By Bebe Gish Shaw
The News Courier
Janet Hunt and Bob Baker
500 South Beaty Street
“A Confederacy of Dunces”
Janet Hunt and Bob Baker were ready for my question regarding what they’d call their “literary lawn,” and I was delighted when they dubbed it “A Confederacy of Dunces” after the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning comedic novel by John Kennedy Toole, awarded posthumously due to his suicide in 1969.
The book was published 11 years after Toole’s death thanks to his mother’s tirelessly bringing it to the attention of novelist Walker Percy, who in spite of himself, loved its anti-hero, Ignatius J. Riley—perhaps the most grotesque Southern gothic ogre in the genre.
Bob quoted, “’Canned food is a perversion,’ Ignatius said, ‘I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul,’” then added, and “overly ordered gardens are like canned food—a perversion and ultimately very bad for the soul.”
Calling their garden around this 1920 cedar shake Dutch Colonial “really helter-skelter,” Janet points out her “fish pond,” though it is created of yard art: rusted tin fish ornaments on stems engulfed in a sea of blue glass, electric power-line insulators.
“I really like junk,” Janet laughs, and shows me her bottle tree decorated completely in fish shaped bottles in aquatic colors.
Entering the sandstone patio, Janet shows me hypertufa pots made of concrete mixed with natural substances, which she makes herself, her Talavera ware, and her “altar to the Mexican man.”
A shrine of sorts of roses and painted pottery plates encircling a solitary, terracotta, sombreroed figure, head on knees, somehow now he seems more like he’s weeping than sleeping.
Nearby, planted around the pergola’s perimeter are roses, iris, peonies, day lilies, salvia, yarrow, bee balm, in a “hodge-podge fashion,” these gardeners’ preferred plan being no plan. Outside the gate and westward are oakleaf hydrangeas, a pomegranate tree, and a peek at the neighbors’ impressive rose garden.
As Burma Jones, a character in “A Confederacy of Dunces” frequently says, “Ooo-wee!”
— Guest writer, Bebe Gish Shaw, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Athens State University.