Mothers Inc. (an excerpt)
In her new essay collection, These Particular Women (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2023), Kat Meads writes about famous twentieth-century women, mostly authors. In this short excerpt, she ventures into Flannery O’Connor territory.
It had been a rainy night in Georgia, and there followed a rainy day. Four miles north of Milledgeville proper and directly across from the Super Inn & Suites, the modest, close-to-earth sign that marked the entrance to Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia wasn’t easy to spot and required, in response, a hard swerve left across two lanes of oncoming traffic. A narrow dirt road threaded through a quarter-mile stand of woods, that last bit of journeying encouraging the visitor to forget the chain motel, four-lane highway, and traffic at one’s back, the better to appreciate the revelation ahead: Flannery Territory, preserved.
Commentators’ descriptions of the two-story, red metal–roofed farmhouse the writer called home for the last thirteen years of her abbreviated life have ranged from “austere” (O’Connor biographer Brad Gooch) to “unpretentious” (Saturday Review). In the back room that doubled as ticket kiosk and gift shop, the wooden floor slanted, a space heater roared, and damp crept in around the patchily sealed window. Although I felt thoroughly at home, when Regina Cline O’Connor and daughter moved house in 1951 to accommodate Flannery’s illness, they must have considered their new lodgings a comedown from the family’s in-town setup on Greene Street, often referred to as the “Cline mansion” and once the temporary quarters of a Georgia governor. My tour, conducted by a student at Georgia College, Flannery’s alma mater, started in the kitchen, pride of place going to the Hotpoint refrigerator Flannery had purchased for her mother after selling television broadcast rights to her short story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” I was more drawn to what perched atop the appliance: a silver-plated bar set with martini shaker and glasses. Well documented: Flannery’s end-of-the-day cocktail at Sally and Robert Fitzgerald’s home in Connecticut, but did that tradition continue with Regina on the Andalusia porch, sun setting? My tour guide couldn’t swear to it, one way or the other, though she could swear, with confidence, that the curtains in the house were all sewn by Regina.
Andalusia visitors such as myself come primarily to gaze upon one sacred space: the first-floor converted parlor that served as both Flannery’s bedroom and workroom. The single bed. The books. The crutches. The crucifix. The writing desk shoved smack against the armoire. As in any guided tour, one can’t just dash off to get to where she wants to go, though as soon as we exited the dining/reception room, I tried.
“Before we enter Flannery’s room,” my tour guide said, redirecting my attention to the open door at the back of the hallway, beyond which stood Regina’s desk and Regina’s desk chair, facing the front porch.
“From where Regina sat, she could see all comers,” my tour guide emphasized. “Anyone showing up wanting to see Flannery had to deal with Regina first.”
Thus prompted, I took a moment to appreciate Regina’s gatekeeper post and view, desk to porch, my head swiveling to and fro. When again I locked eyes with my twenty-year-old informant, she nodded slowly, meaningfully.
Everybody’s got one.
Mary Flannery O’Connor got Regina.