As I get older and reflect on my life, my mind always drifts back to the time I defended handyman Tom Robinson against those trumped-up, racially motivated charges of rape. What a time it was. So much happened in that year and a half. Lessons were learned, innocence was lost, and a child put her fear of people different from herself behind her. There's no denying it was a narratively gripping time.
We were fortunate that an important American novelist about to make her debut was around to take it all down as my daughter, Scout, told it. At the time, it never occurred to us that those events would make for a compelling look at race and class in the United States—perhaps even a fable for our times, playing out in an insignificant Southern town but with wide-ranging thematic implications for the deeper issues of prejudice and civil rights during a period of intense social upheaval, and all that.
Honestly, if this book had been written at almost any other time, it would have been pretty damn boring.
After old Bob Ewell closed that chapter in our lives by falling on his knife, the kids settled into their schoolwork and joined glee club. Jem played baseball for a while, but he didn't really like it. Sometimes they'd drop in at the Radley place to pay their regards to Arthur. They even stopped calling him Boo. After a couple years he died of pneumonia. Or was it diabetes? I suppose I was saddened that he didn't live to see another adventure—but then again, how many chances does one reclusive idiot man-child usually get to stand up for justice in the face of small-minded ignorance, and change the course of a community forever?
Scout's gone through some changes of her own. All fairly standard. Back when I was arguing that case, she was so young and spirited. Always fighting for what she thought was right, bless her heart. I thought she'd go to college and get a degree in journalism, like she talked about, but she dropped out of Tulane after a year and moved back to Maycomb and became a waitress.
I guess she was all adventured out after she got knocked down in her ham outfit.
Nobody really calls her Scout any more. She goes by her given name, Jean Louise. She's well liked by the customers at the diner, I hear tell. I'd like to think it's because of the advice I imparted to try to see things from other people's perspectives. Walk around in their shoes for a while. It probably makes her a good listener. But, from a novelistic standpoint, none of that really stacks up to the time she snuck into the negro balcony at the courthouse to watch me defend Tom Robinson.
My other child, Jem, became a lawyer, but instead of taking over my practice and engaging in more dramatic sagas of social justice, he moved to Birmingham and got a job in tax law. It's not the path I hoped he would take, but I'm proud of him nonetheless.
He's thinking about buying a house.
Oh, he did break his arm again, but that was just from falling off a ladder while painting houses in college. Not exactly the sort of plot line a person would win a Pulitzer Prize for.
I never remarried. Just didn't have the heart for it. I dated off and on, sure. Not like today's kids dating. It was quite chaste and unmemorable.
I did ask Miss Hancock from across the street out, but she said no.
Come to think of it…There was that one time when Scout beat up that Walter boy in the playground for getting her in trouble at school, only to have Jem step in and surprise us all by inviting Walter to have lunch with them despite his family's reputation as being poor and dirty.
You know, I think that was on page 56, actually.
Maycomb is still pretty closed-minded about negroes. There aren't lynch mobs looking for vigilante justice anymore, nor are there any compelling storylines capable of shedding light on the writhing internal prejudices that can eat society like a cancer. Just the usual stuff. I can't imagine teaching that in an AP English course.
Truth be told, I left Maycomb five years ago after Judge Taylor passed on. I live in a retirement community in Arizona now. The weather's pretty nice here, and the scenery is different. I didn't have a lot of savings, since people continued to pay me with hickory nuts, but I make a little extra money here and there helping out with some real estate contracts on the weekends. It's a living, though it kind of breaks my heart to do it.
I have a few more years left in me, but I can't help but think that they'll wind out pretty much as the years past have. But I don't need the excitement. I have the book, and that's as good a souvenir as one could ask for.