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Posted: December 19, 2010 12:30 a.m.

A good man is hard to find

The executive director of the Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation visited the Floyd Street library last week. A guest of Newton County Friends of the Library, Craig Amason presented an interesting overview of ongoing preservation efforts at Andalusia, Connor’s home just north of Milledgeville. More fascinating were his insightful comments regarding one of Georgia’s truly amazing authors.

I grew up in Greensboro, just 90 minutes from Andalusia, but despite being a voracious teenage reader, never knew of the Milledgeville author churning out short stories containing macabre symbolism and packed with heinous violence. She was at her most prolific in the 1950s and 1960s, pounding away on a manual typewriter in her bedroom on the farm named Andalusia. But in those days discrimination was a very real part of life in the Deep South, not only for blacks, but also for Jews and Catholics. A young, devout, Catholic, O’Connor simply was not on many reading lists.

So it wasn’t until the summer of 1994 when, fancying myself a philosopher and attempting to discover why Blaise Pascal regarded Michel de Montaigne with contempt, I accidentally discovered O’Connor. Accepted into a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar studying Montaigne’s Essais at Washington state’s Whitman College I met an English professor by the name of John Desmond.

He’s the author of "Risen Sons: Flannery O’Connor’s Vision of History." He examines O’Connor’s belief in the incarnation of Christ as the pivotal historic event toward which all things prior moved, and from whence all things unfold.

Desmond gave me a book of O’Connor’s short stories, instructing me to start with "A Good Man is Hard to Find." In the story, two criminals hitchhike with a grandmotherly Christian and her family in order to rob and murder them. On a deserted dirt road, the grandmother pleads for mercy, offering to pray for the bad guys if they will spare their lives. Unmoved, the thugs methodically dispatch her family members. The woman’s pleas change when it’s her turn; she promises to be a better person if allowed to live. They shoot her dead.

"She’d have been a good woman," one shooter tells his companion, "if there’d have been someone to shoot her every day."

Not all of her short stories are that violent, but they are peppered with surreal, macabre incidents which provoke deep contemplation.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" came to mind recently as I watched a news videotape showing Georgia’s outgoing governor, Sonny Perdue, strong-arming the state’s purchase of 10,000 acres of land adjoining his property near Perry. The land, Oaky Woods, borders an access road the state improved during Perdue’s time in office. Three years ago Georgia turned down an opportunity to purchase 20,000 acres because the asking price was too high; now, however, the state has purchased half the property for the original asking price.

Now, I’m not a smart man, but I don’t have to be to understand that Gov. Perdue has feathered his nest with this sweet deal. He chaired the committee that approved the purchase. Obviously, the governor should have removed himself from any proceedings related to land adjoining his property to avoid conflict-of-interest issues.

Instead, unabashedly, he stared down each member of the committee when calling for a vote, and even those who had voiced opposition in the past went along.

Let’s see, now. We’re to believe that land adjoining the governor’s doubled in property value over the last three years while everybody else’s property values plummeted? And Perdue got away with this?

Flannery O’Connor was right, indeed. A good man is hard to find. Especially in political office.

 

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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