Sunday, July 22, 2012
Thursday afternoon, as readers of this blog know, my neighbor Jane arrived with the heartbreaking news that our mutual neighbor George had quite suddenly entered the final chapter of his magnificent life. Early this morning, I woke with a start, sensing that something was gone. A few hours later, the devastating news: the beautiful, witty, eloquent, elegant George William Shaw had slipped away.
How I will miss him. How deeply we all will—his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his family near and far, these neighbors, this very neighborhood. Theirs is a corner house—essential, pivotal, a nexus. George, with Shirley, worked the peonies and the potted plants in their garden, made room for new green things beneath their prize-worthy cherry tree. George, with Shirley, held picnics for their grandchildren, hailed the proud carriages of the Devon Horse Show, wore sherbet-colored shirts to block parties (never matching, always complementary), and, before all that, before I even moved in, Shirley and George were (everyone speaks of it) extending themselves toward every child on the block. Teaching one baseball and another to love tomatoes and another the power of personally designed and delivered nicknames.
George liked to fly, he liked to travel, he had an engineer's intelligence, he was excellently good at laughter. He liked to grill and once he (together with Shirley) cooked up a scheme designed to get my reluctant-in-the-kitchen husband to discover the power of cooking with live flames. (Note to George and Shirley: my husband, on the rare and happy occasion, now lights up his grill, thanks to you.) Jokingly George would complain that my river book, Flow, had too many big words, even though we both knew he owned more words than I did. He'd kid me about my strange writer life but I knew (you could always tell with George) that he cared, that he was asking me questions because he wanted actual answers. "Hey, George," I would call out as I passed by, at least once each week, and he'd always wave back, tossing out some grand witticism, and I'd always be happier than I had been just thirty seconds before.
I live in an exceptional place, among people who define the word community. Look, for example, at the second photograph above, snapped one afternoon when I was on my way home from Penn. It was the neighbors bearing a surprise cake for George's 80th birthday, like rogue carollers in summer. It was George and Shirley in their bright colors, full of grace and love.
To you, George, and to all of us who loved you.