Last Sunday, sitting in my recliner, I am trying to talk with a friend through the Discord app over the internet when a voice calls to me from down the stairs, echoing harsh against the walls and pulling me back home. It is difficult to find space for the self when sheltering. I can hardly leave my room without running into my family, and this closeness sparks a memory of Andalusia. I see it clearly. Flannery’s bedroom efficiently laid out, the small bed next to the writing desk and chair, the walls lined with bookcases that were once filled, and two doors. One door leads to the entryway, where the front door welcomes visitors. The other door leads to what is now the giftshop at Andalusia but was once Flannery’s mother Regina’s bedroom. Only a simple panel of wood gave them any peace from each other.
Flannery and Regina did not see eye to eye on many things. Whereas Flannery was a creative type devoted to exploring the twisting worlds she conjured in her mind, Regina was practical, grounded in her work running the farm and tending to Flannery’s needs, both physical and medical. I suppose it’s difficult to find common ground while playing in different fields.
Regina did not always understand her daughter’s writing, but she had a good handle on everything else. While Flannery click-clacked away at her typewriter in her room, Regina, a veritable jack-of-all-trades, kept a steady eye on the farm workers, kept the farm’s records, cooked, cleaned, and sewed. And speaking of sewing, you may be interested to know that she made the drapes for both the kitchen and Flannery’s bedroom. In fact, those curtains were a major source of tension between Flannery and Regina.
One day while Flannery was out, Regina decided to apply her house-making skills to Flannery’s room. She cleaned and swept and took the opportunity to replace Flannery’s blue curtains with fancy, ruffled ones. Flannery was not happy about it. She complained in a letter to her friend, American playwright and activist, Maryat Lee:
“My parent took advantage of my absence to clean my room and install revolting, ruffled curtains. I can’t put the dust back, but I have ultimated that the curtains have got to go lest they ruin my prose.”Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 215.
Flannery would often refer to Regina as “my parent” or “the parent” when she felt particularly cross with her. But I can’t imagine the situation was pleasant for either party. Flannery, who had a taste of life in the big cities of the North, was forced against her wishes to return home. And Regina, well, it can’t be easy to watch a child wilt from disease. And the barrier between these unfortunate circumstances was only a door’s width.
Despite all their clashes, they loved each other quite a bit. While Flannery was at graduate school, they wrote to each other almost every day, and Flannery dedicated her first novel, Wise Blood, “For Regina.” It’s true what they say; no one can drive you crazier than someone you love.
I try to compact these thoughts into something useful when the call comes again. These circumstances take a toll on everyone involved. The best we can do is keep that in mind when our frustrations rise like water in a storm. I sigh, say goodbye to my friend, and head downstairs.