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Sorting our inheritance

"Sorting our inheritance" Continued...

There and back, Mr. Montgomery filled us with stories of his previous trips to Andalusia, as O'Connor's home is called, and of times they spent together, sitting on her home's front porch. Or, for that matter, time spent apart, but concerned about the same things: St. Thomas Aquinas and a cow-pond down the way. God as both transcendent and immanent. Sin, grace, and open fields not like those they had both seen in Iowa, fields that stretched to the horizon. No, these were Southern fields, cleared by human hands, but cleared only tentatively, temporarily, constantly threatened by creeping vine and encroaching pine trees, and so were surrounded by mysterious thicket and woods.

These were the concerns and this was the homeland they shared, Marion Montgomery and Flannery O'Connor. They were the concerns that occupied O'Connor for 39 years, and that have occupied Montgomery for those 39, and 39 plus a few more. This Georgia landscape was the ground they both explored, apart and together. These disparate concerns that in the end all amounted to the same thing: a "sorting of one's inheritance"---literary, spiritual, and otherwise---as Mr. Montgomery has come to call it.

Of course, I am now past middle age myself, older certainly than Flannery when she died. And as I make this trip to Flannery's grave, with Mr. Montgomery and with my daughter Brittany, I am aware that I myself stand between my inheritor and my inheritance.

So after a bit of wandering around Milledgeville looking for the cemetery (the city had changed since my last trip there, 20 years earlier), I pulled out the map they had supplied us at Andalusia, now a museum, and within a few minute we were there.

We found the grave itself soon enough, and the three of us stood over it together. It is hard by the road, and the traffic is loud. Mr. Montgomery thought back to the last time he stood on that spot and said he thought it was loud then, too. It was mid-afternoon, and the day was hot, though not unbearably so. Mr. Montgomery said, "I seem to remember that it was a hot day then, too." Her grave was next to her father's, who had also died of lupus. Mr. Montgomery read the dates on his grave and observed, "He didn't live much longer than she did."

We were all three quiet for a few seconds. Much less than a minute. As we prepared to walk away, Mr. Montgomery made a motion with his hand that was something like a wave good-bye. But then again it was not quite that. His palm faced down, not out, more of a benediction than a wave. And then, as we were walking away, he said, "I miss her."

I never got to know her, but I miss her too. I miss her precisely because I didn't get to know her. I miss her because it is so easy to imagine this day differently. We would not be standing over Flannery O'Connor's grave. We would be sitting with her on the front porch of Andalusia. Brittany and I listening to two old, dear friends---Flannery O'Connor and Marion Montgomery---share stories from lives dedicated to the proper telling of stories.

I miss her because it is the three of us, and not the four of us.

But what a foolish game that is, this wondering what might have been. It is foolish not just because it can never be, but because it prevents us from seeing what is. After all, why should I waste time on what would never be when I had my good friend and teacher Marion Montgomery---this man Flannery O'Connor her own self said has the Bible and more than a little history---in the seat right here beside me? And my daughter Brittany, flesh of my flesh, in the seat behind me, listening carefully, as I hoped she would? And the same Georgia country that Flannery O'Connor saw---and saw beyond---all around me? All of this, surely, is enough.

So, yes, I miss her, too. Not, perhaps, as Mr. Montgomery does, but I miss her nonetheless. Yet there was also much, I'm pleased to report and perhaps you can now see too, that we didn't miss, being in possession (as we all three were) of a goodly inheritance indeed to sort through on this not too hot August day, in the year of our Lord 2006.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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