I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird over the weekend, and now, finally, all of the references I’ve heard over the years about a certain Boo Radley and one, Atticus Finch, no longer remain a mystery. Boo eludes me no more. In an attempt to make up for a rather dire high school English experience, I occasionally like to throw a classic book into my to-be read pile. Last week, Harper Lee and I got to know one another, and she captivated me with her small town story. In real life, I have a love/hate relationship with small towns, but I’m always drawn to them in fiction, and Lee’s Maycomb, Alabama felt like a living, breathing character in the book. You could almost hear the town sigh and groan under the weight of its residents and their activities.
I have a lot of extended family living in little towns in the deep South, and if not for a twist of fate, or more likely the Holy Spirit, I would currently be raising a quiver full of kids in a town called Bunky. Instead, I live in Europe, the product of a mediocre education in the north east and a relationship in which I obviously married up. But, something about small towns and staying put and knowing the knots in every tree on the block, draws out the kid in me. It reminds me of summers spent in the sweltering heat of the South. Slow drawls come to mind. As do pecan trees and spanish moss and hospitality bent on serving you a side of gossip with more food than you can possibly eat, all washed down with a glass of sweet iced tea. I regret the years I refused to visit. I regret more, the years I visited, and wished the summer away by complaining and dreaming of the moment I’d set foot back in my own Pennsylvania home.
As an adult, I don’t long for small town living, but I do long to know what it feels like to belong to a place, to feel the heave and sigh of it, to remember the names carved into the cemetery stones. My husband thinks I’m searching for a place that doesn’t exist, my very own Stars Hollow or Maycomb or Mayberry. And I’m not sure if these places don’t exist, so much as I don’t know how to exist in such a place. I’m too prone to wander to find out.
Lately, I’ve given a lot of thought to place and roots and what it all means. I have far more questions than I will ever have answers. To Kill a Mockingbird peeled back another layer for me, exposing more about the ways our town and neighbors and cultural norms shape us. I want to know more. Maybe you can teach me?
Tell me a little bit about where you’re from, where you’ve been, or where you’re going. How has place shaped you?