Maycomb in the 60's
I was a teenager during the late 60's, which gave me a brilliant opportunity to experiment, and I don't mean with a chemistry set. Experiment is what I did and I actually enjoyed it. But you see experimenting with hallucinogens in a small town like I grew up in is completely different then experimenting in a metropolis like New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Toronto. When you experiment in a small town and get caught, like I did, you'll hear about it for the rest of your life and be forever known as the "bad seed".
Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't the only one in the town to experiment. Definitely not. I was just the only one that got caught. In a town of maybe 3 or 4 hundred people, including the guys that weren't sent off to fight Viet Nam, there were probably about 12 or 13 of us that would regularly get together and smoke. The biggest druggie in the bunch was probably Jack Havenford, a name synonymous with idiot in Maycomb. I wonder what happened to him...he probably got too high and died. He always said he wanted to go just like Hendrix or Joplin, and he probably did.
Like I said before, I was not the only one experiment, just the unlucky one that got caught. Another big difference between a big city and small town, when you're arrested, or in my case, brought into the hospital to jump start your heart again, the doctors that help you will probably never be your doctor – in a big city. In a small town, the doctor that saves your life is probably the doctor that delivered you, the doctor that knows more about you than you may know yourself.
I started experimenting during my first Jefferson Airplane concert in Meridian, Mississippi, where I was visiting my aunt Jean, in 1965. I was 13, but I had a 19 year old cousin and 21 year old brother who were quite associated with, and who thought it their duty to introduce me to the "wonderful world of L.S.D.". The last time I experimented nearly killed me and temporarily put a strain on my relation with most of my family. That was during Kimberly Atkinson's 18th birthday party in the field behind Maycomb's one and only public school and right in front of old Arthur Radley's house, I was 16.
I don't remember much of the happenings of that day, but what I do remember I'll relay. The party started around 6 pm, it was August so we all waited till after noon 'fore we had the party because we would all drop like flies if we had it any sooner. Alcohol, drugs and sweltering heat is not a very good combination. Anyway, around 8 or 9, after we gave Kim all our presents – most were love beads, tie dye, or hemp jewelry; in fact, I think Harry Crawford gave her a bong in the shape of a flower. We invited a couple other friends from the other side of town where the Negro's still congregated, even then, during the late 60's, when they were treated more or less as equals by teens.
Well, I'm off track again. Ah...where was I...oh yes, the time, it was around 8 or 9 after Kim got her presents. Michael Sykes and I went and sat in a corner not taken up by other "couples". He produced a bag of assorted drugs and smiled at me, "Wanna?" he invited me, and I never reject an invitation, especially back then. I smiled and nodded and then anxiously waited for him to open the bag and "share the love". He laid the contents of the bag on top of it then looked at me, "My cousin Jimmy in San Francisco told me about this thing called a "Speedball"" I asked him what it was, he said, "It's a whole bunch of different pills and things taken all at once. He said it gives you a high L.S.D. can't top." And he wasn't kidding. As soon as I took it I felt my heart start beating rapidly, I felt light headed and all panicky. I remember asking Mike if what I was experiencing was something you were suppose to before I blacked out,
I woke up in Maycomb County Hospital a couple days later. The first thing I remember seeing is my father pacing back and fourth in front of my bed with an angry expression on his face. My brother, Atticus, sat in a chair parallel my bed, and my grandpa Atticus sat in a chair against the wall in front of my bed. His face expressionless – that's when I knew I was in trouble. He hardly ever showed a large amount emotion, but there was always some. When there was nothing on his face but a blank look you knew to be scared.
I still remember my father's rant to this day as if he had said it yesterday, "How could you do something as feeble and as narrow-minded as that? You're 16! You almost killed your damn self," My father hardly swore, but when he did you knew his emotions were running high, "When doc Lee phoned and told me you were in an accident, do you know how scared I was? Dammit Clara...!" – My name, by the way, "I thought you had enough common sense to stay away from that stuff." At this point I was casting daggers at Atticus, who was trying desperately to shrink into his chair and disappear, "I use to think you were like your mother, but I can see that I was wrong! Your mother would never have done something so stupid!" He hit me where it hurt. My mother died when I was 6 and Atticus was 9 of cancer, my dad knew how much I loved her and when he said things like that he knew it was like a shot through the heart.
"Jem, take Atticus and go for a walk, son, I want to talk to her for a minute." The first time my grandfather had spoken, and not quite the words I wanted to hear. I watched as my brother got up from his chair – still avoiding my gaze -- and followed my dad out of the room. That was when my grandpa leaned heavily against his cane and stood up.
After catching his breath for a couple seconds he made his way over the left side of my bed, "Clara, I can't say I blame your father for talkin' to you the way he did. Mostly because you were there to see him blind with worry, when we first got here after your father got told you were in here Doc Lee explained to us that there was a chance that you may not make it," he froze and drew a deep breath, "I've never seen your father so distressed before. And that's even counting when your mother died."
I bowed my head.
"You not only let me down, you let your mother, father, and brother down," I raised my head to tell on my dear brother but I couldn't get anything out. When I tried to speak nothing but a high pitched whine escaped my parched lips.
"Drugs are extremely dangerous things to play around with if ya don't know what you're doing." I nodded, "Clara, I don't think you understand how serious a situation you put yourself in when you did what you did," –Oh...I definitely did...or so I thought.- "When they brought you in here you were blue, Clara, you were, in all respects, dead." My eyes shot to his and he nodded, "but doc Lee worked hard an' fast on you. You did a serious job to your heart Clara." His voice rose at the end of the sentence. I started to get upset, his voice was always monotone, when it wasn't you knew you had trouble on your tail.
"I'm very disappointed in you."
I lowered my head again and tried desperately to stop the enviable on slot of emotion I could feel welling up in the pit of my stomach. Family was the most important thing to me ---well besides the drugs---- and to have the most important family member say he was disappointed in you was a major hit. I put my head in my hands when I felt tears start to well up in my eyes, "I'm sorry," I sobbed. When the tears finally started coming they came with a vengeances, didn't even give me time to cry. I just started sobbing. "I'm sorry, grandpa. I really am." I cried hard until I felt arms envelope me and I jumped, "Shhh..." I heard my grandpa's hoarse voice try to soothe me as he gently rocked me back and fourth.
That was it – that was all it took – I never touched anything related to illegal drugs ever again. I know, you're probably saying that it's close to impossible for something as minute as a 5 minute lecture could knock you off drugs, but I truly believe that it all depends on the person talking and your own will power.
Now, my brother on the other hand, well as soon as I got back on my feet I told on him – I told on that little angel as much and as often as I could. Atticus had been doing drugs for near 7 years and hadn't got caught – well he did then. Mad...woo...mad isn't even a strong enough adjective to describe my father when he heard Atticus had been a druggie as well as me. Livid would be more like it. Then when he heard that he was the one that hooked me on it, boy did that man get red. Atticus was doing house chores for close to a year before grandpa finally told dad that maybe Atticus had learned his lesson.
In the summer of 1970, two years after my accident, I graduated high school and in the fall of 1970 I entered law school. I was going to be a lawyer just like my grandpa. The first woman lawyer in Finch history, and the first Finch woman to go into university, no one was as proud of that fact as my grandpa was. After I finished my first year he told me in Alabama slang that, "You done good, Clara"
In late 1971 grandpa passed away at the age of 89. I cried like a baby at his funeral and miss him everyday. I visit his grave whenever I can and just tell him about my week or month and how it's going. After I completed law school I moved back to Maycomb and opened a small practice in the court house – just like Atticus Finch Sr. did. Sometimes, while I'm working in my office, which use to be his, I swear I see him watching me out the corner of my eye or I hear his gentle laughing fill my ears --- it puts me at an ease you would not believe.
Even 33 years after his death I still thank god everyday for Atticus Finch, my grandpa.
Attorney at Law.