Friday, January 29, 2010

Learning Curve


When I was in grammar school, a non-curvaceous, non-brunette, non-British version of Emma Peel, my dad made a rare stab at playing Atticus Finch.

Dad loved his children, provided for his family, would have laid down his life to protect the lot of us, but he didn’t really know any particulars, like exact age or grade or eye color. In fact, other than summer vacations, the kids, and that would be me mainly, only held center stage when Mom snitched. And then there would follow a bit of a bellow and slap.

Anyway, at 11 years old, I cut my spy teeth investigating suspicious neighbors. I and my recruits spent some afternoons on a grassy knoll with binoculars, taking copious notes on one particular house that was a source of grown-up gossip. I guess I must have gotten caught or something. Perhaps when I snuck into the house for evidence – the details escape me.

Instead of the usual “Oh, for God’s sake!” this time Dad decided to sit me down for a chat. There are many fine professions in this world, he told me, and I should consider my choice carefully. It might lie at the altar my mother worshipped – orthodontia -- or it might involve international espionage. But before I chose, there were some things I should consider. He gave me his copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. “Let this be a lesson to you,” he said.

Lord knows, my friends and I had already seen everything from Thunderball to Valley of the Dolls, so anatomy and its creepy purpose held no surprises for me. But where Dad hoped I’d see the tough underbelly of the CIA, I only saw long paragraphs. What I didn’t see were pictures of beautiful people or beautiful places, so the book became a TV tray, a resting place for sandwiches while I watched The Avengers.

By the time I gave the book back to Dad, he had both forgotten I had it and that he was Atticus Finch. All he knew was that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had peanut butter and jelly stains. “Oh, for God’s sake,” he said, as he returned to his reality, and I to mine.

I don’t think I’ve ever returned anyone’s book without some sign of life on it. Let that be a lesson to you.

36 comments:

  1. Good grief, I'm first and I have nothing fitting to say. I pass to the great state of .........somebody help me here.

    PS Well.... did you know To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee in Monroeville,Alabama? And Scout in the movie was played by Mary Badham? I knew her and her family very well. They lived in B'ham! want my autograph?

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  2. I like the idea of pages stained peanut butter and jelly!

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  3. Wow V!!! When I was growing up, I knew a little girl in about the 4th grade...she used to wear pantyhose...I digress...she was in the movie "the Birds"...also, the Seargent from RinTinTin lived down the street from me and helped to write and produce the Father's Follies...a show put on by all the fathers of kids in my grade school...they played all the parts...ballerinas, can can...you name it!!! (when I was really little, I saw the dads in the lobby in their ballerina costumes and told my mom that they were really pretty...shows what I knew back then!!!) At any rate, I digress again...one of my all time favorite books and , movies was To Kill a Mockinbird...so sorry you knew Mary and not Gregory!!! Although how fun to have such a connection to such a fabulous movie!!!

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  4. You did turn out neither as an international spy nor a dental surgeon (!), but a wordsmith, a hiker and a deer lover (!), right?

    Btw: We are all looking forward to the Olympics in front of the HD screen.

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  5. i can just see him saying "oh, for God's sake." A cozy tale. But I would've thought you were a serious bookworm as you write so well! (thanks for recognizing the irony in my top shot. That is one of my faves of mine)

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  6. "at the altar my mother worshipped....orthodontia."
    That's classic KB isn't it??

    And yes I wished to meet Gregory but Mary and Gregory became very close friends as a result of the movie.

    The Birds, Chieftess? Ewww, I just got a chill!
    V

    My WV is phetter. You are a much phetter writer than the rest of us schmucks KB!

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  7. So.... what were the neighbors up to? Communist activities, pot smoking, key parties?

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  8. I just never tend to return the book then they can't frown on the signs of life I've left on it!

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  9. Wellll, about this house, I've lost my notes, but: We lived in a family-oriented suburb called Sunny Hills, where everybody knew everybody except no one knew the couple in this dark house with the twelve foot fence with guard dogs in back. There was a large peephole/camera type thing built into the chimney, and you could tell when it was on. AND from our grassy knoll, we saw switchboard banks in what would typically be the rumpus room.

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  10. Was this in the mid-west? There's a house up on San Rafael in Pasadena; a big brick house overlooking the Arroyo. It may have burned down a couple years ago. In 1995 it was the Decorators Showcase house. Here was a bank of telephones in one of the hallways. The owner had race horses and the phones were for bookmaking, apparently.

    Sounds like your neighbors were into something very interesting indeed.

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  11. Ah, The Avengers. We watched when I was little and then my mom taped every single episode on VHS.

    Also, Moonlighting, but that was a different story. Something about her midlife crisis and Bruce Willis.

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  12. Have you picked up that title since then?
    Mrs. Peel.... what did she ever see in Steed? Mrs. Peel did herself a favor moving on to James Bond..

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  13. I have many papers stained with vitriole and steeped in acerbic juices, though i tend to hide them away in order to portray a more cavalier Steed-like character.

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  14. what the Hell's that got to do with anything?
    Hey, did you change your format?

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  15. Yeah, I had a Harriet the Spy phase. It didn't turn out so hot for her either.

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  16. Did you get the goods, Harriet?

    Speaking of Munrowvul, Alubamaw, which isn't that far from here, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I worked in the north end of the county for a major paper manufacturer's survey crew and one of my few regrets in life is that I didn't sue the whole _______ lot of them for discrimination. One of the men was from Monroeville and I knew him very well. I don't know if he knew Harper but it's a small town and for all I know they could have been cousins. Poor girl.

    wv ectale

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  17. Emma Harriet Scout sounds like a good name, for god sakes.

    GG

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  18. By the way, this is a wonderful memoir. Something bittersweet in the end where father and daughter return each to their little worlds-I can't describe it.

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  19. Thanks, Bandit. You found my heart.

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  20. Yep Monroeville's very small but Harper has kept to herself except for a few valued friends. The town does a recreation of the book every summer in the town courthouse. That's something I really need to see.
    V
    http://www.villageprofile.com/alabama/monroeville/06/topic.html

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  21. Yeah, I know, Swede...took me awhile, sorry.

    Hey, I'm gonna 'borrow' your dogs.

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  22. They won't come for me. Dottie will have to stand in...

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  23. To be honest, I felt that commenting on that last scene would have been an intrusion, it was just so, so, well, personal. Thanks Bandit from me as well.

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  24. It shall. Be a lesson to me, I mean.

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  25. How did we get from "Mockingbird" to Tippi Hedren (sp?)?

    What's the symbolism of a "Mockingbird" book with a major character named Finch? There must be dozens of student essays on that, but I never taught it, so I have no answer. And why "Atticus" as a name?

    And what happened to Harper Lee after this book?

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  26. Aw, you were a little Harriet.

    I give books back with pizza grease stains usually. Not on purpose of course, it just sorta happens.

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  27. Bandit,
    Well this is probably the only time I can be an "expert witness" here, but Harper Lee still lives in Monroeville. She lives a very private life now. The townspeople are very respectful of that.

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  28. But at least you return the books.

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  29. oK, my brain is working well at this time as I read your article. So, your learning curve is more difficult for me than the one I prepared.

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  30. I fancied myself a little Harriet the Spy, too. I learned my lesson when I was ten and snuck around behind a friend's house with my spy notebook. I heard her parents, um, roleplaying.

    Shudder.

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  31. Another gem from you. Stop it, you make the rest of us look bad.

    And KB, I am shocked, shocked, that you would be tramping on some stranger's property without proper authorization (see Mr. Earl's comment).

    I loved TKAM. I always thought it amazingly cosmic that the best American fictional book of the 20th century and the best American nonfiction book of the 20th century (that would be "In Cold Blood") were written by two kids who shared a swingset in Monroeville, Alabama.

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  32. How can that be? What did those kids eat? I'll have what they were having.

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