To my knowledge, no one has ever seen the ghost of Flannery O’Connor hovering in the hallways of her childhood home on Charlton Street. But if she’s ever inclined to make an appearance, this fall seems the ideal time for a haunting.
Flannery would certainly recognize the “new” look of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, restored this past year to its 1930s décor. The parlor’s mossy green wall color and gilt picture molding are the same as Flannery’s parents used, matching original O’Connor family furniture upholstered in its original fabric.
And now that the nonprofit Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation has renewed its Sunday afternoon lecture series, dozens of O’Connor devotees are gathering there in search of entertainment, knowledge, and a little enlightenment. Our enthusiasm is as likely to conjure up Flannery’s spirit as could any séance.
At the two talks so far this fall, the Flannery-worship was at times so palpable that I half expected her to jut her head through the door from the outer hallway and admonish us to “please knock it off,” in her candid, emperor-has-no-clothes style.
A crowd of 30 fills the home’s parlor-turned-lecture-hall to overflowing, wedged shoulder-to-shoulder in tan metal folding chairs and one or two house furnishings deemed sturdy enough to use for actual sitting.
The unwieldy antique baby carriage that normally lives in the parlor is rolled into the library and dining room during the lecture, then returned to the parlor during the reception afterward.
This fall’s series, with four lectures, is shorter than in previous years. Opening the series Nov. 18 was fiction writer and college professor Nance Van Winckel, a long way from her Spokane, Wash., home. Her awe for O’Connor seemed to nearly overwhelm her, at first nearly speechless at being invited “to walk where Flannery has walked.”
Van Winckel’s lecture was informative, but it was the reading of one of her short stories, not originally on the day’s agenda, that had everyone in the room leaning to the edge of our seats and drawn into the lives of her characters.
At the start of this past Sunday’s lecture, Live Oak Library Director Christian Kruse injected a smidgen of reality into the minds of those of us who are O’Connor groupies.
During the intro to his talk, “Flannery and the Library,” Kruse, a native of Canada, admitted he’d “vaguely heard of O’Connor” before he moved to Savannah a few years ago.
“I think I’d read one story of hers in Grade 10,” he said. Now a member of the foundation board, Kruse caught up on his reading soon after moving here.
Kruse’s remarks on literary movements and popular books of the ‘30s morphed into a history of public libraries in Savannah, including a story describing the origins of the branch library on Bay Street that would play well in a society page gossip column.
Among Sunday’s attendees was a Brooklyn native, now a school teacher at Fort Stewart, who brought her daughter, a ninth grader at Savannah Arts Academy.
Foundation board members were scattered among the gathering—booksellers, retired college professors, writers. In the front row sat a tourist-looking couple sporting map and camera.
When Kruse talked about the state of the Bull Street library of the early 1960’s, I counted five of us in the room whose library cardholder status dates from that era. Had time allowed, we’d each have a different angle on the library of the ‘60s—as researchers ferreting out information on genealogy or historical figures, as parents driving children to see Miss McCall in the children’s library, or, in my case, as a full blown reading nerd by first grade, seeing the world from the backseat of Mom’s station wagon, on the way to check out the maximum six books allowed for children to take home.
This Sunday’s lecture brings Dr. Robert Strozier back to the museum house for an annual reading of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. A week later, “Man About Town” Bill Dawers (also the vice-president of the O’Connor House board) wraps up the fall series with comments on issues currently facing downtown Savannah.
A spring series is on the drawing board, expected to return to its traditional length of six to eight Sunday speakers. It wouldn’t surprise me if the late Flannery herself turns up on the speakers list, ready to put a few of us groupie types in our place.
Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Lecture Series, 207 East Charlton St.:
Dec. 9, 3 p.m.: Bob Strozier reads Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”
Dec. 16, 3 p.m.: Columnist Bill Dawers on “Current Issues Facing Downtown Savannah.”