About the Author: Dr. Irene Burgess is the founding executive director of the Andalusia Institute, a Georgia College initiative devoted to the public arts and humanities in the spirit of Flannery O’Connor.
Visiting Flannery O’Connor’s homestead, Andalusia, elicits memories, those blurry photos of time. For me, it’s the refrigerator that pokes most vigorously. The rounded stolidity brings me back to my grandmother’s kitchen, and the pleasure of opening the refrigerator with the satisfying click of the handle and tug against the door gasket before the rush of cold air. I’m always glad that I’m in a museum and can’t actually open the door, so the memory can remain intact.
Memories are often romantic wishes. Time itself demands more. O’Connor tells her friend she was afflicted with time not by time. In our pre-pandemic lives, time often was the enemy or the task-master, the thing that compelled us through our days, not the thing that accompanied us through our days. Now, we are urged to make a schedule for working from home, find a way to keep in touch with others, and make sure to take care of ourselves.
O’Connor had that self-scheduling down pat. She started most days with morning mass and a work session before spending the afternoon writing letters to her friends and admiring her peacocks. Still, her restless spirit and intellect chafed at the constant accompaniment of time while still welcoming it, given the knowledge of what her disease could portend.
I feel that most clearly when I am in her bedroom, which, currently, is kept dark to preserve the interior, but in her day, the light that floods the front porch flooded her room as well. While the books, typewriter, and marmalade pencil jar evoke the writer, it is the mantel with its odds and ends that always draws me. The pictures of family members, the mail scale, the medications, the religious items, the bird brush are the totems that helped her handle the affliction of time. They reminded her of a past that still informed her, a present that consumed her, and a future that was unknown but had potential no matter what direction her life took.