic and resourceful as she was, could handle a couple of loud, inquisitive boys (well she couldn’t). Example: Regina would have jigsaw puzzles prepared on the dining room table — designed to occupy our time, all of our time, I’m talking 24/7 kinda time — the puzzles remained untouched. Everyone knows boys prefer to be outside, especially when there are snakes, peacocks and farm animals to taunt, so Uncle Louis would get Hoke (I guess you'd call him a “family retainer”) to take us fishing, he’d bait our hooks while he caught turtles for his dinner.

I remember delivery trucks coming to the Hill House (a tenant house where Hoke and his wife lived) to drop off food. The house was a curiosity to me as it was wallpapered with Campbell’s soup can labels and newspapers—I didn’t understand that this was because they lived in abject poverty. I asked Uncle Louis “why is their food delivered?” He said “if I give them money they spend it on liquor and disappear for a week, and you KNOW what that’s like!” I oh course had no clue what “that” was like!

Being a nice(ish) Catholic school boy, I always complimented Aunt Regina on dinner, Aunt Cleo, always competitive with her sister in all things culinary, would sit next to me, poke me in the ribs, laugh and exclaim, “PLEASE it’s all canned!” or “Regina cook, ha! ” Uncle Louis, stoic as ever, knew to keep his mouth shut in such matters, I followed suit and Regina was completely deaf to her sister's taunts.

Following dinner, Aunt Regina, exhausted, would send us promptly to bed, meaning 7pm. She would retreat to the ancient, rambling Cline family house on Greene St. and I guess Louis and Cleo would chat or listen to the radio.

In the summer the sun would be up for another 2 hours and my brother and I would always be frightened by the peafowl when they would fly into the trees to roost for the night — as in doing so they would let out a spine tingling, classic, horror movie howl — think Psycho — got it?

I especially remember one drive down to Milledgeville, and yes the 75 miles from Atlanta with Uncle Louis at the wheel would take a minimum of three hours with all his stops to visit clients as at the time he was a representative for a hardware company. Aunt Cleo was one of the best natured, funny people one could ever know (her kitchen was famous for being filthy but that’s another story, Regina's kitchen on the other hand was spotless). This particular trip, I must have been 8 years old, Cleo brought along small paper bags that she said were for “our entertainment.” The entertainment meant we would blow up, slap and pop the bags and each time Louis would jump and the car (going 30 MPH) would swerve and Aunt Cleo would just laugh until she was blue in the face. Boy do I miss her cheese straws, but I miss her, Regina and Louis more!

A trip to Milledgeville with Louis was never complete without a trip to visit the dearly departed Clines at Memory Hill Cemetery, I think he missed his brother Bernard Cline terribly.

Looking out over Andalusia's front lawn from the upstairs guest bedroom.
-- In 1980, while still a Graphic Design student at the UGA, Mark Wilson Cline founded the seminal Athens, GA band Love Tractor. After 6 albums on RCA Records, and countless tours, in 1991, Mark returned to the world of design, marketing and advertising. Mark currently resides in NYC, is co-founder and co-owner (along with former Warhol Creative Director Marc Balet) of Mixed Business Group ( Clients have included: Nike, Jockey, Pee-Wee Herman, Yves Saint Laurent and Emporio Armani, to name but a few. Current projects include: Incubating two new fashion brands, rebranding two cosmetic lines, two hair care brands, creating an online marketplace dedicated to emerging art-collectors, and developing a wedding site solely for men. Mark is related twice to Flannery O'Connor, as he is both a Cline and an O'Connor: Mark's grandmother, Nan O'Connor, was sister to Flannery's father Edward O'Connor and Mark's grandfather Herbert Cline (husband to Nan) was brother to Flannery's mother Regina Cline making Mark and Flannery double first cousins once removed — it's a southern thing!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Good Country Kitchen

How can one enter the Andalusia kitchen and not picture Mrs. Freeman standing there, leaning, one elbow on top of the refrigerator?

The refrigerator is to your right as you enter the “Good Country” kitchen, and is partially obscured by the door. An ol’ timey fridge it is, with odd and large handles, and a flashback of a silver martini set placed on top.

We all know the story of how that Hotpoint appliance was purchased with General Electric (Playhouse) money. A bright and humming gift for Regina, it must have had been defrosted at least once by the time “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” aired, corrupted ending and all.

At that point, only 80% of Americans owned a fridge, so the Hotpoint was quite the gift, especially during what Look Magazine deemed The Protein Age. In 1956, a refrigerator represented the American Dream of abundance and plenty.

But there’s more to life than raw steaks and hamburger meat. I wonder if Flannery kept medicine in that Hotpoint. If Regina placed tomato aspic next to the jar of Sanka. If Sanford House leftovers were stored in bright Pyrex containers.

When I step into that kitchen, I can’t help but feel transported in time to a warm and ordinary midweek morning. Opalesque bubbles dissolve in the sink. The edges of a church bulletin that is pinned to the fridge door lift every few seconds, courtesy of a rickety oscillating fan. That the fan blades whir, and radio voices crackle, and distant peacock shrieks pierce through the everyday tedium are but daylife details Flannery either considers or ignores as she places a cup in the sink and walks, slowly, back to her room.

-- Katheryn Krotzer Laborde is the author of Do Not Open: The Discarded Refrigerators of Post-Katrina New Orleans (McFarland, 2010) and other works of prose. She will read her creative nonfiction pieces “Mourning Flannery” and “Hazel Motes is Not Black” at the final installment of Andalusia Farm’s 2015 February Four series, February 22.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Swamped with Science - Wetland Ecology at Andalusia Farm

Wetlands are complex and fragile ecosystems that provide numerous roles in the environment. And Andalusia Farm provides just that with a welcoming and diverse study site available. As a student in wetland ecology at Georgia College, I have the privilege of conducting valuable research at a Milledgeville landmark. However, my focus will be on the hidden beauty behind Andalusia.

Located on the west side of the property is Tobler Creek, which has been historically documented as one of the "rum-running" creeks in the 18th century. However, we seek to document this area by researching the surrounding wetlands caused by the flooding of Tobler Creek. Why is this important? Wetlands contain the highest diversity of plants and animals! (And I was lucky enough to observe a peafowl for the first time at Andalusia, by the way.)

We will be collaborating on a wide variety of topics regarding this wetland area. There will be groups focusing on hydrology and soils, animal and plant diversity, and water chemistry. These topics all require fieldwork, which is very enjoyable at Andalusia. The guided path from the pond to the picturesque bridge makes it easy to explore without getting too lost in the wilderness. By visiting the study site, gathering samples, and conducting fieldwork we will be able to learn in a more than perfect environment. For example, I will be researching the invasive plant species and the potential to decrease biodiversity at Andalusia. By gathering this information over the next few months, we can help protect yet another beautiful aspect of Andalusia Farm.

The wetlands of Andalusia Farm are host to a diverse habitat.
-- Seth Whitehouse is a native Georgian, hailing from Alpharetta. He's a senior at Georgia College and State University, and pursuing a degree in Biology. He plans to use his degree to focus on environmental conservation and research in the future. He visits Andalusia throughout the year for his course with Dr. Christine Mutiti, Lecturer of Biology at GCSU.

Friday, February 6, 2015

On First Looking into Flannery’s Homeland

The first time I visited Andalusia, I was a high school student from an adjacent county; the trip was organized, and likely funded, by my free-spirited, flower child GT teacher, and while I am sure we were assigned at least one Flannery O’Connor story, I don’t think I understood a single thing about her work. It was probably “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and since I knew where Toomsboro was—my father took us through there countless times when tracking down a genealogical lead or a good fishing spot—I probably responded with a “Cool” and thought very little about the brilliant and formidable writer from the next county over. In the late seventies, her name was floated around our rural community, but few of us were aspiring literary researchers, and even fewer of us thought writing a viable career path.

We were practical, the progeny of agrarians, or career military men, our mothers were at home cooking cornbread, and even those of us who wanted to read and write “literature,” stored those ideas for some future in which aliens from another solar system cured cancer with light sabers. The name Flannery O’Connor echoed quietly, like Culver Kidd, or Aaron Burr, who purportedly spent the night in the Warthen jail. It was not as common as “Silk Stocking Street,” or the official “Georgia Plate” designs--our own county’s claims to fame. O’Connor made a little rumble, but even in Milledgeville five to ten years later, O’Connor’s work and reputation seemed something stored in small pillbox, silver and velvet lined and valued, but also hidden away with the good silver and protected by those with the access key.

This woman whose writing I came to know, was still on the other side of the river. And on that day, my first time to visit Andalusia, I had to cross that river, the Oconee, and a greater, more treacherous river, the one running so swiftly, so filled with eddies and currents that it might pull me under--that river which stood between the real world and the writer. So: there the river—and me in my little high school row boat.

Across the river were the lucky few, the writers, and they weren’t real, not real like those of us who rode a schoolbus, and went fishing with our grandparents and came home covered in redbug bites. Not real like the hopeful older brothers who thought the kaolin mining industry was the new salvation.

But there I was, and there she had been—from my father’s generation, and she saw the same “Jesus Saves” signs and we both had driven through “Goat Town” and had watched the hydro-electric dam being built. The same flood of technology swept our lives, shifted our stable one-income homes, pulled our mothers into the workforce and independence.

We watched the same suffering of poverty and racial inequality rip our cultural fabric, and we watched with bulging eyes and gasping breaths as our grocery stores and our schools became barricaded, our many divided institutions rumble toward a solid and integrated system, like an earthquake reversing itself.

What do I remember of my visit to Andalusia that day? Only a few peacocks, people still farming, I think. I remember a tractor running, but maybe it’s only in my imagination, whetted by my much later reading of “The Displaced Person.” Time—even now—seems convoluted; how could I have gone there, and not seen some likely spot for Mr. Guizac’s end, or the very cow from which Asbury’s undulant fever ensued? Historically, I wasn’t so far from the years O’Connor conceived and wrote those narratives. But that first day, I knew nothing, really, of O’Connor’s characters or fictive world. And yet---

I remember rust on some of the screens, a wooden table with a cloth that partially covered it. I remember being introduced to Mrs. O’Connor, her offering us lemonade from the table in the yard. I remember her demeanor, one of kindness and suffering, of a kind of earned pride. We did not go inside. I remember a breeze , gauzy, cotton curtains flowing into the dark and hidden rooms.

I remember the sensation of being somewhere important, somewhere that was changing me, almost like a birth. I felt the way I have felt many, many times since--when reading her stories and novels and letters.

I have visited many other times, often alone, but at times with friends or family members whom I forced on pilgrimages, willing them to feel the sacred in every board or feather or pinecone (which I just now remembered calling “pinecombs” as a child). Several times, when the farm was closed to the public, I drove out highway 441, and parked somewhere close, walked back down to the entrance and touched the chain that held the sign reading “Private Property.” Once, I climbed under the chain and negotiated the dirt drive, weaving in and out of the trees to conceal myself, just to get close enough to see the house. (Gosh, I hope the statute of limitations has run out on being prosecuted for this crime--involuntary as a sneeze as it was.)

Something of Flannery still moves here. I can see it when I follow the tours, the most recent of which was with the National Endowment for the Humanities scholars this past July. The first time I touched that soil, something grew in me. Something still grows in me, a hunger for more than just her words. Her vision, I think.

Next time I visit, I plan to take off my shoes, grind the dirt between my toes, and find, once more, some molecule of the world that Flannery O’Connor wove into being. I urge anyone reading to visit. But be careful. You won’t be able to go just once. Even if a chain and sign do go up again.

--Sue Whatley is a native of Georgia, transplanted to East Texas, who consoles herself on the inferior Texas versions of her beloved Georgia pine trees and red clay. She teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and coordinates the Christian Writers Fellowship, a long-time writer’s support group there. Her BA from Georgia College, her MA from Northeast Louisiana University, and her PhD from Texas A&M, Dr. Whatley has proudly engaged Flannery O’Connor’s work with every step of her travels. When she retires, she intends to follow Flannery’s pursuits—writing and working with other writers, making people laugh, and raising peafowl, though she has no plans for teaching any of them to walk backwards.