Miss Eide had the great misfortune to have me in her eighth-grade English class. I sat in the first row from the door, third seat back. My seating assignment gave me a full view of the funeral home across the street and a quick exit out of class.
In eighth grade we were assigned a new book to read — “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Miss Eide assigned it to give us a world view outside of our home town. I would like to tell you that the book made an impression on me but it did not. It did not help that I was not too fond of Miss Eide and while we did not declare open warfare on each other we both understood our place. I was polite and she was tolerant of my whispered wisecracks as long as I did not get too obnoxious.
To be truthful I cannot remember when I saw the movie “To Kill A Mocking Bird” staring Gregory Peck. I liked it but it left no great impression once again. It was a good movie but my experiences were too far removed from the reality of the movie. Slowly but surely what intrigued me was not so much the movie and book, as powerful as they were, but the author Harper Lee herself.
Over the years I began to think: here is a woman who wrote one novel, would grant no interviews, won the Pulitzer Prize and at any ceremony honoring her would most often simply say “Thank You” and sit down. What would you do if you had created or done one perfect thing then stopped and created nothing more?
You all know about the movie “Field of Dreams,” the story of an Iowa farmer who tills under a large part of his corn crop to create a baseball field. There is a quote from that movie that drifts in and out of my mind.
Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, a doctor and former baseball player, says “Well, you know I ... I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases — stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish.”
I wonder if Harper Lee ever had a thought like that. She wrote one of the world’s best-selling novels and her wish was granted. In the sense a world series winning hit. One perfect creation then no more.
But to be more realistic, what would you do if faced with the choice: You could do one perfect thing, you would create something magical; you would have your life’s desire, but only do it once? Or you could do many things pretty well; you could live a life of accomplishment, yet never be famous or rich.
Harper Lee had one other novel. It came out three years ago. It is called “Go Set a Watchman.” The story is set during the civil rights era. Her father turns out to be a quite different man than the father in “To Kill a Mockingbird” Most people who are wise in the literary world now agree it was a first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Go Set a Watchman” reflects another saying, “You can’t go home again.”
My days of eighth-grade English are now long gone. In an ironic twist, it turns out that Miss Eide was the aunt of a friend of ours from college. She died not so long ago in her mid 90s. She was loved by her nieces, nephews and a wide circle of friends she left behind. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to what Miss Eide and now the late Harper Lee were trying to teach me.