Friday, November 21, 2014

A visit with Harper Lee's sister Alice and the charming town of Maycomb

Alice Lee in her law office, 1977
 The death of Harper Lee's sister Alice Lee at 103 early this week sent me digging through old photos for a picture of a tree that was inspiration for the Boo Tree of Harper Lee's 1960 novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I not only found the photo of the Boo Tree -- or at least the sizable stump it had been reduced to -- but also one I'd taken of Alice Lee.
It was 1977, and I'd ridden a bus to Monroeville, Ala., to write about the childhood friendship between Nelle Harper, as she was called, and her tow-headed, precocious friend Truman Capote, the  model for the fictional Dill.

I found Miss Lee -- we met in her law office -- to be a courteous woman, reserved and matter-of-fact.

In a voice that rode a pogo stick of deep South inflection, she told me, "As far as I'm concerned, Nelle just sat down and wrote a book."
The trouble was, she said, her sister had "made the book so believable that people don't want to believe it didn't happen."
If Miss Lee was less than chatty, words cascaded from Capote's aunt Mary Ida Faulk Carter, whose square face was a near-carbon of her nephew's.
"Truman is a marvel with words," she said, "but he can't stick to the truth."
Carter said his short story, "A Christmas Memory," about fruitcake-making time at another aunt's house in Monroeville, was a real stretch.
"Truman had as much as any boy in Monroeville could want, and he made out