Driving with Flannery

            As a docent at Andalusia, my favorite part of going to work is turning off the busy asphalt of Highway 441 and onto the rough drive that leads to the farmhouse where Flannery O’Connor lived the last 13 years of her life. Long dirt driveways leading to rural farmhouses are not uncommon to find throughout middle Georgia; however, there is something about driving through the gates and seeing the plantation style farmhouse that feels like taking a step into the past.

           Shortly after being diagnosed with lupus in 1951, Flannery and her mother Regina chose to move to the family dairy farm. The main farmhouse was nestled away on the 500+ acreage of land, approximately 4 miles outside of the city of Milledgeville. Multiple factors attributed to Flannery and Regina choosing Andalusia as their new home. Due to Flannery’s lupus, which resides mainly in her joints, she was able to convert the front parlor into her bedroom for easy access. The properties distance from the city also gave the southern gothic author peace and quiet to delve into her writing passionately. However, this distance also stood between Flannery and the Baldwin County Hospital.

            Lupus, as a disease, had minimal treatment options in Flannery’s time. Often, doctors would attempt to treat symptoms as they appeared with various medications. As such, Flannery and Regina often visited the Baldwin County Hospital for numerous appointments over the thirteen years, Flannery lived with her diagnosis. While Regina remained a dedicated mother and caretaker for her daughter, Flannery insisted upon taking driving lessons at the local high school in 1958. Flannery would have been 33 years old at the time and often claimed she was difficult to teach. In a letter written to a friend on July 2nd, Flannery states, “The latest accomplishment is that I flunked the driver’s test Wednesday. This was just to prove I ain’t adjusted to the modern world. I drove the patrolman around the block. He sat crouched in the corner, picking his teeth nervously while I went up a hill in the wrong gear, came down on the other side with the car out of control and stopped abruptly on somebody’s lawn. He said, ‘I think you need some more practice.’”[1]

Under the Andalusia Carport, March 1959. Andalusia Collection 2019.1.360

            Flannery succeeded in passing her driver’s test, receiving a state-issued driver’s license a few weeks after failing her first attempt. However, she expresses that she asked Regina to buy a car with an automatic transmission saying that it, “this will add some years to her life as well as making it easier on me.”[2] Late in August that same year, Flannery wrote in a letter that they indeed got a new car from one of Uncle Louis’ Atlanta connections. Flannery’s license and new car paid off as Regina fell ill in the spring of the following year. Flannery brags that during the time her mother was in the hospital, “I pioneered in driving the car, solo, in town and back. I transported my aunt Mary and her cook on two occasions and they didn’t seem noticeably to hold their breaths. In fact the cook was very complimentary. Miss Mary is a bad driver herself so remarks from her would not have been in order.”[3]

            Even in rural Georgia, the car was crucial to Flannery and Regina’s daily life. Not only did it aid in the health of both women, but it also got them around town in their routine business. However, five years after obtaining her license and own car Flannery expresses to a friend, “I still hate to drive unfortunately.” While the road leading up to the farmhouse is now surrounded by greenery, unlike the pastures Flannery and Regina were accustomed to, I do not find it difficult to imagine what it would have been like for Flannery to make the drive 70 years ago.

[1] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 289.

[2] Ibid., 291.

[3] Ibid, 328.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close