Everyone has a bucket list I suppose. Turning 50 made me think about mine. My husband asked me where I would like to go to celebrate the momentous anniversary of my birth. Jamaica, the Keys, New England, Ireland??? The world was my oyster. My trip of choice, however, was much closer to home. This may not be everyone’s dream trip – but it certainly was mine!
First stop was Monroeville, Alabama. Most people are probably saying to themselves, “Where? Why?” If you’re an avid Harper Lee fan like me though, you will know immediately where and why. This tiny little town in Southwest Alabama is where Harper Lee was born and is the inspiration for the small town setting of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Mockingbird fanatics like me have gobbled up every bit of the very limited information available about Harper Lee, made the pilgrimage toMonroeville and tried to put all of the pieces of the fictional story into a real live town. My trip was hugely successful in that attempt.
The highlight, of course, was a visit to the Monroeville County Courthouse, which is now a museum filled with all things Mockingbird. If you’ve seen the film and/or read the book and/or read ABOUT the book, then you will be very familiar with this Courtroom.
When Ms. Lee was a child she used to watch from the upper balcony as her father, A. C. Lee, tried cases in the courtroom. In her story, she used it as a prototype setting for the trial in which Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in the mid 1930’s. The Hollywood film crew duplicated the courtroom almost exactly for the soundstage in California in the early 1960’s.
Today the museum allows visitors to explore this historic room on their own, experiencing its ambiance in private. For me, it was as if Harper Lee was standing next to me – not as an adult – but as a child. I could feel her presence in the upper balcony. I could see Scout peering through the railing to see the proceedings below. As a writer my personal experiences always contribute to the settings in my stories.
Being in that place, where her imagination created one of the most memorable scenes in all of literature, I felt connected in a way that was inspirational. It made me want to write again.
Ms. Lee stopped giving interviews in the 1960’s; led a very quiet, private life in Monroeville and can still be seen occasionally walking around the town square. I hoped for a brief glimpse while visiting, but was disappointed in that wish. Having been home now for several weeks, my feelings have changed. I am glad that I did not see her. She is a woman who values her privacy in a time when most people crave celebrity. Being the fan that I am, I am sure that I would have gushed embarrassingly, making her uncomfortable. That would truly have been a sin. It was enough to be present there. In her town. In her world. In her genius.