Sue Skilton Orrell’s Cries of the Panther on Mockingbird Hill recounts a life made hard by poverty and molestation.
Orrell’s story begins at WWII’s end and focuses on the author’s childhood and adolescent years, mostly spent in the DeLeon Springs area of Florida. The Mockingbird Hill of the title is the name of 65 acres Orrell’s family lived on for part of her childhood. The family house had no electricity or indoor bathroom, and the young Sue had to navigate “the roaches that had full range of [their] floors at night” to get to the chamber pot.
Ordinary childhood anecdotes abound, like the time Orrell gashed her knee at Lake Johnson, or when she removed a ladder from a tree, thinking her little brother would learn to climb down.
Providing a dark contrast to such stories are references to rape and molestation perpetrated by her brother-in-law Daniel that foreshadow the actual acts. Daniel relentlessly tries to catch her alone to fondle her (including an uncomfortable scene in a tunnel of love) and, ultimately, to rape her. Orrell describes two rapes: once when she’s babysitting her sister’s child while Daniel is home with the mumps and once when she takes a sick day from school and Daniel catches her home alone. Sue identifies with the panther roaming her property; its cries become her cries. “The panther’s cries within me still shouted silently: I want my childhood! I want my adolescence!”
Unfortunately, the memoir is highly repetitious and many of the anecdotes are mundane, making for slow reading. At times, Orrell overreaches with the panther comparison, and other analogies also feel stretched: “The threat of ongoing sexual molestation hung thick in the air like the aroma of a fish too long left flopping in a sink full of tepid water.”
Overall, however, the author’s story is an admirable one of overcoming adversity. It might appeal to others with similar experiences who are willing to overlook its flaws.
Also available as an ebook.