Andalusia is the farm where Flannery O’Connor lived for the last 12 years of her life, after lupus forced her to return home to be cared for by her mother. After wanting to make a trip there for years, I”m finally going in late April. Friend Phyllis and I will tour Milledgeville, where the farm is located, and Savannah, before returning to the Myrtle Beach area where Phyllis and her husband Art now live.
Directions say the narrow gravel road to the farm is located off the highway just past a big Walmart and across from America’s Best Value Inn, which tackiness Flannery would have loved and made much of in one of her short stories. I’ve been reading up on what’s to be found there, in addition to the farm house and outbuildings: peacocks, for example. There are three, including a new one named Manley Pointer — a character from one of Flannery’s stories. Back in Flannery’s day, dozens of peacocks lived on the farm, and they often appear in her stories, usually evoking the very Catholic theme of transfiguration.
O’Connor’s writing is unusually tied to place, because she was tied to that farm by her illness. I’ve read all of her short stories numerous times, and feel as if I know the house where Asbury took to his bed to die, the barn from which the traveling bible salesman stole Hulga’s wooden leg leaving her stranded in the hay loft, the fields mowed by the Displaced Person, and the woods where Mary Fortune got her head bashed in on a rock. Yes, the O’Connor stories are known for their grotesque violence. I’m uniquely drawn to go there, in a way I’m not drawn to wherever Grace Paley might have lived, or Iris Murdoch or Shirley Jackson or Mavis Gallant or Edwidge Danticat or Zora Neale Hurston.
But it feels important not to romanticize what I might find at Andalusia. One of the sites describing the farm said to stay on the paths and out of the tall grass, in order to avoid snakes.
Flannery O’Connor may be my favorite author, but I hate snakes and know why I don’t live in rural Georgia.