Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bird Sanctuary

"Slowly and widely taken" is how we approached our first visit to Andalusia Farm, home of our favorite writer Flannery O’Connor. This was it, the moment we had been waiting for and why we had made the journey across six states, convincing people back home that we had to go. Flannery was calling. I responded, “I’m coming, Flannery!”

Back in 2009, I dreamed of having a writers’ vacation in the south with college friends but our plans fell through. Then, writing about Flannery one day with my writers group, this trip idea came to fruition in a way I'd never expected. I found myself following in the footsteps of my favorite writer - not with other twenty-somethings but with women with more life experience and published work than I, women of strong character who are mothers - one with eight grandchildren, the other in the midst of raising three teenagers. I am here with other writers whom I greatly admire, and we all feel that we are meant to be on this journey together, and that it is the right time for us, not too early and not too late.

Our first glimpse of the farm was two unpretentious signs - nothing gaudy, just matter-of-fact, stating this was Flannery O’Connor’s home.

Photo by Roxane Salonen
We entered the red gravel driveway, and I drove slowly through it so we could take it all in. Underneath a canopy of trees, I felt so embraced by the greenery until finally the farmhouse emerged out of a clearing, the one I'd seen so much in pictures with Flannery.

We parked and got out. Meandering across the grounds, we started in the back first and walked  through the very humble Hill House, home to their hired hands who worked the dairy farm.

Next we saw the sheds falling apart in disarray, the cow barn and the milk-processing shed. Flannery’s mother Regina was regarded as quite accomplished for running the operations of a whole dairy farm as a single widow by herself. This income, combined with what Flannery made from publishing her books, short stories and articles, is what sustained them.
Photo by Roxane Salonen
Then we heard a sound, a screech, and all looked up. We knew the sound. It was coming from the peafowl pen, where Manley Pointer was standing in full glory, all his suns shining! But as we moved closer, he got a little self-conscious. He came over to greet us with his feathers trailing behind him regally. Then he proceeded to pose for us on his beam and show off from all sides. Two female peafowl also shared the coop with him. They came out graceful and majestic and curious about us. I talked softly to these creatures, who seemed inherently aware of their dignity. “How beautiful you are!” I said. And they cocked their heads and looked at me. At one time, Flannery had 40 or 50 peacocks roaming the farm! I can see why she was attracted to these splendid birds of such dazzling beauty.

Photo by Karen Mahoney
Flannery called this “Bird Sanctuary” for good reason. As we lingered behind the Hill House, we listened to the smaller birds happily chattering and calling back and forth from the tree limbs. The setting was tranquil and peaceful. (Listen in on this YouTube video, courtesy of Roxane Salonen.)
Roxane says we must carry this back with us, when life gets crazy, to close our eyes and remember Georgia. We must carry ourselves back and hear the birds calling at Andalusia Farm and let ourselves find sanctuary in the woods of Flannery’s farm.

Finally, we made our way to the main house, first stopping to enjoy the views from the front lawn and taking in the tranquility of this setting. 
Photo by Roxane Salonen


“How do you feel?” asked Karen. “Do you feel Flannery here with us?”

I smiled. Yes, I think I do, I said. There is something I can’t quite put into words when you finally realize you are tracing the very footsteps of someone you admire so much. A writer who is a heroine, a role model, a kindred spirit, and a heavenly friend all rolled into one.

We are led through her house by a tour guide who is new herself to Andalusia Farm. One of the highlights is when I sit down to play Flannery’s own piano. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Karen was a piano major in college and she got a turn to play, too. Who would have imagined we could touch the keys Flannery played on?

We also saw her bedroom, moved from the upstairs to the first floor, because her lupus made it impossible for her to climb the stairs. It contained her bed, her crutches and the knickknacks as she had them on the fireplace mantel. (Later, we saw her own typewriter that is kept at the Russell Library Museum at Georgia College & State University). 

We continued through the house and got to walk in all the rooms, even getting an exclusive viewing of the upstairs, which is normally roped off to visitors and a back room off the kitchen that is still being sorted through and organized! We looked in wide-eyed wonder at each other as our tour guide kept making exceptions for us and letting us get even more up close and personal with Flannery!

The Andalusia Foundation is still sorting through magazines and papers that Flannery subscribed to and odds and ends around the house that were tucked into nooks and crannies and closets and boxes. Therefore, Roxane pointed out how it makes it feel as though Flannery just died. She died in 1964 but this site has only become a place of tourism more recently, and we've been privileged to see it while yet young. Thank you, Flannery!

By the end of our tour, I felt so filled up to the brim and so blessed beyond words to be here in this home of such a great American writer. She may have been misunderstood by many, but she was faithful to her vision. She may have borne many crosses and pain, but she did so with perseverance and faith. She could be blunt and stubborn, but witty enough to laugh at her own books so hard – they fell out of her lap.

1 comment:

  1. Christina, I read this before, but I loved it just as much the second read-though. Thanks for such a thoughtful reflection of our time together at Andalusia!