Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Cleaning Out Party

A recent Monday found me at Andalusia at an ungodly early hour to take stock of an upstairs room with my fellow staff members and a local moving company.  Needless to say, I did not envision that my unofficial title of Bon Vivant would entail profuse sweating and heavy lifting, but such is the price of a view of Andalusia and of Flannery that few have the privilege to get.  As with the cow barn, equipment shed, and other uncurated spaces (to use a $5 term from the museum studies crowd), the contents of that upstairs room were fascinating. 

Chairs and bedframes reminded us of the people who lived here before and after Flannery's time. Bank statements showed the real, business side of a farm that is too frequently remembered only for the outrageous fictional events that took place there: a prosthesis theft in "Good Country People" or an unfortunate goring in "Greenleaf."  Dishes and kitchenware brought back memories of the designs and color schemes of the previous century and made me wonder how people could drink coffee from something that pink and not be blinded. We certainly felt Regina O'Connor's presence as we found several bolts of fabric that would have allowed her to ply her seamstress talents.  

Beyond the furniture and other household goods up there, I found myself taken in even by their containers.  Copies of the Union-Recorder that protected the more fragile items told stories of a Milledgeville gone by in advertisements for Goldstein's on Wayne St., Belk's on Hancock St., and Georgia State College for Women.  Still other items were wrapped in announcements of weddings and funerals that took place at First United Methodist Church, then itself right across from the college on Hancock St.  Suitcases and valises in the mold of Manley Pointer's and the Grandmother's from "A Good Man His Hard to Find" awaited their arrival at the site of Flannery's next lecture.

Several days' worth of laughs came from an item from Kidd's Drug Store, which formerly occupied a corner of Hancock and Wayne Sts. downtown.  It was a cardboard fan clearly designed for the hot Sunday afternoons in church, when the ceiling fans and open windows didn't quite get the temperature cool enough to stand.  The little boy pictured upon it has a very pensive, almost troubled look about him, and he's taken to his evening prayers to assuage his worries. A highly unfortunately-located staple also leads someone not paying attention to believe this boy has further taken a cigarette to his makeshift altar.   I could only assume that taking communion with that kid must be a good time, indeed. 

A magazine from a local doctor proved as startling as the fan did hilarious.  This was no waiting room Time, but rather the manual for lupus medication.  We were barely a couple of weeks removed from the anniversary of her death; happening upon this book in one of many boxes proved a bit of a shock.  "The wolf" as Flannery called it is a mystery to me still; I regard it mainly in my mind as a scapegoat rather than a degenerative disease. 

To detail all of the items that came out of that upstairs room would be quite an undertaking, but one that would provide us and our visitors with a better understanding of the goings and comings here at the farm. However, I'm not sure I'd like a full accounting. Coming across an item of unknown purpose and provenance is always exciting, even if it's something as mundane as a horse collar or cardboard drugstore fan.

--Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm where he sits on the porch and muses for this blog when not visiting with Andalusia's guests.    

Friday, August 21, 2015

Normalcy in Milledgeville, and a Word of Welcome

In my almost 10 years in Milledgeville, I can say with relative certainty that normalcy isn’t our strongest suit here. From our first days as the literal “wild west” of Georgia, the arrival of the first politicians, and the long service of Central State Hospital, the townspeople have seen a steady stream of Misfits. They could be outright charlatans, ill, or just plain eccentric. They could be a doctor, professor, politician, or have no job at all. Such characters are the charm of most any small Southern town, and Milledgeville has fortunately seen its share during its 200+ years. In her own characteristically sardonic way, Flannery herself said that she “attracted the lunatic fringe.” I am fortunate to be in such close proximity to these figures, and some may put even me in the Misfit ranks, though I’d like to point out that I tend to treat little old ladies—even cantankerous ones like the Grandmother from “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”—better than Flannery’s Misfit did.

Since 1879 and the opening of Georgia Military College (then Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College), Milledgeville has rung in each Autumn by welcoming a new crop of students to its places of higher learning. Flannery, of course, was one of these students, coming onto the campus of Georgia State College for Women for the first time as a student at the Peabody School as a teenager and staying through the completion of a Bachelor’s degree. I think it’s fitting that, each year, our “normal” way of life resumes in this town by welcoming in hundreds of new students—complete strangers—who are still themselves figuring out who they are; they’re Misfits too, after their fashion. A mess of Misfits, at that: better than 1400, according to an unofficial accounting. Those first few weeks away from home are a wonderfully transformative time. As a teacher I invariably share in their enthusiasm. It’s Spring in the dog days of Summer: life returns to the historic district, and the town is alive once more with bright-eyed, eager young people and those who will educate them. The newcomers will learn the ropes of the town: the best places to eat, the best local music acts, the best spots to rest a while. The lucky ones, of course, end up becoming locals themselves eventually.

1400 complete strangers’ coming into one’s own backyard is an O’Connor sort of normal, very fit for someone who, in spite of her illness, welcomed all manner of visitors to her home. We’re proud to carry on that tradition. Indeed, the Flannery and Fashion exhibit on display right now has pictures of Katharine Anne Porter and other travelers to Andalusia. In that spirit, we here at Andalusia invite all the newcomers to our little slice of Milledgeville. Our front porch makes for a wonderful reading room, and the hiking trails and other outdoor activities can be a welcome respite from the rigors of academics. Get acquainted with not only Milledgeville’s most famous resident, but also her (and our) way of life.

-- Daniel Wilkinson, a Freshman himself in the above photo, is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and a Visitor Services Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm. When not maintaining the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House for Georgia's Old Capital Museum, he can be found at the nearest trivia contest or rehearsing with the First United Methodist Church Choir and the Milledgeville Players. When not with the choirs and tourists, Daniel enjoys Southern literature, handwritten letters, good barbecue, and the Oxford comma.

Monday, August 3, 2015

12:40 a.m. August 3, 1964

Flannery O’Connor died at Baldwin County Hospital on this day 51 years ago. The staff who work at Andalusia Farm honor her. We feel a particular affection for Flannery the person and unbounded admiration for Flannery the writer.
We are privileged to work at the place that inspired one of the best writers of the 20th century and the place to which visitors come to soak in that same atmosphere. They come to pay homage to both the person and the writer for, as anyone who has read her letters and essays knows, they were two sides of the same coin. Both writer and person were inextricably bound up together into an endlessly fascinating, perplexing, and hilariously funny persona that still lives in people’s hearts and minds.
We are privy here to tears shed over Flannery as they imagine her suffering, smiles of joy as they touch the sink where Flannery washed the meal’s dishes (“Don’t stack the plates cause then I have to wash both sides.”), and laughter as folks recite their favorite lines. That the person is so tied up with the writer is not unique to this historic house museum, home of a literary figure but many people feel a closeness to the writer that I think would make her uncomfortable but also pleased that her work has touched so many people in profound ways.
She said that “Lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." Still, readers want to soak up as much of Flannery “the person” as they can, and coming to Andalusia Farm is one way to do that. Once here, we try to steer them towards the elements of the farm that connect to her writing: the barn loft, the tractor/murder weapon, the peafowl, the tree line, and the special light here at sunset that does look like fire or blood (with one eye squinted).  
Still, Flannery the person is here and people want to know where she wrote, where she ate, who visited, and what the farm operation was like. We do our best while always trying to bring everything back to Flannery the writer who had something to say. Rest in peace Flannery, we are glad to know you.
-          The Staff at Andalusia Farm – Home of Flannery O’Connor