Back in 2010, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' we asked Anniston Star readers to share their memories of the book that inspired them.
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A couple of pages into the book, Harper Lee does what every Southerner does if they have a story to tell.
She sets the stage.
And the stage usually includes some historical context and family background.
Can't help but.
"I said if he wanted to take a broad view of things," she wrote, "it really began with Andrew Jackson. If General Jackson hadn't run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn't."
Many of us have versions of Simon Finch in our ancestry, "a fur trapping apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his stinginess."
"In England," his descendent goes on, "Simon was irritated by the persecution of those who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to Mobile and up to Saint Stephens."
It was there, "mindful of John Wesley's stricture on the use of many words in buying and selling, Simon make a pile practicing medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy least he be tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his teacher's dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. He returned to Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife, and with her established a line that ran high to daughters. Simon lived to an impressive age and died rich."
And with that she laid the foundation of the Finch family, of Alabama, and of a great book.
What else could I do but read the rest.
— Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson, Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University
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The Finch family came into my life during my sophomore year of high school. I had known of the iconic book for years, but until then, I had little idea what of the big deal was about. That soon changed.
Harper Lee's exceptional style of writing is what first grabbed my attention. The scenes she described, the events that occurred . . . I felt like I was right there with Scout. I could see life through the eyes of a 6-year-old rural Alabama girl.
Scout's father, I felt, was modeled after my own. He was an upstanding gentleman, the kind of man every boy should want to grow up to be.
Jem was described in such realistic detail, I could have mistaken him for almost any boy in my neighborhood.
Their tale wasn't as fast-paced or adventurous as the stories I usually read, but I reveled in its simple charm. I could not put the book down.
As I read and discussed it with my mother, I learned little details from her about its background, things you would not know just by reading the book. I should have known she was a fan; she named my sister Harper.
When I finished the book, I admit I didn't fully appreciate it. Here was a kid raised in the age of MySpace and cell phones trying to relate to a time when his grandparents were young. I had to ask around. When I finally felt I could relate on a deeper level, I went back and tried again. I am so glad I did.
Upon rereading the book, it catapulted itself onto my list of favorite books. It motivated me to live a better life. I wanted the things that were said about Atticus to be said about me one day. It even inspired me to go to Auburn.
Looking back,To Kill a Mockingbird has had a subtle yet profound impact on my life. It helped reinforce lessons that I grew up with. It shows human decency, innocence and common sense through a point of view that everyone can relate to: a child's. It is a book I believe that everyone should read in their lifetime, especially the youth of Alabama. They might just learn, as Scout did, that "there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
— Tysonn McKinnon, Anniston
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I still have the paperback from which I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, back in 1960. That was a book that really resonated for a callow 13-year-old who didn't really know what callow meant.
There were two ways I could have responded to Harper Lee's book. Certainly one way was to embrace the ongoing adventures of Scout and Jem and Dill (all the business involving the Radley house was great gothic fun).
But as Mark Twain did for me with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I first encountered it in the third grade, Harper Lee showed me there was more to know about the world than running up to the Radley house. There were choices acceptable and choices unacceptable.
And all things acceptable seemed to come together in Atticus Finch, who simply knew what "right" meant.
How I envied the Finch children. Their father showed them how to behave at school and how to behave at the dinner table. He could protect them from a rabid dog and then he could sit on the porch with them before bed. He was respected by nearly everyone by simply knowing how to do the "right" thing and then doing it. ("Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'," she is told at the end of the trial he loses.)
Atticus Finch set the example and walked the walk.
Did Atticus change my life? Not really. Did he reinforce what I'd been taught by parents much like him? Of course. Did he represent values that are at once decent and honorable and humane? Absolutely.
I had been Scout and Jem. I wanted to be — needed to be — Atticus Finch.
— Steven Whitton, professor of English at Jacksonville State University
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I didn't just love Scout . . . I WAS Scout. I loved the comforting freedom of being a little girl from the South in the hot summer where you filled your own free time with mud pies, and playing with your puppy, and swinging off kudzu vines that had been up those pine trees for only God knows how long (and dropping off into "God knows what" in that intertwined cloud of green twist-ties surrounding you.)
I was Scout because I loved my daddy beyond words. He stood for what was right and solid and good in a world of "good ol' boys" who weren't real interested in the truth setting you free (unless it was their kind of "truth" and their kind of "free").
I loved the respect he gained from people around him that otherwise wouldn't have been looked upon in a uplifted kind of way. That meant the most — knowing he made a difference even though there wasn't much to be gained by it.
I loved my daddy setting that example for me. Although they were different in stature, my daddy stood taller than Gregory Peck ever could.
I loved to be a little bit of a tomboy, and that was OK.
I loved the heat and the katydids, and I could read Mockingbird over and over again.
P.S. Boo scared me to no end! I probably was never more afraid in my childhood than at the thought of Boo Radley. Seriously.
— Kathy Christian Kennedy, Alexandria
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On the occasion of my 30th birthday, my then-fiancée and now-wife arranged for various friends and relations to pen their turning-30 thoughts to me. It remains one of the best birthday presents I ever received.
Among the many writings and one drawing, one stood out. My great uncle Robert Hugh Kirksey, of Aliceville, Ala., compared turning 30 to Scout's relationship with Boo Radley.
As an abstract tall tale with a human face, Boo was a creature to be feared by Scout. He was hidden away in a spooky house. There were stories of awful deeds he had done. Jem didn't help with his exaggerations.
As it turned out, Scout had nothing to fear. Boo gave her gifts. He watched over Scout and Jem. He was their protector. Their lives were better because they knew Arthur "Boo" Radley.
That, my great uncle wrote, was what I would discover about reaching my 30s and beyond.
He was right.
— Bob Davis, editor, The Anniston Star
• • •
My Mockingbird story began when I was 11 years old. It was the first "adult" book I read, and became my favorite book of all time. My first read was an abridged version in Readers Digest Condensed Books that my mom had a subscription to.
I had been reading since I was about 4, but the books consisted of Dick and Jane, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Book Trails, books that were written for children. The day I started reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I knew that I would want more.
I was fascinated by the children in the book, the tale being told by Scout (a girl who was younger than me) and the things the children did in the book, such as trying to make Boo Radley come out.
Since that first time, I have read this book over and over. I have passed this book on to my grandchildren, hoping they will learn to love it as much as I do.
I have two sets of CD audio books, one read by Roses Pritchard and one by Sissy Spacek. I have the book on my iPod and listen to it at least twice a month while at work. I also have the movie on my iPod to listen to. I don't have to watch; I know exactly what is happening at any time.
I never get tired of this book and can almost recite it word-for-word. My favorite parts of the book are when Scout gives Frances the punch in the mouth he fully deserved, and the trial.
My favorite line is when Atticus tells the jury that the one place all men should be seen as equal is in our courts. Unfortunately, this still does not happen, all these years later.
— Alice M. Skala, Lincoln
• • •
After you've read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, and after you've seen the Academy Award-winning movie, you really need to spend a spring evening in Monroeville watching the local community theater's production of a play based on the novel.
It hasn't won any awards, as far as I'm aware, but the two-act play is a real treat. The Mockingbird Players are all local amateurs, and while there's no Gregory Peck or Robert Duvall in the cast, they all do a creditable job with the show. And their accents are spot-on.
The biggest draw is the setting. Act One is presented on the lawn of the old Monroe County Courthouse, while Act Two takes place inside the courtroom.
This is the courtroom where Harper Lee's father argued cases, and it was faithfully reconstructed on a Hollywood soundstage for the 1962 movie. Most of the audience sits in the balcony, and thus has the same perspective as the black spectators in the movie.
The play is a relatively recent addition to the Mockingbird tradition. It has been performed each spring since 1991, and several permanent set pieces have been built on the courthouse lawn to represent the houses where Act One takes place.
The courthouse itself was constructed in 1903 and will look familiar to anyone who has visited Alabama's various county seats. A new judicial building was constructed in 1963, but the old courthouse was preserved and now serves as headquarters for the Monroe County Heritage Museum.
Before and after the play, audience members can wander around the courthouse to visit displays that commemorate Miss Lee, her family and her famous novel.
The 2011 performance season will soon be announced, and tickets will probably go on sale around March 1. These shows sell out fast, so making reservations early is a must. Information will be available at www.tokillamockingbird.com.
— Mike Stedham, student media adviser at Jacksonville State University and founding member of Community Actors' Studio Theater