Cows in the Habit

For most people, Andalusia conjures up images of a pastoral peafowl sanctuary until they come for a tour or do some research on their own. Flannery and her mother, Regina, lived on the farm from 1951 to 1964. During that time, the property was a working dairy farm, until 1961 when they switched to beef cattle. While Flannery wrote and tended to her birds, Regina and her hired hands managed the farm work.

At its height, Andalusia boasted as much as nearly 125 head of cattle and a handful of workers that lived in small cabins around the property. Flannery’s letters published in the Habit of Being show just how serious Regina was about the farm and what Flannery thought about all the fuss. In 1951, shortly after the two moved to Andalusia, Flannery writes, “Me & Maw are still at the farm and are like to be, I perceive through the winter. She is nuts about it out here, surrounded by the lowing herd and other details, and considers it beneficial to my health.”[1] Regina inherited the property after her brother, Bernard Cline, passed away. However,  Flannery’s symptoms of lupus convinced the two to move out of the house in town to the farm where Flannery could have a more accessible bedroom. Regina proved to be a successful farm owner throughout their time on the farm, while Flannery continued to be amused and annoyed by the cows.

A misconception is that Regina stayed in her office and only handled the farm’s money and papers. She had gone to business classes to learn how to manage tasks of that sort, but she was more than a bookkeeper. Regina was deeply involved in the workings of the farm, going to cattle auctions, having new farm implements and structures installed, and ordering the farmhands around. She had a water tower and cow pond installed, both of which are still prominently featured on the property. She also added automatic vacuum milkers to replace hand milking, which freed workers up for other tasks. In a letter from 1963, Flannery mentions another instance in which her mother attempted to improve the farm, saying, “My parent is back at large. In fact she is putting up a creep-feeder.”[2] This is a special feeder that only calves could eat from. It would supplement their milk intake until they were weaned. Creep feeding was highly encouraged in post-war America and is still sometimes used today.[3] Less than a month later, Flannery writes, “The creep-feeder is a total bust…the calves wouldn’t have anything to do with it…and the peachickens were lined up at it like patrons at a diner. She claims they have eaten seventeen dollars and fifty cents worth of calf feed in the last month.”[4] In addition to running the farm, Regina also had to take care of Flannery whenever she struggled with her symptoms. During Flannery’s last bout with lupus, which would eventually cause her death, she writes, “In addition to me here, we have my Aunt Mary. She grandly survived her heart attack and is out here with us. So my parent is running the Creaking Hill Nursing Home instead of the Andalusia Cow Plantation. Or rather she is running both.”[5]

For Regina to be running the farm mostly by herself was unusual for their time. The 1950s was the decade that glorified that perfect housewife. She had already experienced the life of a housewife when Flannery was young. When her husband, Edward, died in 1941, Regina began working to support herself and her daughter, never remarrying. However, this did not go unnoticed by those around her. At a cattle auction near Dublin where Regina bought ten cows for a reasonable price. Flannery said, “She’s usually the only lady present at these things and gets treated in highstyle by the auctioneer…”[6] Other people did not take as kindly to an all-female farm. Flannery picked up on the dairyman calling all of the cows ‘he’ and changing their names to masculine forms. She adds, “I reckon he doesn’t like to feel surrounded by females or something.”[7] However, Regina was not one to let her workers undermine her. Flannery writes, “My Mamma had to get rid of her white help as Mr. F. was selling the milk out of the cans between here and Eatonton and proving himself in the general more trouble than the cows.”[8] Having trouble with the workers was a common problem as Flannery also writes, “We are being done in by the local moonshine. The staff is non compos mentis [out of their minds] every weekend and she HAS HAD ENOUGH…”[9] A few months later, Regina sold the dairy herd and bought beef cattle, which needed less work and fewer workers.

Even though farm life was not something Flannery was very interested in, she still includes events on the farms that Regina found valuable in her letters to various people. In 1957, she wrote, “Let us hear how and what you do and are studying. We cannot return information of a similar interest as all that happens here of importance occurs in the barnyard division; e.g. we have a new Santa Gertrudis bull…He is 17 months old. He is cherry red. He weighs 1,100 pounds. He has brown eyes. He has been tested for Bangs and TB. Cheers and Screams.”[10] The next year, she adds to the end of a letter, “…Banjo’s first calf has arrived. It has ears like a rabbit, is very large, broad-shouldered, and a heifer. Rejoicing hearts etc.”[11] Although her enthusiasm over farm events usually comes across as sarcasm or feigned excitement, she chooses to include them in her letters to show what seems important to those around her. However, there was one event that seemed more interesting to Flannery. In 1956, she writes, “There was great excitement here yesterday. A Holstein cow elected to leap into the water trough – which is concrete, about five feet deep and three feet wide and four feet high. She was found apparently several hours after she came to this decision. She was on her side more or less with one or two feet sticking out and she was swollen tight in there. The wrecker was called and a rope somehow got under her and she was hauled out. My mother tells the story better than I.”[12]

Although we focus mostly on life through Flannery’s perspective on tour at Andalusia, there is still plenty to be learned about the history of farming at the site. Watch out for the “Calf for Sale” sign in Regina’s office. Whenever a calf was ready to be sold, this sign would be placed down by the road. Items and structures like this are dappled throughout the house and grounds as attributes to Regina’s role as farm boss. While most people come to learn about Flannery, knowing this information about the farm sheds new light on Regina’s role on the farm and the unique determination possessed by this gentile southern lady to provide a home for her and her daughter in an unlikely time.

In Regina’s Office: fan (2018.1.517), calf sign (2018.1.518), phone (2018.1.516), on magazine table (2018.1.489).

[1] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 26.

[2] O’Connor, The Habit of Being, 518.

[3] Debra A. Reid, “Creeps, Feeders, and Creep Feeders: Artifacts and Animal Husbandry, 1880s-1960s,” Agricultural History 92, no. 2 (2018): 210.

[4] O’Connor, The Habit of Being, 528.

[5] Ibid., 576.

[6] Ibid., 177.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Ibid., 232.

[9] Ibid., 438.

[10] Ibid., 240.

[11] Ibid., 288.

[12] Ibid., 180.

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