When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.

This appeared as a reminder on my neglected blog today.

“Encourage your US-based users to register to vote by adding a subtle prompt to your site.”

So there is your subtle prompt. Vote. Please.

Since I kind of live in both Alabama and California, I’m not sure why this appeared.

Maybe it’s because I traveled to England and Ireland over the summer and something got jump-started into forever keeping me on UK time and place?

Maybe.

Anyway, please do vote. I’m planning to vote here in Alabama, because a woman at the democrat registration booth said to me last spring: “We need your vote more than California does.”

So I’m voting here in Birmingham probably at Glen Iris Elementary School.

I have a bumper sticker that says “A blue dot in a red state.”

In fact here is a picture of my bumper in all its glory.

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But what people ask me most about is: “When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.”

“What does that mean?” they want to know.

A cousin – not from the South – didn’t know to pronounce Milledgeville and gave it a French twist as in “Mill’eizhe’vee?”

As in “When in Rome, do as you done in Mill’eizhe’vee?”

I replied, “Milledgeville?”

She said then, as if correcting me, “Mill’eizhe’vee, right?”

I said more assertively, “No. Milledgeville.”

It was a weird conversation, and I changed the subject to the weather or something just as inane on that bright sunny day over the Sunday afternoon over chablis.

This was basically Flannery O’Connor’s creed or philosophy.

“When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville,” which I take to mean to mind your manners wherever you happen to find yourself.

Flannery O’Connor’s mother insisted they all go to Lourdes  in 1958 so her daughter could take the cure for lupus, and O’Connor wrote a letter about the trip, which is where the quote comes from.

Here are some wonderful links and blogs to Milledgeville and Flannery O’Connor’s home of Andalusia.

http://literaryman.com/2013/01/29/when-in-rome-do-as-you-done-in-milledgeville/

http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/milledgeville.html

But in 2012, this is what I do remember about my trip Milledgeville. I’d been there once in 1988 pregnant with Flannery, and maybe one more time around then…and not again until 2012.

In the summer of 2012, Lucy came to Birmingham from Sarah Lawrence, and Flannery flew to Birmingham from California. Why? Why did we do this? Both kids were going to help me drive home to Los Angeles, but now that I think of it, did Lucy have her license? She was 21. Flannery was 23. Norah was 13. I don’t think Lucy had her license. I cannot remember her driving. I can remember Flannery driving. It was memorable. I think Flannery was coming out to help me drive back, and Lucy joined us. I think she got her license after that trip.

(This is correct. I checked with Lucy. She did not have her license. She also reminded me that Norah held the old GPS and every time Flannery went over the speed limit, Norah would announce, “Red. Red. RED!!!!” all the way to California. Flannery always argued back, “I’m two or five or six miles over!” It was usually a lot more than that. Still, now I remember her little voice echoing, “Red. Red. Red.” Lucy also reminded me that she and I sat in the backseat when I could no longer bear it and needed to escape. But now I think of Flannery traveling with his mother and two sisters, and I have a trace of sympathy for that young man back in 2012 that I did not have then. I have more sympathy for all of us.)

Lucy is an excellent driver and drives all over Chicago now, but teenagers in LA don’t get their licenses the way kids in Alabama do, so we put it off. Besides, paying teen car insurance in California? I saw it as setting piles of cash on fire, and we’re already skilled enough at that.

But Norah now drives to school two or three days a week, and I walk to campus.

Different times.

Anyway, a Milledgeville memory.

We drove from Birmingham to California by way of Milledgeville, Georgia.

It added 500 miles to the trip.

Why did I inflict that on us?

I wanted the kids to see the home of Flannery O’Connor, Flannery’s namesake.

Sometimes, I think – why didn’t I just take them to Muscle Shoals to see the rock&roll sites and tour around north Alabama and maybe even visit the home of Helen Keller. It’s all right there around Florence and more importantly – geographically desirable when driving to California as opposed to Milledgeville.

MUSCLE SHOALS: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3591416089

But I didn’t think about it. I had it in my head that we had to see Milledgeville.

Sometimes, I think – Why didn’t I just name him Jack? Or Isak after Isak Dineson or simply Sam? Or Gilbert? Or Atticus? But I didn’t.

We named him Flannery and he became Flan-Man or Flan-the-Man.

I did not know then that it would be the last cross country trip I would take with my three kids for a long time. Even today, over four years later, I can’t imagine taking another one again anytime soon with the tyranny of geography and other factors.

It was a rough trip.

We read a Flannery O’Connor story on the way to Milledgeville.

A Good Man is Hard to Find. 

Did we get Krispy Kreme?

Maybe. I think it was gas station Krispy Kreme – not the good kind hot off the donut press.

I won’t even go into all the reasons why it was so hard, but I will say that when we reached Milledgeville on Day One, Flannery and Lucy were so mad at one another that I got out of the car into the thick, steamy Georgia heat and went over to the pen of three peacocks and collapsed. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to just sit with the peacocks, maybe turn into a peacock.

Go away. Now I am a peacock.

The fury and rage in that too tightly-packed car had simmered and boiled over lava-like with seething resentments, and we were a cast of characters right out of one of her short stories.

I sat in the shade by the peacocks who were named after three of Flannery O’Connor’s characters – I think Hulga, Manley Pointer, and I believe, Mary Grace from “Revelation” whose face was “blue with acne.”

Who could ever forget that line?

I thought of how impossibly far away California was and then I made a vow that I would not get into the car again until they’d made up and swore to be, if not sweet or kind, at least civil.

Eventually, we made our way to Flannery O’Connor’s old farmhouse. I bought the bumper sticker “When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.” The docent didn’t look up much or seem very interested in this harried mother and her three kids. I thought Flannery O’Connor’s mother living out her running the dairy farm, and Flannery writing two hours a day at her desk and feeding the peacocks, sitting on the porch, going to daily Mass.

We spent a few hours in Milledgeville – looking at the house, her crutches and typewriter, her paintings, and then walked down to the pond.

Flannery talked to his girlfriend in LA who wanted him to hurry and get back.

Lucy talked to her boyfriend in Chattanooga where we would be staying.

Then it was time to get back into the car.

I dreaded it.

Here is another image of that trip. Lucy would pack the car beautifully – origami-style-of- packing that she inherited from Kiffen where everything was in its place. Then Flannery would yank open the trunk and tear it apart looking for a charger or T-shirt.

Anything.

It was like lighting a firecracker or pulling a thread loose. Things would tumble out into driveways and parking lots, and let the games begin.

Over the miles, Olive, who could walk then, panted, drooled, and gazed at all of us with such compassion all the way to California. We’d zip her inside the Atlanta Falcons canvas bag at night and sneak  her into hotels that didn’t allow dogs.

She never made a peep.

But that day in Milledgeville when it was time to leave, I went back to the peacocks and  sat down again. I told the kids to work it out but until then I would not be getting into the car.

Norah came over and said, “They’re sorry. They love each other. Can we go now?”

Eventually, a truce was formed and I let Flannery drive. We made it about ten miles before I demanded he pull over. He drove so fast on those Georgia backroads with tractor trailers and chicken trucks. I grew up on those roads in Tennessee and learned to drive on them. I didn’t have the courage to let him learn, so I took over.

We met Allison Anders, Flannery’s professor and friend in Atlanta for barbecue where she was directing a film about the Carter family. Maybe if we’d had some Carter music to serenade us we’d have been sunnier and sweeter.

 

But after dinner, I let him drive us to Chattanooga where we stayed with Lucy’s boyfriend, Trent, whose parents welcomed us and took us to a baseball game and treated us like Chattanooga royalty in their home. The game was the Chattanooga Lookouts, and the LA Dodgers team is their parent club, which was a nice bit of synchronicity, since Flannery loved the Dodgers.

It all seems so long ago now.

Sometimes, I think of us traveling as a family to Lourdes to take the cure. We’ll bathe in the waters or however it’s done and come home healed.

But we were mostly healed by New Mexico back in the summer of 2012, eating green burritos and teasing each other and laughing. I remember we ate pies and drove around and saw “Breaking Bad” landscapes.

We’d traveled through an electrical storm in Oklahoma with Flannery driving and he said, “It’s like a video game with no reset button.”

Lucy took pictures of everything. Here is her album of that summer.

https://www.facebook.com/lucy.lunsford/media_set?set=a.10150890611587885.434882.634452884&type=3

When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.

When in Birmingham, do as you done in LA.

Norah created a resume at school as part of her college application process but wrote her Birmingham street address followed by Los Angeles, CA 35205.

Her English teacher wrote, “What? Wake up! This Birmingham, not Los Angeles, California!”

Below are a few images of life today as Norah applies to college and one from that summer so long ago as time collapses. Threads get yanked and go tumbling, it’s true, but I can still recall those moments of sweetness, and what if it’s all enough?

What if everything we’re doing right now is enough?

What if we show up with compassion instead of lists and judgment and criticism?

I told Flannery how proud I was of the way he got us through that crazy electrical storm in Oklahoma where we lost a tire and had it changed the next day in Oklahoma City to the tune “The Young and the Restless.”

I told Lucy how beautiful her pictures were of that entire trip.

I thanked Norah for navigating our way and keeping the speed in mind with the GPS as she knitted scarves on her knees.

Norah lost her temper in Barstow – it took her until Barstow to get mad when she wanted Flannery to pull off and get gas, but there was no place to get gas yet. It was darkness and desert and nothingness, but we were verging on empty, which made her hysterical. She was yelling at him as we tried to comfort her, and then he finally saw lights and pulled into a scary gas station that was too lit and too loud after hours secluded in the car.

A grandmother in her motorized wheelchair purchased a case of beer with her middle-aged daughter and she was screaming at the clerk about her menthol cigarettes or lack of her favorite brand. The clerk just kept smiling at her.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.’

We got back around midnight five days after leaving Milledgeville.

It was the summer of 2012, the last summer we’d live as a family in that house in Los Angeles but we didn’t know it then.

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