About the Author: Giuseppe Perconte Licatese currently lives in San Marino, Italy. His first encounter with Flannery O’Connor was her short story “Parker’s Back,” in 2012. He is most interested in what O’Connor termed “Christian realism,” a literary as well as a political category.
When Chiara and I, honeymooners from Italy, arrived at Andalusia, we knew this would be a momentous stop in our journey. We elected Georgia as our destination because we wanted to visit the places of Flannery O’Connor. She is a writer we both had come to admire and whose iconic birds, we featured on the invitation card to our wedding. There was no unfurling of feathers for us this time, unfortunately. We had been looking forward to it, but the peacocks, we were told, had been scared by the fireworks of a day earlier, the 4th of July, and we found them still tucked in and silent in the corner of their pen.
In recent years, I have often returned to her writings. Her insightful “occasional prose” and her stunning fiction have been a bedside companion for me. Going to Andalusia – and, some days later, to the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah – was paying a visit to the author out of gratitude for the gift of her life, thought and works. It was also meant to bring about a closer acquaintance.
We had arranged to meet with Prof. Bruce Gentry, who would join us for the 3 pm tour in the house, but arrived on site early at half past noon. Before heading back into town for lunch, we took a glimpse of Andalusia. We roamed around the premises of the house. Most of its parts I could not name in English without looking the website up (the barn, the water tower, the smaller house and the other sheds nearby). The air was still, and the silence profound. I allowed myself to take a picture of Chiara sitting on the steps that lead up to the front porch with the rocking chairs – a very distinctive sight for us Europeans.
At the appointed time, we convened with Bruce outside the main house and stepped in to meet our tour guide, Mary Beth. What I immediately found relatable was the kitchenware. Maybe because we were starting a home down in Italy and gathering quite the same things. The kitchen culminates in the viewing of the glorious refrigerator, as highlighted in “At Least She Got a Fridge.” Another fridge awaited us in the Childhood Home in Savannah, and another one in the Pebble Hill Plantation near Thomasville: refrigerators from the 1950s were definitely a pattern in our journey.
Many items were shown to us – not merely shown, but “told” and contextualized by the knowledgeable docent, Mary Beth, as we moved from room to room. My wife drew my attention to a framed Sacred Heart Jesus. With some unreadable hand-written lines on it: a sign of devotion we could easily have found in the house of one of our grandmas in Italy. What saddened us for a moment was then the sight of the crutches in the bedroom, a reminder of the disease Flannery O’Connor had to endure. As I look again at them in the picture, I see the evidence of a miraculous healing that never happened.
Another thing we noticed were the bird figurines. In St. Simons Island, we would later buy two similar tiny items, pieces of the same kind, a cardinal and a blue bird. And a scripture stone that reads thus: “He will cover you with feathers and under His wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4.” O’Connor would perhaps approve of attributing the features of a bird to none less than the Almighty. They are now on display in our home.
It was the bookshelves that most often caught my eye. I imagine the books we see today in the house, aptly left here and there, are just a small part of the personal library of the author. I gazed at the backbones, wondering if the pages within carried underlinings, marks, and marginal notes by the hand of their former owner. Maybe some scholar has already delved into them (or will someday), and hopefully, O’Connor left traces of how she read there.
One of the books was The Odyssey, translated by her friend Robert Fitzgerald. When I later browsed her letters for a reference to it, I chuckled at the darkly humorous line where O’Connor says she’s begun reading the book and “look[s] forward to the carnage at the end” (speaking of, the scene of the slaying of the suitors in book XXII).
When we left, Bruce took us to Milledgeville to visit the grave of O’Connor. She is buried next to her parents and the tombstone reminds one of her full first name, Mary Flannery. It is not far from Andalusia and it is definitely worth a stop. Visitors – arguably those with literary ambitions, Bruce told us – still drop coins on the grave to entrust themselves to the writer.
As I look back at our honeymoon, I cannot but realize the aptness of the editorial title of O’Connor’s lectures, Mystery and Manners. Every single item in the house pointed to the mystery of her individual existence and of the individual encounters sparked by her work. As to the manners, as O’Connor deemed them, the basis of social life in her region, we detected them many times, in the memorable hospitality and kindness shown towards us by Bruce and his wife Alice, or in the heartening fact that Cody, whom we would later get to know in the Childhood Home in Savannah, to this day keeps fresh lilies in the house “just like Flannery’s mother Regina did.”
Her presence stayed with us as we drove throughout the overwhelmingly green forests of Georgia. I have never been to Ireland, but I think there is truth in the resemblance between the two lands recorded by O’Connor in a letter. We returned to Italy. Her books were still in their place on my bedside table. I hope we will go back someday.
Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961).
Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979), 267.
Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970).
The Habit of Being, 531.