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 maintain
that 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? We were far too old to settle an
argument with a fist-fight, so we consulted Atticus. Our father said we
were both right

Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of
the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the
Battle of Hastings. All we had was Simon Finch, a fur-trapping
apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his
stinginess. In England, Simon was irritated by the persecution of those
who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal
brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way
across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to
Mobile, and up the Saint Stephens. Mindful of John Wesley’s strictures
on the use of many words in buying and selling, Simon made a pile
practicing medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy lest he be
tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the
putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his
teacher’s dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three
slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the
Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. He returned to
Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife, and with her established a line
that ran high to daughters. Simon lived to an impressive age and died
rich.

It was customary for the men in the family to remain on Simon’s
homestead, Finch’s Landing, and make their living from cotton. The
place was self-sufficient: modest in comparison with the empires
around it, the Landing nevertheless produced everything required to
sustain life except ice, wheat flour, and articles of clothing, supplied by
river-boats from Mobile

Simon would have regarded with impotent fury the disturbance
between the North and the South, as it left his descendants stripped of
everything but their land, yet the tradition of living on the land
remained unbroken until well into the twentieth century, when my
father, Atticus Finch, went to Montgomery to read law, and his younger
brother went to Boston to study medicine. Their sister Alexandra was
the Finch who remained at the Landing: she married a taciturn man
who spent most of his time lying in a hammock by the river wondering
if his trot-lines were full.

When my father was admitted to the bar, he returned to Maycomb
and began his practice. Maycomb, some twenty miles east of Finch’s
Landing, was the county seat of Maycomb County. Atticus’s office in
the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a
checkerboard and an unsullied Code of Alabama. His first two clients
were the last two persons hanged in the Maycomb County jail

Atticus
had urged them to accept the state’s generosity in allowing them to
plead Guilty to second-degree murder and escape with their lives, but
they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with
jackass. The Haverfords had dispatched Maycomb’s leading blacksmith
in a misunderstanding arising from the alleged wrongful detention of a
mare, were imprudent enough to do it in the presence of three
witnesses, and insisted that the-son-of-a-bitch-had-it-coming-to-him
was a good enough defense for anybody. They persisted in pleading Not
Guilty to first-degree murder, so there was nothing much Atticus could
do for his clients except be present at their departure, an occasion that
was probably the beginning of my father’s profound distaste for the
practice of criminal law

During his first five years in Maycomb, Atticus practiced economy
more than anything; for several years thereafter he invested his
earnings in his brother’s education. John Hale Finch was ten years
younger than my father, and chose to study medicine at a time when
cotton was not worth growing; but after getting Uncle Jack started,
Atticus derived a reasonable income from the law. He liked Maycomb,
he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew
him, and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by
blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town
.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first
knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on
the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was

hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules
hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live
oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning.
Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by
nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet
talcum.

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled
in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A
day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no
hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to
buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.
But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb
County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself

We lived on the main residential street in town—Atticus, Jem and I,
plus Calpurnia our cook. Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he
played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment.
Calpurnia was something else again. She was all angles and bones;
she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and
twice as hard. She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking
me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older,
and calling me home when I wasn’t ready to come. Our battles were
epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus
always took her side. She had been with us ever since Jem was born,
and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember

Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence. She
was a Graham from Montgomery; Atticus met her when he was first
elected to the state legislature. He was middle-aged then, she was
fifteen years his junior. Jem was the product of their first year of
marriage; four years later I was born, and two years later our mother
died from a sudden heart attack. They said it ran in her family. I did
not miss her, but I think Jem did. He remembered her clearly, and
sometimes in the middle of a game he would sigh at length, then go off
and play by himself behind the car-house. When he was like that, I
knew better than to bother him

When I was almost six and Jem was nearly ten, our summertime
boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry
Lafayette Dubose’s house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley
Place three doors to the south. We were never tempted to break them.
The Radley Place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere
description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end;
Mrs. Dubose was plain hell.
That was the summer Dill came to us.
Early one morning as we were beginning our day’s play in the back
yard, Jem and I heard something next door in Miss Rachel Haverford’s
collard patch. We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy—
Miss Rachel’s rat terrier was expecting—instead we found someone
sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the
collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
“Hey.”
“Hey yourself,” said Jem pleasantly.
“I’m Charles Baker Harris,” he said. “I can read.”