This post starts with the USS Alabama.
Which we didn’t visit.
But I thought we might, so, okay, we’ll start there.
We just (today – 8/18) returned from a week down on the Gulf Coast – a rental in Fort Morgan, to be exact. I didn’t have any plans except for BEACH BEACH BEACH. It doesn’t make sense to me to spend a chunk of change on a rental at the BEACH BEACH BEACH BEACH and then spend your days gallivanting around away from the…BEACH.
You also know, however, that weather is a funny thing, especially on the Gulf Coast. You just never know what’s going to blow in from the west or the south, so you have to be prepared. The USS Alabama was part of the contigency.
It wasn’t needed, however, since we enjoyed glorious weather this past week.
So, I thought that we might go on our way back home. It’s a big ship, it’s a huge attraction, my boys like big ships, my uncle worked on ships in Mobile…why not?
Well, Friday night, I started not feeling the love for going to the USS Alabama. I just wanted to get home. But I reserved judgment until Saturday. And Saturday morning… I felt even more so. Just get us back to Birmingham. It wouldn’t be a huge detour, miles-wise to where the ship rests, but it struck me as a pretty big event requiring more tourist/educational energy than I had.
And since I’d never even mentioned it, it was easy to speed up to the turn to I-10…and keep going to catch 65.
On that same 65, though, I started thinking…thinking about… Monroeville. I knew it was somewhere between here and Montgomery, and had seen the sign on the way down. Maybe we should go?
I went back and forth in my head while my daughter read her 6th book of the week and the boys alternated between reading and playing video games. The boys had never read nor seen the film, knew nothing of To Kill A Mockingbird, but she did, of course, and had read her fair share of Truman Capote as well.
I glanced over at her, absorbed in her Dick Francis novel, thought about Scout and Atticus, about the coming year during which I would hardly see her, thought about what she loves and values, what engages her, and what I barely have time to share with her any more…
..and turned right off exit 57. Monroeville would be somewhere on this road.
And on the way?
A prison, first. The Fountain / JO Davis Correctional Facility, sharp barbed wire rolled high and tight, a chapel with a cross near the entrance, white-clad prisoners shooting hoops, and as we sped by, a Catholic priest walking from the entrance, briefcase – presumably Mass kit – in hand.
I said something about works of mercy and visiting Jesus in prison and prayer and (as per usual) wondered if I was doing enough, about anything.
A bright yellow crop duster swooped across the road right after this, right after the prison. I felt as if I could have collided with it, or it with me. They jumped up in the back seat and looked through the back window, craning their necks, following its path, watching the yellow bird spray the cotton.
About thirty miles later, we arrived in Monroeville, where Harper Lee still lives, secluded and protected by her fellow townspeople, and where her friend Truman Capote spent his childhood and often returned.
Monroeville is your typical small Southern town. Fast-food and retail chains on the outskirts, a bypass of sorts, then a somewhat desolate downtown centered around a square. Here, with the added attraction of every other business sporting a variation of “bird” in the name, a few daring to go so far as waving the “mockingbird” flag above their “inn” or buffet.
In that square is the courthouse, and it’s the courthouse everyone visits.
And then the center of the courthouse itself is the courtroom – the film wasn’t made here, but the set designer modeled the movie set after the real thing, precisely, and Gregory Peck visited and talked with Harper Lee, who was quite involved in the filming.
I’ll say right off that the Monroe County Heritage Museum - one of several museums in the county, but the only one we visited – is really wonderful. How much do we owe to the local enthusiast, to the historian and archivist devoted to local history? So much, we can’t say. This is just one of innumerable examples.
You’ll probably be greeted by Nathan Carter, Director of Properties. We were. He gave us an introduction to the museum, invited us to ask any and all questions, and let us go.
It’s not huge, of course, but it’s enough.
On the second floor are two exhibits – one for Harper Lee, and the other for Truman Capote.
Harper Lee gave the town its fame, of course, but somehow, the Capote exhibits were far more poignant to me, partly because there are more personal artifacts on that side, and also because, well – the personality. Not only is he intriguing, but his life here, there, and everywhere leads to reflections on how any of us get from where we started to where we are right now, naturally.
How do we get here?
We go to the courthouse for the courtroom, naturally, so here it is.
Next spring, I hope we’ll be able to snare some tickets. They’re not easy to get, mind you.
Then a short two-block walk to the site of the Lee and Faulk (Truman’s relations, where he spent his summers) homes – neither standing any longer. Just a wall and a sign.
I’m sure the ship is a fine, fine experience. But this? This low-key detour, thinking about childhood and writers…
…this was more my speed today.