I was immediately heart-faced for the little brick bungalow because of the porch. I imagined lazy days spent in the shade and lemonade from bygone years. The wooden swing was the icing, so to speak. But initially I didn’t linger there. I was too busy: moving, cleaning, painting. I worked full-time and then I got pregnant.
Fast forward a year. I was scheduled for a C-section and I could hardly move. I gained over 60 pounds and I couldn’t pull my nylons over my swollen feet (not to mention my swollen belly). All I could do was sit.
It was May, the weather perfect, and from the swing, my reflection quivered in the window adjacent. I caressed the wide curve that surrounded my child and imagined the beginning of a new chapter. One week later, I held him curled tightly against me because he hadn’t learned to stretch his limbs. Our silhouette was the same, but everything had changed. Together we swayed. The swing supported me through three children, countless lullabies, and all seven Harry Potter books, my children cuddled against me as I read to them.
Fast forward to 2016. My oldest will graduate from high school this June. He’ll open a new chapter in his life, leaving me to close the one I’ve shared with him. I write this post through tears, but it’s good. It’s how it should be.
And the porch swing? It still hangs. I comfort myself with the rhythm. But most days, I’m alone.
I was the oldest grandchild on my mom’s side and incredibly lucky to spend much quality time with my Grandma Zola. Because, boy, she had some good stories to tell. Fact is often crazier than fiction.
So yes, my grandma was chased into the highest boughs of a walnut tree in pre-depression era California, in an attempt to thwart the advances of an amorous polygamist man. She was a teenager and wanted nothing to do with that old guy, already married several times over. Grandma Zola was raised in the Mormon Church and lived/loved the teachings all of her life. When she was approached (aggressively, obviously) by the polygamist man, plural marriage was against church doctrine, but that didn’t mean everyone had given up on the practice. Plus, look how cute she was!
Thankfully, my grandma was one heck of a climber and escaped cleanly from the clutches of Mr. Wrong. Grandma Zola married my grandpa not too many years later. My grandpa kept her as his only beloved wife until they both passed away. In my novel ROOT, PETAL, THORN this tiny part of her story lives on.
Root, Petal, Thorn traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same historic home in Salt Lake City over the course of a century — braided stories of love, heartbreak, and courage connect the women, even across generations.
George Pearson is the only person mentioned in ROOT, PETAL, THORN who is real. Not just based on a real person but an actual across-the-street neighbor of the same name. He was dubbed the "Mayor" of our street (see photo) and was the guy who kept an eye on all comings and goings. He was never too busy for a chat on the porch, he brought in the bins after the garbage truck rattled by, he knew if your kids were sick, he caught your dog when it escaped through the hole in the fence, he applauded the sidewalk chalk-art drawn by your diligently creative daughter. And he lived in the same house for over fifty years.
Here and there, in a front porch conversation, he'd mention something about my house. Not a full-blown story, just a tendril of a detail about someone from before. Strangely, at first, I didn't want to know. MY house, I recoiled at his comment. MINE. It was where I brought my children after they were born, where I wept, and where I loved. But George, in one or two off-hand comments, told me that it wasn't always mine, nor would it always belong to me.
Before I had a chance to really dig into his stories, I had three children under age five tugging at my legs. And not long after that, George was gone. As the new owner of George's house painted the door a trendy-red I stood at my own window and cried. How many times had George passed over the threshold to wave good-bye as his son skipped toward the elementary, to meet with a neighbor, to go to work? Now I would never have the chance to ask him what the street looked like when he moved in, and who had once occupied my home. After fifty years of loving his house, of loving a street, of living a life, George was gone. And yet, his house remained.
It was the fleeting nature of time. The permanence of place and the impermanence of people. So when I decided I would finally write the book that had been hiding in the corners of my imagination, I read a piece of advice about starting with something you know. I knew my house. I loved my house. I could describe something I looked at every day. With George on my mind, I began.