Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Birthday, Flannery!

Today, we celebrate what would have been Flannery O’Connor’s 92nd birthday. Some new friends from Iowa making their “pilgrimage” to Milledgeville even brought a cake to the farm to mark the occasion. Flannery’s 91st birthday fell on Good Friday, and thus the day was rendered slightly less festive, but the 92nd brings with it the first right and proper days of Spring. It was a beautiful day for a celebration. I’m sure our friends down in Savannah at the Childhood Home celebrated in style today, as well. Were she with us to take part, I’m sure she’d have a sardonic comment and a wry smile over Coke, coffee, and cake.

Flannery didn’t have too much to say concerning birthdays, outside of a couple pearls of wisdom in The Habit of Being that extol the virtues of childhood after growing into adulthood. Surviving childhood, she held, taught one all that was required to succeed. Her dictum may be a bit reductive and smack of all those meddlesome teachers and “innerleckshuls” found in her fiction, but we can forgive someone who had only 39 birthdays of wanting to learn efficiently. So too, birthdays that occurred at Andalusia had the specter of lupus hanging over them; aging, no doubt, came painfully.

However, as the blooms take over the plants and Manley Pointer II readies his new crop of tailfeathers, new beginnings hover all around Flannery’s birthday, too. As Flannery would look to Easter and the Lenten season for renewal, we can look merely to the arrival of Spring to get that sense of novelty and vitality this time of year. Thus, in the spirit of birthdays and new beginnings, we look to her fiction and life and find ourselves transformed in the ways that she’d shout at our “hard-of-hearing” egos and “almost blind” senses of self. Thank you, Flannery, and happy birthday.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Behind A Guided Tour

With the arrival of Spring and its warm days, the tour season is upon us at the farm. While we do our best to show all of our visitors the ins and outs of life at Andalusia, sometimes those busy days get the best of us and there’s just too many folks to greet. That’s, of course, a good problem; I relish a house full of visitors. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour groups, though, is the ability to slow down a little bit. All of us have a few standard stories that we tell to the visitors, but a good tour is not all boilerplate. I rather like to digress, as if my entries on this blog haven’t given me up already, and I’ll divulge where I get some of my anecdotes.

One, of course, is Brad Gooch’s biography. Gooch’s research and interviews with folks who knew Flannery personally are an invaluable resource for questions about how daily life went for her and Regina. The pictures in that book, while largely familiar to most of us, are a page flip away for those who have never seen daily life at Andalusia during its days as a functional farm.

Further interviews with personal acquaintances of Flannery are available in a volume compiled on behalf of Andalusia by our former director, Craig Amason, and Dr. Bruce Gentry, Professor of English at Georgia College and a member of our board of directors. The folks in At Home With Flannery knew the O’Connors personally and interacted with Flannery and Regina in various capacities, from local business owners to piano teachers, and their perspectives provide me with a useful third set of eyes. These folks bring me out of what Flannery called “the darkness of the familiar” in one of her letters.

My most frequently-consulted source is, indeed, our old, heavily annotated The Habit of Being. Our directors put (here I’ll use a precise, scientific measurement) a whole slew of sticky notes and place markers in a hardback copy of Habit that point to specific structures and people unique to Andalusia. These highlights cover everything from Flannery’s visitors to farmhands’ family crises to the news of what flowers the birds recently took to eating. They’re Flannery’s words and feelings, of course, but she’s a fair reporter, I think. Sheer use has given that volume a bit of a lean and a couple of bare places in the cloth cover, but I won’t replace it anytime soon.

Thus, there’s more than physical renovations happen out on the farm. It’s my goal never to give the same tour twice. I try to hit the highlights that everyone’s there to see and hear about, but I try too to find some particular interests: the things a group has recently read, their experience with farmhouses of our vintage, and the like. The principle, as I frequently state in this space, is to engender a lifelong love of learning in our visitors through our love of our space and our writer. And if I have to go read compelling interviews and pithy, witty letters to give our visitors something to remember, I’d say we’re all winners!

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and Andalusia's Bon Vivant. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent on the Farm

With Ash Wednesday on March 1st, the Lenten season has begun. Ashen foreheads were prevalent about Milledgeville on Wednesday, and no doubt many discussions took place about what luxuries and comforts will be given up during the next forty days. In our grand tradition of missing the point on purpose, my Grandmother and I always gave up rutabagas and Brussels sprouts this time every year, and our Springtimes have been unanimously wonderful. We are pleased to carry on with such a bewildering array of lifestyle changes this year, of course. If it ain’t broke. . .

Those who give up things that they actually like during this time of year will likely say that refusing a couple of life’s luxuries in order to replace them with increased focus on the divine is a greatly enriching experience. I have no cause to doubt them, and I suspect that the irreligious amongst us can agree in principle. Many of us find that the “off the grid” aspects of a vacation—when we can turn the phones off, let the email program auto-reply for us, and stay out of conference rooms—are the most vital aspects of getting away, long before the luxuries of our destination have their effects on us. We can, to borrow a phrase from a certain Roman Catholic writer, with one eye squinted take a sacrifice as a blessing.

This spirit has put Easter atop the list of my favorite holidays. The sacrifices of Lent and the mournfulness of Holy Week give way on Easter Sunday to celebration and a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Even the sacred music that churches use during this time of year reflects this range of emotions; to answer Friday’s “Were You There?” with Sunday morning’s “Hallelujah Chorus” gets at the transformative nature that the preceding forty days are supposed to have on those who participate.

We can’t get you permanently off the grid out at the farm, but we can offer a little peace and quiet on the trail or the porches. Even during the times when I’m a bit swamped with some behind-the-scenes duties at Andalusia, a quiet moment with Manley II and Joy at the aviary can be just enough of a “detox” that brings back my sense of focus. A little renewal can go a long way indeed.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, site of many an Ash Wednesday for Flannery and Regina O'Connor

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College, Bon Vivant at Andalusia, and was for a recent Lent season, Interim Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church of Milledgeville.