Our family moved to the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves about ten years ago, just a couple of years after I had taken up (again) a goal I’d had years ago: to write a novel for children. I had to learn the craft of writing novels, and in addition I needed inspiration.
We walked past this house whenever we went for a walk to the park. For years I wondered if it was empty. The newspapers would pile up on the porch. The shades were drawn. Perhaps somebody reclusive lived there, I thought. So I christened it “Boo Radley’s House.” Never saw a trace of Boo, but I didn’t hang around it much either.
Perhaps its occupant had gone to a nursing home, and the house was just sitting there. This went on for five years.
A thread of a story appeared in my mind about it. What if a reclusive young person was living there? Why would he be there? I spun a bit of a yarn about a sixteen-year-old boy with a disfigured face who didn’t want the world to see him, and who lived in his uncle’s house while the uncle was in a nursing home, mowed the lawn, and so on. The uncle didn’t even know he was there, didn’t know much of anything. The neighbors were happy to see the lawn mowed.
In this tale, the town was a town like Webster Groves, but the clock had turned back to 1968. A new (white) kid comes to town and encounters teasing for making friends with a black kid from the black settlement on the north side. He makes friends with the kid with the disfigured face, too. And there’s another kid with dyslexia who just wants to run away from it all.
One thing led to another, and now I find myself up to my ears in stories about this fictional town. But the reclusive kid with the disfigured face living in Boo Radley’s house has been cut from them, at the moment. Will he return? Who knows?
Back in the real world, eventually somebody opened the window shades in Boo Radley’s house and did some house cleaning. They pulled an ancient loveseat out, seen on the right, to sit out in the rain. This lasted for a year or two. Boo had died, I thought. They were going through his stuff.
A for-sale sign eventually went up, and then the house was torn down. A half-finished new house sits on the spacious, desirable lot today.
I don’t know if anybody else mourned for Boo Radley’s house, but I did. It was the beginning thread in a storm of inspiration for me.
In a town that prides itself on its history, a venerable house got torn down with no fanfare from anybody. Well, it was an ugly bungalow, probably from the 1920s, not that old. But still.
Phyllis Wheeler has authored computer-related homeschool curriculum through her publishing company Motherboard Books, and now has turned her publishing skills to publishing other peoples’ fiction at Castle Gate Press. In her writing, she’s been sharpening her novel-writing skills for more than ten years, always aiming at a tweener or young adult audience. Stay tuned for news about her series on Sugar Creek, the fictional town she describes here. Find out more at http://www.phylliswheeler.com