As I mentioned recently, I'm reading/teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird" again with my sophomores. As I've said before, I'm slightly obsessed with this book. I could probably come up with 80 reasons why I love it. [And if you delete "slightly" and "probably" then those sentences are true]. However, when I came home from school/work, I looked out my front window and saw this:
They are totally stopped in the middle of the intersection at the corner where I live. And they sat there for approximately four or five minutes, just resting and talking and pointing [and being watched, little to their knowledge :-)]. They are maybe 8 or 9 years old. Finally, when whatever they were trying to accomplish with their stop was accomplished, they road again, all the while in the middle of the street.
Now what does THAT have anything to do with why I love "To Kill a Mockingbird?"
Scout and Jem Finch get to meander all over their neighborhood. At the beginning of the book Scout is a mere 6 years old, and Jem is almost 10 and yet they are all over the place with their sidekick, 7 year old Dill Harris. Their "summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. We were never temped to break them. The Radley PLace was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell." The adventures they are able to have within these parameters are formative, and they are many. Which brings me back to the bike boys outside my house the other day.
In those two boys I saw someone else: First, because I had just been immersed in the book that day, I saw Scout and Jem. But then, I saw my sister and I riding those same streets, not afraid to park in an intersection, and not afraid of being a couple blocks from home. We were safe. And we were always being watched…in a good way. Just like I was looking out my window at the boys, others looked out their windows at us, and if anything were to happen they would have been there for us, just as I would have jumped to those boys' rescue.
Once I made this connection, I realized there were so many other parts of the story of "Mockingbird" that I could relate to from my own childhood, and I began to understand even more my deep connection to the characters.
Like Maycomb, the town I grew up in and the town in which I now reside seems to be stuck in a simpler time. Scout describes Maycomb early in the book:
"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks; the courthouse sagged in the square…People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with…closed doors meant illness and cold weather only."And this is why two years ago Brent and I sat down and began talking about our dreams for our future. More than just I-would-like-to-be-here-in-my-job-then and I'd-like-to-have-this-much-saved-for-this-by-then, we talked about what we envisioned our daily lives to look like. When we began thinking about our children, we inevitably came back to the images, smells, and adventures of our own childhoods. We wanted open screen doors and a town square, and a slower pace, and larger boundaries for our kids to roam. Though we didn't express it this way, we realized we wanted them to be able to have a Dill Harris in their life and a Radley house surrounded with mystery on the outskirts of town. We wanted them to be able to walk to school and stand up for a Walter Cunningham because they knew where he came from. We wanted them to be in a town where people came out of their homes at one in the morning to help out when a neighbor's house caught fire. We wanted them to be able to walk next door and have cake with a Miss Maudie. And ultimately, we wanted them to learn about the human dignity that unites us all, and that most people are "real nice" once you get to know them.
And so we loaded a Uhaul and moved. We moved away from a lot of convenient things, and a lot of great friends, and an excellent job. We moved away and returned to "Maycomb," where we felt our dreams for our future children could take flight in its pot-hole filled streets and cracked sidewalks; where the courthouse sags in the square and people are a lot more likely to amble through life.
Are there days that I miss Louisville and the city? Yes. Are there times that I wish there were more people from my generation for Brent and I to spend time with? Absolutely. But then I think back to these dreams we discussed, which were such a big part of what brought us here. I realize that though we may feel like we are sacrificing having more people our age around, our kids will have the opportunity to learn that real courage is knowing "you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what" from a "Mrs. Dubose" in town. They will get to learn that a "Boo Radley" may just be the one to save them. And I hope they will also get to learn from an "Atticus Finch" who is still worth standing up for when he passes.
I surprisingly don't know who those two boys were on their bikes the other day, but I'm glad they chose to take their rest in front of my house and remind me of my memories so that I could remember my dreams.