Violence and Redemption

My major project for my first summer school class on Contemporary Trends in Literature is a review of literature on a contemporary trend (duh, right?). At first I had no idea what to write about; I was really interested in John Updike but unsure of a topic. Then, in the middle of class once night, I had a sudden thought (aren’t those great?) about violence as a catalyst for grace in one of Updike’s short stories. I started scrawling notes on my page and realized that this trend also appeared in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories–and then I found my topic.

Eventually, I dropped Updike altogether; there’s just too much good research on Flannery, and the essay should only be five pages–a bit more if necessary (I’m already past 5, of course).

So here’s my idea (and other critics’, of course): Flannery, the good Catholic living in the Christ-haunted South, saw violence as shocking enough to bring about redemption. Moments of violence are often so intense and real that salvation is a direct result.

On one of my long drives home from class one night, I thought about this intersection of violence and grace. My salvation story is far from violent. I didn’t watch my family get slaughtered by a convict called the Misfit and his cronies; I didn’t have a Bible salesman steal my wooden leg. Violence just isn’t a part of my own story of grace. Then I realized that even if, personally, I haven’t experienced that kind of violence, the grace that led to my own salvation is absolutely rooted in the darkest violence imaginable. What could be more violent that my Savior, the Son of God, being crucified? Flannery O’Connor, in interweaving grace and violence, is only re-telling the most beautiful story ever written: grace is so wonderful because it is triumphant over violence.

I’m so gonna love talking about this idea in class on Monday night. ๐Ÿ™‚

#92: Andalusia

Yesterday, the Traveling Literati (Harvin, Ticcoa, and I) along with Michele and Stephen took a trip down to Milledgeville, GA, to visit Andalusia, the farm where Flannery O’Connor lived as an adult. All of her works were published while she lived on this farm with her mother Regina.

It’s about a three and a half hour journey to Milledgeville from Greer, so we were on the road by 7:30. We arrived at the farm a little before 11. What a beautiful place it is! The house is a two-story, white house with a red roof and a huge screened-in porch with rocking chairs, Southern and inviting (of course!).

Because Flannery had lupus and was unable to navigate stairs well, the front parlor was made into her bedroom. Inside, you can see the bed where she slept and some other original furnishings. There’s a desk and typewriter placed where they would have been when she lived there; however, because those original pieces were donated to the college in Milledgeville in the 80s, the desk and typewriter at Andalusia are period pieces and not Flannery’s.

The best part about Andalusia is the grounds. The house sits on over 500 acres of land still (though we didn’t see all of that, obviously!). There’s a pond at the bottom of the hill, and we walked around it, pointing out all the fish inside. We also looked at the outbuildings still there–a storing shed for milk from when Andalusia was a dairy farm in the 50s; an old house where a family named the Hills lived (which is falling apart–the foundation will soon be raising money to rescue the building from collapse); and various other farm-related buildings. Also, because Flannery is known for having raised peafowl when she lived there, the farm has recently build an aviary and acquired three birds: two females and a glorious peacock.

After leaving the farm, we headed into Milledgeville, stopped for lunch, and then drove to the cemetery where Flannery is buried. We found her grave rather quickly (much faster than when we explored for Thomas Wolfe’s grave in Asheville!), and then wandered around the cemetery. I love old, Southern cemeteries. This one had lots of trees, of course, as well as old gravestones of Civil War soldiers, and a meditation garden, with shrubs arranged in a six-pointed star (Jewish folk, perhaps?).

After leaving the cemetery, we headed downtown to find Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where Flannery attended. We first stopped at the visitors’ center, then walked down to the church. We found several antique shops and a comic book store on the way back, which we stopped in, and we also admired the lovely antebellum architecture. Milledgeville was once the capital of Georgia, before the capital was moved to Atlanta, and the town is quite proud of its history, naturally.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the awesomeness of Milledgeville around 3, in order to drive the 20 miles back to Eatonton, which is the birthplace of both Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker. One of the most visited places in Eatonton is the Uncle Remus Museum, which is composed of three old slave cabins. The tour guide who was working was named Georgia Smith, and she was as wonderful as Miss Nannie was at The Wren’s Nest. She told us the story of Joel Chandler Harris, writer of the Uncle Remus tales, and she gave us a lot of history of Putnam County, as well. For example, Putnam was the wealthiest county in Georgia pre-Civil War, but when Sherman marched through and burned all the cotton fields, all the wealth was lost seemingly overnight. No one even grows cotton there anymore because, as Miss Georgia told us, all the farmers are scared after the blight of the boll weevil. Understandable.

The museum also has a lot of history on the Turner family, who owned the plantation where J.C. Harris got his first job writing for a newspaper published by the plantation. At Turnwold, the teenaged J.C. Harris met the slaves who would tell him the critter tales that would later become the stories of Brer Rabbit and the rest of the gang.

The best part about yesterday is that it ended up being a continuation of previous trips. Last March, we visited The Wren’s Nest, which is still one of the best experiences we’ve had at a house-museum. The Wren’s Nest is the home where Joel Chandler Harris visited in Atlanta, so visited the Uncle Remus Museum was almost like getting the prequel to the story. And in January, we visited the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah. Also, as Flannery’s birthday was just this past Thursday, it was the perfect time to visit!

Happy Birthday, Mary Flannery!

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” ~ Flannery O’Connor

* * *

Today, had she not died of lupus a long time ago, Mary Flannery O’Connor would be 85 years old.

I’ve read quite a few of her short stories (my personal favorite being “Good Country People”), and I love the way she critiques Southern culture, the culture that I’m so familiar with. Reading her stories make me realize that not much has changed since she was writing decades ago.

When Harvin, Ticcoa, Jessie, and I visited the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah in January, we were all delighted with our docent’s stories of Mary Flannery. Visiting house-museums, particularly when we have good docents and tour guides, makes these authors seem even more real to us…as if we could run inside the house for tea with Flannery and make fun of all of her neighbors.

Flannery is one of the great Southern writers…she was snarky and feisty and an incredibly gifted writer. Happy Birthday, Mary Flannery. Thanks for your words!

#57: Flannery Oโ€™Connor & #59: Climb the Tybee Lighthouse

Two goals accomplished in one day! Yay!

Yesterday, Harvin, Ticcoa, Jessie, and I headed to Savannah for the day. Our first stop was the information center and Savannah History Museum. The Museum was just okay. It contained a lot of info about Savannah’s involvement in wars and stuff (and frequent mentions of Casimir Pulaski, for whom Fort Pulaski is named–I visited the fort in March 2008, and it’s my favorite fort, if one can have such a thing). Anyway, the best part about the museum was that the bench from Forsyth Square, where Tom Hanks sat when filming Forrest Gump in Savannah, is on display.

Next we had lunch at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which is adjacent to the info center and museum, and is housed in an old train passenger car. Of course, I ordered fried green tomatoes (which are the best I’ve ever had–they came with a raspberry-jalepeno sauce–yum!). All the food was magnificent. I ordered smothered chicken, collards, and fries; Jessie ordered citrus BBQ chicken; and Ticcoa and Harvin had pulled pork. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished because we couldn’t bear to leave food on our plates. And our waitress was named Xeular (pronounced ex-ler). She was delightful. After lunch, we set off on our real adventure of the day:

#57: Visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah

As a girl, O’Connor lived with her parents in downtown Savannah, in a beautiful neighborhood. The house has been restored thanks to the generosity of Jerry & Linda Bruckheimer (yes, the movie guy!). We arrived at the house in time to join the 1:30 tour with a wonderful tour guide named Toby.

The house itself is a long, narrow house, full of some original furniture from the O’Connors (as well as some donated by family friends). Our docent Toby is quite a fan of Flannery, which was wonderful. The best house-museum tours occur when the guides are fans of the work and are completely immersed in the author’s life. When Toby mentioned “Mary Flannery,” it seemed as though he were recounting his own memories of her. Anyway, we saw the parlor of the house, as well as Flannery’s and her parents’ bedrooms. Also, dedicated in Oct. 2007, the Bruckheimer Library contains some first editions of Flannery’s works, as well as some of her own personal books.

The only other people on the tour besides the four of us were a couple from Ohio, who left right after the tour was over. We, of course, stuck around to buy merchandise, and we continued to talk to Toby. He asked if we were teachers (I had commented earlier that I was glad the precocious Flannery wasn’t one of my students), and we talked about being English majors and visiting literary sites. He asked if we’d ever seen Flannery’s drawing. We didn’t even know she was an artist, as well, so he walked back into the library, pulled out one of her old yearbooks, and showed us the drawings she had done while in college. It pays to be curious and passionate. We frequently get extra-long tours and behind-the-scenes info when we stick around asking questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

Because someone else on the tour has asked if Toby was the one who lived on the third floor, we also asked him about how he wound up in Savannah. He’d been living and writing in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and he lost everything. He then moved to Atlanta, with minimal belongings, to stay with a friend, but wasn’t happy there. He felt compelled to visit Savannah at Thanksgiving of 2005, discovered Flannery’s house, remembered reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and loving it, and saw a sign in the window that said “For Rent.” He soon moved into the third floor of the house, above the museum, and has lived and worked there ever since.

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home now ranks as one of my favorite tours (up there with The Wren’s Nest in Atlanta and The Old Manse and the Wayside in Concord, MA). If you’re ever near Savannah, GO! Also, if you want to take me with you again, that’d be okay, too.

#59: Go back to Tybee and climb the lighthouse

After the tour, we left Savannah and drove the 13 miles or so to Tybee Island. In March 2008, I went to Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island by myself, but I didn’t climb the lighthouse when I was there. Because the line was so long, and because I was newly diabetic and alone and worried about what climbing 178 steps would do to my blood sugar, I merely toured the grounds on that visit. Yesterday, I finally climbed the lighthouse.

It was kinda stupid to pick January 2 as the day to climb the lighthouse. When you’re standing 154 feet in the air, looking far out to the ocean and far down to the ground, and the wind is whipping around a narrow conical tower, and it’s 40 degrees outside, the event just isn’t as pleasant as it could be. It was, however, adventurous. I’m pretty sure we were all afraid for our lives. ๐Ÿ™‚

This was my second time climbing a lighthouse. My first climb was at Hunting Island, which is only 108 feet tall. Those 46 feet make a difference. I’m not generally the one who’s afraid of heights, but I was a little nervous, dizzy, and queasy, so I can’t imagine how nervous Harvin and Ticcoa were. Yikes. Thanks, friends, for climbing the lighthouse with me anyway.

After touring the grounds of the lighthouse, we went back into the gift shop, where I found a real treasure: Lighthouse-opoly! Yes, that’s Monopoly with a lighthouse theme. Am I not the coolest person you’ve ever met? ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyone want to play with me?

We left Tybee around 5:15, with the intention of hitting the interstate and finding a quick bite to eat on the road. Originally, we’d planned to head back downtown to find a restaurant, but exhaustion one out. Sadly, our plans changed a bit when we merged onto the parking lot that was I-95. For the next 45 miles, the traffic was a headache. It was stop-and-go for a few miles, then we sped up to about 60 for awhile, then we slowed down significantly–I was actually driving around 5 mph for awhile. The problem? A horrendous wreck around mile marker 50–an RV crushed a car, and a pickup truck was also somehow involved. We finally got through and pulled off a few miles later at the Walterboro exit, which was also the first restaurant that featured not-fast-food restaurants.

Sadly, every other traveller had the same idea. The Ruby Tuesday had a 30-35 minute wait, so we crossed the overpass to the Cracker Barrel and waited about 15 minutes for a table (fortunately, there was still room to wait inside the restaurant). We finally left Walterboro around 8:30, with a three hour drive ahead of us. It was almost midnight before we arrived home.

Nonetheless, the day was wonderful. We drove 572.5 miles (of which I drove about 490–crazy!), visited two museums and a lighthouse, ate lunch in an old train car, got stuck in traffic, and had one grand adventure over the course of about 17 hours.

I fell asleep really quickly last night, slept almost 10 hours, and woke up with a beastly headache that only two cups of coffee and a few hours of consciousness could cure. A travel hangover, if you will. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nonetheless, I’m already itching for another adventure. Any suggestions on what we should do next?