Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, begins like this: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.
When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintained the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.
I said if he wanted to take a broad view of the thing, it really began with Andrew Jackson. If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?”
All Moon’s stories are fishing stories but sometimes he ‘goes around his ass to get to his elbow’. Like a good history professor, every detail; places, characters, and dates are all significant. Every feature employed join the plot and converge at a common terminus-FISH. Besides fish, the importance of place ranks high in Moon’s view of the world. Why would anyone ever permanently leave Ackerman, especially your surrogate dad?
After Mack’s death, although already living in northern California, Uncle Luther became Moon’s hero for numerous reasons. Pearl and Luther adored Mack and were thus able to sympathize with Moon’s significant loss more than most. There wasn’t a man alive who knew Mack better than Luther. Mack and Luther experienced the hell of WW1, married sisters, resettled in Ackerman and shared a common love of the outdoors. Luther knew stories of Mack’s Arkansas days Moon had never heard that enabled him to connect with Mack even though he’d been dead ten years! Luther was also an example of someone who left Ackerman, risking everything he’d ever known and reestablished himself in an entirely different place. For Moon this produced an awareness that the entire world was at his doorstep with one important difference. Luther was mobile chiefly for vocation. Moon is mobile chiefly for fishing.
Residents checked the accuracy of their watches, as the steam whistle blew at the E. Y. Pickle lumber yard announcing the noon break. The rusty spring on the screen door screeched and the door slapped loudly against the doorframe as Lee Opel rushed home to share with Margaret, what he’d just read in the Plaindealer “want-ads”. “Margaret, welders are needed in San Francisco!”
“Uncle Lee Opel married Margaret, one of Papa and Mamie’s twin girls. Uncle Luther, married Pearl, the oldest daughter. So, Lee Opel and Luther was married to sisters. They lived pretty close to each other out there on the Choctaw Lake Road. Back then there was hardly any work in Choctaw County. One day Uncle Lee Opel read an ad in that paper a sayin’ that welders were needed at them shipyards out in San Francisco. He went up ’ber to that telephone switchboard and asked Mrs. Powers to call that number for him. The man on the other end asked him a few questions and if he could be in Memphis that evenin’ for the six o’clock train. Anyway, they worked out the details and Uncle Lee Opel got that job. He hurried home in a big rush and stopped and told Uncle Luther he had that job before he even told Margaret. As they was a rushin’ around a gettin’ ready to leave, Luther got in his truck and drove over to their house.”
Uncle Luther asked Uncle Lee Opel again, “How much money did you tell me they was gonna pay ya’?”
He told him and Luther said, “Man, it don’t seem like there’s that much money in the whole world.”
Luther got that phone number and went down there to that switchboard office and asked Mrs. Powers to call it for him. The man on the other end, asked him how old he was. I thank Uncle Luther was forty-one years old. The man asked him why he was not in the Army and Luther told him he’d fought in WW1 but was still plenty healthy enough to work. Anyway, that man hired him too!”
That man told him, “You’ve got a ticket to Richmond, California, and that train leaves Memphis tonight at six o’clock and to be on there with your brother-n-law.”
When Uncle Lee Opel and Luther left Ackerman, I don’t thank they had anythang with them but the clothes on their back. In less than 24 hours, Uncle Luther was in Memphis aboard a train bound for them San Francisco shipyards. He went to bed one night out here in his house by the Game Area and didn’t realize that’d be the last night he’d ever sleep in that house. They left their wives and all them kids here and I thank they always thought they’d come back one day. And they never moved back.
Daddy and Uncle Luther was always like brothers. I guess they had a kind of respect for each other because they both shared that war experience. Nobody can really understand that unless they’ve been there. I know Daddy missed him. I missed him too, I reckon he was kinda’ like a second Daddy to me.”
“That next summer Uncle Luther paid a driver to bring Pearl and the kids to San Francisco. Pearl didn’t even know how to drive. They only took whatever belongings they could stuff into the trunk of that car. The house stood there for years, just like it was the day they left it. It still had all the furniture and ever thang else in it. They never came back.”
As I listened, I surmised, “I suppose if we can locate our pain and loss inside events beyond anyone’s immediate control, it helps us arrive at better conclusions.” This was Moon’s cause and effect attempt.
“Do you know who was really responsible for Uncle Luther a movin’ to California?”
“No, no idea.”
“One man, Adolph Hitler! If it hadn’t been for Hitler a wantin’ to start that war and then fight it, then Uncle Luther would have never went to California to weld in them shipyards.”
“Hmm, I guess you’re right.”
And Harper Lee would say, “that’s taking a broad view of the thing.”