About a year now since I sat on a porch in South Carolina and listened to the mockingbird at break of day. Anthony and Jody were most gracious hosts and we had a ball!
That little bird picks a favourite place and time and returns frequently with a repertoire of imitated bird and neighbourhood sounds. Truly amazing! A gull. A rooster. A robin. A frog. A mockingbird. The list goes on.
I have just finished reading again the classic southern novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). It features a widowed father with two lively pre-teen children. Dad is a lawyer and state house representative for Alabama. The flavour of this small gossipy town is well established. But also a sense of common decency and neighbourly care that I do not see in today’s mobile suburbs.
The main plot is the trial of a gentle hard working black man accused of assaulting and raping a young white woman. Clearly a set up and coming before an all white jury. It is unthinkable to many that lawyer Atticus Finch would take this case for the defense. Or that his daughter “Scout” would sneak upstairs to view most of this unseemly trial from the black folks’ gallery.
A sub-plot examines the childhood wonder of years concerning a mysterious neighbour nick-named Boo Radley. He lives in the shadows with parents and is seen by no one. Spooky rumours and tales abound linked to this poor harmless man. Near the end of the story he comes out at Hallowe’en to watch over the Finch children. They are coming home from a school event after nightfall, and are attacked by a man darkly involved in the facts of the murder trial. He is later found knifed to death at the spot of the attack. Boo’s simple-minded work? Children have run home in a frightened daze.
So then comes the question. To kill a mockingbird? To bring him to “justice”? A sad soul who has kept to himself? Who has fostered a singular love for those children growing up and playing before his hidden eyes? A bird who makes his own sort of lovely music? Who has his own peculiar beauty? Who collects attractive things? Who can only imitate in childish ways the reality of the community. To kill such a bird in southern tradition is most wicked and likely to bring on misfortune.