Friday, August 23, 2019

A Literary Pilgrimage

I lamented a few years ago about missing Flannery, not being able to stop at Milledgeville, GA on our way to Memphis to see my brother. With our little Latin choir on a month-long break (a marriage, a new baby, a 25th anniversary) we thought to take a trip because our kids would be home to care for the pets and plants. It'd also be the first time we'd be celebrating without them--yes we are getting used to being just-the-two-of-us and it's lovely :)

When I suggested a literary pilgrimage to Flannery's homes in Savannah and Milledgeville, Michael was completely on board. Just the previous year he'd read some of her stories and discussed them in the Friday morning Men's group Msgr. McInerny runs. What a joy for us to be in her home, see her things, go to hear Mass where she did (every day). I am quite sure she is a saint in heaven now and asked her to pray for us.

Savannah was simply beautiful--a lot like Charleston, really. I suspect we'll be back for day trips and Flannery fixes. And the Cathedral is called the Sistine of the South. And rightly so. I enjoyed the drive up to Milledgeville along the country roads, holding hands with my love. Learned some of M'ville's history on a trolley tour. It was once the capital of Georgia.

Georgia Military College and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church were two of my favorite places. The roof of the church is like an upside-down boat and the remains of some are interred in the church itself (very much an ancient Catholic tradition)--note the coffin below the pipes!  

I was captivated by these curved stairs (marvelous engineering and workmanship) and the dollhouse of the Brown-Sanford house--I would've loved to spend more time in that child's room playing. Alas, I did the grown up thing and took a picture.

After the history lesson, we were finally ready to visit Andalusia, the farm where Flannery wrote most of her stories. She thought she'd have to leave to write, but her illness--lupus--forced her back home, where she arranged her routine thusly: upon waking, reading from her breviary, having coffee with her mother, then heading to Sacred Heart Catholic Church for daily Mass. Breakfast upon their return and writing from nine to noon. She'd be tired and so retired for a nap, but she'd receive visitors in the afternoon. And if not visiting, she'd be writing letters, painting, or tending to her birds. In the evening, reading again. You can see how much of her life and observations are in her stories when you visit M'ville. Her characters too :)  


I cannot express to you how moving it was to be in the room where she spent much of her time--reading, writing, sleeping, suffering. Michael and I both instinctively clasped our hands to offer a prayer for her. She's taught me so much, especially Romans 5:20 Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more
Her stories are violent and most people have a strong reaction to them--you'll either love them or hate them. I first discovered her writing when someone said my short story, Driving Lessons, was like hers. Not knowing her work I decided to read a couple of stories. I thought them strange and unsettling. I returned the book to the library. Fast forward a few years--after our conversion I remembered her stories (they are unforgettable!) and a lightbulb went on in my head. Grace! It's all about grace. Since then I've read many of her stories, her letters, her essays, my favorite being Mystery and Manners. I'm really enjoying the book of her cartoons right now. Each is a witty gem. Did you know she thought she might be a political cartoonist before she shifted to stories? I wonder what she'd say about our times. I'm sure the people whom she'd satirize would squirm.

It was so lovely to hear Mass at Sacred Heart on Friday afternoon along with a couple dozen young people. A young lady on crutches clomped up to the first pew on the left and I wondered then where Flannery and her mother sat--perhaps on the same pew where we did? The priest offered a beautiful Mass and preached on Christian marriage (the Gospel was about divorce and why Moses allowed it, but from the beginning it was not so, begins our Lord). I felt so complete right there with Michael, both of us in love with each other and with Jesus. It really does take Three to Get Married! On our way home we stopped by the beautiful and peaceful cemetery. Requiescat in pace, dear Mary Flannery.  


Mirka Breen said...

Such a gorgeous and literary way to commemorate twenty-five years of commitment to each other.You really have your house in order.
Speaking of houses--I've always loved touring old homes that are preserved. Not many such on our side of the country, but I regularly did these tours when I used to visit my mother in New England.

Vijaya said...

Thank you Mirka. It gives me great pleasure to share. I really appreciate living in the South, esp. Charleston, where so many homes are preserved and on the historical register. I have yet to discover all its riches. And this pilgrimage was such a gift. So thankful to God for not only the good man but for the time we've have together. I am acutely aware that our next breath is not guaranteed. I shall die happy.

janlcoates said...

Very intriguing. Now I have to look up her work at the library. I feel like I've read something along the way, but my memory fails... Looks like such lovely literary trip! Love that Craftsman work!

Jeff Tanyard said...

I'm glad you got to see some of the historic parts of my state. I personally love the Old Capital Building in Milledgeville. It's like a cross between a Gothic cathedral and a fortress. It's a wonderful piece of architecture.

Milledgeville was the epicenter of the Clark-Troup political feud. There's a historical marker on one of the streets there indicating where future Governor John Clark horse-whipped Superior Court Judge Charles Tait.

Next time you're in Savannah, make sure to visit The Pirates' House. It's the oldest building in Georgia, and a place where actual pirates used to hang out in the 1700s.

Vijaya said...

Jan, I hope you will be moved by her work as I was.

Jeff, it is great to hear from you and I'm looking forward to learning more--my knowledge of history is poor but I'm a lifelong student. I will have to take a guided tour of Savannah the next time.

Faith E. Hough said...

What a lovely trip! (And thanks for the postcard--made my day!!) You truly have some gorgeous places in the South. I feel that I've missed out on so much of my country... Someday! Will you tour me around? ;)

Vijaya said...

Faith, the South is beautiful and full of interesting historical sites. When you come down, it will be so lovely to go exploring. We might have to give up sleep :)