My Five Year and Eight Month Old Self

“We will never find it, Baby; it’s gone.”  After looking through the pile of gravel for hours on a spring afternoon in Whistler, Alabama in 1968, I figured my Paw Paw was right.  It was gone.  My special birthstone ring with the green gem and gold band was lost in a pile of roofing gravel.  The ring that signified that I was born in August. My first big girl ring.  The ring I graduated to after my baby ring.  The ring that represented the characteristics of someone who does not give up. 

My cousins and I were playing outside at my Grandnana and Paw Paw’s home. I have no memory of how the ring came not to be on my hand.  All of my memories are the searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I remember sifting for the entire afternoon trying to find my ring.  

My Paw Paw owned a roofing company and my cousins, and I were playing on the pile of gravel.  I know it must have been spring because the gravel was not hot.  The gravel was a mixture of hues.  Browns. Tans. Yellows. My gold ring was lost in the chaotic mix of fun.  

I remember being sad.  I wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble for losing it.  I remember the determination I had to find my ring.  The ring that represented my August birthday.  The stone that had the most beautiful and confusing name.  Peridot.  I remember knowing I was not going to give up until I found it.  

Leos are known for being strong-willed and confident.  I can only concur that this is why I kept looking.  I was not going to give up.  I knew my ring was in that pile.  I just had to be patient, determined, and I would eventually find it.  My Paw Paw promised me he would not let anyone disturb the pile.  I think he knew his first-born granddaughter would find her ring. Every day I would go outside and sift through the gravel pile.  I would make up games as I searched for my ring.  My cousins would join me as we set out to conquer this kingdom of rocks hiding my treasure.  

I don’t remember how many days it took.  But, I still have the memory of my cousins and one of my Paw Paw’s employees standing around the pile with me holding up my ring.  We did it!  We didn’t give up. We found my simple, beautiful birthstone ring. My five year and eight month old self understood life better than my adult self.  Be patient.  Don’t give up.  It’s there.  You will eventually find it. 

“This One Is Very Good”

I LOVE Flannery O’Connor.  When my husband and I recently traveled to Savannah, I was thrilled to tour the childhood home of one of my favorite writers.  I loved listening to the docent who is part of the Flannery O’Connor Foundation. She gave a passionate and animated presentation of this prolific southern writer.  As usual, I got chills thinking that the formative years of Mary Flannery O’Connor were spent in the very home I was touring.  Her childhood fantasies and role play began at 207 E. Charlton Street, Savannah.  I could feel her presence.  I hung onto every word of the guide, and I was even asked to participate by reading aloud Miss O’s own words she had written in a childhood book.  “This one is not very good.” She was referring to one of her childhood books. She made notes to herself or to the next reader of this particular publication.  Flannery was quite the critic even as a six-year-old.  She knew what was good and what was not.   

As I searched my memory, I tried to remember what was my favorite Flannery O’Connor writing.  Last year I read, “Conversations with Flannery O’Connor,” though I had not read any of her short stories in years.  She only wrote two books, novels, and I have not read either of them. Most of her work is essays and short stories.  I remember reading some of these in a Southern Literature class in college.  However, as is my pattern with most writers, I became enamored with Flannery and researched everything I could on her.  What struck me as a college student about the descriptions of her was that she wrote with such confidence and was a straightforward and fiercely independent Southern woman who conveyed this through her stories.  This intrigued me.  As a young writer, I didn’t have the courage to write all the thoughts I had.  It is said that she disliked unoriginal or writing that was used to impress. 

This is why I love Flannery.  She didn’t write to please others.  She used her writing style to shock her audience because she wasn’t sure they held the same beliefs she did.  “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”  In other words, her style was to get your attention even if you don’t agree with her.  Over the years I have written many human interest stories, written interviews.  I have written many short non-fiction humorist essays.  My quirky look at life.  I usually write for an audience who agrees with me and is touched or humored by my writing.  As a college student, I remember thinking of her a headstrong formidable presence.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, her friends spoke of her “merciless attacks on affectation and triviality.”  She didn’t put up with much.  This surfaces in her work.  I remember reading “Geranium” and feeling anxious at the tone of the story.  The story about a flower.  There was shouting and arguments.  I felt like a voyeur to a confrontation that I just wanted to leave, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to see the outcome.  That’s what Flannery O’Connor does.  She touches the mercenary part of your soul that wants to see the bizarre patina of her narrative.  She doesn’t give you a charming story tied up with a pretty bow and obligatory ending. 

Yes, I love Flannery O’Connor.  She is everything I am not.  She makes me want to grow.  Once again, I am picking up her completed works and reading each story.  I continue to read about her strong-willed shit-stirring approach to writing.  That’s my shocking explanation of how I perceive her.  I am no Flannery O’Connor expert, nor can I say I have read everything she has written.  I haven’t even read half of it.  But, I love Flannery because she inspires me to reach a new level in my writing.  She gives me the courage to write.  Period.