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9

INTEGRITY, HUMOR, AND patience were the three words for Atticus Finch. There was also a phrase for him: pick at random any citizen from Maycomb County and its environs, ask him what he thought of Atticus Finch, and the answer would most likely be, I never had a better friend.

Atticus Finchs secret of living was so simple it was deeply complex: where most men had codes and tried to live up to them, Atticus lived his to the letter with no fuss, no fanfare, and no soul-searching. His private character was his public character. His code was simple New Testament ethic, its rewards were the respect and devotion of all who knew him. Even his enemies loved him, because Atticus never acknowledged that they were his enemies. He was never a rich man, but he was the richest man his children ever knew.

His children were in a position to know as children seldom are: when Atticus was in the legislature he met, loved, and married a Montgomery girl some fifteen years his junior; he brought her home to Maycomb and they lived in a new-bought house on the towns main street. When Atticus was forty-two their son was born, and they named him Jeremy Atticus, for his father and his fathers father. Four years later their daughter was born, and they named her Jean Louise for her mother and her mothers mother. Two years after that Atticus came home from work one evening and found his wife on the floor of the front porch dead, cut off from view by the wisteria vine that made the corner of the porch a cool private retreat. She had not been dead long; the chair from which she had fallen was still rocking. Jean Graham Finch had brought to the family the heart that killed her son twenty-two years later on the sidewalk in front of his fathers office.

At forty-eight, Atticus was left with two small children and a Negro cook named Calpurnia. It is doubtful that he ever sought for meanings; he merely reared his children as best he could, and in terms of the affection his children felt for him, his best was indeed good: he was never too tired to play Keep-Away; he was never too busy to invent marvelous stories; he was never too absorbed in his own problems to listen earnestly to a tale of woe; every night he read aloud to them until his voice cracked.

Atticus killed several birds with one stone when he read to his children, and would probably have caused a child psychologist considerable dismay: he read to Jem and Jean Louise whatever he happened to be reading, and the children grew up possessed of an obscure erudition. They cut their back teeth on military history, Bills to Be Enacted into Laws, True Detective Mysteries, The Code of Alabama, the Bible, and Palgraves Golden Treasury.

Wherever Atticus went, Jem and Jean Louise would most of the time follow. He took them to Montgomery with him if the legislature was in summer session; he took them to football games, to political meetings, to church, to the office at night if he had to work late. After the sun went down, Atticus was seldom seen in public without his children in tow.

Jean Louise had never known her mother, and she never knew what a mother was, but she rarely felt the need of one. In her childhood her father had never misinterpreted her, nor bobbled once, except when she was eleven and came home to dinner from school one day and found that her blood had begun to flow.

She thought she was dying and she began to scream. Calpurnia and Atticus and Jem came running, and when they saw her plight, Atticus and Jem looked helplessly at Calpurnia, and Calpurnia took her in hand.

It had never fully occurred to Jean Louise that she was a girl: her life had been one of reckless, pummeling activity; fighting, football, climbing, keeping up with Jem, and besting anyone her own age in any contest requiring physical prowess.

When she was calm enough to listen, she considered that a cruel practical joke had been played upon her: she must now go into a world of femininity, a world she despised, could not comprehend nor defend herself against, a world that did not want her.

Jem left her when he was sixteen. He began slicking back his hair with water and dating girls, and her only friend was Atticus. Then Dr. Finch came home.

The two aging men saw her through her loneliest and most difficult hours, through the malignant limbo of turning from a howling tomboy into a young woman. Atticus took her air rifle from her hand and put a golf club in it, Dr. Finch taught her-Dr. Finch taught her what he was most interested in. She gave lip service to the world: she went through the motions of complying with the regulations governing the behavior of teenaged girls from good families; she developed a halfway interest in clothes, boys, hairdos, gossip, and female aspirations; but she was uneasy all the time she was away from the security of those who she knew loved her.

Atticus sent her to a womens college in Georgia; when she finished he said it was high time she started shifting for herself and why didnt she go to New York or somewhere. She was vaguely insulted and felt she was being turned out of her own house, but as the years passed she recognized the full value of Atticuss wisdom; he was growing old and he wanted to die safe in the knowledge that his daughter could fend for herself.

She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflex, What would Atticus do? passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.

All she knew was that she felt sorry for the people her age who railed against their parents for not giving them this and cheating them out of that. She felt sorry for middle-aged matrons who after much analysis discovered that the seat of their anxiety was in their seats; she felt sorry for persons who called their fathers My Old Man, denoting that they were raffish, probably boozy ineffective creatures who had disappointed their children dreadfully and unforgivably somewhere along the line.

She was extravagant with her pity, and complacent in her snug world.


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