Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

A Cat Named Atticus

I will admit it: I am officially in countdown mode. 

Once Memorial Day weekend arrives it’s just a matter of reviewing for finals and finalizing grades. 

This is also the time of year that I begin to reflect upon the overall. The usual introspective “Was I effective as a teacher?” thing that often ends up with the “Maybe I should look into retirement” nudges.

Yes, there were plenty of successes: students embracing the new research paper format; scores for state testing going beyond stated requirements (at least in one class); finding lost papers.

Yet, I dwell upon those perceived failures: that one class, that one student, that one unit that didn’t quite, that didn’t quite–that, well, wasn’t quite a success.

Maybe retirement would be a good idea.

Thoughts like that prompt me towards a library run and lunch out. And that’s when I am handed a providential reprieve. 

In a small town like ours it is inevitable I run into students, both present and former. They bag my groceries, fill up my water glass, complete my Penney’s purchase, and serve my food. This one I couldn’t remember her name, or if I actually had her as a student. So I feign the friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” 

Then the question pops up: “Do you still teach English?” 

I guess I do look like I’m retired. We talk as she wraps up my purchase. She was in my class when I taught freshmen (that was a ways back). I wonder silently if she gained anything from the class. Five years ago…That’s going back a ways. Then she says, “I remember we read To Kill a Mockingbird.” I wait for her reflection, her possible judgement. “I named my cat Atticus.”

A cat named Atticus. 

Yup, I can put off retirement for at least one more year.

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31 thoughts on “A Cat Named Atticus

  1. Did you tell her that her cat is a filthy racist?

    It doesn’t surprise me in the least that you inspired so many students. In fact, I kinda wish my old self could take your class.

    • Now it’s my turn to snort out loud. I forgot about your cat issues. And I think it might have been interesting–ahem–to have a student of your caliber in my class.

      • I do have cat issues, yes. But I have REAL issues with with cats secretly going to Klan meetings. (So, yeah, I finally did read Go Set a Watchman.)

        Rodents are far more progressive. I shall name my next guinea pig Scout.

        And what’s with that “ahem?”

      • Are you on the side that says Atticus went to see what they were up to or on the side that was part of the agenda? Realist or racist? As for the *ahem* methinks you might have been a doodler. How else could you have perfected your sketches unless practicing on desk tops and assignments.

      • I think Gregory Peck made Atticus into a character that was never really present in either book.

        I do think Atticus was a racist—certainly not as virulent a racist as many of his neighbors, but a racist nonetheless.

        Atticus was also a realist. After the Tom Robinson case, I think he made an extra effort to sync up with the more strident racist sentiments in the town to avoid losing clients.

        Sadly, having such an educated and respected member of the community present at such a meeting helped to legitimize its odious agenda.

        In my view, Atticus’s more nuanced views on race relations are irrelevant in this context; what is relevant is that Atticus failed to use his position in the community to elevate the discussion on race. Instead, he choose to enable the lowest of the low.

        His decision is shameful.

      • Hmm, I think Atticus was a strong strategist, as evidenced by his courtroom speech. He’d made those backwoods boys think past their usual knee-jerk reactions and it took them longer than the usual five minutes to deliver their verdict. So-by going to the meeting he kept up the appearance of believing, yet he knew change would take time. If he outright disavowed all those good old boys at the meeting house he wouldn’t be able to change their outlooks. Atticus was changing the system from within.
        Harper Lee approved of Peck and even gave him her daddy’s watch and her father did not approve of the Klan. Atticus was based on her father. I rest my case. Atticus was not a racist.

      • Atticus is a dang good lawyer. He’s so good, in fact, that those backwoods boys needed more than five minutes to find ways to overlook the obviousness of Tom’s innocence. (And, c’mon now. If a white jury was ever going to rule in favor of a black defendant, the loser would hafta be one of those trashy Ewells. So that probably slowed down the deliberations, too.)

        But because Atticus fought hard for a black client doesn’t mean he’s not racist. It means Atticus respects the rule of law.

        Let me draw a weird comparison. Archie Bunker didn’t approve of the Klan (he was even invited to a Klan meeting in one episode of All in the Family and he, quite bravely, stood up to the Klansmen by the episode’s end.) Despite all that, Archie Bunker is still very much a racist.

        Atticus does not stand up to the Klan, he hangs out with them. A person is defined by the company he keeps. If you hang with the Klan and go to Klan meetings, you’re in the Klan, buddy!

        That’s right. I just said Archie Bunker is a better man than Atticus Finch. (No, even I can’t believe I just went there.)

        And, to your other point, if Gregory Peck played a member of my family, I’d give the guy my watch, too. (Hope you want a Timex, Greg!) That guy could make anyone appear to be a better person!

        (Hey, you and I should do a point/counterpoint blog post! Whadayasay?)

      • Hmmm—how would it work? Has possibilities.

      • I’m not sure…

        We could jointly come up with a topic where we hold opposing views then turn our back-and-forth dialogue into a post. One blog would host the post and the other would reblog it. Hosting responsibilities would switch with each new debate topic.

        But I’m open to any ideas, really.

      • Okay. Why does Bobby Rigg

      • My reply got hijacked…so-the plan sounds doable. Atticus has been sufficiently aired. What else is debatable? I’m on the fence about cats. Dogs should not be allowed access to everywhere—which leads into the topic of what really is a service animal? Children should not be given technology until third grade. That’s my glove down for now.

      • How about “Who is the better Willie Wonka?” I hold that admittedly unpopular view that Depp’s version is better than Wilder’s.

      • Ack—not Depp. Dark, dark,dark. Flaming puppets have sent children to therapy.

      • I think we have a topic!

      • Maybe we should post some rules. I’m thinking it could get rowdy: West coast versus east coast. He said, she said. What are we naming this excursion? “Agree to Disagree” “A Matter of Opinion” “Jest Saying”—see what I did there?

      • Debate Club? We want commenters to chime in, too!

      • Debate club reminds me of school. The Viewpoint? Counterpoint?

      • How about “Debatables”? Rolls off the tongue.

      • Yup. Because it’s debatable anyone is gonna side with you about Johnny Depp.

      • And I’ll have you know that I am a proud member of the National Honor Society—a group that had (and has) little-to-no tolerance for distracted doodlers in the classroom.

      • It has been discovered doodles have the potential for unlocking deeper insights. Doodling with a purpose has its place.

      • That’s why I took Art IV, AP Art, and Business Art my senior year. 😉

      • A well-planned education. I don’t know why I have you pegged for that wisenheimer kid that would give his English teacher a rough time. That guy—the one who had his homework done before he got home and knew almost (probably more) than the teacher. Were you that guy?

      • I was more of a quiet, nose-to-the-grindstone student. An under-the-radar type.

        I’ve blossomed a bit since then.

      • Yup. I relate. Too much drama in high school. It’s ironic I’m teaching high school English considering I disliked high school so much I burned my year books and refuse to go to any reunions.

      • I refuse to go to reunions, too. My high school years weren’t terrible, I just loathe the idea of dwelling in the past.

      • When I think of dwelling on the past I think about The Great Gatsby. And we know where that went.

      • I had a student named Scout once. Poor lad suffered during our unit of TKAM.

  2. What a sweetly unexpected form of encouragement–love it!

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