Up the gravel road and to the right, a white house mushrooms on high ground. The main building is unmistakable to anyone who has seen the Kodak of Flannery navigating on aluminum “sticks” down the brick stairs to admire that single peacock. Marked by a sign leaning against an oak tree, the house looks deceptively roomy from the exterior. The entrance is from the rear and into the small gift shop where visitors buy tickets, the best volumes by and about Mary Flannery, and peacock feathers.
This gift shop had once been Regina’s room. To its left on entry is the office. A real working farm as this needed a sink for washing before handling paperwork. Like all the rooms toured, the office is small. Regina reconfigured the first floor when lupus felled the younger O’Connor. Flannery found it easier to climb to heaven than to navigate the stairs to her original quarters. In addition to Regina’s bedroom and office, the first floor consists of the kitchen, bathroom, dining room, sitting room, and two other bedrooms clustered around a central hall with those treacherous stairs. Practicality dictated that the rooms be small. On weekends, Uncle Louis Cline, who worked for Atlanta’s King Hardware, occupied one bedroom as small as the office. Visitors may notice a few rearrangements since the publishing of Gordon, Amason, and Martin’s A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia. Pilgrims will find that volume a great aid to their enjoyment of a trip to Flannery’s world. At least one more alteration is planned, the restoration of Regina’s bedroom as the gift shop moves to the new Andalusia Interpretative Center in 2022.
Best is the kitchen where Regina assembled traveling fruitcakes and where Flannery admonished herself perhaps with too much scrupulousness against the gluttony of too many Scotch oatmeal cookies.
In the military, I served alongside a one-time guide on the Mark Twain tour in Hannibal, MO. He said it didn’t take long before he became bored with his canned recitation and improved it. Under Red’s expert guidance, vacationers were able to recognize the “Z-shaped” cave where Tom Sawyer’s nemesis lurked- except that the entrance to the cave was shaped like an “A.” Tourists embraced the ruse. All guides aren’t malicious or mischievous; some are only guilty of being inexpert volunteers for the civic good. But if you interrupt a volunteer museum docent with an unscripted question, he is likely to press [RESTART,] beginning the answer with ” Welcome to the Museum of Bottlecaps. My name is [fill in your name], and I will be your guide….” An encounter with the docents at Andalusia changed my expectations about docents forever. They are young but informed, experienced, it seems, but still enthusiastic. Their knowledge is broad, and they are capable of fielding even my questions about minutia. They are pleasant, engaged, and devoted to Mary Flannery’s time and place. There were perhaps a half-dozen on-site that day. It would be impossible to rank even one behind the others.
At the rear of the white house, beginning left of the drive stands a trinity of russet splintered structures. The first of these is the factual Hills’ House. In fiction, it housed the Shortleys and others. It’s repaired but not restored, but don’t fail to enter if carefully. It will kindle a reader’s imagination. Past the home of the Hollering Hills is Andalusia’s Calvary. Farm machinery arranged in a careful disorder surrounds Gulzac’s equipment shed. Flannery may have mistrusted mechanical modernity, but an observer might wonder how that rubber and steel might still sing had the Displaced Person survived. Finally, there is the Dairy Barn. An external ladder stretches up toward Hulga’s Loft. Fight the temptation; those rungs don’t ascend to Paradise.
Circle back beside the dry creekbed. Eighty yards from the Main House stands a PEAnal stockade where two once glorious birds serve incarceration. Their names recall other prisoners of Andalusia, Astor and Mrs. Shortley. The pen is small. When depression causes the birds to molt their glories, as it does, a docent collects the lost feathers to sell in the gift shop. If a fertilized egg results, another turnkey awaits to pluck it and send it off to a northern Georgia farm where an unrelated peahen, joyous and free, raises the peachick as her own. If this is Regina’s revenge against the birds that ravaged her flower beds and devoured her strawberries, they rehabilitated long ago. They should be perched in Andalusia’s trees, bellowing their gospels after midnight loud enough to save the souls of even distant neighbors.
Let my peafowls go!
don ward, October 21, 2021
Many thanks to Georgia College and State University for its stewardship of Andalusia, to that institution’s Special Collections and faculty for the inspiration nurtured. Thanks also to those who read and treasure the work of Mary Flannery O’Connor. Finally, thanks to the foundations, collections, associations, publications, and institutions that promote her legacy.