Friday, December 30, 2016

A Happy New Year on the Farm

On behalf of my colleagues at Andalusia, I'd like to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year.  We hope the holidays have found our patrons and friends well-rested and revitalized in anticipation of the coming of 2017.  We've all been using this holiday week while the farm has been closed to the public for a little rest, too, though the Bon Vivant's rest may be a little different.  I used a sojourn to some friends in south Georgia to call on the good folks at the Childhood Home on Charlton St. in lovely downtown Savannah.  Their tour is a useful reminder of Flannery's early life and formative years that helped to produce the author that we celebrate on the farm.

2017 at the farm is shaping up to be one of further growth and excitement. The newest development on the farm is a little shift in my colleagues' space: some office space has been realized upstairs in order to give our shop a little room to breathe; you good folks who have purchased things from our online store have required us to devote a little more space to packaging and readying items to ship. For this good problem, we can only say thank you and to keep it up!

In February comes some of my favorite events of the year: the February Four.  This year, we will focus on The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery's second novel. As with Wise Blood last year, we will present each Sunday afternoon a variety of perspectives on the novel, from criticism to the illumination of some frequently overlooked minutiae. (This year, I'm especially looking forward to the discussion on moonshine, both the making and the novel's usage thereof!)

Our book club remains well-attended and enlightening. On the last Thursday of each month, a guided discussion of an O'Connor work takes place either in our gallery rooms or on the porch if the weather cooperates. Dr Bruce Gentry of Georgia College generally leads these discussions, but keep an eye out during the summer months, when the Bon Vivant will attempt in whatever way he can to pinch hit for Dr Gentry!

Of course, reminders for these events and others are on our Facebook page and newsletter (the subscribe button at the bottom of our website will ensure you find future newsletters in your inbox, hot off the presses).  Thus, to all our readers, patrons, neighbors, and friends: Happy New Year, and we'll see you in 2017. Cheers!

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant, and Instructor of English at Georgia College, and the caretaker of the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House in downtown Milledgeville. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas in the Bird Sanctuary

As Advent fades into Christmas, I meditate on how the transition to Andalusia—brought on by circumstances nobody willed or could control—would have felt. This post will ponder Flannery O’Connor’s Advent and Christmastide letters from those years. These both sadden and inspire me.

Sally Fitzgerald’s editorial note that separates 1949 from 1950 letters places O’Connor at home “for Christmas with her mother and for an operation to correct a floating kidney” (Habit of Being 19). Over the next three years, Advent and Christmastide continue to be fraught with physical challenges and overflowing with the self-examination that led to an acceptance of living at Andalusia and ultimately to something like self-abnegation.These are the letters Fitzgerald places in Part I: Up North and Getting Home. They are the letters that reach across all the intervening years by speaking to how we face unsought changes that we initially perceive as adverse ones.

Regina Cline O’Connor and Flannery did exactly that. At least, that is my reading of the records, as an only daughter who was blessed with health: The daughter had experienced flight from Milledgeville, the Bird Sanctuary, but periodically returned to the nest, battered in some way that was seldom immediately understood. Gradually, over these years, the permanence of that nest became clear.

Advent is intended to be a season of self-examination that culminates in hope, anticipation, and joy. Yet Christmas in the early 50s for both Miss Regina and her daughter seems annually to have been informed not only by things of the Spirit but also by urgent, physical conditions. The freedoms Flannery experienced in Connecticut become increasingly constrained and distant during this period, with the denouement beginning perhaps in late summer 1952 when the Fitzgeralds ship her Bible home and she acts on her passion for peacocks (43). Home now clearly means Andalusia, the place where your body and your Missal are.

In the initial interstices of uncertainty, O’Connor turns to her best friend from college, Betty Boyd Love, announcing in a letter from “Baldwin Memorial Horspital as usuel” on 23 December 1950 that she will be grounded in the “bird sanctuary for a few months.” At this point, she believes herself to be in “the horspital” for “AWTHRITUS” (22). Her usual good humor prevails, yet she concludes with “Write me a letter of sympathy (23).

Fast forward a year to Christmas 1951 when Flannery describes preparations on the dairy farm for the anticipated arrival of “a refugee family” before turning to her personal status. She expresses hope that she will yet return to Connecticut: “If the Lord is with me this next year I aim to visit you” (30). Both the material for her short stories and the hope for health coexist this Advent and Christmastide. On 2 May 1952, she writes Robert Lowell a fascinating sequence of statements: “I’ve been in Georgia . . . but I am going to Conn. . . . , I’m living with my mother in the country” (35). On 23 May, she again writes Betty Boyd Love.

Reading retrospectively, I know that Love will become more distant as her friend’s prominence as a writer increases. I admire Flannery for announcing and confronting her own demons when she writes earlier of the shock of marriage and now of the presence of a “stalking” child (36). I am in awe of her ability to deflect cultural assumptions that marriage represented success and literary fiction writing had no vocational equivalence to child bearing. I envy her ability to live in the bird sanctuary without reverting to childhood herself.

The Lord is willing for Flannery to make the trip to Connecticut, yet the circumstances of her time there in mid-summer 1952sound stressful. According to Sally Fitzgerald, that visit included a difficult relationship with two other guests, one from New York’s Fresh Air Fund and the other a refugee; a virus; and a conversation during which O’Connor “learned the true nature of her illness” (37).

By Christmastide, in a letter to the Fitzgeralds dated 30 December 1952, Flannery O’Connor emerges in a way that seems to me both slightly sardonic and hopeful, turning her mother’s encounter with an electric mixer and her own shingles to rhetorical advantage (50). In the days ahead, I will be meditating on that mixer and those shingles.

-- Elaine Whitaker chairs the Department of English and Rhetoric at Georgia College. Her photographs and blog are influenced by Ignatius of Loyola and Virginia Woolf. The window is the one behind which Flannery O’Connor may have read; the landscape is her view as it appears in Advent 2016.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reading for Milledgeville

Previously in this space, I pointed out a few Andalusia-specific stories for some of our first-time visitors. These farm-centric works put Andalusia in a new light each time I revisit them. This time around, here are a few works that illuminate the city-side of Milledgeville. The town is frequently but a setting in O’Connor’s fiction, but a few works bring it out of “the darkness of the familiar.”

1. “The Partridge Festival”
For decades and decades, Milledgeville was a punchline to most of the state due to the sprawling campus of Central State Hospital, the world’s largest mental institution in its day, on the south side of town. “I’m going to Milledgeville” usually did not mean that one was heading off to college. Andalusia is located several miles away from the hospital campus and didn’t figure too prominently in the daily running of the farm, but it loomed very large indeed for the area’s economic prospects in its heyday. The protagonists of “The Partridge Festival” depart a farmhouse for a trip out to speak with a notorious gunman who took his revenge after being slighted by some of the townspeople at their annual fall fair.

2. “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”
Graduation day remains a big event, and now Georgia College holds a pair of them in an academic year. For many years, my own included, the college held its ceremonies on the green space known locally as “Front Campus” when the weather permitted (or, more memorably, even when it didn’t). The scenes at Sally Poker’s graduation (John Wesley’s mistake notwithstanding) are something that could easily have played out in any recent afternoon in early May; the organized chaos of getting hundreds and hundreds of people into a sea of chairs in the middle of Milledgeville is one not easily forgotten or missed.

3. “A Stroke of Good Fortune”
Though not quite the “alone-in-a-crowded-room” feeling one gets from big-city life in “Judgment Day,” “Stroke” has its own brand of claustrophobia as it survey’s Ruby Hill’s apartment complex. A story in which almost everyone knows everyone else’s story serves as a fairly nice metaphor for life in a town that, while large enough for many amenities, frequently does not let one hide. So too, I imagine our collegians have had several colorful metaphors for stair-centric dormitories.

4. “A View of the Woods”
Andalusia’s neighbors surprise our first-time visitors. A car dealership and a shopping center anchored by a certain ubiquitous big-box retailer are the “triumphs of Mr. Fortune,” as named by one of our volunteers. Piece by piece, Mr Fortune has sold off portions of his property to various business interests to the chagrin of his granddaughter’s husband. Andalusia, of course, has no intention of letting Mr Fortune triumph in the real world; indeed, I rather like our spot in town. As the business of Lake Sinclair moves south and the business of Milledgeville moves north to meet it, Andalusia can be a big, quiet, green solace in the midst of all the hustle around it.

With that sentiment, I hope Andalusia can be a little spot of peace and quiet for you in the midst of a holiday that can frequently be anything but. We’ll be open right up until the holiday, so drift in, stay a while, and maybe take a gift or two out of our shop (and those of our locally-owned neighbors). Cheers!

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant at Andalusia. He wouldn't refuse the title of Man-About-Town if anyone would like to level it at him.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wintertime on the Farm

The late, great wit of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lewis Grizzard, said of his time as a “prisoner of war” at the Chicago Tribune, “Chicago has two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July.” For 2016, it seems like Milledgeville has had two seasons, as well: summer and Christmas. We’ve finally had our first cold snap of the season; houses across the area, our Main House included, are all popping and creaking as our furnaces warm and expand the frames. I can’t say that I’m sad to finally be cold; wearing shorts at Thanksgiving felt a bit unnatural. The cold snap, in short, makes the business of mid-December feel right.

Milledgeville will be a little quieter after today; our collegians will decamp for their homes, and their instructors will settle in (or in my case, barricade myself in) and grade their exams and papers. I’ll miss their presence in a couple of weeks; the students make things “normal” around here, in spite of their large numbers and tendencies toward loudness. After that, even their instructors (yours truly included) will depart for home, and then the town will be well and truly quiet.

All the stillness aside, the local tourism scene doesn’t see much of a drop-off once the collegians depart. Those who come into town to see their folks usually want to step out and see the sights, and the local museums and attractions are happy to provide. Some will have special programming, too; I remember quite fondly a few nights of caroling with the Milledgeville Singers out at Lockerly Arboretum.

Andalusia will remain open right up to Christmas, and we’re pleased to announce our new online shop. If you’re too far away to pay us a visit, we’ll ship our wares to anywhere in the country. When the holiday business gets to be a little too harrowing, come out to the farm and sit a spell. It might be a bit too cold for the porch, but Uncle Louis’s room in the back of the house is plenty cozy!

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant at Andalusia and an Instructor of English and Georgia College. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Widow's Dower

Dr. Bernard Cline purchased the first parcel of Andalusia land in 1931, beginning the Cline/O’Connor estate Mary Flannery O’Connor will hear was once called Andalusia, and the land’s name will become that again; however the land has known many names and owners. It’s been divided, sold, parceled, and put back together again, and again. It was decided on August 18, 1908 that the old Stovall place would change hands. The old Stovall place, which is Andalusia, was no longer just in the hands of the family of Nathan Hawkins. The Johnson family filed a petition at the beginning of 1907. It seems that possession of Andalusia has been argued over for well over a century.
Equitable petition. Before Judge Lewis. Baldwin superior court. January 16, 1907.
A.S. Johnson and Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, as testamentary trustees of the estate of Thomas Johnson, deceased, brought an equitable petition against S.W. Hawkins, whereby they sought to restrain the defendant, who was alleged to be insolvent, from trespassing upon certain described lands, alleged to be the property of such estate and to have been taken possession of by the defendant, and from interfering with the right of the plaintiffs to occupy the same; and also recover the land. Subsequently, by consent of parties, Mrs. Lizzie P. Myrick and J.C. Hawkins, sister and brother of the original defendant, were, with their consent, made parties defendant to the cause, and plaintiffs amended the petition by praying that title to the premises in dispute be decreed to be in them. The tract of land in controversy consisted of 556 acres, which, upon the death of Nathan Hawkins, the father of the defendants, had been set apart as dower to his widow. (“Hawkins et al. v. Johnson et al.,” 347).
Although their parents were dead, A.S., Lizzie, and J.C. Hawkins still wanted their family land although Thomas Johnson had acquired it through a debt consolidation in 1874 in downtown Milledgeville six years before Bernard Cline was born to Peter and Kate Cline in December 18, 1880.
In 1931, Dr. Bernard Cline acquired Lot No. 1, of Division No. 1, but in the coming years, Cline pieces as much of the old Stovall place back together, which will ultimately come to be owned by the widow Regina Cline O’Connor. In Mary Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, a widow sometimes owns a farm. 1931 is the same year that Mary Flannery O’Connor begins first grade at St. Vincent’s Grammar School in Savannah—also the same year Mary Flannery teaches a chicken with feathers that grow backward to, appropriately, walk backward.
1947 Returns to Iowa City. Applies for several college teaching positions. Story ‘The Barber’ is accepted by anthology of student writing, New Signatures. Uncle Bernard Cline dies suddenly in late January, leaving Andalusia farm, comprising 500 acres of fields and 1,000 acres of woods, to her mother and uncle Louis Cline. (CW 1242)
When Uncle Louis Ignatius Cline passes away on January 13, 1973, Uncle Louis bequeaths Andalusia to his sister Regina Cline O’Connor.

Photo Credit: Eberhart Studio: Milledgeville, Georgia

Works Cited
“Hawkins et al. v. Johnson et al.” Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia at the March and October Terms, 1908. Vol. 131. Atlanta: The State Library, 1909.

O’Connor, Flannery. Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Library of America, 1988.

James Owens is a nonfiction writer and weekly contributor to Ina Dillard Russell Library’s Special Collections’ blog Dispatches from Penitentiary Square. He studies local and regional history and is a graduate of Auburn University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Georgia College. He was a participant in 2014 NEH's Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor and the 2015 Flannery O’Connor and Other Southern Women Writers. He is an eternal student of Flannery O’Connor and all who love her and her work.