Friday, November 21, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 5: All the Andalusias

Andalusia is not only an autonomous region in Spain. It is also the home of Flannery O’Connor, where she wrote most of her great stories and where her mother managed a dairy farm. It was the home of over fifty peacocks and other fowl, both exotic and ordinary.

The name Andalusia, the autonomous region in southern Spain, comes from the Arabic: Al-Andalus. Most Spanish words starting with al derive from the Arabic; I love knowing this simple fact, and conjuring up the words that comprise that group: words for cotton, lunch, warehouse, and pillow. The origin of the name Andalusia, the former dairy farm in Milledgeville, is shrouded in the mists of time and the Spanish moss.

Andalusia is in the town of Milledgeville, Georgia. When O’Connor and her mother lived and farmed there, it was considered to be outside of town and in the country. Now it shares its address of North Columbia Street - also known as Route 441 - with a Ford dealership, Holiday Inn, Econo-Lodge, Wal-Mart and more chain store you haven’t even heard of, Appleby’s, Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s, Firehouse Subs and Longhorn Steakhouse. That is, Andalusia is tucked between strip malls and is across the street from strip malls, miles and miles of strip malls, leading into the older downtown of Milledgeville.

Unlike most people in my demographic (Yankee, geeky, parochial) I have known of Milledgeville for a long time, that is to say, I have known it is a place in Georgia where Flannery O’Connor lived with her peacocks and her mother.

I knew nothing else about Milledgeville. I never knew that it was, from 1804 until 1868, the capital of Georgia, which explains why the enormous pink stucco Greek revival mansion is known as the Old Governor’s Mansion. I had no idea that Milledgeville’s Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was once the largest mental institution in the world.* Nor did I know that for most Georgians, Milledgeville is best known as the home of this vast mental institution. According to April Moon, the lovely docent at Flannery O’Connor’s house, when she told her grandparents she was moving to Milledgeville, they asked if she was crazy. If you tell someone in Georgia you used to live in Milledgeville, they will ask, “When did they let you out?”
This is the Green Building at the Central State Hospital. From 1947 until 1977 it housed "white convalescent patients who suffered from conditions such as schizophrenia. These patients were likely to never leave."

I did not know that in 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette, by then a hero of two revolutions, visited Milledgeville and was honored with a barbecue and a formal ball.

Andalusia has always been in the back of my mind as a place I wanted to visit, if I ever got to southern Georgia. Over time it became clear, even to me, that I would never happen to be in southern Georgia, and that I would need to purposefully go to southern Georgia in order to see Andalusia. CSB had no idea that he too had always longed to see Andalusia.

So we brave the strip mall gauntlet and turn into the dirt driveway where a smallish sign announces “Andalusia” and we drive through a grove of cedars, oaks and longleaf pines up to the old farmhouse.
We walk through Flannery O’Connor’s house and admire the 1950’s refrigerator she proudly bought with the earnings from her first novel. We also admire the chicken costume sewn by the lovely docent, April, in homage to O’Connor’s penchant for sewing clothes for her chickens. One of the things I come away with from Andalusia is the understanding that I don’t love my chickens nearly enough. It would never occur to me to name our rooster Haile Selassie. Down the gentle hill from the farmhouse is a pond, surrounded by tall oaks and noisome with frogs. My delight upon spying a turtle basking in the mud at the edge of the pond is perhaps hyperbolic. I have no picture because the thing about turtles in ponds is that they blend in so well: their brownish carapace is one with muddy shores. This is how they avoid being constantly annoyed by people, like me, who are endlessly intrigued by the very fact of a turtle.
Because it is a simple farmhouse, because the oaks are taller now and getting taller, because the yard has its share of rusted farm tools, because there are only three peacocks left and they reside in an apiary because there are coyotes about, because it is so close and yet so far from the strip malls, Andalusia is absolutely worth going all the way to southern Georgia.

* This is such an amazing fact that I have to credit my source: A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia, by Sarah Gordon. U of Georgia press, Athens: 2008

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