Sunday, June 25, 2017

On Andalusia's Book Club

This forthcoming Thursday morning at Andalusia is one of my newfound joys out here at the farm: the monthly meeting of the Book Club. We’ll be taking a look at Wise Blood, and while the novel itself came together while Flannery was up north and away from Andalusia, there’s only so far that the place of composition and setting of that novel can get us before we’re grounded once more in the style and wit of Flannery’s Andalusia years.

I’ll do my best to replicate Dr. Bruce Gentry’s leadership for the next couple of meetings. Fortunately, my own teaching days are replete with O’Connor, and even this past term I featured Wise Blood on my freshmen syllabus, and I’ve been revisiting some of the more controversial and counterintuitive readings I’ve encountered in preparing to teach. I try not to openly disagree or dismiss any reading; rather, my aim is always to get my fellow readers (in the above case, they’re students, too) to delve ever deeper whenever possible. Such is the substance of that wonderful lifelong learning; one must not be ever satisfied with one interpretation.

My own teaching resources aside, I found myself revisiting some of my students’ thoughts on the novel; those first impressions were quite a freshening of my experience with the novel. The visceral reactions to Hazel’s and Sabbath Lily’s “romance” were especially useful in that I never can quite crack the shell on many of Flannery’s fictional romances. Their responses pull Flannery back into the real world for me, out of the, ahem, haze of academics’ takes.

That dose of the real world is really the substance of a visit to Andalusia in the first place. The wit present in all those books and letters and essays is the same one who lived through the door at the back corner of my office, and I need reminding of that as often as possible. Flannery, after all, did much the same thing as we will this Thursday; there’s a rich tradition of literary discussion and readings here among the local intelligentsia. We’re proud to keep that alive, and we’ll look to fill all our chairs on the morning of the 29th.

One of many sets of visitors to Andalusia

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Visitor Services Manager and Bon Vivant. Andalusia's Book Club is held on the last Thursday of each month. For July 27th, we'll be taking a look at "Good Country People.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Father's Day, for Edward O'Connor

Several years ago during my graduate student days, as part of hosting Dr. Avis Hewitt of Grand Valley State University and her students in their forays into the archives at Georgia College, I was fortunate enough to have lunch with the late Dr. William Sessions at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House. He spoke briefly to the students of the role of Edward O’Connor in the development of his daughter’s literary talents. Dr Sessions’s looks into the written materials from Edward show a man with no small talent in the written word: apt turns of phrase and rhetorical devices abounded, he said, with a demonstrable desire to improve as well. I wonder, sometimes, had his talents blossomed, if Edward would have come to be another poetic voice describing the horrors of World War I. Living in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah and growing up in the care of a man with literary aspirations, it is no surprise Flannery became the literary figure known to us now; Flannery confessed in a letter to Betty Hester that she carried a great deal of Edward within her sensibilities. (Indeed—I think Flannery, especially in her childhood, looks a great deal like him.)

Edward O’Connor’s life during Flannery’s childhood is a familiar one of the age. Finding sustainable work during the Depression frequently proved difficult, and traveling to and from jobs was part and parcel of Edward’s life. Such is the familiar story of the father whose role in providing for his family entails some time apart from his loved ones. He found himself working in Atlanta and came to Milledgeville to be with Regina and Flannery in his final months. Lupus claimed Edward’s life on February 1, 1941, not long after his 45th birthday. His grave sits in Milledgeville’s Memory Hill, alongside Regina’s and Flannery’s.

And thus on this hot, sunny Sunday at Andalusia we celebrate the life of a man who likely didn’t spend a great deal of time here outside of a few special occasions. What he did offer is the hope of every good father: a legacy. I think he’d be gratified beyond measure to know that it’s a literary giant. Those of us here can only offer our thanks and a Happy Fathers’ Day.
Edward O'Connor

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Ricky Wilkinson's son. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bon Vivant Under a Hot Tin Roof

In recent months, I have been a bit spoiled by uncharacteristically pleasant weather. A mild Winter made for a very long Spring indeed, and I can’t say that I minded it. My peach farming friends will disagree, of course, but a modicum of sweaters and long sleeves will engender few complaints from me. But my Spring has given way to a heat wave and sent me inside.

Visitors to the farm will remember that the authentic experience we try for here entails the removal of the air conditioning unit formerly attached to the downstairs office’s window. But all is not lost, of course; over 150 middle Georgia summers have gone through these walls, and those within them were no worse for the wear. There’s architecture to use to our advantage: great big windows and doors for a cross wind, and the glorious attic fan for the hot air that gets trapped in the first floor’s ceiling. A couple extra fans help in places like the bath and dining room where the air can sit rather heavily, and all of a sudden there’s a pleasant breeze here.

While I may dislike their tendencies to lose limbs in storms, our trees are a summertime help that largely weren’t around in Flannery’s day. Pictures of the farm from Flannery’s day show a landscape that was far more open; shade was at a premium, and space for cattle took precedence. A little time and good fortune has given us a set of trees and shade at all hours of the day. I am especially fond of the Live Oak by the front steps and what I think is a cedar by the window of my office. (I am a poor botanist—my apologies if I’ve misidentified something!)

Heat builds character, and if the first couple of weeks of June are any indication, this summer will be a characterful one indeed.  We may have lost something in our constitutions in longing for air conditioning as we do.  I must not be spoiled by Willis Carrier. Each summer’s day brings a new appreciation of Flannery’s and Regina’s resilience, and if they could make a go of it, I can too (at least once a breeze kicks in).

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and needs a glass of ice water. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Photography on the Farm

I tend to tell our guests out here that I get the fun jobs out here at the farm—event hosting, tour leading, and the like. Our visitors keep the place and Flannery’s fiction fresh for me, out of what she called the darkness of the familiar. For that I’m grateful, and even moreso when our guests come armed with a camera and a willingness to share what they see here on their visits.

There’s first those visitors who have their phones in hand when they come in the door. The ubiquity of the cell phone camera is an aspect of modern society that I’m not completely sure I buy into, but I have a tough time arguing the point when I see folks’ first looks into Flannery’s room. A visitor from Wisconsin just this week spent more than a few moments at Flannery’s doorway, taking several shots as overhead clouds brought new shadows and diffused light in what would otherwise be a bright room over the course of a summer day. Even folks who don’t have much experience with Flannery’s fiction tend to linger a bit in the kitchen and dining room with their cameras as memories of grandmothers and old country homes come back to mind.

Visually, there’s a great deal to offer at Andalusia for our photographer friends. Professional photographers find a spot for their clients out here that’s far removed from the unsightliness and noisiness of daily traffic, and even on our busy days there’s always a quiet corner or two to set up a shot. On a recent Sunday, a future Flannery fan’s first birthday photoshoot was held out here and shared to our Facebook page; I can say without question that that little guy was the highlight of my day. The iron pot on the front porch of the Hill House has never been put to cuter use.

In town, the abandoned buildings of Central State Hospital have been a popular spot for photoessayists due largely to the stark and austere beauty of a big building left to the elements for decades. How they get in those buildings and survive I’ll never know; I can only imagine the tentative steps as what should be a solid floor sways and squishes under foot. The beauty here, meanwhile, is a far more charitable and welcoming version of austerity—we called it simplicity in years past, and that’s the lifestyle I try to celebrate as we welcome folks to the farm.
We offer special thanks to one of our volunteers, Jack Yu of Milledgeville, for the use of this photo. 
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Visitor Services Manager and Bon Vivant