On a quest to Monroeville

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 1, 2005

I don’t remember when I was first introduced to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but for at least the past 20 years, it has been among my favorite books and movies.

In fact, if you’re a Southern,

and a writer to boot, there is perhaps no author admired more than Harper Lee.

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For the past few years, I’d heard rumors that a store in Monroeville sold autographed copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But they only sell the copies once a year – the Saturday before Christmas.

A couple of years ago, a co-worker, Tom, did some sleuthing while spending a weekend at his family’s hunting camp. He visited the store and found out, they do indeed, sell the book on that day.

I decided it would be worth the approximately two-hour drive for the chance to buy an autographed copy of one of the best-selling books in American literature.

On that particular morning I woke early, but I couldn’t quite motivate myself to get out of bed for the drive. It was, after all, the Saturday before Christmas and I still had a lot of stuff to do.

Besides that, it was an unusually cold December day. There was even a light coat of frost on the ground and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the equivalent of a Snow Day.

But, my phone rang at 10 minutes after six. My friend, Molly, was on the other end of the line. “I’m awake, so I thought I’d see if you want me to ride with you to Monroeville,” she said.

A traveling companion was just the inspiration I needed to face the early morning cold.

I began to get excited about my quest for an autographed copy of one of my all-time favorite books.

We left about quarter to seven, so we had plenty of time to get to Monroeville by the time the store opened at 10 a.m.

We poked along, even stopped for breakfast, not in any hurry at all.

As we drove closer to downtown Monroeville, we looked for the marquee of the store which, according to Tom’s detective work, would be selling the books. This was only word-of-mouth advertising, so we were not sure what to expect.

We spotted the store’s sign and began speculating how to spend the next 30 minutes until the store’s opening. We didn’t need to worry about killing time. As we drove past where the store was located, we saw a line of close to 200 people stretched from the shop’s doorway across the front of the strip mall shopping center.

There were cots and chairs, and people in pajamas. I have no idea how early some of them arrived, but by the looks of it, some had been there since before daylight.

We parked the car, grabbed our coats and gloves, and made our way to the back of the line.

We were followed by a young man who began chatting with us. He was there to purchase a copy of the book for his wife, a kindergarten teacher in Grove Hill. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was her favorite book.

“It’s the least expensive gift I’ve gotten her, but it’s the one she’ll like the best,” he told us.

At precisely 10 o’clock, the doors opened and the string of humanity began snaking its way through the rows of merchandise and up to the counter. Like Disney World.

The line moved quickly and before we knew it, we had handed over our $25, been handed an autographed book and were back outside in front of the store. We said good-bye to the young man, who was as proud as he could be over the purchase of his wife’s special gift. I don’t think he even missed being in the deer stand that morning. Of course, we were excited about our adventure, too, and just as proud of completing our quest.

TAMMY LEYTHAM is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.