Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor House

O'Connor Childhood Home, 207 E Charlton St.,Savannah
The only museum my family and I bothered going to in Savannah was the Flannery O’Connor childhood home (we spent the rest of the time eating in spectacular restaurants).  My nine year old daughter and seven year old son had no idea who O’Connor was.  They only knew Mommy was reading one of her books, which made her look baffled most days.  The kids heard me go on about “weirdos” and “freaks” and asking what these characters could possibly be trying to tell me.  In spite of the obsessive muttering to myself about Wise Blood, the kids and The Hub were willing to humor my need to see the crazy environment that produced such a disturbing author.
Portraits of Mary Flannery and her parents, Edward & Regina
But O’Connor wasn’t raised in a loony bin.  She was raised in a loving and cozy home supplied by a wealthy and doting aunt.  Her parents were attentive.  They sent Flannery to good schools and attended Mass regularly at St. John’s Cathedral, the steeple of which was ever-present in O’Connor’s view from the upstairs window.  O’Connor’s Catholic faith heavily influenced her work.  In spite of her religious nature, she was a precocious child who was not the silent and obedient type.  At age six, she called her parents by their first names and attended the adult-only mass rather than the family mass at church.  When a nun told her she should attend family mass, Flannery replied something to the effect of: “The Catholic Church will not dictate what mass my family attends.”  There appeared to be a thread of rebellion beneath her unshakeable faith.

View of St. John's from upper bedroom
O’Connor was always a reader, but, as her report card shows, she was a terrible speller.  From an early age, Flannery was a literary critic who penciled terse reviews inside her readers.  Below is an example, where she scrawled, “Not a very good book.”
Mary Flannery O'Connor at about age 6

Report Card, Grade 7
Early literary criticism

Because she was an “old soul”, she preferred the company of chickens to the company of other children. She even taught her hens to walk backward.  The Pathé Newsreel people heard about this and came to film her and her birds. 

O’Connor’s mother insisted that she try to make friends her own age and invited girls over to play.  Flannery wasn’t happy about this, but she would take these visitors into the bathroom where she presided over readings.  To prepare for these visits, she put flower petals in the bathtub and toilet to “decorate”.  When the friends came, she would give them samples of her writing to read aloud.  This “read aloud” method helped her revise her work, and she would carry this method into adulthood.
Bathroom and reading room in O'Connor home
If you are ever in Savannah, visit the Flannery O’Connor childhood home.  The docent was fantastic – I forgot his name, but he had a grey ponytail and plenty of knowledge about O’Connor.  Even my seven year old son was laughing through the short tour, partly because of the docent’s enthusiasm, and partly because Flannery was such a funny child.  O’Connor died young (at age 39 from lupus), so it seems Fate or God made her a grown-up little girl so she wouldn’t waste precious time on childish pleasures.  Perhaps she sensed she had only a short time to make a deep mark, a mentality befitting a short story virtuoso.

Recommended reading -  Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch. 


  1. I'm only jealous times infinity. Thanks for letting me vicariously field trip through your blog!

  2. I'm always glad to take my readers on a virtual trip. You're quite a trip yourself, BAMB!