Gregory Peck said in an interview circa 1962 that Maycomb, Alabama, the fictional setting for the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, was a lot like the small Southern California town he grew up in. Even with the word ‘Southern’, I find that utterly impossible to believe.
My mother was born about the same time as Mr. Peck, and grew up in a tiny community in Georgia called Philomath. The name ‘Philomath’ comes from the Greek word φιλομάθεια or filomátheia, which means ‘love of learning’. You will ask yourself how did this ‘wide place in the road’ in Georgia come by such a lofty name. Did you imagine I wouldn’t tell you? There for many years was a school for ‘young ladies’ called Philomath Academy, and the surrounding burg eventually just assumed the name.
I have very emotional memories of Philomath, knowing all the while they are to some degree based on what I think of as ‘inherited nostalgia’. Science tells us that blamelessly, with no ‘method’ involved, our minds smooth and rearrange our memories to the point that they end up bearing little resemblance to the reality they suppose to recall. Pile on top of that reveries and longings overheard from parents — some of which came from their own parents — and you’ve got a real fiction soup. Pardon my recent preoccupation with ‘fiction’.
Fans of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are very territorial, it’s ‘their’ book. However, people like myself who have in their lives known the real models for the characters in the book always feel their claim is more ‘legitimate’. My mother was, like Scout Finch, very much a tomboy, her own mother a school teacher, her father a pharmacist. The nearby town where they worked could have been lifted straight from ‘Mockingbird’ — courthouse, town square, citizens, the works.
To make comparisons even closer, I remember as a child hearing my grandfather telling of a local black man being taken to jail, bolting and being shot by a bailiff of some sort. The story supposed that the man had fired a ‘warning’ shot in the air, and that it had ricocheted off a tree branch. When I heard the story twice more during his lifetime, being a sensitive queer child, I had an inkling that he was subconsciously trying to convince himself the ‘accident’ was true.
Click on the picture below for quite a good video on the subject of the recent publication of ‘Go Set a Watchman’, a rejected ‘proto-Mockingbird’ manuscript apparently wheedled out of the hands of the elderly author who had steadfastly said she would never publish again.
Click this image for the video