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The exact house that inspired Julia and William's childhood homes

A long, long time ago...


Okay, it was only fifteen years ago, but in some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago, and a whole different incarnation of me. I was a new mom to a nine-month-old daughter. In a new-moms' social group, I met my friend Maureen and her infant son.


Before I ever started writing The Catch, Maureen and I went to the San Francisco Zoo with our babies. She had grown up in the adjacent neighborhood of the Outer Sunset.


Have you ever heard what Mark Twain allegedly said about San Francisco weather? "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."


He didn't really say that, but he may as well have, because even though it was July, and even though I had bundled myself and my daughter in honest-to-God winter coats and hats, I was still FREEZING. The Outer Sunset borders the cold Pacific Ocean. In the summer, warm air from further inland collides with cold air from the ocean, creating fog. And the Outer Sunset is the foggiest neighborhood in an otherwise foggy city.


After the zoo, we went to Maureen's mom's house in the Outer Sunset. I was still relatively new to the Bay Area, all the way from Texas. At the time, I thought the Outer Sunset looked so quaint and charming. Compared to anything I had seen in Texas, it was; but it's kind of funny in retrospect, because now I know that locals (unfairly) deride the Outer Sunset as one of the most boring neighborhoods in San Francisco.


Anyway, I have fond memories of my visit to Maureen's childhood home. Her mom cooked us one of the most delicious meals I've ever eaten, and it was such basic 1950s housewife food: a can of this, a packet of that. Something with macaroni, sliced-up hot dogs, peas, and some kind of condensed soup. It was so freakin' good, and it warmed my bones down to the marrow after nearly freezing to death at the zoo!


Three years later, when I started writing The Catch, I used Maureen's childhood home as a template for those of Julia and William. I interviewed Maureen about what it was like to grow up in the Outer Sunset in the 80s and 90s, and I remembered some things her mom had told me, too – some of which many readers will undoubtedly find racist. But they were honest portraits of real life and real people, and they made their way into both The Catch and its upcoming sequel, The Hold. Just remember, you've been warned: you may find the following excerpt offensive:


Julia said, “Mom, does Paige ever play with any of the kids around here?”
“Who would she play with?”
“What do you mean? There’s plenty of kids around here.”
“Julia, I don’t even recognize this neighborhood anymore. All the Irish families have moved away or died. For that matter, all the white families of any stripe are gone. There’s nothing but Chinese people around here now.”
“So? Chinese kids play, too."
Her mother cast her a bemused look. “Half of them don’t even speak English. Besides, they keep themselves to themselves. When you and Alison were kids, everyone on this block used to leave their doors open. You kids would run in and out of each other’s houses.”
“So Paige has no friends around here?”
Her mother shrugged. “We’re a bit isolated here. I tried to warn you. Even the school is mostly Chinese now.”

I included this scene despite its controversial subtext because it offers insight into the mindset of a longtime resident on the Outer Sunset's shifting demographics. It shows an elderly woman grieving the loss of lifelong friends and feeling increasingly alienated from her neighbors, even as she grows older and frailer. Anyone of any background who's watched their neighborhood transform around them, or watched their friends slowly die off, can relate.


The other day, I read an article about a neighborhood dive bar that's been in the Outer Sunset for decades. The article provided a lot of history of the neighborhood, including these same shifting demographics.


It got me thinking again about my visit to Maureen's childhood home. It had been a long time since Maureen and I had been in touch. I looked up the address and to dismay, I discovered that Maureen's mom had passed away, and the house had been sold.


I reached out to Maureen and asked her permission to share these photos of her mother's home, from the real estate listing. So here you go, Dear Readers: the house that I very loosely based Julia and William's childhood homes on. Floorplan and all.







As you can see, there's a gated-off "tunnel entrance." Many of these old homes have enclosed their tunnel entrances, turning them into foyers. Many others have converted their garages to separate, ground-floor bedrooms, dens, or in-law units, as Julia and William's families did. The main living areas are on the second floor. Hence, you go through the front door and immediately ascend a staircase into the main living area.


Now you know what to picture when you read The Catch and The Hold!



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