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Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Wisdom of Atticus Finch

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Unknown-2Since the recent death of Harper Lee, I’ve been meaning to re-read her beloved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I refuse to read Go Set a Watchman because 1) I just can’t believe she wrote it, 2) if she did, I don’t believe she wanted us to read it, and 3) I don’t want anything to tarnish my view of Atticus Finch. The last time I was home in Cuero, sorting my parents’ things, I found the audiobook of Mockingbird, read by Sissy Spacek. I’m sure it was given to Dad when he could no longer read, in the hope that he would enjoy listening to it. But, it was unopened and never heard by him. I picked it up and threw it in my purse, hoping one of my kids would want to listen. Last week, I had to run an errand that required a short road trip. I remembered the audiobook on the way out the door and grabbed it off a shelf, then popped cd 1 into the disc player. Sissy Spacek’s slow, nasal, beautiful South Texas twang announced the performance, “To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Chapter One.” And I was mesmerized.

I hadn’t read the book since I was a young girl. In fact,  I can’t remember when I read it. High school? College? Actually, I’m embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t recall much about it except a few obvious details: the mysterious Boo Radley, Scout, Jem, Atticus and the courthouse. This is the beauty of reading for me…I can re-read novels a few years after initially reading them and it’s like a new book! Anyway, I have friends and family who’ve read the book hundreds of times. My sis-in-law reads it every summer. Now that I’ve heard Sissy Spacek’s melodic reading of the novel, I feel I’ll never forget it. She makes the dialogue come alive, subtly changing her vocal inflection to bring each character to life: the reliable, steady sensibility of Atticus, the sometimes hot-headed Jem, the sweet wisdom of Calpernia, and, she completely becomes Scout, the narrator and often impatient little sis. I listened to her reading for about 3 hours as I drove to and from the Texas Hill Country last week, and now can’t listen to anything else. I find myself smiling or tearing up, depending on the chapter.

For a woman who never had a child, Ms. Lee sure dispenses some awesome parenting advice. Listening to this audiobook makes me wish I’d read it over and over while parenting my three girls. There are lots of lessons here, which I’m happy to share in case you don’t recall the wisdom of Atticus. First, he was not afraid to let his children flail and falter. He quietly sent them to school without accompanying them, even on their first day. When Scout cried because her teacher was mean and didn’t want Atticus reading with her nightly, he calmly invited her into his lap and said they’d continue reading, but it would be their secret. When Jem cut the camellia heads off Mrs. Dubose’s prized garden shrubbery because she’d criticized his father, Atticus reinforced her assigned punishment, to come over daily and read to her. He didn’t explain that she was dying and the assignment wouldn’t last long. Gosh, where was the ghost of Atticus when my girls complained to me about a perceived wrong? I wish I’d had the wisdom and patience to say, “Now girls. Mrs. so-and-so deserves your respect and you will do what she says,” instead of “Are you freaking kidding me? That is just wrong and you need to tell her so or I’ll go talk to her myself.” When Jem and Scout told a half-truth in answer to their father’s questioning of what they’d done or where they’d been, instead of pressing the issue, Atticus would accept them at their word and wait to see what happened. Nine of ten times, the kids were mortified that they’d upset their beloved Atticus. It was a little different at my house. I’d yell, “I’d better not find out you’re lying to me. I’m going to call so-and-so’s mom and see if you’re telling the truth.” Hmmm. Probably not the best approach. And, when Scout went through a phase of using every curse word she’d learned at school, he simply ignored her. How hard is that? VERY. Yet Atticus knew it was just a phase that would pass without him addressing it. As we all recall, Atticus was the focus of the town’s hateful gossip because he was defending a Negro. He knew the kids would hear about it and instead of trying to explain how noble his efforts were, he told them to turn the other cheek and not engage in fights in his defense. Wow, I don’t think I would have done that either. Atticus kept his accomplishments to himself. His children thought he was ancient and had no talents. He didn’t try to correct them, rather, he led by example. Scout and Jem learned of his sharp shooting skills when he brought down a rabid dog heading toward their house with one shot.

I’m only a little over halfway through the audiobook, but I’m savoring every moment. I’ve already heard Atticus tell his children that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, which exists just to sing for our pleasure. Years from now, I may not recall much of the book, but I hope I’ll remember that. Never mind, I plan to read (or listen to Sissy) every year from now on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make New Friends But Keep The Old

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IMG_5117Remember that old song, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold?” It kept running through my head last week as I traveled back in time with 2 close friends from college to visit another college girlfriend whom we hadn’t seen in 30 or so years. In 1977 I made my way to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas – not in San Marcos, as we had to continually correct people back in the day – after my father told me I could not attend the University of Texas because it was too big. Never mind that he’d gone to UT and graduated from its law school, and I’d grown up spending many Saturdays at Longhorn football games. I guess I didn’t put up much of a fight because I knew that SU was a mere thirty minute drive from Austin. So, in August of ’77 my parents drove me from Cuero to Georgetown while I wept all the way and kept looking backwards toward home. I wiped my tears, checked into my room at Laura Kuykendall hall and cheerily waved goodbye to Mom & Dad. One of the first people I met was Amy, a cheery cheerleader from Beaumont who immediately made fun of a framed 8×10 picture of my hometown honey and me in matching puka bead necklaces taken at Bottom Dollar. I was a little offended, but eventually came to recognize it as an amusing photo. We were bosom buddies from that moment on, pledging the same sorority in the spring and generally getting into mischief for the next four years. Another friendly face on campus belonged to Julie, a family friend/kissing cousin from Victoria, just 30 minutes from my hometown who was three years our senior. She took us under her wing, showed us the ropes, and dirty rushed Amy (mostly) and me (somewhat). When we pledged ADPi in the spring, Julie became Amy’s big sister and the real fun began. When Julie knocked at our dorm room door, we knew a good time was about to be had by all. We spent many an evening “rolling” down the gentle hills and back roads of Williamson County, radio blasting some Steely Dan, Styx, and Commodores.  We shared icy cold pitchers of beer at Texas Chili Parlor in Austin and two-stepped across the wooden floor of the Broken Spoke.  Sadly, May came around and Julie graduated, leaving us in Georgetown to fend for ourselves.

The following year, a couple of freshman girls arrived from Fort Worth. Kelly and Cindy were our age, but had the great luck to travel for a year in Europe after high school before starting at Southwestern. Amy & I played Julie’s role and tried to gently mold them into ADPi ladies, with eventual success after spring rush. The three of us had many adventures together over the next three years until we were forced to count our course credits and move on. Amy and I both settled in San Antonio and have remained close. Cindy married my brother, so we got even closer! Kelly and Julie have moved around some and have now settled in Tennessee and western North Carolina. In the meantime life happened.  Marriages, jobs, children and step-children, moves, obligations…our time spent with college friends practically vanished. But, a few years ago, when my youngest daughter chose to attend the University of the South in Sewanee, Julie pointed out that she was a mere four and a half hours away. My wheels started spinning and I began planning a reunion of sorority sisters who hadn’t been together in 30+ years.

Last week it happened, although Cindy couldn’t join us. Amy and I flew from San Antonio to Nashville where Kelly picked us up and drove us straight to Asheville. We were scheduled to meet Julie at a restaurant in Asheville at 7:00. We drove up and saw her sitting on the front porch. I opened the car door and walked toward her, “Conia Babinski!” she said. “Jules,” I shrieked. And we were off and running back into the past where we’d left off. The four of us talked and caught up until we realized we were the only people left in the restaurant. (Ok, it was only 9:15, but still!) The next day we met up at the Biltmore and toured the magnificent estate, pausing briefly for lunch and souvenir shopping before embarking upon the Upstairs/Downstairs tour.  We laughed as we took selfies on the porch, selfies in the garden, selfies on the bus, trying to capture a little of the fun of being together again. One night at dinner I asked, “How did we let 30 years go by without seeing each other?” Dead silence followed as everyone looked down at their Old-Fashioneds and Julie got up to take a picture of the beautiful view from Grove Park Inn’s Sunset Terrace. I got distracted by the sun shining right in my eyes, blinding me, as I bobbed and weaved trying to see my tablemates. Hilarity ensued. We couldn’t stop laughing. Later, on the way to the car I entered the elevator to the parking garage and attempted to hold the elevator door for my friends. It slammed shut while my arm flailed madly trying to keep the door open. I then embarked upon the wildest ride ever as the elevator rose and lowered erratically between floors, finally stopping where I’d left them. Ding! The door opened and my friends were standing there staring at me, not sure what just happened. We all doubled over in laughter until we cried. After three nights together, it was time to say goodbye. Our stomachs ached from all the guffawing. We hugged and promised not to let much time go by before hugging hello again.

Since the trip, I’ve been thinking about two wonderful books I’ve recently read, A God in Ruins and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The author writes in a manner that forces the reader to see the relationship between chance events that occur in a person’s lifetime and how they affect the outcome, and to consider how different the outcome might be if that chance occurrence had never happened. I’ve been thinking about how my decision to attend Southwestern was made without much consideration; how I was randomly assigned my freshman dorm room; how my friends and I never dreamed we’d end up where we are today, doing what we’re doing. But recently we made a conscious decision – to take a trip together, to spend time with old friends, and to renew a close friendship that we hadn’t experienced in over 30 years. And it was golden.