rebecca purcell

World Maker

Yearning for the Magpie

musingsrebecca purcell2 Comments

Early Aesthetic Influence - Approximate Age 14

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It was Boo who left the objects in the hollow of the tree. Boo, not the mocking bird as I had first thought. Anyway Mockingbirds are not the ones who are associated with collecting shiny objects - Magpies are. Magpies have a legendary reputation of thieving and leaving their booty in the crook or hollow of a tree, so it is not completely surprising I was confused.

Still, I can’t help but forever associate the extraordinary title image for To Kill a Mockingbird with a collecting bird. As the camera pans we see a cigar box full of things - a “magpie’s assortment of things” - while a bird is being drawn that looks neither like a magpie or a mockingbird, but is obviously meant to be the latter.

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I am not exactly sure when I first saw To Kill a Mockingbird. I know I was not a child - not an adult - so I will assume it was somewhere around the age of 14. What I remember most vividly is that the opening affected me as much, if not more, than the film. This would have been in the late 70’s, before video, DVD, and Internet access - so there was no chance of finding the film again, or reversing that pan. I had to grasp at my recollection of this astonishing opening like a profound dream slipping away with the waking day; like the memory of a nursery rhyme sung during tucks and kisses by a mother who died before the child could speak.

Good as it was, I almost resented the oncoming film for too quickly sweeping in, muddling the memory of soap dolls, trinkets, treasures and marbles. I desperately needed to see each object; to count how many items were in the cigar box, to decipher their poetic meaning. To hear their small voices awakened by Jem, by his finding them, and the mystery of their origin.

 

Tiny things found were not like other things. Unlike objects in stores and housed on shelves, they had an intrinsic value that came from the mystery of their origin combined with the act of being found by the chosen one who heard their call - I knew this because it happened to me. But the things I found were devoid of value, discarded plastic trinkets, an odd stone, a bit of broken glass - a particularly elongated acorn. The objects in the cigar box were things with proper names, true treasures, not the crayons perhaps but a pocket watch… They aroused in me a feeling of envy unlike any other. I believe I wept a little that day, yearning for my own Boo, yearning for the mistaken Magpie.

Postscript

Many years later my dream of magically being gifted with a cigar box full of objects was made manifest by a magpie in the form John Derian:

A few years after I started working at A.B.C. Home, Paulette (the store’s owner) had discovered John’s extraordinary decoupage plates, and asked him to stock a small shop on the first floor. I met with John to discuss the shop, and several days later he brought me a small cigar box filled with a wonderful assortment of vintage bits and pieces: plastic charms, jewelry parts, small finials, tiny figurines, an assortment of gaming pieces. Staring down at this unexpected gift I felt a circle had been completed - a yearning now satisfied. Looking into John’s angelic face, haloed by long golden hair, it seemed the cosmos was indeed listening… perhaps a little slow on the response but then time is a human construct.

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