Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square…Scout Finch.
I have never driven through rain quite like that.
It was early June of 2010 and the Old Man, Pookie and I were almost at the end of a weeklong road trip from Pookie’s college in Vermont, to her new school in Mississippi, and finally back home to Florida.
But first we had to make a long-overdue pilgrimage to Monroeville, Alabama, the real-life Maycomb where Harper Lee set her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Where, as children, she and Truman Capote once lived next door to each other, making up stories and racing down sidewalks and through neighbors yards to the courthouse square.
It had to be a magical place.
On the map the drive from Oxford, Mississippi to Monroeville, Alabama looked easy enough: a few four-lane highways and a couple of two-lane country roads. It was just after dark when the rain started. It was somehow foggy and raining at the same time. The country back roads that were nothing on the map became treacherously curvy and hilly. Visibility was so bad that the Old Man used the navigation on his phone to tell me how far I had to go before the next twist in the road. There was no place to pull over.
Somehow we made it through the white knuckle drive and the rain began to subside just as we pulled into town. It was a Saturday night but nothing was open and no one was out. Even David’s Catfish House, where Miss Lee was rumored to be a regular patron, was fixin’ to close. It was no different than any other small town Southern county seat with a courthouse square.
The following morning we found the site of Miss Lee’s childhood home, which had been replaced by a walk-up dairy bar. The home where Capote spent time with his aunts burned in the 1940s. All that remains is the stone wall that separated the properties.
And Miss Lee. She still lives in her hometown. And today, 55 years after the publication of her only book, she announced that this summer she will publish Go Set A Watchman, a novel she completed in the 1950s which features a grown-up Scout Finch. I have already signed up for a copy.
So maybe Maycomb, Alabama is a magical place. Just like Cross Creek was magical for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, or Oxford was for Faulkner. Or maybe even your community. Even if it appears a little tired.