Sunday, April 8, 2012
A book, a chair, and that subtle racism thing....
In the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade my foster parents, Don & Shirley, took the lot of us on a long drive to Oklahoma...to the town of Muskogee that is.
Lots of typical vacation things happened...sweat, boredom and swimming in Albuquerque.
I had a paper sack of books to read for the long long trip.
Don had a paperback he packed for himself to read and when he was driving, I got to read it. It was a story about a little girl who was just about my age at the time....seven or so.
It was the summer of 1962, and I didn't know it but I was on my last vacation with Don & Shirley. At the end of the summer I was to go back home to live with my mom, Lomita and my stepdad, Norman, in Yountville.
This book, To Kill A Mockingbird, changed my life forever. This is true of many peoples lives. This is a book that has a powerful and mesmerizing effect on people who actually read it. Some love it as if it is food and water and the air to breathe......Others see it as the Devil's Words.
It made me realize that I wasn't the only person in the world that was a bit too smart. It made me want to become a lawyer. I almost made it to law school. But I changed my mind. It made me a better thinker, this book did. I had proof that things were not always what they seemed at first glance. And that things are exactly what they are at first glance.
This book taught us that many people are racist. That standing up for what is right, that is ...to fight a racist community, will make you quite unpopular.
We also learned that "retards" are often kinder and smarter than "normal" people. We learned that girls who are raised with abuse and poverty, will use their sexuality to beat up on people that are perceived to be weaker than them...Mayella Ewell, was as much a victim as Tom.
There's plenty to read about Harper Lee, so I won't bore you with details. It remains to this day the best book I've ever read.
Every time I wear tennis shoes I think of Scout.
Our lives were very different and also very much the same. We both had very odd families to grow up in. We both grew up in odd little old-fashioned towns. We both had parents who were town leaders and were loved and hated for that.
We both were missing a parent.
Like Scout, I too had an older brother that I adored.
Like Scout I had an interesting and complex friendship with a family of retarded boys that lived in Yountville. Boo Radley and his family are strange in much of the same ways as the Jones boys were.
I have a knife I think that is like one Scout might have. I keep little things like pen nibs, old pocket watches, marbles, and bits of pencils and crayons that she keeps in her cigar box at the beginning of the film. I have my old paperback copy from years past.I am still a tomboy like Scout.
I have a books-on-CD I listen to as often as I can.....it's read by Sissy Spacek, and it is perfect.
I have a copy of the movie poster.
I still have a newspaper clipping of Harper Lee taken at one of her very rare public appearances about 15 years ago. It's faded from being tacked to my refrigerator for a very long time and now I keep it tucked away.
I have another thing that I have only because I love the book so much. It's an old chair I found at a thrift store about 15 years ago. I've drug it from house to house as I've moved 5 times in the last 15 years.
It's rickety. I sit in it almost every day. It's my sewing chair, and my desk chair. There's nothing special about it except for one simple thing.
A long time ago, someone, a child I'm sure, took a brush and some white paint, and wrote in printed letters a name.
That child wrote Scout on the back of this chair. I'm pretty darn sure Harper Lee had something to do with it.