assignment 34 Flannery O’Connor, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ THE GRANDMOTHER didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her conne

assignment 34

Flannery O’Connor, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

THE GRANDMOTHER didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her

connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind.

Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the

table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said,

“see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the

newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the

Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people.

Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in

it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”

Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the

children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a

cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like

rabbit’s ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. “The

children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them somewhere

else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have

been to east Tennessee.”

The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley,

a stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at

home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.

“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her

yellow head.

“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother

asked.

“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.

“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss

something. She has to go everywhere we go.”

“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me
to curl your hair.”

June Star said her hair was naturally curly.

The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her

big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it

she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for the cat to be left

alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he

might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son,

Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.

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She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of

her. Bailey and the children’s mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight

forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she

thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It

took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.

The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting

them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still

had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a

navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with

a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and

at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an

accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too

cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the

patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you

before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone

Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the

brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of

green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of

them sparkled. The children were reading comic magazines and their mother and gone back to

sleep.

“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said.

“If I were a little boy,” said the grandmother, “I wouldn’t talk about my native state that

way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”

“Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,” John Wesley said, “and Georgia is a

lousy state too.”

“You said it,” June Star said.

“In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “children were

more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right

then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!” she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in

the door of a shack. “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” she asked and they all turned and

looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved.

“He didn’t have any britches on,” June Star said.

“He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little riggers in the country

don’t have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said.

The children exchanged comic books.

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The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children’s mother passed him over

the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things

they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin

face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large

cotton field with five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. “Look at the

graveyard!” the grandmother said, pointing it out. “That was the old family burying ground.

That belonged to the plantation.”

“Where’s the plantation?” John Wesley asked.

“Gone With the Wind,” said the grandmother. “Ha. Ha.”

When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch

and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the

children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was nothing else to

do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it

suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John

Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap

each other over the grandmother.

The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she

told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once

when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from

Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he

brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one

Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and

he left it on the front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the

watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T. ! This story

tickled John Wesley’s funny bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn’t think it was

any good. She said she wouldn’t marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday.

The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a

gentle man and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a

few years ago, a very wealthy man.

They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and

part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named

Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for

miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE

LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A

VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!

Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a

truck while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered

nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw

the children jump out of the car and run toward him.

37

Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the

other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the

nickelodeon and Red Sam’s wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her

skin, came and took their order. The children’s mother put a dime in the machine and played

“The Tennessee Waltz,” and the grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance.

She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at her. He didn’t have a naturally

sunny disposition like she did and trips made him nervous. The grandmother’s brown eyes

were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her

chair. June Star said play something she could tap to so the children’s mother put in another

dime and played a fast number and June Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap

routine.

“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come

be my little girl?”

“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like

this for a million bucks!” and she ran back to the table.

“Ain’t she cute?” the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.

“Arn’t you ashamed?” hissed the grandmother.

Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with

these people’s order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung

over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table

nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. “You can’t win,” he said. “You can’t win,” and

he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. “These days you don’t know who

to trust,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth?”

“People are certainly not nice like they used to be,” said the grandmother.

“Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old

beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the

mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?”

“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.

“Yes’m, I suppose so,” Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.

His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in

each hand and one balanced on her arm. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you

can trust,” she said. “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she repeated, looking

at Red Sammy.

“Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that’s escaped?” asked the grandmother.

38

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he didn’t attack this place right here,” said the woman.

“If he hears about it being here, I wouldn’t be none surprised to see him. If he hears it’s two

cent in the cash register, I wouldn’t be a tall surprised if he . . .”

“That’ll do,” Red Sam said. “Go bring these people their Co’-Colas,” and the woman

went off to get the rest of the order.

“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I

remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”

He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion

Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you

would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was

exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the

lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully

between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.

They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke

up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled

an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady.

She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks

leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down

with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to

it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the

more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin

arbors were still standing. “There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling

the truth but wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in

it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . .”

“Hey!” John Wesley said. “Let’s go see it! We’ll find it! We’ll poke all the woodwork and

find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can’t we turn off there?”

“We never have seen a house with a secret panel!” June Star shrieked. “Let’s go to the

house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can’t we go see the house with the secret panel!”

“It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty

minutes.”

Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. “No,” he said.

The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret

panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother’s

shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their

vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and

John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his

kidney.

39

“All right!” he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. “Will you all

shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere.”

“It would be very educational for them,” the grandmother murmured.

“All right,” Bailey said, “but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for

anything like this. This is the one and only time.”

“The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,” the grandmother

directed. “I marked it when we passed.”

“A dirt road,” Bailey groaned.

After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother

recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the

candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace.

“You can’t go inside this house,” Bailey said. “You don’t know who lives there.”

“While you all talk to the people in front, I’ll run around behind and get in a window,”

John Wesley suggested.

“We’ll all stay in the car,” his mother said.

They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust.

The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a

day’s journey. The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on

dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops

of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the

dust-coated trees looking down on them.

“This place had better turn up in a minute,” Bailey said, “or I’m going to turn around.”

The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months.

“It’s not much farther,” the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought

came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her eyes

dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise

moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the

cat, sprang onto Bailey’s shoulder.

The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown

out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over

once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the

driver’s seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose clinging to

his neck like a caterpillar.

As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of

the car, shouting, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” The grandmother was curled up under the

40

dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at

once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had

remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.

Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window

against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the children’s

mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the screaming baby,

but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the

children screamed in a frenzy of delight.

“But nobody’s killed,” June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped

out of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty

angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, except the

children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking.

“Maybe a car will come along,” said the children’s mother hoarsely.

“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one

answered her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue

parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she

would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.

The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the

other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and

deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if

the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both arms

dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared

around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over.

It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile. There were three men in it.

It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a

steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned his

head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black

trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved

around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose

grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low,

hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side. Neither spoke.

The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was

an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-

rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn’t have

on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a

black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns.

“We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed.

41

The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she

knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not

recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment,

placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no socks,

and his ankles were red and thin. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I see you all had you a little spill.”

“We turned over twice!” said the grandmother.

“Oncet”, he corrected. “We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram,” he

said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.

“What you got that gun for?” John Wesley asked. “Whatcha gonna do with that gun?”

“Lady,” the man said to the children’s mother, “would you mind calling them children to

sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together there

where you’re at.”

“What are you telling US what to do for?” June Star asked.

Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. “Come here,” said their

mother.

“Look here now,” Bailey began suddenly, “we’re in a predicament! We’re in . . .”

The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. “You’re The

Misfit!” she said. “I recognized you at once!”

“Yes’m,” the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be

known, “but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me.”

Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the

children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened.

“Lady,” he said, “don’t you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don’t mean. I

don’t reckon he meant to talk to you thataway.”

“You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” the grandmother said and removed a clean

handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it.

The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then

covered it up again. “I would hate to have to,” he said.

“Listen,” the grandmother almost screamed, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look

a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!”

“Yes mam,” he said, “finest people in the world.” When he smiled he showed a row of

strong white teeth. “God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy’s heart was

pure gold,” he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind them and was

standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground. “Watch them

42

children, Bobby Lee,” he said. “You know they make me nervous.” He looked at the six of them

huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he couldn’t think of

anything to say. “Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” he remarked, looking up at it. “Don’t see no sun but

don’t see no cloud neither.”

“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” said the grandmother. “Listen,” she said, “you shouldn’t call

yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell.”

“Hush!” Bailey yelled. “Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!” He was

squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn’t move.

“I pre-chate that, lady,” The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the

butt of his gun.

“It’ll take a half a hour to fix this here car,” Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of

it.

“Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you,”

The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. “The boys want to ast you something,” he

said to Bailey. “Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with them?”

“Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is,”

and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he

remained perfectly still.

The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods

with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it fall on

the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man. John Wesley

caught hold of his father’s hand and Bobby Lee followed. They went off toward the woods and

just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting himself against a gray naked

pine trunk, he shouted, “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!”

“Come back this instant!” his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods.

“Bailey Boy!” the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at

The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. “I just know you’re a good man,” she said

desperately. “You’re not a bit common!”

“Nome, I ain’t a good man,” The Misfit said after a second ah if he had considered her

statement carefully, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a different

breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. ‘You know,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some that can live their

whole life out without asking about it and it’s others has to know why it is, and this boy is one

of the latters. He’s going to be into everything!”‘ He put on his black hat and looked up

suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were embarrassed again. “I’m sorry I

don’t have on a shirt before you ladies,” he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. “We buried

our clothes that we had on when we escaped and we’re just making do until we can get better.

We borrowed these from some folks we met,” he explained.

43

“That’s perfectly all right,” the grandmother said. “Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his

suitcase.”

“I’ll look and see terrectly,” The Misfit said.

“Where are they taking him?” the children’s mother screamed.

“Daddy was a card himself,” The Misfit said. “You couldn’t put anything over on him. He

never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”

“You could be honest too if you’d only …

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