To Love Mockingbird

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For a few years now, we have had a book club at work. While the invitation to attend is spread broadly, it is typically 4-5 of us who gather in a conference room at lunch time to talk about the selection. This year we have decided to meet once a quarter and we will read and discuss classics. First up was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a little surprising to me that some people had not read this book. There are so many pieces of the book and movie that, when I think of them, really inform my life from the first time I read it; from the first time I saw that beautiful movie; to today. What a wonderful thing it was to be able to talk about this book again!

Let’s start with the physical book itself. The book was first published in 1960 by Lippincott. My book is a 1960 printing, but not one of the first. If it was, and if it was in more pristine shape, and if it had its pretty dust jacket, it would be worth a lot of money. My book is none of those things. My book belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa. Inside the front cover, my Grandma rubber-stamped their name and address. Now, when I see that, I remember time spent with my grandparents at their house in Fredonia. I can almost see the book on the bookshelves in their living room. At some point, I must have gotten the book off of the shelf and took it home. I obviously claimed it as my own, because now there is a red Dymo label on the front with my name on it. I tried to take it off once, but it pulled off the cover material, so now it is just kind of floppy.

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In the book, Jem and Scout find treasures in a tree. The children begin to collect them and look forward to more. In the book, I think they all get put in a trunk n Jem’s room. In the movie they are in a cigar box. As a girl, I got one of my grandpa’s army trunks and in it, I kept my treasures. I also had a couple cigar boxes that he gave me that I would fill with miscellaneous papers and what-not. I think this habit, that I still have today, comes from the images that I loved so much in this book.

My dad, like Atticus Finch, was a small town lawyer. There were many differences between my dad and Atticus, but when things happened that were similar, they loomed large for me. Two that I recall harkened to both the good and the bad. My dad had one client that I clearly remember bringing him vegetables to pay his bill. He would show up at various times of the year bringing our family bounty. I do remember my father and mother both being so gracious to him. The other was one time a client – I don’t remember who or why – who was angry at my dad. One night, he came to our house drunk and mad. I was upstairs in our house, but I remember hearing it all and being scared. Reading, seeing, or thinking about this book always call to mind my own Atticus Finch moments.

And then there is the story and the movie. I am glad that I have Gregory Peck in my mind when I read about Atticus. Dill, Scout, Jem and Boo are all perfectly realized. The movie does leave out parts, but that makes reading the book even better. I don’t have many books that I take the time to read more than once, but this is one that I can’t even remember how many times I have read it. I read it as a little girl and wanted to be Scout. I read it as a young woman and wanted to be Harper Lee. I read it now, and kind of feel like I have both of them a little bit a part of me.

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“Atticus sat looking at the floor for a long time. Finally he raised his head. “Scout,” he said, “Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?”

Atticus looked like he needed cheering up. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. “Yes sir, I understand,” I reassured him. “Mr. Tate was right.”

Atticus disengaged himself and looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”

Atticus put his face in my hair and rubbed it. When he got up and walked across the porch into the shadows, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. “Thank you for my children, Arthur.” he said.”

Happy Fourth of July!

I came across this picture the other day when I was looking for Girl Scout stuff. How timely. This was Fourth of July for me as a kid. The picture was taken at Chautauqua Lake where my grandma and grandpa had  a cottage. It is my older sister and me.

My grandma and grandpa had both grown up in rural Iowa. Grandpa went to University of Iowa and then on to dental school there. He and my grandma got married and moved to New York where he started his practice. He did a stint as an army dentist in Virginia, but went back to New York after that. They spent the rest of of his professional practice days in Fredonia, New York. His dental office was in his house – which was a great playtime set-up for grandchildren when office hours were over.

I am not sure when they bought the cottage, but I never knew them not having it. My sisters and I spent many of our weekends there. If I am to trust my memories, I loved it there. It wasn’t a cottage out in the middle of nowhere, and it wasn’t rustic. It was right on the lake edge and had a dock where we would fish. My grandpa had a motor boat that he would take us out on. He would let us drive while he sat back with  his cocktail. We would swim in the lake at the first opportunity. There was a rowboat that we would sometimes venture out in. I didn’t really think of it much when I was growing up, but now when I look back on it, I realize what a sweet set up it was.

Fourth of July was a great time at the lake. I am pretty sure that this picture was taken on one of the fourths. I like our sunfresh faces in this picture. I can testify that after western New York winters that lasted an eternity, summertime meant being outside constantly. This picture seems to indicate that I apparently could not to be trusted not to fall in the lake at any moment. I got to don the life jacket uniform. (I am pretty sure that I finally did graduate from that.)

I remember the highlights of the fourth would be fresh cherries that my grandparent’s good friends would bring over, a bon fire built and all of the neighbors gathering around it, home made ice cream that involved lots of churning and rock salt, and finally, when it got dark – flares.

Wikipedia tells me that Chautauqua Lake has a shoreline of 41.1 miles and all but 2.6 miles of it are privately owned. Starting in late June, stores around the lake would have flares (just like the ones that the police put out when there are accidents) for sale. My grandparents and most of those private private property owners would buy those flares and place them along the shore on the day of the fourth. At the appointed time, the flares would be lit and the dark pool of the lake would shimmer with hundreds of encircling birthday candles. Sometimes we would just sit outside and enjoy how pretty it was; sometimes we would get into the boat and make the tour. Fireworks from the little amusement park nearby would go off, and we always had sparklers and firecrackers that more than once burned our fingers.

Good memories. Happy birthday America.

(It is hard for a photograph to capture what the flares looked like, but I found one photo that gives an idea of it here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bill927/2652651613/.)

And a quick You Tube: