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.