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Dear Miss Nelle

March 7, 2016

Dear Miss Nelle –

I never had the honor of meeting you, and I hope you wouldn’t mind me greeting you so informally. Your story and mine are intertwined in ways many would not have imagined possible.

Years ago my dad shared how your then two year old book, To Kill A Mockingbird, was assigned reading in his sophomore year of high school. He still chuckles over how this played out among his rural Alabama country school mates. The movie version had just been released and most of his classmates went to see the movie, featuring the dreamy Gregory Peck, rather than read the book. I know you have left us now, but something in me wants to apologize for their youthfulness. I like to believe you would have been proud of my Daddy, because he chose to write his report chronicling the differences between the book and the movie script. My now college son laughs at how that must have gone over in class of twelve. I have read of your admiration for your father, similarly my apple doesn’t fall far. My Dad is my hero, and his love of learning is embedded and encoded in every fiber of my being. We are both educators now, and perhaps his book report was a gift to the Beauregard School teacher.

Loving your words is just one small example of paths crossing. Imagine my sophomoric shock when I discovered as a teenager the place where we had travelled all our lives for Back-to-School clothes was your hometown. Every year we would drive to Monroeville to stretch the dollars of a teacher’s salary to buy jeans and other items at the Vanity Fair outlet. Those were the days of family outings as often three generations of my family would spend a day perusing the aisles of denim dungarees (as my Granddaddy called them) and various unmentionables. Looking back now, I am guessing I was walking on hallowed ground where most likely you had once trod.

Although he never reached high school, I passed on the love of Scout and Jem and Boo to my oldest child. He spent the summer before seventh grade reading what I lovingly called the “classics”. After reading the stories, we would watch the film versions. He agreed with his grandfather’s assessment years before -the book and his imagination won out.

There have been many other moments woven into the fabric of my life – a family vacation to visit the your hometown, the reading of Truman Capote’s classic and wondering about all the ways you helped him research, naming one of the family dog’s Scout (though I don’t know if that would make you proud or cringe), and gifting my Daddy the opportunity to play a juror in the stage play (which he claims was the gift of a lifetime). All moments in dedication and honor of someone who probably never wanted all the acclaim given her.

To someone who has been a fan of yours from the first chapter, riveted by the words of your story. I couldn’t believe my ears as I sat at home on my darkest day – the anniversary of the day my son died. Much like your private retreat from the spotlight, on that day I always seek the sanctity of somewhere safe with someone good. As I was reflecting on the day, snuggled tight with my tears and memories, I heard the newscast which caused me to shed a few more tears. The anchor announced the world was saying good-bye to Nelle Harper Lee. The world didn’t notice but I certainly did – a favorite author and my favorite reader share a heaven’s anniversary date.

My heart broke and was comforted at the same time – such is the dichotomous nature of grief. I can only imagine if my red-headed wonder has run into you in heaven he will have about a million and a half questions. My best advice would be to grab a couple RC Cola’s and settle in for a great conversation. Maybe – just maybe – he will save a few for me when I get there. And if you don’t mind, I would sure love to hug your neck when I do.

May your days now be filled with peace and thank you, Miss Nelle, for the memories.

 

 

 

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