To Shave a Mockingbird

Me. A kid trapped in an adult’s body. Me. Someone who once wanted to be a journalist, but hit too many roadblocks. Me. Someone who finally got around to finishing high school in his mid-twenties; college in his thirties.

Monroeville, Alabama—you couldn’t ask for a prettier day. The sky is cloudless. The town square looks like it did when Harper Lee’s book was first written.

And I’ll never forget reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the first time. I was a chubby kid with a very bald head when I first read Atticus Finch’s words:

“Hold your head high, and keep your fists down.”

Let me explain the baldness: I was fourteen. I’d just lost my hair in a senseless act of home-haircutting. The clipper guard on Mama’s electric razor slipped. I bore a bald spot the size of an aircraft landing strip.

To fix this, Mama scalped me.

When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I cried. My mother kissed my bald head and said, “It’ll grow back.”

To cheer me up, my aunt gave me a paperback book. I read it in one day. The next afternoon, I wrote a five-hundred-word story. I entitled it: TO SHAVE A MOCKINGBIRD.

Many years later, as an adult, I drove to Monroeville to cover the stage adaptation of MOCKINGBIRD. I’d been invited by veteran journalist, stage-actor, and highly-decorated Methodist, Connie Baggett.

I’ll never forget it.

I arrived in Monroeville at sunset. It was mid-March, but outside it was colder than a brass toilet in a single-wide trailer.

I met Connie in the parking lot of the famed courthouse. She took me on an impromptu tour of the whole town.

“I used to cover Monroeville,” she said. “When I worked for the Press Register, this was part of my territory.”

She was a real newspaper journalist. She was the kind I had wished I could’ve been when I was a kid, but never was. And she had good stories.

She told me about the first time she’d interviewed Harper Lee. She told me local tales and folklore. She pointed out the best barbecue joint in town—on Rutherford Street.

Then, she parked at the cemetery. She pointed at a headstone through the windshield.

“That’s her,” she said. “The one and only Miss Lee.”

She quoted a few lines from Mockingbird.

Then, right there at the tomb of Nelle Harper Lee, Connie told me I was a “good writer.”

Her words hit me. And those few words will be with me forever. You don’t forget when someone says you’re good at something.

Me. A kid trapped in an adult’s body. Me. Someone who once wanted to be a journalist, but hit too many roadblocks. Me. Someone who finally got around to finishing high school in his mid-twenties; college in his thirties.

Me. The late bloomer.

Once, I interviewed for a newspaper job in the city. I was credential-less, uneducated, and wearing a necktie. The editor told me: “I’m sorry, but we’re looking for someone who can really write.”

You don’t forget when someone tells you you’re not good at something, either.

Anyway Connie took me to the rehearsal for MOCKINGBIRD. I sat in a folding chair—almost like a journalist—making mental notes. A local minister recited the words of Atticus Finch:

“Hold your head high,” Atticus said to a child wearing overalls. “…No matter what anyone says to you…”

After rehearsal, I stayed up until two in the morning in a hotel room, writing five hundred words about this town. It’s funny what words can do. They can do a lot.

That wasn’t very long ago.

Tonight, I will stand inside a wooden courtroom that I once saw in my boyhood imagination. I’m telling stories to a room of folks. Some folks are accomplished. Some are highly educated. Some are successful.

And I‘ll bet some are probably like me. They don’t believe in themselves, they feel overlooked, and they wonder if anything good awaits them in this world.

Yes, it does.

Bad haircuts don’t last forever.

Hold your head high.

30 comments

  1. Pamela McEachern - April 19, 2018 5:40 am

    Thank you, I needed this, and you are an amazing writer and storyteller. Your art makes it complete.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  2. Norm Anderson - April 19, 2018 10:34 am

    Wonderful writing Sean. My Mom cut my hair until junior high; still cuts my Dad’s. It was rough going initially, but she got much better. Kind of like most things in life you care about.

    Reply
  3. Connie Havard Ryland - April 19, 2018 10:45 am

    I hope you had a room full of people. I had been looking forward to seeing you for weeks but my friend who was riding with me couldn’t make it, and I didn’t want to make that drive by myself. It’s only a little over an hour from me, but I don’t see well at night anymore. Anyway, I’m sorry I missed you. I know you left people with smiles and tears. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  4. Edna B. - April 19, 2018 10:52 am

    This morning you sound like a friend of mine who is down in the dumps and not feeling very good about herself. If you don’t have faith in yourself and give yourself credit for all the good you do, what makes you think anyone else will? Because they won’t.

    Sean, I’ve been down this road before and the day I finally realized that I really was important was the day I started feeling really good about myself. Your stories and your talent for telling them has (and still does) bring so much joy and happiness to so many people. You are very important. You have a precious gift, and you use it well. Hold your head up high and be proud of yourself.

    You have an awesome day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  5. Jenny Young - April 19, 2018 11:23 am

    My husband works in training & development for his company. He says they waste a lot of really good people just because they didn’t go to college. He’s been pushing for a long time to drop college requirements on some of their positions. Then many of those with college degrees are so worthless that you can’t depend on them.

    It takes some living to learn whose opinions really matter.

    Reply
  6. Edy F Holmes - April 19, 2018 11:30 am

    I think you are a good writer, too!

    Reply
  7. Martha Moorer - April 19, 2018 12:16 pm

    Thank you for coming back to Monroeville last night. You were fantastic! We look forward to having you and your sweet wife come back soon!
    Hope you both weren’t sick from all the pound cake!
    Martha Moorer

    Reply
  8. LeAnne Martin - April 19, 2018 12:16 pm

    Yes! Thank God for the Connie Baggetts of this world. And I thank Him for your gift of writing and storytelling. You inspire me, Sean, and obviously, you inspire a whole lot of other people too. Keep it up!

    Reply
  9. Carol ann ROTHWELL - April 19, 2018 1:21 pm

    What an awsome person you are…To be able to see people & things the way you do….Talent ,beyond talented…and then you Write or tell it to us,me,where I can see it,smell,it,touch it….feel it..
    You are gifted!!!
    THANK YOU!!!
    LIVE YA.👼!

    Reply
  10. Marthe Weaver - April 19, 2018 1:28 pm

    When you write, the reader can imagine themselves in the midst of your story – from location to emotion. That, sir, is a rare gift.

    Reply
  11. Marilyn - April 19, 2018 1:32 pm

    Monroeville is such a charming southern town. I had the opportunity to attend a performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird” there and it was wonderful! So happy that you got to perform there Sean!

    Reply
  12. Cathi - April 19, 2018 1:37 pm

    I NEVER read one of your columns without smilin’ like a horse eatin briers! Even at 4am. Thank you Sean, for this morning’s good mood.

    Reply
  13. Lydia Mason - April 19, 2018 1:51 pm

    Would you publish a list of your speaking engagements? I would love to hear you!
    Lydia Mason

    Reply
  14. Vivian Tuberville - April 19, 2018 2:35 pm

    Enjoyed seeing you in Monroeville last night. Your music was a surprise! Loved it. Your speaking style reminds me of a younger Garrison Keillor, who did Prairie Home Companion on public radio. He told great stories about Lutherans, not Southern Baptists. Keep on inspiring us and making us laugh. You’re just getting started!

    Reply
  15. Lindsey - April 19, 2018 2:53 pm

    I was always told that the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about two weeks.

    Reply
  16. Jon Dragonfly - April 19, 2018 2:55 pm

    I ate at the Cherry Street Barbecue (3 Rutherford St, Monroeville) the night we saw “Mockingbird”. What a thrill to pass into that old courthouse for the finale!

    And, yes, I remember Connie Hudson. Do you remember Rhee Odom? The old papers had some great writers.
    You are right up there with them.

    Reply
  17. Jack Quanstrum - April 19, 2018 3:37 pm

    Good advice. Thank you!

    Reply
  18. Earlece Pearce - April 19, 2018 3:39 pm

    Great piece. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Janet C Averett - April 19, 2018 3:56 pm

    I try to read your letters everyday. You make me laugh, cry, and help me to get thru another day. I am a Christian and I know where my hope comes from. I think you are a great man. A great source of strength and encouragement for man. Right now I need a lot of both. God Bless.

    Reply
  20. pearlie2 - April 19, 2018 4:31 pm

    This was one of your best. Wish you would come to Grand Bay, AL community center and tell us some of your stories. Esther

    Reply
  21. Sally Johnson - April 19, 2018 4:43 pm

    I enjoy all your stories.

    Reply
  22. Rose - April 19, 2018 6:14 pm

    I’ll wager that editor who said he needed someone who could really write is having some second thoughts about his judgement if he is still alive and kicking. That was like the agency that told Elvis Presley he didn’t have what was needed to be a singer!!

    Reply
  23. Susan - April 19, 2018 11:03 pm

    So many good memories of South ALABAMA. You really are a great writer I was able to vision every word of this article. Sometime you make my day with your article. Thank You.

    Reply
  24. muthahun - April 20, 2018 3:40 am

    Laughed out loud at “To Shave A Mockingbird”, and I’ll admit that I was kinda hoping for a bald-headed, Charlie Brown-like kid as the illustration, but the birds are lovely. So let’s see… an evocative writer (OMG, “… colder than a brass toilet in a single-wide”?! Brilliant!), play guitar and sing, and someone who knows the power of a good line drawing (I remind you of Picasso’s dove). Honey, you have SO much going for you. Just leave the clippers to the professionals…

    Reply
  25. Starla burkitt - April 20, 2018 4:16 am

    I don’t always read your post each day, only because of time restraints.(JOB😬) But when I can, I regret the days I didn’t. STARLA B.

    Reply
  26. Jack Darnell - April 20, 2018 5:26 am

    Aw come on dude, you know you are good at writing. Us wanna be writers would love to have th e adoration you have. My sister ‘thinks’ I can write but she is getting dementia. Loved the visit my friend,keep up the good work.
    late reading because that sister who thinks I can write is in the hospital with mini strokes and a clot in her heart.
    good stuff sailor.

    Reply
  27. George Thomas Jones - April 20, 2018 7:33 pm

    I was among the privileged ones seated in the courtroom at the old 1904 county courthouse thoroughly enjoying your stellar performance last evening. I easily relate inasmuch as Nelle Lee’s “Maycomb” (nobody knew her name was Harper until she wrote the book—I asked why she didn’t include her first name so local folks would recognize her–her reply was, “George, folks that don’t know me would call me Nellie, and I just couldn’t stand that”–reason for that extra letter “E” being named for her maternal grandmother whose name was “Ellen”–thereby the origin of Nelle being a backwards spelling) has been my home since I was three years old when the family to Monroeville way back in 1926. No, there is no error in the date for I am well down life’s path to the ripe old age of 96. Yet, I stubbornly continue writing a weekly local area historical column in the local newspaper. Like you, I probably qualify as a late bloomer insofar as I was 75 at the time of my first publication. Enough of “ME”–Am enjoying your book–am going to try to learn how to read your blog–a computer guru I am definitely not and I’m too old and set in my ways to attempt to conquer one of those so-called smart phones. May the God of good luck and fortune accompany you as you travel continuing to delight folks who share your deep rooted Christian beliefs–Lastly, thank you for not being hesitant to share them.

    Reply
  28. Stacia Richerson - April 21, 2018 1:27 am

    I wasn’t there last night, but I did hear you speak today, April 20th. I count myself fortunate to be there and to hear what you shared today…it was very inspirational. I sat beside a table of classified “at risk” high school students and looked over to see their laughter at points and what seemed to be a sense of deep connection with what you were sharing at other moments. Keep writing, keep speaking and realize the inspiration you have the power to be in the lives of others! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  29. Judy - April 22, 2018 12:26 am

    We all have opinions. I think most of us have the opinion you are not simply a good writer, but a very good writer. Your words are soothing and encouraging. One time I laugh out loud and, then another, I will have moist eyes or they may just simply overflow. Thank you for sharing your view points as you move around our Deep South region.

    Reply
  30. ponder304 - April 22, 2018 11:17 am

    Thank you for encouraging us all.

    Reply

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