“Finders were keepers unless title was proven”


Rarely did I keep a secret from my brother; he could tell by the guilty look on my face that I harbored something that I wouldn’t share.  At first, he would act as though he didn’t care and then, as time wore on, he would threaten to beat me up if I didn’t talk.  He was not above resorting to the occasional Indian sunburn if the situation were deemed necessary.

Second grade had begun and it was as terrible as I knew it would be and could have done without it, but Atticus assured me it would not, as I feared, “ruin me for life.”  It was on those walks to and from school that Jem and I began to find gifts in the knothole by the old Radley place.  Usually nothing would convince us to go that close without  a jeer from Dill, but everyday, we looked to see what might be waiting for us.  Even after Mr. Nathan filled that knothole with cement, we would reflexively turn our heads as we walked past.

I never told Jem about the key.  It was small and, to my relief and dismay, much too small to be a door key.  My imagination, kindled by Jem, Miss Stephanie Crawford and even Dill, had me certain it would unlock the cage to a half-crazed Boo Radley, holding bloody scissors and surrounded by newspapers.  I think part of the reason I never showed it to Jem was because he would want to investigate. Admitting I was too scared would have resulted in unrelenting brotherly aggravation and condescending taunts of being such a girl. That would have led to blackmail and using Dill as his co-conspirator.  So, for one of the few times in my young life, I kept my mouth shut.  Partly in self-preservation and, to an extent, because it was mine.  My secret.  My mystery.

After Mr. Arthur saved Jem’s life that night, I put the key away, no longer allowing my head to fill with fearful thoughts or hopes of buried treasure.  I think I finally understood that sometimes a key is just a key and that rather than let it lie forgotten in a drawer, it was given to a child as a simple gift.  Perhaps a way of saying “I see you.”  In the hands of a child, that key unlocked more than doors or hidden treasures.

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