Lee, Harper: 1926 - 2016

Information about Harper Lee - Reminiscences


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  • She was the "Queen of the Tomboys"

    by George Thomas Jones, one of Miss Lee's former school mates.

    • It happened during the mid 1930s at Monroeville Elementary School. In my mind's eye I can still see the fire in those big brown eyes as they stared dead ahead. Her teeth clenched in jaws set as only could be akin to a full blood bulldog. Her tiny hands balled into tight fists as she strode defiantly from the playground back toward her fourth-grade classroom.
      The preceding 15 minutes had been classic. The school bell signaling recess had sent all six elementary grades spilling outside for a time of games and long-awaited change of pace. The young heroine was involved in a fast game of doge ball when a fifth-grade bully snuck up from behind - gave her hair a good yank - and quickly skipped away.
      When her back was again turned, he repeated the devilish act. Now, reveling in the successful venture of toying with a young lass who had a reputation as the school's number one tomboy, he carelessly made a huge mistake. The third time was the charm; hers.
      This time she was waiting for him. Just as he reached for her locks, she whirled around and unleashed a wicked left hook to his midsection that buckled his knees and sent him in full retreat, unable to control his tears or catch a full breath of air.
      Now humiliated, he sought out a couple of his buddies with whom he vowed to return and teach her a lesson. It just happened that several of us "senior boys" - a status achieved by virtue of the fact that we were sixth graders - who had witnessed the prior fracas got wind of their plot. We decided to stick around to ensure she did not get hurt in the event they ganged up on her.
      As it turned out, she didn't need our help. When the first enlisted buddy challenged her, she whipped him before he knew what hit him. The second friend charged her head-on. Neatly side-stepping, she tripped him, pounding him back to the ground when he tired to get up.
      Upon seeing his buddies' suffering a fate similar to his own experience, the first culprit wisely determined he had had enough and the three quickly vacated the scene.
      Reflecting on that school-yard incident from long ago, little did I ever dream at that time that I was acting as bodyguard for a future Pulitzer Prize winner: One who, I am sure, to this day never knew she had mortal guardian angels watching out for her.
      One who would attain international fame for her novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird." And, one who would be known worldwide by her then little known name, "Harper." Shucks, back then the only name we schoolboys knew her by was "Nelle."

      This article appeared in the The Monroe Journal, May 6, 1999

  • Young Harper Lee's Affinity for Fighting

    by George Thomas Jones, one of Miss Lee's former school mates.

    • There is an interesting story relating to the old elementary school playground involving both Harper Lee and Truman Capote when he was in about second grade. In one corner of the playground was a large sand bed which the older boys played a "game" which they called:"Hot grease in the kitchen." They would surround the sandy area and direct all male students to detour around. When they refused and entered the sand bed, the older boys would jump on them and sling them to the ground. One day as young Truman Capote approached, being the little smart ass he always was, he defied the group and attempted to walk through. Of course, he was immediately wrestled to the ground and not allowed to get up. That is until Harper Lee came along. She walked in, pushed the older boys aside, and escorted young Truman to safety, all the while daring the older boys to intervene. Knowing Harper's affinity for fighting, she was not challenged.

      From a letter SwissEduc received from Mr. Jones, December 7, 1999

  • Miss Lee's Senior Years in Monroeville

    by Laura J. Hughes, whose mother is one of Miss Lee's neighbors.

    • Miss Lee (or Nell, as the locals call her) lives across the street from my mother in Monroeville. She lives with her elderly sister, Miss Alice Lee, an attorney in town who still practices law. Miss Alice became totally deaf a couple of years ago and Nell moved home from New York City to stay with her and just hasn't returned to New York to live in a couple of years. In past years, Nell would visit Monroeville during the colder months and go back (via train) to New York in the spring and summer months.
      Because of Miss Nell Harper Lee's reclusive nature and her adamancy to not give interviews or even talk about "the book," I have respected her privacy throughout the years. I usually share with friends that I meet that I lived in Monroeville during most of my childhood and that my parents bought a house across the street from her sister when I was in Junior College.
      My mother has a typical neighborly relationship with the Lee sisters. She makes soup for them from time to time and they see each other about in the town...in the church...or at the neighborhood grocery store. My mother is about 10+ years younger than Miss Nell Harper Lee and about 20+ years younger than Miss Alice Lee. I am much closer to the sister, Alice, as far as my friendship with the Lee sisters is concerned, but I do know Nell Harper and have had occasion to visit her briefly for an autograph on a book as a gift.
      Miss Nell Harper Lee is very kind and genuine in every way, but she devotes no public portion of her life to the discussion of her work as a writer. In town, she is simply known as "Nell" and lives a private, quietly philanthropic life...leaving many of us to wonder if she's continuing to write secretly....and if she has indeed published other works under another name. Her quiet life commands respect from her community, however several people have capitalized on her fame by holding the To Kill A Mockingbird play in the community. Nell did not write the script for the play which is based on her Pulitzer prize winning novel, nor does she support the local play of her book. It is understood that she has not attended a performance of it in the community, although she's certainly had many opportunities and would be welcomed by all.
      There is much speculation as to why Miss Lee is so quiet about her work...but I have decided that it is just that - speculation. I have chosen, instead, to respect Miss Lee's privacy and offer her the anonymity that she desires. When you see her in the store or at church, you just smile and nod in recognition and friendly respect. Her closest friends do enjoy her company on regular occasions, and she is very close with her family in the town...a nephew is a local dentist, and she and Alice have several great nieces and nephews to spoil.
      All in all, it is a quiet, typical, small-town life she lives in her silver years. I am happy to report that she is in very good health and enjoys much love and happiness from those close to her. She has an outstanding personality and is very full of life with a terrific sense of humor. We appreciate her being my mother's neighbor, but we are sensitive to her privacy and her desire to be left alone by the "outside world" and especially reporters seeking that "exclusive" interview with her.

      From an email SwissEduc received from Mrs. Laura J. Hughes, January 3, 2001