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June 30, 2011

Flan-Flan-Bo-Ban, Banana-Fanna Fo Flan

By Joshilyn Jackson

Tlc flan mothership


When I texted this picture to my fellow Southern scribe Susan Rebecca White, she immediately texted back, “!!!! YOU’RE VISITING THE MOTHER SHIP!”

Indeed I was.

We all have heroes, and (Mary) Flannery O’Connor is one of mine.

In my most recent novel, Backseat Saints,the narrator is a rural Southern Catholic girl, mostly in homage to O’Connor, and she references and even quotes O’Connor as she drives her hell bent, bullet-ridden way toward a bright red kind of redemption.

Rose Mae Lolley did not come by her Flannery love by accident; it’s infectious, and she caught a bad case of it from me.

The curator at the O’Connor house is a guy who rents the topmost floor and who has spent several years now working on a book in which Jehovah gets into cosmic trouble and hires an atheist lawyer to rep him. How oddly, weirdly, wonderfully fitting.

Tlc flan pram

The house actually belonged to a rawwwther well heeled relation of the O’Connor’s. They could not have afforded it on their own.

That same relation also must have bought them this pram, as it is gilt-soaked, and was the Valco Baby Tri Mode of its day. (That particular Valco is called THE CADILLAC OF STROLLERS by...well, mostly the guys who produce it, but you get the point.)

Tlc flan bed

O'onnor slept in this baby cage as an infant; not because she was JUST that savage, but to protect her from mosquitoes bearing deadly fever.

Later, she had pet chickens – always a bird girl, Flannery, even before her famous peacocks. She wanted to sleep with her pets. I get this; I have two to four animals draped all around us in the bed most nights. Alas, her mother refused to let her sleep with the un-potty-trained chickens roaming free.

So Flannery would drag a couple up the stairs and lock them in her former baby bed. They never did potty train, a very young child, she even taught one of them to walk backwards, her earliest claim to fame.

You can see the actual Newsreel footage of Mary Flannery O’Connor and her backwards walking chicken here, complete with that famously billious asshat narrator who seems to have done every possible newsreel---and who emphasizes SO many words he might as well be saying BLAH BLAH BLAHHHHH BLAH.

Tlc flannery home lit crit

This is the best thing I saw there; a childhood book of Flannery’s, with her nascent literary criticism skills being honed on the title page in pencil, signed M.F.O'C. I have to say, The Fairy Babies does NOT look like a very good book.

It was a Southern Gothic girl’s version of a Pilgrimage.

What about you? Who are your heroes, and have you ever gone to stand in a place they once occupied, just to see if the air might taste richer there? Did it? Or was it just a place?


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I visited the house in Florida where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote _The Yearling_, and of course Hannibal and Mark Twain's boyhood home . . . and Stratford -- magnificent! There's a special feeling in being in the real place, even though we have all these cyber connections.

Oh, Joshilyn, when MFO'C's letters came out years ago, my best friend and I both had copies, and he and I would savor spiky, wonderful quotes: it was so delicious and wonderful and sad to dive into her world, knowing she was gone. So glad you got to visit the 'mother ship'.
I visited Isak Dinesen's home in Denmark, and the restaurant where the chef who created the food for the film 'Babette's Feast' reigned. It was fascinating, and engaging, and yet, since I didn't know Dinesen's work as well as I did MFO'C's, I felt mainly like a spectator. (The food was great, but served in tiny, tiny portions.)

Hemingway's Home in Key West was both impressive and a little intimidating.

And of course, Ian Fleming's home in Jamaica is at the top of the list. I was there once, back in 1977, and the estate was in terrible condition. Haven't been there since the restoration, but I understand it's incredible now.

Mary -- I agree...

WILLIAM! I want to go to the Hemingway home because of the muscular prose AND the cats. :)

Laraine, I NEED REREAD THOSE LETTERS...I am heading to the beach for a week and have been tearing up the house looking for my copy to take with, and cannot find it.

I went to Atlanta on purpose to visit Margaret Mitchell’s house. I’m not really a souvenir person but that time I left some money in the giftshop.

I've visited Thomas Wolfe's home in Ashville, NC, and that was interesting, but I was more moved by happening to be in Christchurch where Ngaio Marsh, the wonderful New Zealand mystery author, had lived. I innocetly thought she'd be an icon there and there'd be a statue!, and a tour, because how many world famous authors have come from Christchurch, I thought. But I didn't find her mentioned anywhere, which made me feel sad. I wanted them to appreciate her as whole bunches of us outside of NZ do.

But the big pilgrimage for me was visiting Charles Scribner's Sons publishing house in NYC for the first time. Omg. Hallowed halls. Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Hemingway, Faulkner, Wharton, Rawlings, Lardner. . .those halls swarmed with ghosts.

Monticello, Jefferson's home, is pretty cool. You get to see all his inventions and designs, including placing his bed in an alcove between two rooms, so he could get out of bed into either his bedroom or his office. You can just imagine him sitting there writing the Declaration.


When in New York, I always go down to the Village to stand in front of 75½ Bedford Avenue and wish it were open to the public. Only 9½ feet wide. Edna St. Vincent Millay once lived there. (It was on sale last year for $2.75 million....sigh.)

PS, Joss - You'll love F.O'C's letters "The Habit of Being." At one point she chides William Sessions for seeing phallic symbols everywhere: "The fork of the tree! My Lord, Billy, recover your simplicity." Or about signing a book contract: "A year later you'll get a few letters from friends saying they saw your book for 33¢ on the remainder table." Every time I dip into it again, I laugh out loud when the hired man shoots a hawk and is taking it home to be cooked. She asked him what hawk tasted like. He thought a minute, then replied, "About like owl."

I adore Ngaio Marsh. I wonder if her house survived the quake?

No famous dead author pilgrimages here (I'm still trying to find time and money to go pay homage to live writers), but I plan to go to one of the "mother ships" for actors this summer, and tour Ten Chimneys, the home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. It's half an hour from home, and I still haven't gone. The list of stage and film stars who have graced the small theater in that home is simply astounding.

The docents may need to physically restrain me, lest I hop on stage and start channeling Lady MacBeth.

My father is from a little town in Arkansas called Piggott. There they have the Pfeiffer-Hemingway House where the Pfeiffers (Hemingway's sometime in-laws) lived. Hemingway visited enough that they had a writing loft for him above the barn.

It is a really spectacular place. It's as if the air in the loft is heavy with creativity. I can just see him sitting in the little swivel chair at the desk, peering out the little square, cloudy window across the lawn where the Patriarch of the Pfeiffer family paid locals to repaint his rather large house over and over and over to help without giving charitable offense during the Depression just because he had the money and not because his house needed painting.

I've always been a fan of history and architecture and the contemporaries that recorded the mundane and the important parts of their lives for posterity. Monticello, Mount Vernon and Williamsburg are all places I love to visit and savor walking along the same floors and streets Jefferson, Washington, and even the wigmakers and milliners in the 18th century once did. When I worked for a congressman on Capitol Hill, I'd poke all around the basement and each floor of the Capitol thinking about the famous and not-so-famous people who once paced in those same corridors and what events played out there. On my trip to England, I was so thrilled to see and actually touch Roman-constructed walls and Norman-built castles, like the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, and see streetscapes and landscapes described in stories I'd read throughout my life. I feel so lucky to have been in those buildings and touched a little bit of history.

He wasn't a particular favorite of mine, but when I visited William Faulkner's home in Oxford MS I thought "well, if I lived here I could write the Great American Novel too." It is splendid in its own way, and I look forward to revisiting it.

Oh my yes, I still remember pulling off the highway into Oxford, Mississippi, and breathing in the air, thinking, William Faulkner walked on this dirt, and blinking back tears. It was an incredible week of what I fondly refer to as "Faulkner Camp".

AHA!!!! For years, my husband has dragged our family to Civil War battlefields and regaled us with intensely dull (sorry, fans) stories about what army went which way. He has a collection (!!) of bullets he's found in cow pastures. Now I see my revenge! We can spend our retirement years visiting the homes of writers! The O'Connor manse is first on my list. Oh, Joss, you are an inspiration.

pee ess: I want my life's story narrated by the asshat.

Oh, Rowan Oak (the Faulkner home previously referred to, in Oxford, MS) is spectacular. And his notes for The Sound and the Fury are still on the walls - ON THE WALLS! - of his office there. I felt incredibly awed and humbled in that room.

I've visited Rowan Oaks - home of William Faulkner - twice. And the air does seem to resonate with - something? I would love to visit with Harper Lee but I respect that she is a very private person and does not wish to have her home open to all who want to have some part of her.

I have been to several heroic places. Probably the two that meant the most to me were Mt. Sinai and Yod Vashem. If you ever have a chance to walk along The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations (http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/commemoration.asp) do so.

Mt. Sinai might also count as a literary site, since I read the Ten Commandments at dawn from the top. I hard walk, but a great view.

Today my mother will be in the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. She is a volunteer and will be registering new US Citizens to vote right after they are sworn in as US Citizens. There is a sense of place when you are in the court room where slaves were deemed to always be slaves no matter where they lived and you realize that slave auctions once happened on the the front steps.

Hannibal is a nice trip from St. Louis. Someone recently told me the economy has not been good to Hannibal. Actually they said Becky Thatcher's home is for sale if I wanted it. It is fun and if you are looking for Twain other than Tom Sawyer and the Connecticut Yankee, that's the place.

I would advise not going in May unless you like sharing your day with dozens of class trips.

I always take MO-79 from St. Louis. Just north of Louisiana MO there is a great lookout over the river. From that lookout is the hill that I went the fastest ever on my bicycle, 52.5 mph. I may have gone faster, I stopped looking at the gauge. There is a certain clarity of thought at that speed.

A friend directed me to stop at the monument to Mother Jones and the mine workers in Mr. Olive, IL. It felt . . . sacred.

The first and only time I drove West across the country, my friend and I designed our route so we could see as many Laura Ingalls Wilder sites as possible. I especially remember standing on the actual banks of Plum Creek, looking at the small dip in the grassy rise that was the only remaining sign of the Ingalls's dugout house, and understanding viscerally for the first time that she'd been an actual person, that the books I'd read and loved had come from a real life.

I had a similar feeling last summer at a small house-turned-museum in Amsterdam, in the tiny room, bare now except for the movie-star pictures cut out of magazines and still taped to the wall, where Anne Frank sat at the desk she'd had to fight to use (her roommate the dentist wanted it to himself) and wrote and revised her diary.

The first, wonderful, magical trip to Paris, I went to find the graves of Simone de Beauvoir, and her boy toy, Jean-Paul Sartre. Took photos of the marble slabs. Sigh. I so relate.

And see, that's the difference between geniuses like Flannery O'Connor and the rest of us mere mortals: I'd never have thought up the idea of teaching a chicken to walk backwards.

Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, or rather the house on which the novel is based. Complete with the little shop and the hideaway chimney. It smelled just like original sin.

Uh-oh, Harley, I'd better tell my cousin to start writing--she has done the craziest things with animals!

Oxford, Miss., does have legendary appeal--I still want to go there someday, for 'Faulkner camp', Judy.

I'd like to have drinks at the bar at the big old hotel in Havana, where my mom's cousin--a cowboy/miner/oilman/polo player--had drinks with Hemingway and with Will Rodgers, discussing polo and who knows what else.

LOL, Laura--that alcove--no privacy!


Lydia, that was just scented candles. I have original sin glade plug ins in the basement lav.

Carol Ryrie Brink was born in Moscow Idaho -- I regularly drive past one of the houses her family lived in. It's a private home still, not a museum, but it's sweet with very interesting architectural details on the outside. I nod to her memory when I pass by.

I toured the Frank Lloyd Wright house Falling Water and was struck by his genius and creativity, not to mention vision! That was very, very cool.

The place I've visited that felt the most spectacularly sacred, though, was the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. I still get shivers thinking about that. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC affects me similarly.

Then there's the US capital building which, with its murals and statues, is inspiring in that genius/vision/big ideas/optimism sort of way.

MARGARET 9.5 feet WIDE? This does NOT compete with MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. I can't make it compute, even when I add NYC to the formula. Mind. Won't. Go. There.

Nancy, literary pilgrimages SEEM like the might good battlefield revenge, but those damn historian types find a way to enjoy themselves.... ask me how I know. :)

Els, my daughter just had to do a report on a famous person, and she chose Anne Frank. She had to dress up as the person and tell their life story. It killed me to watch my cheery little daughter burbling innocently about living in silence and eventually dying. Maisy said, THIS IS SO SAD! and made sad eyes, but she is too young and too happy and SAFE ALL HER LIFE to even fully imagine the horrors she was saying...broke my heart.

Oh my word, I loved this, Joshilyn! I get to go there to read soon, and I cannot wait.

As a huge Anne of Green Gables fan when I was growing up, I was ecstatic to finally be able to visit the Green Gables House on Prince Edward Island when I was an adult. I read L. M. Montgomery's books until they fell apart, I shared them with my sisters and my best friend, and then read them all over again.

Like Lulu, I was deeply moved when I visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. It felt so sacred that I didn't even want to speak.


Because The Map of True Places is set across the street and one of the characters is a Hawthorne scholar, I was offered writing space at the House of Seven Gables to work on my novel. It was thrilling, if daunting. I agree about Original Sin.

I also love The Old Manse in Concord because it was where Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and sometimes Hawthorne held their discussions on Transcendentalism. It was also where Hawthorne and Sophia etched their poems into the glass of the windows. Thrilling to me at least.

The House of Seven Gables; Henry VIII's Old Library at Ch Ch, Oxford where I lived one summer; Peck Quad 8 overlooking the dean's garden at Ch Ch where Lewis Carroll entertained the Liddell girls with his stories of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," where I lived another summer; Laura Ingalls Wilder's home in Mansfield, MO; Mark Twain's childhood home; Molly Brown's home nearby; An ancestral home in France that one of my direct ancestors built in the 1500s (amazed to see that the surrounding farm and protected forested areas probably looked much the same as it did back then, including the local church where they were all baptized and worshipped before some of their Calvinist/Huguenot conversions and move to La Rochelle.

Brunonia, that is so cool to have writing space at The House of Seven Gables! I hate to say, but Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie - with HOMEMADE MAPLE WALNUT FUDGE - across the street, makes me insanely jealous! Any chance of getting some of that, instead of a roast beef sandwich, instead of fried clams? . . . and how could I possibly have forgotten The Manse at Concord!!! Transcendentalism . . . .

Joss, I love this blog . . . thank you.

Maple Walnut Fudge? Absolutely! I can bring Gibraltars as well. Not as good but legendary.

When I was in London, I made a point of going to Charing Cross Road and standing across the street from #84 so I could see the exact view that was on the back of my copy of Helene Hannff's book. I interrupted foot traffic and I did not care one tiny bit. I didn't go over and look into the empty shop, though, because it was filled with the images from my imagination and her words, and I wanted it to stay that way.

Later on I got lost and inadvertently found myself wandering down some strange, back-alley sort of street, only to discover it was Baker Street, so I prowled around there for a while too. Everyone there looked irregular to me, but what do I know?

OMG Brunonia! Those Gibraltars! Well hey, they won't melt! Sometime I crave the peanutbutter and molasses salt water taffy . . . . My Grandfather Jean used to live around the corner on Becket Street. I spent many days of my childhood walking to that shop. As nice as the visitor center is, I resent how the view of the House of Seven Gables is blocked now - even if you pay to go in. I suppose it increases their income though. One of the last things I did, sans chair go through the house with my granddaughter visiting from Denmark. I'm so glad we got to do that, and I got to show her the staircase to Susan Ingersoll's room!

I was very fortunately allowed within the inner sanctum of Anne Rice's home on First Street in New Orleans. Fans will know this house featured prevalently in the Witch series of her books. So in essence I got to walk through rooms that I was intimately familiar with in my mind from reading the books and simultaneously wandering the living quarters of one of my favorite authors. It was absolutely thrilling and a day I'll never forget. From the rubber rats on the telephone table to Stan's (her husband) macabre picture of a chef with a head on a platter just viewable when the kitchen door swung open it filled me with a frisson of excitement. And one of the best bits of the experience was that I got to share it with my mother who first introduced me to Anne's books.

On the other hand, I was in Salem and saw the House of the Seven Gables and while it was interesting I felt quite removed from it despite having loved the book as a child.

I was also born in the same town as Tennessee Williams and they have moved the house(a parsonage) he was born in to the downtown area and turned it into a welcome center. I imagine that tarnishes the gilt a bit for Williams' devotees.

I have taken the train and driven to Hastings, Nebraska for a Willa Cather conference and to bask in Catherness in Nebraska - there is nothing like it! Cather's stories come even more to life after having been to Nebraska!

So interesting it is, I like it !

Don't forget Flannery's home in Milledgeville, GA, where she lived during her adult years. "Andalusia". I have the telephone number saved to my cell phone, just in case, *you know*, I need to call.

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