“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” Atticus tells Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.
There are few things I remember about High School English class: 1) William Faulkner must have been on some serious drugs when he wrote The Sound and the Fury…that shit cray 2) The word “calendar” actually ends with an “ar” and not an “er” and 3) What a treat it was to have the assigned reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.
For me, To Kill a Mockingbird, represented small town living in the South and the forces of good and evil. I remember reading the book in tenth grade and thinking how cool it would be to name my children Scout and Harper (this was before the Beckham’s named their fourth child this and it became overly popular). I loved the symbolism of the mockingbird, and above all else, it was a quick read, and easy to understand!
Before I bore you with an entire literary review on the piece, I promise this post has greater significance. In honor of Harper Lee’s 87th birthday earlier this week, I’d like to share a real-life story with so much drama, juiciness and unanswered questions, it could be it’s own southern novel…
This past Easter, I traveled with Matt to his grandparents house in Florida. You can read about my adventure at the lake here. One afternoon, the guys were out fishing which meant I was left behind at the house with Matt’s mom, sister and grandmother. The phone rang, Mimi (Matt’s grandmother) answered and this is where the story begins… Mimi was in the kitchen, but I could overhear her conversation from the living room. The conversation sounded like it could have easily been had by two high school girls “She’s mad at me“, “She won’t answer my calls“, “I don’t know what I did“, “I’m mad as a hornet“. Intrigued…and being completely nosy, I asked Mimi what that conversation was all about. She nonchalantly tells me that she and Harper Lee (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) were once good friends, but that they had a falling out a few years ago.
It turns out that Mimi and “Nelle” (Harper’s real first name that all the locals know her by) were both raised in Monroeville, Alabama. Mimi described Nelle as loaner and different. You see, Nelle was a lesbian, and this was not widely accepted in the 50’s. She wore men’s clothing, always had a short manlike haircut, and acted like a tomboy. Nelle had an older sister named Alice. Alice was an attorney (still practicing today, actually) and so was Mimi’s husband, Bob. Because of their shared profession, Alice really took to Bob, and in turn, so did Nelle. Often a recluse, Nelle became good friends with Mimi and Bob. Mimi tells me that Nelle would often ask Bob to “take her to the boats” (the gambling boats in Biloxi, Mississippi).
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, was an immediate success and Lee moved to New York. According to Mimi, this is where the drama begins. Lee was great friends with Truman Capote (the author of the success, In Cold Blood) and apparently everyone in Monroeville knew Lee’s secret. She had received help from Capote with writing her book. People thought of her as a fake, and a fraud, so she packed up her belongings and moved to a small apartment in New York. To this day, she still owns that tiny apartment in New York. With all the success and all the money, she never upgraded living accommodations. She would come back to Monroeville twice a year, but kept to herself. She refuses to do interviews, even journalists who grew up in Monroeville know better. The local newspaper has an unwritten rule to leave her alone. Her life became a mystery.
Before moving to the lake, Mimi owned a gift shop in Monroeville. Mimi asked Lee to sign a few copies of her book to sell in the gift shop. Lee agreed, and Mimi sold out of the books in no time. So, Mimi asked Lee to sign some more. Lee ended up signing 500 books and selling them to Mimi. Being the savvy business woman that Mimi is, she marked up the price of the books; they were collectibles after all. And thus the reason for the rift between Mimi and Lee. Lee felt like Mimi was making a profit off her and that friends shouldn’t do something like that. The two haven’t spoken in years, and Lee is now in a nursing home in Monroeville. Mimi still has eleven signed copies of the book, and has given personalized copies to Matt and his entire family.
I love that Mimi has ties to such a historic figure. I love that the small town drama of a southern town still exists. I hope that one day Mimi and Nelle will be able to patch things up and continue where their friendship left off.
How well do you know Harper Lee’s timeless novel? Take Garden & Gun’s quiz to find out.