“I don’t usually do this,” she said, a sparkle in her brown eyes, “but I’m going to make an exception this time.”
The three of us looked at each other, wide-eyed, squealing in tandem on the inside.
In an unexpected turn of events, including for her it seemed, our tour guide was moving off the page of the script, following the spirit of Flannery, we’re pretty sure, to show us the place where visitors aren’t usually allowed — the upper level of the Andalusia farmhouse.
We were the epitome of giddy as we ascended the stairs, following her direction, wondering what we might see.
It wasn’t much, she said, mostly a place for storage where she’d been digging around lately, trying to piece together the life of the author and writer we’d come all that way to discover anew in an up close and personal way.
We were smitten, though, as we moved about the room, our gazes bringing more questions than answers.
The guide pointed out a few things, like how Regina, Flannery’s mother, obsessed over pound cake. “Pound cake this and pound cake that.” She couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
I’m thinking of a quote I just read about Regina’s cooking. “Fr. Charles at the monastery sent my parent the monastery copy of Alice B. Toklas cookbook,” Flannery began (she referred to her mother often as “the parent” – her father died when she was a mere 15). “She has been reading it, with appropriate comments, but our dishes have not got any more exotic.”
So blunt, that woman! So well put. I love it!
It was amazing to go through that very kitchen where those non-exotic dishes were prepared, and to have this exclusive glimpse of the woman behind the words.
Who wore those hats?
What purpose did this room serve? Was it a place of dreaming?
Mostly, because of her lupus, Flannery was confined to the lower level, where she slept and wrote and wrote some more.
There are few things more thrilling to a writer than to see the typewriter of her writer heroine, knowing how much the act of writing takes from you, and yet how much life it gives at the same time. It’s more than a machine. It’s a symbol for the lifeblood of the writing life.
But seeing the “back room” of the house where visitors aren’t usually brought…
And that second level that is usually cut off from outsiders…wow. I can’t think of another way to put it. Just wow.
That we felt blessed, privileged, undeserving and thrilled beyond words is all understated, but comes at least close to how we received this gift, bestowed upon us for no reason other than that it was a quiet day and we seemed, perhaps, more attentive than some.
As writers of faith, too, we all were feeling something more than earthly, more than tangible. It was a ghost-like figure, but it wasn’t scary at all. It was a holy ghost, female, a writer like us, feisty like us, trying to figure out the world like us, present as the day she wrote her best work.
It was the Ghost of Andalusia, leading us along paths, giving us a nod of encouragement, letting us know our curiosity was blessing, and that being misunderstood is commonplace, a cross we will bear, but that being understood, as she put it, is “what success is.”
Flannery’s own hometown might not get her. One gentleman told us today after Mass, when we mentioned why we’d come, that “We don’t like her so much; she’s too dark.” But we’re undaunted. We happen to understand Flannery, at least the woman she’s revealed in her letters. And we’re determined to keep her near and continue to learn from her.
As we were leaving that coveted upper level, still high on our good fortune, I captured one final gem. There were packages that had been sent to Flannery over the years, still being sorted through, and as I took one last look near one of those upper windows, there it was — a pile of them addressed to Flannery. At that moment, I felt the living thing of her spirit, and it seemed, as I paused in that room, alone now, that I felt someone right beside me, smiling.
Now that we know her ghost is with us…
…you can be assured we’re not about to walk away. She’s only just begun to show us what we’re here to learn.
Q4U: What and when have you learned from those who have gone before?