Breathing the Same Air as Genius

By  Padgett Powell |  May 27, 2013

In his descent to Savannah, the day before he entered Milledgeville, Georgia, General Sherman camped at a crossroads about ten miles northwest of town. He learned, from slaves, that the plantation "a few yards to the north" (historical marker) was that of Howell Cobb, one of the Secessionist Triumvirate of Georgia—a kind of rebel trifecta for a marauder (the others are Robert Toombs and A.H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, whose plantation was fifty miles northeast at Crawfordville, where I have been for a week in the state park that preserves his estate planning my own campaign on Milledgeville). He burned the plantation house down, and everything else of Mr. Cobb's except the slave quarters. Then he proceeded to Milledgeville down Old Monticello Road, passing within four miles of a plantation that at some point would be named Andalusia and be owned by the family of Flannery O'Connor. He did not burn it.

In town he slept in the Governor's Mansion (Milledgeville was then the capital of Georgia) a diagonal block northwest from 311 West Greene Street, a house that had served as a temporary governor's mansion at one time, and that would come to be owned by Flannery O'Connor's family. After living in Savannah and briefly in Atlanta, Flannery O'Connor would live in this house (when not at Iowa or Yaddo or at the Fitzgeralds') until her health compelled her to live at Andalusia in 1951 in a ground-floor room made into a bedroom for her because she was too weak to climb stairs. She had been diagnosed with lupus erythematosus; she liked to call it the Red Wolf. She suffered without complaint.

It is there that she lived until her death in 1964, writing famously of her affections for the peafowl she raised, and writing more famously the fiction that prompted Evelyn Waugh to say, "If these stories are in fact the work of a young lady, they are indeed remarkable." From a room in this house she saw Enoch Emery steal a mummy with peas coming out of its mouth and give it to Hazel Motes to be the new Jesus. She saw Hulga (née Joy) Freeman, Ph.D., unwittingly give her wooden leg to a Bible salesman in a loft in a barn. She saw Mrs. May gored by her own handyman's bull and "bent over him whispering some last discovery into the animal's ear." She saw a grandmother in a moment of grace accept the Misfit and be shot for it, and heard the Misfit say, "She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody to shoot her every minute of her life." She saw things that thrill people. Certain of these things (Enoch) she saw before taking her last stand in this room, but I am not in a bibliographic hair-splitting mood.

She saw things from one window of this house, facing south on a livestock pond now hard to see, that thrill people, whether they understand the religious fundament in the writing or not, and then she died, at thirty-nine, making her a member of the American Keats club, and her mother, who had taken care of her in her decline, moved back to 311 West Greene Street, where she would live for another thirty-one years, dying at age ninety-nine in 1995. At this point some things began to change within the estate. Margaret Florencourt Mann (who died last year) and Louise Florencourt, two contemporary cousins to Flannery (one nine months older, one nine months younger), the estate's literary executors, as officers of the Mary Flannery O'Connor Charitable Trust formed the Flannery O'Connor Andalusia Foundation, whose mission is to present Andalusia to the public.

The word has gotten out that one can go to Milledgeville and take a trolley to Andalusia and see where the visionary stuff sprang full blown from the head of Hera. If Faulkner is Zeus, and one goes to Rowan Oak to touch a spot of Olympus, or for whatever reasons one goes to a writer's house, then one surely regards O'Connor as Hera and Andalusia as another spot on Olympus. The idea of a trolley on Olympus is disturbing. It suggests a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood affair, a dinging, and worst of all it suggests a conductor who might point out the sights. (O'Connor on pointing things out: "'Mist O.T. he in town, Mist E.T. he off yonder in the field,' the Negro said, pointing first to the left and then to the right as if he were naming the position of two planets.") I have this horrible vision en route to Andalusia: of a man in a grey and red uniform—specifically, the uniform of an organ grinder's monkey—pointing out where the tractor crushed the Displaced Person, the loft where Hulga realized that she wasn't so smart, the field crossed by the boy in the toast-colored hat who proved it to her, his liquor and condom within his Bible, that Bible and her leg in his valise. These are private visions for me, I realize; they served as my formative literary moments, and I do not want them Mr. Rogers' Neighborhooded. Nor do I wish to discredit the venture. So I go to Milledgeville with a bad attitude with a good attitude on top of it, like Sherman, and I go first thing to where he camped out of town, and proceed in the way I think he did. To wreck nothing, maybe just mess things up a bit. (Sherman did little damage in town; he formed his troops due west of the Statehouse, struck up his band, left-faced the troops, and marched them to the Statehouse, which they trashed in the course of a mock secession ordinance, amidst bashed desks and strewn papers. Neither it nor much else in town was burned, to judge from the historic walking tour you can take today to over forty antebellum sites. Some prisoners set the state penitentiary on fire expecting him to rescue them, or liberate them. He did not.)

If you are looking for a styling epicenter of the Old South, Milledgeville has flat got it going on. The hand of history is palpably upon her. On May 2, 2003, at a poolside party of teachers celebrating the end of the school year, Marianne Ennis Joris can walk up to Bob Wilson, professor of history at the local Georgia College & State University, and say, "Bob, do you know what today is? It was fifty years ago today that my father was murdered." She is the daughter of Marion Ennis, the county attorney who was shot by Marion Stembridge, model for Pete Dexter's Paris Trout. Stembridge conveniently picked the morning of Milledgeville's sesquicentennial celebration in 1953 to shoot two lawyers and himself. The office where the first slaying took place is extant, above the campus theater, across the street from Dodo's, a pool hall unchanged from the '40s that once was a vaudeville theater where Oliver Hardy played. Hardy is from Milledgeville. The hexagon-tile flooring of the theater atrium is in place, showing the outline of the ticket booth. Stembridge's infamous fortified basement is beneath Ryal's Bakery around the corner. Milledgeville is largely intact down to its archaeology. To this amalgam add a good insane asylum and a military academy and Milledgeville has all the South is good at.

When Jane Sowell, executive director of the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB in local parlance), came to Milledgeville from New Orleans, she thought she had come to the end of the earth. She doesn't think so now. When I do not locate a café downtown in which I would prefer, speaking easily to a waitress and to the folks at the counter on stools, to discover the route to Andalusia and what, if anything, the heirs to Ennises and Stembridges and Hardys think about Flannery O'Connor and her farm being opened, and get the scoop on the trolley before I have to see it—to, in short, sidle up to a famous writer's house without having to be public about it—I throw myself upon the mercy of Jane Sowell's office. Within five minutes she has called Craig Amason, CEO of the Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation, and made me an appointment. She has given me phone numbers for the parties in town who would know the route Sherman took and what he did where. She has reserved me a room in the Antebellum Inn, the last one available. I am given coffee and a spacious, sparkling restroom. The CVB is on the ball. I am going to Andalusia through the front door. This I did not want.

Flannery O'Connor put up with many visitors, and many of them she made fun of: "Some Very Peculiar Types have beat a path to my door these last few years and it is always interesting to see my mother hostessing-it-up on these occasions." The visitor I have imagined most, standing on the lawn and looking up at her on the porch looking down at him with her peacock stare, is James Dickey. He'd be standing there with his blue eyes gleaming at her as they did in his sheriff act in Deliverance. This would be before he took to wearing the three-foot sombrero and believing he could speak in the voice of a lobster. He would be courtly and literarily correct. He would get away with it: "Last Sunday I was visited by a poet named James Dickey who is an admirer of Robert [Lowell]." "I have a friend, James Dickey, a poet, who was down here recently to show his little boy the ponies. I told him I was reading your [John Hawkes's] books and it turned out he has read all of them.... He described a passage in one of them where a man flies—he was lost in admiration." The capacity to be "lost in admiration" would recommend you to O'Connor, I suspect, even in secular matters. It shows a capacity for surrendering to mystery and wonder. It shows a willingness to Believe.

But I am not lost in admiration these days, of much, if of anything, and I'd have preferred not to face the ghost of O'Connor head on. Had it been up to me, the waitress at the cafe that doesn't exist (downtown; it turns out it is on the four-mile drive to Andalusia and is called the Cornbread Cafe) would have told me where to climb what fence and I could have had a private peek around and left trackless and unnoticed. That is not the way it is going to go when you have an appointment with the CEO.

Going up Highway 441, you see Kroger, Blockbuster, KFC, Wendy's, Toyota, Bacon Chevrolet, Butler Ford Mercury Honda, Classic Motors, Eckerd, Golden Pantry Open 24 Hours, Scottish Inn, Sav-A-Lot, Family Dollar, Days Inn, Furniture City, Arby's, McDonald's, Brewgard's, Mitsubishi, Fleetwood Homes Harbor Village, Shell, Kawasaki, Cowboy Bill's Steel Horses, Honda, Sister Nina Psychic, Ramada Limited, and hungry? taste and see that the lord is good./blessed is the man who takes refuge in him./psalms 34:8/baldwin church of christ on a billboard, and you know you are in the zone.

Entering Andalusia you see signs less spiritual and smaller, laminated in plastic, suggesting informative placemats at some of the restaurants back on 441:

Andalusia—The home of Flannery O'Connor. The property listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980, Andalusia is a 544-acre farm composed of gently rolling hills divided into a farm complex—hayfields, pasture, man-made and natural ponds, and forests. Tobler Creek intersects the property entering near the west corner meandering down to exit at the southeast boundary. The farm complex comprises roughly 21 acres of the property and also includes a livestock pond at the bottom of the hill south of the main house. During her productive years as a writer Flannery O'Connor lived at Andalusia with her mother Regina Cline O'Connor from 1951 until her death in 1964.

These are festooned about the place, and concern its various features (This equipment shed..., The milking operation...), and Craig Amason apologizes for them. They served for a tour by the board of the Foundation. Amason was made CEO of this Foundation in the fall of 2002, after he was hired away from the local public library two years before, and his job is to raise money for Andalusia. He is a reader ("Where do you live?" "I live in Florida. Gainesville." "Okay. Harry Crews territory!"). His office is upstairs over the two rooms of the O'Connor house now on view, Flannery's bedroom and a sitting room. O'Connor's books are for sale from a small table at the foot of the stairs, and there is a guest register. The outbuildings (two barns, two sheds, a tenant house, the milkhouse), all visible from the main house, constitute the tour. The wire runs for the fowl are gone, too dilapidated to be saved.

Standing at the door to Flannery O'Connor's bedroom, held back by a rope, you can see where she lay, her head pointing south, in an early-American single bed of what looks from three feet like walnut, and her desk, a tall-backed, secretary-looking thing that might be hard to see around if one were sitting at it. It is not the original desk, or the original desk chair, and some of her original bookshelves are also removed to her memorial room in the library at Georgia College. But it is enough withal to be spooky. The desk is not a foot from the bed, about wheelchair-heave distance, that distance you lift yourself from one conveyance to another without walking. Because of her liturgical concerns, because of her high seriousness, this room is a little frightening. Were the CEO whose job it is to promote this room to the world not at my side I would like to see if I have the gumption to primly lie upon the bed and see if I could get an ethereal High Art vibe. Would it be a profanation to lie on this bed? Almost certainly. Would it be doable? Almost certainly.

"This is the way it was?"

"The only huge inaccuracy," Craig explains, "is how neat it is." The room in the day was a writer's mess of stacked papers and books. It is barren of books and papers now.

Craig Amason does not know I am in a transport of dither, or, if he does, why. I have begun to wonder Where Things Happened, the very insult I did not want a tour guide promoting and detailing. The cow barn outside is so vast and high-lofted that one must envision Hulga up in it.

"Where do you suppose the Greenleaf operation was?" I ask Amason.

He laughs, with a nervous gusto. "I don't know."

"Where do you suppose Wesley and . . . what was his name?"

"I can't remember the brother's name."

"I can't believe I've forgotten it. Wesley and . . . Scofield—"

"Scofield! Yeah—"

"—turned over the table?"

Craig Amason laughs. I have turned into a Very Peculiar Type before his eyes. But, charitably, he says, "I bet, you know, you're—I mean it's, it's humorous, but nevertheless your observations are exactly what people do, you know, when they come here. And so that's why I think, even more so than Rowan Oak—you know when you visit Rowan Oak, you know you're at Faulkner's home, and you know that Oxford and places around there could be the setting for those stories. But Rowan Oak itself doesn't lend itself to the same kind of interpretation, I think, as Andalusia does."

In this Craig Amason is right. There is a kind of haunted feeling here that if you could just turn something over you could find a literary snake under it. He himself most sees the farm in the story "A Circle in the Fire." I want to know where the bull gored Mrs. May. "Probably in one of the mid hayfields," he allows me. Can we go? No. Too muddy, and ticks, and he has to go to a museum preview in Milledgeville. I press him to allow me to go to the livestock pond. I hope to see a snake. It has not occurred to me that I might mean a symbol; if it's just a symbol, as O'Connor put it, then to hell with it. "We have some nice ones," Amason says, and urges me to be careful, and I go to the pond, and then realize he is pacing in the road above the pond until I leave, so I leave.

Back at the CVB, Jane Sowell invites me, despite my wearing short pants, to the private previewing of the new Georgia's Antebellum Capitol Museum, in the basement of the Statehouse. I will be underdressed, but she is not fazed. She changes into a smart lime-green pantsuit—the true South is fond of green, all the way to the loud Kelly green such as that of the Master's jacket. At the opening I meet the Mayor of Milledgeville, who instantly compensates for my underdress by pinning me with his own Milledgeville Bicentennial pin. It is a gesture of obligatory welcome that has the strange effect of genuine welcome. I can fairly forget the short pants. Bob Wilson tells me of Marianne Ennis Joris's telling him this day last week that this day fifty years ago her father was murdered. Jane Sowell shows me the restored chamber of the legislature trashed by Sherman's men.

We adjourn to a reception at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House Museum, once the Sanford House Tearoom where Flannery O'Connor ate lunch. (Then it was downtown next to the building in which Marion Stembridge shot his second lawyer and himself.) There is champagne and it is a good loud reception. Dorrie Neligan, a member of the board of the Andalusia Foundation, tells me that she saw Harold Bloom on television tell a caller from Texas asking what he thought of Flannery O'Connor and Graham Greene that "Flannery O'Connor is a writer for the ages." He has given his library not to Yale but to a small Catholic school, or two, which establishes his credentials as someone who would presume to pronounce on Catholic writers. "There is no higher praise," she tells me, "than 'A writer for the ages."' I don't dispute it. "Well, I will tell you this: Flannery O'Connor comes from an extraordinary family. Dr. Bob Mann, her cousin, is the man who invented the Boston Arm." This is a prosthesis. "It is attached to the nerves, and, actually, the mind thinks, 'Pick up a glass,' and the arm will do it. . . . Louise Florencourt was in the first graduating class from Harvard Law School that accepted women. She was one of three."

And at that moment, more or less, I see Louise Florencourt, unmistakably. She is standing regally and unattended at the table of hors d'oeuvres. Not many people can be alone and composed in a crowded room. She is the age Flannery O'Connor would be were she alive; the family resemblance is acute. She has what I would have anticipated to be the exact self-possession of her famous cousin. She is compact and smart in her every aspect. If a person can look concise, Louise Florencourt does.

"That's Louise Florencourt," Jane whispers.

"I know who that is."

"Would you like an introduction?" And after some time Jane reports that Miss Florencourt will see me.

My mother taught me that a man does not extend his hand to a woman before she extends hers, a nicety of manners that I have come to believe, these last forty years, obsolete. I extend my hand uninvited to Louise Florencourt and see that she has not come to believe the etiquette obsolete. My hand is out there and Louise Florencourt ignores it and I am standing there, suddenly again in my short pants, looking for a subtle way to retrieve my hand. "That's not on, is it'" she says, indicating my shirt pocket, in which is a tape recorder. She has observed me using it across the room with Dorrie Neligan. "No."

"Good." In short order Louise Florencourt is telling me that I dress casually and that she sees increasingly casual dress at the Catholic church. "So many people are down here from the North, you know." I ask her what her favorite story by her famous cousin is. I tell her mine is "Greenleaf." "Revelation," she says. Why? I ask. "Because no one," she says, "can read that story and not get it." She likes italics, correctly placed. I haul off and tell her I know things about her—that she went to Harvard Law for example. "How do you know that?" "Miss Florencourt, I may be in short pants: but I am a good reporter."

This is an outright lie, but it serves as a species of flattery.

"So when," she says, "do you want to go to Andalusia?"

As no good reporter should do at a moment like this, I report that I have already been to Andalusia. She allows me to record her e-mail address on the tape recorder. We agree that I may e-mail her and ask one question.

In the morning the size of my error is gargantuan and I call Louise Florencourt. By 9 a.m. she is out and this does not surprise me. I leave a message. She leaves one in response:

"Mr. Powell, it's Louise Florencourt returning your call of this morning, and if we can get together sort of mid- or late afternoon, that would be the best time for me. But I would like to know if you have a business card or some identification so I know whom I am talking to. Anyway, my number is, as you know, ***-****. Bye." This bye is cheery, even girlish, and it mixes intriguingly with the tougher formality preceding it.

When I phone her back I get another stern note: "Mr. Powell, let's establish some ground rules. I am Flannery's cousin, but she has many cousins. Iam on the board of the Andalusia Foundation, and I do want to promote it. But I am not a celebrity. I am a very private person." I suggest that this is a proscription perhaps more serious than my not running the tape recorder, that if I wish to comply with this concern of hers it is perhaps better for me not to even come over. This notion is dismissed and I am told to come over. We are now comfortably in the yin-yang of proper relations between a good Southern boy and a proper Southern woman: Admit a higher presence and do not run. Take correction and fondness will ensue.

Though Louise Florencourt has told me her sister "Margaret was probably more like Flannery than any of the rest of us," what cannot not be in my mind at this point is that she is genotypically and phenotypically as close to Flannery O'Connor as it gets. As I ponder the task of preserving her privacy, she mixes in my brain with the already unprivate celebrity of her cousin. It will be sore different out at Andalusia this time.

Louise Florencourt moved to Milledgeville in 1987 from Virginia to take care of Regina. With her sister Margaret's death last year, she is now the sole executor of the O'Connor literary estate and one of two officers of the Mary Flannery O'Connor Charitable Trust, and she is one of fifteen members of the board for the Andalusia Foundation. "Anyway, I think you see what a great loss Margaret has been for me, not just personally but in terms of work."

She wears a uniform of black chinos, a light broadcloth shirt, a straw hat with a bowl-like upturned brim all around, smart black shoes, and a thin black grosgrain ribbon tied carefully in a symmetrical bow. A sister is to mail her some bolo ties from the Southwest. They will be perfect on her.

She shows me the three rooms at the Greene Street house that she has recently redone, and shares with me her contracting woes. "If people are not going to do things right, you cannot watch them. "My mother gave it to her four daughters, and I happened to come down here so this project is myproject. And if I can get this done, plus the dining room, I would be all set, as far as what my needs are. I'd have a place to entertain, but I don't want to show you . . . this house was just beautiful. A lot of the furniture now has just been piled up in the parlor, and it was covered up because that contractor had started doing something. And I haven't even seen some of those things, beautiful things, since they were covered up. But I will let you see the dining room."


"And then you can weep for me, whenever you do—commiserate, commiserate in whatever, in however you do it. "

"Okay. I will."

One of her three presentable rooms is her office. It could be that of a lawyer, which after all she is. Working paper abounds—in cross-turned stacks of itself. I ask her what the mission of the Andalusia Foundation is. When I asked Craig Amason this question, outside the main house at Andalusia, he said, "The mission of the Foundation is to promote an increased appreciation and understanding of the lifetime and surroundings of Flannery O'Connor. And also to cooperate with the other institutions that provide access to O'Connor papers and memorabilia and artifacts and so forth. But more specifically, obviously, our purpose is to restore and preserve this property. Because we really feel that it can illuminate the life and work of Flannery O'Connor in ways that nothing else has up to this point. Especially considering that . . . . " et cetera. Louise Florencourt's response to this question is to stand and pull a three-page mission statement from the top drawer of a filing cabinet and inspect it to see if it is the current mission statement. She hands it to me.

She explains that she was born in Savannah, as was Flannery, moved to Massachusetts early, and grew up there. "But I never took root—too cold, for one thing. I always liked coming back here. And we came back, my mother came back, every summer." Those summers were spent at Andalusia. She goes to Andalusia now twice a day, to feed her mule, Flossie, and to exercise her dog, Champ. She is ready to go now.

I ask her how much money the Foundation wants.

"How much money do we want? I would want to discuss . . . it's a question of need. I would not be able to provide a reasonably accurate estimate, even. But it would run into the millions just to do over, to preserve and restore—and to what extent rehabilitation is required—those structures. As you can see Margaret and Bob spent a pile of money on that house." Its lying vacant and the farm fallow did not help matters of preservation. Visitors have continued to turn up at Andalusia, invited or not. "Many a time, I went out to the farm, and I'd find people out there. Incredible. Bicycles, motorcycles, horseback. See, they couldn't get through the gate in a car. But I'd stand at the gate and bellow and they'd come running from every direction."

Why does one want to go to a writer's house? Why go, specifically, to see a room in which this was made:

"Give me my leg!" she screamed and tried to lunge for it but he pushed her down easily.

"What's the matter with you all of a sudden?" he asked, frowning as he screwed the top on the flask and put it quickly back inside the Bible.

"You just a while ago said you didn't believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!"

Her face was almost purple. "You're a Christian!" she hissed. "You're a fine Christian! You're just like them all—say one thing and do another. You' re a perfect Christian, you' re . . ."

The boy's mouth was set angrily. "I hope you don't think," he said in a lofty indignant tone, "that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn't born yesterday and I know where I'm going!"

"Give me my leg!" she screeched. He jumped up so quickly that she barely saw him sweep the cards and the blue box into the Bible and throw the Bible into the valise. She saw him grab the leg and then she saw it for an instant slanted forlornly across the inside of the suitcase with a Bible at either side of its opposite ends. He slammed the lid shut and snatched up the valise and swung it down the hole and then stepped through it himself.

When all of him had passed but his head, he turned and regarded her with a look that no longer had any admiration in it. "I've gotten a lot of interesting things," he said. "One time I got a woman's glass eye this way. And you needn't to think you'll catch me because Pointer ain't really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don't stay long. And I'll tell you another thing, Hulga," he said, using the name as if he didn't think much of it, "you ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!" and then the toast-colored hat disappeared down the hole and the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight. When she turned her churning face toward the opening, she saw his blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake.

A perfect dreamy sagacious equipoise of mind is required to make that up, and one goes to the house in which it was made up to try to be there, or to have been there—to partake. One wants to enter the nexus, the polar coordinates where that wavelength once obtained. If you could breathe the same air over the same ground, could you draft in the mind of a genius? The motive is hopeless, but not less powerful for its hopelessness. Strugglingsuccessfully. A hat the color of toast. How right she could be. If you went to her house, touched her things, saw her books, maybe you too could coin the color toast.

(O'Connor was good for colors commonly seen but never named; a character stands in Wiseblood on a "high, rat-colored car.")

Louise Florencourt, it is safe to say, loves her mule, Flossie, the sole surviving animal from the multitude that inhabited Andalusia in O'Connor's day. And she loves her dog, Champ. She will say to him, "You're a good, good, good, good Champ, yes you are." Champ grins and accepts this kind of praise a hundred times a day. Louise Florencourt calls him a Laband, which means he is part Lab and part something else, perhaps greyhound. He has a slinky charm, somewhat girlish in fact.

We tour the grounds. At the barn Louise Florencourt says, "I want to know if something is still up there," referring to the hayloft, setting off a riot in my brain in which Hulga's leg appears momentarily. "I am agile. I can go up there," I say.

"I can't have you do that."

I regard the ladder, affixed to the barn. Sturdy enough, though not in perfect shape. It's doable if you know what to do when a rung goes, or how to prevent one's going. I offer again.

"I can't have you do that."

The ambiguity here is perfect: Does she mean for legal reasons, or finer reasons? What is the "something" she wants to see about? She won't give me anything here. This is fun. At the equipment shed we notice that the plate on which she feeds stray cats is missing. I step into the shed near a tractor that looks like the one that crushes the DP to look for the plate and find, in the bottom of a metal garbage can, a possum. He's in there with a Michelob bottle and a soda can and he is weakly proffering the threatening smile. I judge him barely alive. His eyes look like peppercorns and his ears like candle wax congealed over flesh. I report him to Miss Florencourt. We devise a possum-rescue plan. “I’m so glad," she says, "that we concur."     

She does not quite see girlish Champ take a sidelong glance into the can and threaten the possum with a very ungirlish note, but she is aware that Champ will not be of a mind with us. We secure him in the car and go back to the main house.

There we prepare a bowl of Meow Mix Original and some of Flossie's Cheerios ("In case the cat food is hard to digest") and a bowl of water for the possum, and a plate of Pepperidge Farm cookies and cheese straws that fall far short of her Aunt Cleo's ("These are to the real thing as a bass drum is to a piccolo") for ourselves. I return to the possum and tip the can to its side and slide in the comestibles.

On the porch of the house Louise Florencourt and I sit and eat the cookies from two foam plates (stacked for proper strength) and drink lemonade poured from a Rubbermaid pitcher. Two hawks land in a large pine and depart it.

"She could see so much from her room," Louise Florencourt says of Flannery O'Connor, "and then of course going out in the back where the various fowl were." This room is immediately behind us. Louise explains that the hinges on the little panels that allow you to sweep the screened porch are chrome, painted white, except that the middle hinge on the panel in front of us is not painted. This irritates her, and it irritates me. "Uncle Louis would have used brass," she says. Louis Cline, once a co-owner of Andalusia, was a hardware man. He had access to good hardware, I offer, and brass is hard to come by today. The general sentiment on this porch is one of a world not quite as good as it once was. It is a magical place to make this observation. The hawks are high enough to see what we cannot: down past the pond and up over the hill to the south, virtually butting up against the property line, acres of red clay being bulldozed to receive a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

We secure Champ by his leash to the headrest of Louise Florencourt's car seat and drive to the equipment shed to check on the possum. The Meow Mix and Cheerios are disturbed and the water is half gone and the possum is gone. We stop on the way out and Louise Florencourt takes Cheerios to Flossie in her barn. Hayfields to the south on the drive out prompt her to say, "Mr. Ivey has mowed these fields for decades and decades." She pronounces "decades" "dekkuds."

"He's not Mr. Greenleaf is he?"

"Oh, no! He's solid gold."

Back in town I say goodbye to Louise Florencourt and Champ on the stoop at the rear of the Greene Street house. Louise Florencourt says it has been delightful. I take this to mean that she no longer wishes to suggest I might be from the North. "If you know any millionaires, please tell them how desperately we need money." This I promise to do.

Herewith: Ted Turner, I think this is a project for you. We have not met but I put you in my last book and only the prudence of lawyers removed you, in my view utterly wrecking the humor of the book; I want you to consider dropping a fraction of the money you dropped on Kofi and the U.N. on Louise Florencourt and Andalusia. It will be to better effect by a factor of a billion. Andalusia is a place where the poet's green thought in a green shade can be had, and it needs some sprucing for the visitors to come.