On my last trip to the South, I made a literary pilgrimage to Rowan Oaks, the home of William Faulkner, so it seemed only fitting that during this trip, I accompany CB to Andalusia in Milledgeville, GA to try and get a streak going. The home of Flannery O’Connor is about two hours southeast of Atlanta. We would be away from the book festival all day, but part of the trade off would be a gorgeous drive along highways and local roads bordered by masses of trees, stretches of kudzu, and gentile farmhouses. We were astonished at how scenic I-20 is–our primary point of rerference being the Tri-State area’s grimy and plaqued traffic arteries. CB kept gasping, “Oh trees!” And when we pulled onto the two-lane Hwy 441 that would lead us to Baldwin County, it was nearly more that even this sniffy NYC Girl could resist. We passed groves of pecan trees, rolling pastures furnished with cows and hay bales, and a farm stand hawking Vidalia onions, sacks of peanuts, peaches, and something called pecan syrup.
We were the first visitors of the day when we arrived at 11 AM. The house is fronted by a screened-in porch (replete with a dozen wide-armed white rocking chairs) that runs across its entire length. We walked up the brick stairs and entered through the screen door, which pulled open with a satisfying squeak. Carlene was calm but I could sense how pleased she was and I felt lucky to be the one sharing the trip with her. In short order we absorbed Flannery’s bedroom/office (she lived on the ground floor because she was ill with lupus and had limited mobility) the dining room, kitchen, and gift shop. Small details stood out: the quantity of barrister bookcases the woman owned, or the view through the window of the back bedroom. I was struck by how urgently I felt the need to weep when I sat in one of the rockers on the porch; there was something about the row of them, empty and still. Flannery never married; CB suspects she died a virgin.
We walked the grounds, getting a feel for the space and the air which may have held sway over the authoress. Soon we departed to find her grave and her Catholic church, both located in town. Milledgeville was unbelievably sedate, I wondered aloud if anyone actually lived there as we drove for blocks without spotting another human. At the cemetery I learned that Flannery and I share the same birthdate (March 25th), both Aires with strong opinions and small tolerance for the dimwitted. The church left me baffled; there was no trace of her. Soon after we regretfully headed out of town. Its charm and undeniable Southern-ness (even to this inexperienced eye) warranted at least another hour of loitering through its streets and perhaps having an iced tea in that diner on the main street. We did stop, however, at the farm stand on the way out of town. A weathered woman gave us wedges of salted, red tomato.
Once back in Decatur, we headed over to the festival to catch my friends Laurel Snyder and Marc Fitten on a panel, and then gathered all remaining energies to bring to the Author Reception. CB was thrilled by the prospect of socializing; I just wanted to be left in the corner with a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese. Must I? The party was marvelous of course, especially as it had the advantage of being held in the elegant back garden of a local restaurant, all pixie lights and potted plants. We met Kaylie Jones, and two young DBF interns, best friends who were majoring in writing and headed into their senior year of college. CB and I were instantly afflicted with We-See-Ourselves-in-You Disease, and talked with them for as long as we could without being creepy. I noticed a quiet man in a loud orange blazer, weary festival staffers, a rusty toy car nestled in the grass beneath a coffee table.
On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped in at Leon’s Full Service for a glass of Godello and a bowl of chick pea salad, unwilling to let a day full of ghosts and occasions slip away too soon.
PS I was supposed to run 4 miles Saturday morning but was so hung over from Friday night’s dinner date that there was simply no way.