Today in America is Thanksgiving Day. As such, it might be a day particularly suited for the remembrance of Flannery O’Connor, and a day for remembering the noble fowl that Franklin proposed for our national emblem. The turkey is as mysterious and elusive as Regina’s Girl. Her potential for scowling wildness was penned up but still strutted.
“The Turkey,” I think, is the first story where her greatness stretched its long neck above the tall grass. It wasn’t yet dressed in Grace, but it was haunted like Faulkner’s South by the specter of a pursuing evil. It might be the story of the ambitious, hard-working, noble savage that Mary Flannery O’Connor might have been if she had not stalked Aquinas, Maritain, Gilson, and Marcel. She plucked their feathers and made what might have been a war bonnet into a celestial crown.
Miss Cathy had a hunger to see the cartoon turkey Little Mary drew for her father’s delight. Edward Francis O’Connor carried it in his wallet, displaying it to any insured client and constituent veteran he was able to detain. Flannery’s fancy shows a young girl floating above a grounded tom in an inversion of and an improvement upon the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon. It was a prophetic sketch; the girl would rise skyward, and turkeys would inherit the earth. Among the things to be thankful for this Thursday is Nancy Bray Davis, curator at the Ina Dillard Russell Library’s Special Collections. Nancy interrupted her workday to retrieve that cartoon and put it in Cathy’s hand, the person best prepared to appreciate it. Today we’ll be thankful for Nancy’s work too.
There are too few of us who remember O’Connor. Georgia, her native state, no longer teaches her in its high schools. Her legacy is so tightly guarded that relatively little is written about her. A search via Safari today shows 3.6 million documents. Impressed? The same search for James Joyce yields 138 million. Flannery is accused of high crimes and social misdemeanors by those who have not read her canon or read only a single word without understanding. Still, a turkey half-stuffed is preferable to a turkey half empty. We can be thankful for “The Turkey,” her other stories, novels, letters, and occasional writings. We can be thankful for those 3.6 million documents. We can be thankful for those who honor and protect the O’Connor legacy. I can be thankful that you read this.
I’ll re-read “The Turkey” this Thanksgiving and tell someone why I did.