Having just returned from Savannah, I am taking life at a slower pace.

One visit from the trip stands out: Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

 I met one of my favorite authors again for the first time.

Here, she is! She taught her chickens how to walk backward and became news reel famous in her youth. She’s only on the screen for a few seconds, but that’s enough to capture her vivid, eccentric self, apparent from an early age.

The guide who took us through the house, made O’Connor and her family come alive.

She lingered, for example, over this photo on the wall. I love it!

Flannery O'Connor and her friend Elizabeth. Can you guess which one she is?

Flannery O’Connor and her friend Betty Jean. Can you guess which one she is?

As I looked out the window from the master bedroom, as Flannery must have done often, listening to the chatter on the street below in the days before air conditioning, I saw the visible cornerstone of her life straight ahead.

Photo by Sadie Showalter

Photo by Sadie Showalter

The view from the window:

St. John's Cathedral across Lafayette Square from the O'Connor house.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, across Lafayette Square from the O’Connor house.

St. John's Cathedral across Lafayette Square from the O'Connor house.

The Cathedral as viewed from across the street.

Artwork by Panhandler Slim.

Artwork by Panhandle Slim.

I knew that being Catholic in the Protestant South was one of O’Connor’s subjects and a key to her identity as a writer.

But standing in the house, looking at the Cathedral, I was struck dumb as a peahen.

Suddenly, I wanted to re-read all the great stories.

If you haven’t read any of them, you might want to try this one. Read by O’Connor herself a few years before she died of lupus at the age of 39, one of the great losses of American literature. Be warned: the n-word appears here, casually, as it would have been used then by people on the street.

O’Connor was not one to gloss over the harsh realities and cruelties of her time and place. Every single character in her stories is flawed. Every one needs grace.

 There are many places to find online versions of O’Connor’s stories.

You can follow along with the reading above here and find nine other stories at the same source.

The fact that one of the children in the story is named John Wesley, and that O’Connor would have walked past a statue of Protestant icon John Wesley in historic Reynold’s Square so often, possibly on her way to or from mass, made a brand-new impression on me.

Going to an artist’s childhood home is like walking inside her soul. Having spent a semester going to daily prayer and weekly mass, I feel more prepared to imagine the set of beliefs Mary Flannery O’Connor was secure in. But no domestic scene, such as the ones that greet the visitor in every room of this museum, can protect one from the specter of evil and the laughter of grace.

Is O’Connor an old friend or a new acquaintance for you?

What other artist homes do you recommend?

What kind of tour might be given of YOUR childhood home? What would we glimpse of your soul there?

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