This past weekend I had the opportunity to check off something on my list.  Well I don’t actually have a tangible list (maybe I would if I could have stuck to my Barnes & Noble journals).  Its more like a running list of things I want to do sometime in my life that’s floating around in my head. 

Things like: get a passport and use it, see real Amish people, visit a glacier, get a car with built-in cupholders (you think I’m kidding on that one don’t you?), go to a taping of “The Price is Right” (never-mind about that one, I only wanted to see Bob Barker and Drew Carey is awful as a host), go ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York at Christmas, things like that.

Well this past weekend my sweet husband took me to an exotic place so that I could fulfill one of my “list dreams.”  Where is this exotic place you ask?  None other than Monroeville, Alabama.  Where?  Exactly. 

Monroeville is the birthplace, childhood residence and occasional current residence of Nelle Harper Lee the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird.  It is my all-time favorite book, and by all-time favorite I mean have to restrain myself to reading it only one time a year, I can quote it almost like Scripture and I want to name all my unborn children after characters.  (My husband and I have agreed on one name–no he didn’t go for Atticus–and now I’m just praying that between now and then that it isn’t used by a character on Grey’s Anatomy, the next American Idol winner or for Brangelina’s next adopted baby.)

Anyways, back to Monroeville.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, there’s not much to it, but I had to go.  Every May the town puts on a stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Not just in a theater, but at the old 1903 courthouse that sits in the center of the Square.  The very courthouse where Harper Lee used to watch her father A.C. Lee (the model for Atticus) practice law in the 1930’s.  The courthouse is beautifully preserved and was replicated for the TKAM movie starring Gregory Peck.  I first heard about this production from a one page article in Southern Living four years ago.  I ripped it out, and added it to the mental list of things I want to do.  (Here is the link to the article in Southern Living: http://www.southernliving.com/southern/travel/heritage/article/0,28012,633082-1,00.html )

I was so happy when Stephen said we should get tickets this year.  It’s not often that husbands volunteer to drive to the middle of nowhere to see a play about a book they had to read in 8th grade.  (As much as it pains me, Stephen does not share in my Mockingbird obsession.  I’ve learn to come to terms with it.)  So after him calling for an hour and a half (they ‘release’ the tickets one day and you have to call that day to get them or they sell out) we were able to secure 2 tickets for the May 24th show, which also included a drink and dessert reception afterwards with the cast.  Score!

The drive to Monroeville from Atlanta is long.  It’s about an hour and a half past Montgomery, which is about three hours from Atlanta.  I finally started to get excited when we started seeing signs for it, especially since Monroeville isn’t listed on non-detailed maps. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we saw the sign for the Old Courthouse Museum we knew we were getting close.

 

Stephen does get props for not booking us to stay in this hotel.  Check out the old-school “Color TV” sign.  (We did stay at a Holiday Inn Express and the next day I was secretly wanting someone to ask me a tough question so I could say “I’m sorry, I dont’ know that, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”  Unfortunately it didn’t happen.)

We got to our hotel and oddly enough in the parking lot (remember we just drove 280 miles to the middle of nowhere Alabama) is a truck from none other than where we started: Marietta, Georgia.  I thought it was weird so I took a picture of it. 

We checked into our hotel, changed and drove the 5 miles into downtown Monroeville.  About two blocks from the courthouse is the location of Harper Lee’s childhood home.  All the homes are the street are long gone (they were gone even before the move was filmed in the early 1960’s) and on it now stands “Mel’s Dairy Dream.”  There is no indication of the importance of its former structure at all.  My guess is that its because Harper Lee is still an occasional resident of the area, and strives to be out of the limelight.  In fact, she has never attended (or from what I’ve heard never has to plans to attend) the Mockingbird play in Monroeville.  She guards her book and characters closely which is why you won’t see anything specific or commercial about them in the gift shop or around town.  Harper Lee is somewhat of a mystery (why did she only write one book and why has she been a recluse since the 1960’s?) and you can sense the town tries to respect her anonymity while still sharing and celebrating in the importance of her novel.       

Next to Mel’s Dairy Dream is an old rock wall and crumbling foundation of a house that belonged to the relatives of writer Truman Capote.  Truman would come and spend the summers in Monroeville and became childhood friends of Harper Lee.  It is said they used to write stories together in the treehouse behind the Lee home.  He ended up being the basis for the character Dill.  There is a historical marker telling of Monroeville’s role in the life of Truman Capote.  The fact that Monroeville was once the home of these two very famous authors makes it the self-claimed “Literary Capital of Alabama.” 

 

The view of the remains of Truman’s home looking to where the Lee home used to stand.

Once we were in the Square we took some time exploring the courthouse.  They have turned many of the rooms into museum displays and a gift shop, but the courtroom looks very much untouched.  It was beautiful, quiet and spacious and I took a lot of pictures. 

      

      

  

   

Here is me trying to be like Harper Lee.  This a picture of her from Life Magazine in 1961.

     

After a while we got ready to get our seats for the play.  The first half takes place on the courthouse lawn in front of a small set of the Finch’s, Radley’s and neighbors houses. 

 

Here is Sheriff Tate summoning the jury.  12 men from the audience get selected at random to serve on the jury and sit in the jury box during the second half of the play.   

 

Overall I really enjoyed the play.  Obviously nothing can come close to the greatness of the book (I love the movie but not even that did it justice–alright Gregory Peck was pretty amazing as Atticus) and it’s tough to squeeze a whole novel into a 2 hour play.  The actors are all local residents so there were some missed lines and heavy accents, but to me that just added to the uniqueness of it all.  You could sense that this truly is a community effort.  The courthouse scenes were awesome.  The atmosphere of the courtroom was almost like another character who didn’t make their entrance until the second act.  I loved being in that courtroom. 

After the end of the play we went back out to the lawn for drinks and the dessert reception.  We hadn’t officially eaten dinner so we loaded up.  I had like 2 plates of cheese before Stephen told me I should stop. 

We met and talked with some nice people from Montgomery.  Everyone was really surprised that we had driven all the way from Atlanta.  We were also potentially the youngest ones there. 

After we left the reception we were still hungry so we drove through what appeared to be the only thing open in town: McDonalds.  While waiting in the drive-thru who did we see but none other than Tom Robinson.  I guess being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit makes you kind of hungry. 

 

All in all it was a wonderful night and experience.  I feel like I got to take part in something special; a hidden gem of the South.  I got to walk the streets Harper Lee grew up on, sit in the courthouse her father practiced in, and come as close to Maycomb as one can get.  I’ve always wondered about Harper Lee and now I feel I got to see a little glimpse of her world.  As Atticus told Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

Being in Monroeville was almost enough.  I’m so glad I got to check this off my list.    

 

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