At Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Flannery O’Connor wrote landmark works of fiction that some label “Southern gothic.” In such a place, folks just naturally find a ghost around every corner. This Sunday morning, we asked the Andalusia Foundation’s executive director, Elizabeth Wylie, to tell us what kind of phantasmal activity she’s heard tell of around the farm.
“The daun-kee’s day-ud.”
That’s what the fellow who told me the story said. He said that’s how he replied when a hunter and his son had approached and asked to see the donkey they had heard braying on the old dairy farm. But Flossie the donkey (who was really a hinny, the product of a male horse and female donkey) had unceremoniously died one day, legs up in the field. Lest the ladies club that was about to arrive be greeted by the poor dead thing, Flossie was quickly covered with a tarp.
While thoughtful and deliberate plans were being made for her interment, Flossie lay under there until buzzards started to circle above. Then with ceremony (and a front-end loader) she was laid to rest. This hinny was loved. Her life was tough for a while when the farm closed and began to fray and fewer caretakers were taking care. But Flossie was rescued along with the place where Flannery O’Connor came home to live with her mother at age 25, the place where her peacocks honked and ruined her mother’s garden beds, the place where she finished all her published work, the place visited by thousands from around the world.
Once saved, Flossie enjoyed daily company and a comfy barn. She gave pleasure to many while developing a reputation as a scamp with a taste for freedom. Bonds slipped, Flossie would roam over the hundreds of acres of a landscape of memory and inspiration, while a cast of characters (lawyers, kids and good country people) chased her down.
“Thang is,” the hunter told the fellow, his eyes grew big as saucers, “we still hear the daun-kee in the woods.” He shuddered as he told the tale. “I’m gittin’ goose pimples just a-talkin’ about it!” The hunter went on to tell how he was out by the far back pasture sitting up in the blind — apparently his hunting sometimes involves lots of sitting around in elevated perches waiting for deer and reading Flannery O’Connor stories on his tablet — when he saw a big buck come into the clearing.
“That boy stood there proud as can be with a huge rack when, I kid you not, a dadburn bird landed right thar, on the antler. I thought that was strange and I sat right up.”
He said he has hunted thousands of acres since he was 12 years old and had never seen a bird land on a deer’s antler. But that wasn’t all. The Hunter continued, “I’m telling you there are bird spirits here; this place is special. After that one bird, came another and another and another until the rack was full and then they landed on the deer’s back.”
A few months later, I answered the office phone at the farm. It had been ringing off the hook as I first arrived in the morning. It was the back neighbor, a feisty older woman with a gun, an ATV and a respect for history and preservation. She also makes a tasty cobbler from the old blackberry bushes that sit among the heritage boxwoods on the former plantation she calls home. Out hunting that morning, she had come across a big bird.
“Did y’all lose a peacock, a white one?”
I had seen gorgeous videos on YouTube of albino peacocks shimmering as they shimmy and was mesmerized, but no, we did not have any albino peacock, nor did we have one that was lost. I asked the neighbor if perhaps she might be seeing things, that perhaps it might be a ghost. A practical, no-nonsense sort, she said while the thought was amusing and somehow appropriate, it was most definitely a real big white bird.
The following day, I was out walking and thinking and looking at the farm. A perk of my job, I often just wander around the 500 or so acres to check on the property and soak up the beautiful light and landscape. I came around a bend in the path and saw pearly feathers flutter and fly off into the woods. It was so startling, I barely caught a glimpse, but it was most definitely a real big white bird.
The day after that, the fellows who fell trees were out to help clear away a little nature that was pushing over some of the old farm buildings. Time’s imprint is strong on the farm’s historic fabric and vestigial plantings of fig trees and white irises, the old scuppernongs and the twisted cedars, abused by years of roosting peafowl (up to 50 ran free on the property when Flannery lived here). Indeed, the farm is one big conversation involving landscape and light, history and literature, people and equipment, and the spirits of cows, horses, donkeys and birds, lots of birds.
Sure enough, the tree men came running up the hill, “We saw it. We saw it.” One of the two, a fearless woodsman with no front teeth, a fondness for orphaned baby squirrels, and a shy and kind demeanor, had chased after and almost caught it before it wriggled away. He said it was most definitely a real big white bird.
Last month, a visitor ran into the office, phone in hand and shoved the screen before my eyes. “Do you see that?” I struggled to see what she wanted me to see, a face in the varnish of the piano, the face of the author. She was like so many visitors to the farm. Some hope to catch something of the artist they admire and experience the place that inspired great writing.
That is why they come to the farm, starry-eyed and expectant, searching for a muse or just simple understanding of the time and context that produced the kind of hilarious and horrifying, thoughtful and transformative writing that Flannery gave to the world.
The visitor’s sister was standing there and said, “I’m psychic, and she was just talking to me. She doesn’t like all the attention. I told her you respect her, and her work and she should help you.”