Happy Birthday Boo

For those of you who know my family, this is not a birthday homage to my youngest sister who goes by boo, although I will be happy to wish her a happy day next month.

Those of you who know her, knew that already by the fact that I used a capital B. She always uses the lower case and I would never  dare to consider changing that, even for grammar and spelling.

And while October 31st is just days away, this is not a post about Halloween. Our house is decorated and the kids have costumes and I plan to buy candy (not too early like my mother always said or I’ll have to go buy it again because we enjoyed too many samples) and we plan to celebrate, but not in this particular blog post.

This post is about my all time favorite novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee that is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its publication this year. And I am celebrating too. Happy Birthday to you.

Anybody who was ever a student in my classroom when I taught English at Waianae High School in the 1990’s  also knows that it is my favorite. I taught it every single year to the Juniors in my American Literature classes and it was one of the highlights of my career.

I read much of the novel out loud class period after class period, helping my students appreciate the rich language and deeper meaning infused in every paragraph. And I never, ever got tired of it.

We drew pictures of the street where Scout, Jem and Dill played, the Radley’s  porch that sagged and the town square where the tired courthouse stood. We discussed tolerance and racism and hana bada (childhood) days. I read that novel so many times that it felt like the series of events  so masterfully woven together, narrated in Scout’s childhood voice, actually happened to me in some surreal, other life type fashion.

Since I heard the anniversary mentioned on Oprah last summer,  I have been wanting to read the novel again. I also wanted to share it with my children. I bought the audio book last week and we are listening to it in my car and loving every single minute of it–the kids too.

I started to listen to audio books on a regular basis last summer for some very compelling reasons besides the simple pleasure of listening to a good book. My blue tooth headset broke for the upteenth time. I was not enjoying music or talk radio and I needed something to relieve the stress of being stuck in traffic. Combine that with the fact that I used to call my mom on a regular basis while driving in the car and I missed that very much, I needed a distraction.

When my younger girl became interested while I was listening to The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and kept asking for more, I decided to get a book that was family friendly, To Kill A Mockingbird.

I don’t miss teaching very often, but on occasion I am reminded of the familiar good feeling of 20 years in front of a class of students.

I miss it very much when I am listening to this book.

The familiar phrases and language. The story that speaks to my soul. The brilliant masterpiece that became the signature unit of my Language Arts teaching career. It takes everything in me not to press the pause button every few minutes and try to teach it to my children. I don’t think they would appreciate it very much.

Besides my overwhelming pleasure in the book is my even deeper thrill at their pleasure in it as well. My younger daughter is mesmerized. She asks questions and contemplates the meaning of each chapter. My older daughter is captivated as well. She has surprised me by asking if she can play the CD, forgoing her usual demand of pop music and annoying habit of constantly changing the station in search of her favorite songs.

All three of us drive along together in silence, sharing the moment, sharing the story and sharing the experience of this wonderful novel. What more could an English teacher and mother ask for but to love a book together with her children?

Thank you Harper Lee.

And happy birthday Boo and Scout and Jem and Atticus and Dill (and my sister next month) and all the other characters in this beautiful story that has now become a part of my life in a new and meaningful way.