Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ode To a Mockingbird

Harper Lee was not a prolific writer. I didn't even read To Kill a Mockingbird until after the age of 30. And yet, she is one of the most important writers in my life. When I found out last week that she died, I felt like a small part of my childhood died as well.

When I was growing up, without DVD's or Netflix or Hulu or any of the other couch-potato accoutrements, we watched movies on TV the night that they came on. There were a handful of them we watched every year. Some I still crave, like Sound of Music, and one or two I could never see again. (I'm looking at you, African Queen.) To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my favorites. I don't even know if my dad had read the book, but he insisted we watch the movie any time it was on.

I loved it.

I had difficult relationships with my dad(s) so I loved Atticus Finch. He was so wise and strong and Good. I wanted be be brave and saucy like Scout was. I wanted a brother like Jem and I wanted mystery and adventure on summer days. The film is black and white, but so easy to fall into. I swear I could smell Calpurnia's cooking, the dusty roads, feel the bark on the tree where Boo hides his gifts.

And Gregory Peck. I mean, come on. I didn't even know who Robert Duvall was for years and didn't realize he was in this movie until after I'd fallen in love with him as an actor. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Finally reading the book was just as glorious. Every page I lived in Maycomb, walked the dirt road to school, sat at the kitchen table with Atticus, Jem, and frequent guests, watched Atticus in the court room, listened to Tom Robinson tell his story, and learned the same lessons as Scout.

I like to think that my parents passed on important lessons they didn't know how to otherwise tell me through that story. I knew to never use the "n word" and that life just isn't fair a lot of the time. That there are injustices and some things can never be made right but that doesn't make the world a dark place. And people can surprise you in the loveliest ways.

I owe a fathomless debt of gratitude to Harper Lee for the memories of my childhood, for a book that I can dive into and emerge a better person each time I read it. Her words are forever etched onto my heart.


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