Thursday, 18 February 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird

(This still is of Jem and Scout Finch, from the 1962 movie version of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird)

There is something otherworldly about anonymous gifts left in secret places at dead of night.

Boo Radley, for nothing material in return, and in the sure knowledge that he could never put himself in a position to be thanked, brought a delicious and somewhat guilty expectation into the lives of Scout and Jem Finch as they walked home from school, stopping to feel in the bowl of the oak tree in front of the Radley place. When Scout finally learned the truth, she said simply and with a new understanding: ‘Boo was our neighbour. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.’ (Here is the link to the book on Amazon)

In The Blue Cabin I mentioned the little foil-wrapped packets of tobacco candy which were deposited infrequently and without a note in the fork of an ancient chestnut by one of the policemen who guarded my father. I never discovered which one.

And every so often I get back to the cabin to find a lumpy carrier bag, a cardboard box or a bright yellow plastic bucket sitting on the centre thwart of the dinghy, as above. Sadly, with the passing of forty-five years, although the delight is still there, the mystery has gone since I made it my business, the first time it happened, to unmask our benefactor (a local fisherman named Kevin Doherty) by making enquiries; but it does take me back.

This is the passage from The Blue Cabin:

“We passed under my favourite climbing tree, a venerable chestnut presumably planted when the house was built a 170 years ago, whose lowest branch formed a deep crease where it emerged from the trunk. For a magical few months I would run into the woods every day when I got home from school and reach into that crease, standing on tiptoe and searching blindly with my fingers. Just occasionally I would be rewarded, and always with the same thing: a packet of chewy tobacco candy in a red and silver wrapper. I never found out who left it there and bizarrely enough I was too shy to ask, but when I took my treasure to the guard hut, more than one of the men used to give me knowing looks while I sat chewing in silence.
   Anyway, if John knew the truth, he wasn’t saying, and it looks as though my benefactor’s identity will remain one of life’s mysteries. After what seemed like years, the secret deposits of stringy candy one day simply stopped, and as children will, I accepted the loss without complaint or even comment, and after a while, stopped looking.”
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