mockingbirds

Header photo of Old Monroeville courthouse by Andrea Wright via Flickr

Today’s post comes from tim

harper lee is dead

she went along very nicely for 50+ years after producing one of the greatest works of all time in to kill a mockingbird.she recently got brought back into the news as the author of the book the publisher rejected before the one they accepted where gregory peck has become permanently attached as atticus finch to be remembered forever.

i love that story

i can watch it again and again i have also read it twice which may not be a big deal for sherrilee but it is for me. i havnt read many books twice.

something about a book is different than a movie and very different than a tv show. it keeps me in focus and had the pictures that accompany the words come in through a different filter. they are implanted while the movie or tv shows are slid in alongside whatever is going on in my mind at the time.

harper lee grew up in a 30’s 40’s town where main street was over there and the neighborhood was over here and she wrote about the people she knew and the circumstances as they unfolded and it was all she ever really needed to do. i felt sad when i heard she had the other book released even though it had been around for 50 some years already done but not published.

i thought of her in a special way. the grand daughter of robert e lee, the writer or a truly rock solid story that will live on forever and able to stay a semi recluse without being a negative thing.  

i have thought about my idyllic childhood in the burbs of blooming with the cornfield next to me and the river a mile away and all the friends i needed to get through the different stages of lifes ever changing topography scotty bowman and ray dewberry when i was a pup, bill mccarthy and sean sinnott when i was an up and comer and my hippy friends as the adolescent years ushered in the end of sliding through life. all of a sudden life steered me instead of the other way around. i had payments and meeting then kids and responsibility. death of a salesman is not nearly as fun to read as to kill a mockingbird.

ive decided that a chunk of a lifes story is all that can be handled in one sitting. you cant write the history of the world without missing too much but you can choose a chunk and make it a good story like harper lee did

if you were gonna take a chunk and write about it how would choose it and why?

53 thoughts on “mockingbirds”

  1. OT before we get going this morning!

    For our April Blevin’s Book Club, which Sunday in April do you prefer, the 10th or the 17th? (We’ll be at Caroline’s. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice piece, tim. Like many others, I always wondered if Harper Lee really only had the one great masterpiece and once she got it out, that was it, or if there was more lurking around but she didn’t have the heart to try again. Unless somebody finds a trunk of hand-written manuscripts in a corner of the attic, I guess we’ll never know.

    As you’ve all heard me whine about, my family moved around quite a bit when I was a kid so I don’t have an unblemished rosy picture of my childhood. I did love living in the Dutch colonial house in Jefferson City though. McClung Park was just down the street and we had a 2-story detached garage; we called the top story “the playhouse”. For two summers it was the army hospital, the prairie school, the hairdressers and even the “artist colony”.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Like VS, I have wondered if Ms Lee had another story in her, too – if she was too afraid to disappoint with a novel that might be less than Mockingbird. If I were in her place, i would have been terrified.

    If I were to write about a chunk of my life, two that come to mind are the first summers I was old enough to explore the neighborhood by bicycle with my pals – truly beyond just the immediate blocks, but afternoons at Lake Harriet or poking around the Rose Gardens or other parks. Riding to friends’ houses, finding our way to ice cream. It would be a perfect set up to spin a mystery story – my friend Lisa and I were often on the look out for clues that might lead to a mystery in need of solving, but we never found one. Perhaps I should invent one for us.

    The other is the last year or so of my father’s life, where it can best be described as his mind started to snag and unravel: observing the slows and spurts of losing his place in time (“why aren’t the kids coming down for breakfast?”), losing words (“I need…need…something!”), context (“sit down Bill, it’s dinner time, not time to brush your teeth”). He never lost music – that was hard coded into his muscle memory. He mostly didn’t lose people closest to him – though in his last days he could only convey that he knew his youngest granddaughter was “important” and someone he loved. What the unravels and what snags and what remains is sad and fascinating and, I’m sure, frustrating for the person inside those snags and snarls.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Yes, those gremlins are lurking. The halls they stalked last week did not include mine. At least one pal on a team we work closely with was re-orged out of a job (his whole team was drastically downsized) but the gremlins did not find me.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I wrote a memoir once–it was cathartic, but not really fine writing. It is stashed in the house somewhere where it will stay, although several smaller stories in the larger book might be worth excavating. I wrote about growing up with my dad’s MS and my difficult relationship with my mom. I also wrote about having breast cancer in 1990 and what that was like–treatment has changed a lot in 26 years.

    The stories from my mother about growing up in the Great Depression on a Minnesota farm are far more worthwhile. She wrote them, but they require heavy-handed editing and illustrations and tell of a life her descendants could never imagine. (I am finishing the Christmas, 2015 one right now about life without modern plumbing. I have to explain the use of a chamber pot for upcoming generations).

    My mother always struggled with accepting life as it presents itself, day-by-day, and she did the best she could with it. I hope the stories reflect life emerging from a primitive, post-settlement era to the digital age. What a span of time to have lived!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I could separate out segments of my life to write about based on the towns where i lived which would be the town where I was born, the town where I grew up, university towns, and towns I moved to after completing my education.

    Another approach I have thought about is the houses where I have lived. The houses would be smaller segments than the towns and I could focus on what happen when living in a certain spot as apposed to the bigger picture of an area where I lived. Somehow I think it would be easier for me to recall all that happen if I started with a house where I lived instead of an area where I lived.

    I could cover my student days in Indiana by focusing on each of the different places I lived during those days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My current writing project is short stories about NE MN. Only a little of it is my life. Much of it is elements of stories people have told me. Lots of it is my invention but trying to capture the sense of NE MN. I think in the end the less it is of my life the more fun I am having writing it.
    Somehow in my second book and in the short storied strong-minded, intelligent, and creative girls are a strong factor. Sort of like Scout.

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  7. I wonder how much the suggestion of incest and inbreeding is recognized by most readers of Mockingbird. I taught the book until I was sick of it.

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    1. never thought about incest with mocking bird
      too bad you ruined the book for yourself but i suppose if you break it down there is only so much there and it is not truly marvelous word smithing but i do like the story.

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      1. I think the book is excellent. I love Scout and her portrayal. Dill/Truman Capote wore the most on me. I think she writes fine prose and crafted the plot very well. Some of the added elements are simply perfect, such as Jem reading to the old woman, the man pissing off the porch and how it leaves Scout out of the contest.
        It is just after teaching all those times.
        There is a vague sense of Boo as the result of inbreeding. The father of the girl who is the supposed rape victim is clearly abused sexually by the father. When they go to the Finch family, Lee makes an issue of the how the girls bedroom is accessible only from the parents’ (father’s) bedroom. Scout is trained not to talk about family secrets.

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        1. got it. two reading left me not involved enough to notice. i remember reading the 25th anniversary edition and not thinking too much about it until i saw that we are doing the 50th now. it cant possibly have been 25 years since then…

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I love the use of names, too. Scout–seeker, explorer, vanguard. Jem–gem, favored one (male heir and as opposed to African American or poor trash), bright, polished. Dill: small pickly,weedish, provider of flavor in tie lives. Atticus: classical Greek, wisdom, law and order. Calpurnia: Roman, stoic, strong. How white women steal their Black servants identity by giving them new names. I don’t like Boo. So many other better options are possible.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. I have fun imagining a sandbox in Monroeville during the Depression. Two young children are playing it, the little girl who would grow up to be famous author Harper Lee and the little boy who would grow up to be Truman Capote. Amazing.

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        4. Yes, she did a lot of the legwork, including getting the locals to talk to them after Capote had put them off.

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    2. I think had I first read Mockingbird at 14 I might have missed some of the themes around incest and inbreeding – I simply would not have had the experiences to recognize them. (Same way I missed a lot of the sub themes in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which I did read at 14.) Reading it for the first time a few years older than that, I caught it – and was appalled.

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        1. Humph! I don’t have sox that are even 4. The damn dryer keeps eating them up. But let me add my voice to those wishing you a happy birthday. Above all, I wish you good luck with your new business venture (adventure)!

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  8. Of course, I’ve already written a book of memoir. Because my parents had lives more interesting than mine, it is more their story than mine.

    If I were a more accomplished writer than I am, I might write a book about the decade following my divorce, especially the comedy/tragedy of dating again when I was in my 60s. I hope none of you ever get to learn what that is like. But unlike Harper Lee, my story is not integrally related to the greatest moral issue in American history, racial justice.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. There are some terrific stories to be told about that. Some that are overwhelmingly sad. Some that are too strange to be believed. Some that make me giggle when I recall them. Good taste dictates my silence, and (in spite of my character) I’m obeying good taste.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Please write it!!! When you published Pheasant Hunter’s Harvest, I had no interest in sports books at all. Your story-telling gift drew me into it so completely that it felt like MY experience, not yours. Generally, a book only grabs me if it’s about people and their relationships, so if you can pull me into hunting, writing about the last decade would be riveting to the power of ten.

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  9. i think i would go to the summer of 1st grade with ray dewberry and my bike. taking those bike rides to different areas in the riding range of the neighborhood was just what we did. the river with the bluffs the area with the swamp the area with the fresh water springs and watercress, the rope swings the bike rollercoaster the store a mile away where the choice of the penny baseball cards where the risk of doubles lost out to 5 pieces of really bad bubble gum when chosing between a 5 pack for a nickle or 5 single 1 penny cards. mike herbold was the neighborhood heavy with his unibrow at age 7, as i roll through the names harvey knopke (butch) chipper nasterpool (daddy was a texas air force officer) i remember chippa chippa (his momma with that texas version of a southern bell accent) coming from the back door of the house that was like all the other split levels in the neighboorhod, you either had a split level or a ranch. the kitchen living room dining room was a constant. scotty bowman and kevin dipiazza were the play buddies who would be around every day to sell popcycles made out of kool aid baseball and box hockey, the 1 mile circle around my house where nothing happened i wasnt aware of the corn field across the street the paths and critters in the woods a neighborhood with 3 kids in every house. all wanting to play and do fun stuff. 4 blocks away was a familiar landmark but a whole different world in terms of social circles. i know of thse kids form going to a couple different ball parks and school day play areas where the 4 square box hockey gang hung out. you knew of them not who they were. bikes and ball gloves were the id that electronic devices are today. geeze i enjoyed that time. my catholic school friends int eh years to come all had some baggage, the neighborhood in first grade didnt go there. we all just existed and co existed in the same circumstances. it was magic

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    1. I’ve played around with the notion of writing up my childhood. One obstacle is my sense that things were so different for a kid in the 1950s that modern readers would struggle to understand or believe an honest description of those times. You hadda been there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know you are more than capable of taking people there.
        I wonder why I keep bothering to write. I have settled on one big reason. Research says it our age we should keep our minds active. The creative struggle to tell a story well does keep a mind active, in think in all the ways the research suggests.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Being on Trail Baboon has gotten me to write about a couple of chunks that I had always wanted to get down on paper – the Trailer Court, and the Train Trip. I barely scratched the surface beyond the logistics of the Train Trip, so I’d still like to write more about that chunk.

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