DAY 57
John Burwell

Bissonnet Street

100 days
100 lives
100 words

One in twenty thousand to join. One in ten to die training. One among millions to dream they might end the war.
The war did end, but his victory was no brighter or warmer than the ghosts of his friends.

“In a black-and-white photograph of my neighborhood, dated 1918, a team of mules pulls a wagon piled with mud. A tract of fresh wooden houses spills into the frame from the right. On the left, an empty field stretches to the horizon.

A century later, the city of Houston stretches to that horizon. Over six million people live here today. And I’ve found myself trying to write about one of over 41 million who died at a time when my back yard was at the edge of town.” John Burwell

Creating the Centena

Most of what I write could hardly be further from the subject of war. Enthusiastic case studies about technology never need to address leaving a family behind, sleeping in a muddy bivouac, or bonds of friendship that outlive friends.

As I did my research, each new discovery I made about the role of Texas in the war seemed to expand the potential scope of the project. The more I looked, the heavier it felt.

More than once, I was lost.

An article in a newspaper archive brought me back home. A short piece from 2012 promoting a book by a local author, it didn’t say much—just that a street not far from my house had been named for a fallen pilot from Houston, George Herman Bissonnet. I had lived in this neighborhood longer than anywhere else in my life, and I’d had no idea.
John Burwell

I went in search of more about George. He’s on a few lists of names. He’s on a headstone near the Florida airfield where he crashed, probably training for pursuit. Any further clues—what motivated him, what it all meant to him—remained hidden.

Late one afternoon, I drove his namesake street from one end to the other.

At Bissonnet’s origin, large houses behind high, ivy-covered walls still reflect the wealth and power of the oil and land barons who built them back when the street was called “County Poor Farm Road.” Two efforts to rename the street prior to the war apparently failed.

Heading outward, you can trace the city’s growth through the decades, like counting the rings of a tree. At one end, university students line up at trendy restaurants. Farther out, workers line up at street food vendors from every part of the world. On one side, people wearing scrubs file in and out of a hospital. On the other, women not wearing much file up and down the sidewalk. As the sun sets, a couple of vaqueros ride horseback in the grass along a fence, each sipping from a can in a discreet paper bag.

Could any of their names just as easily be on the street signs, for all anyone knew? What clues would anyone find about any of their lives in a hundred years?

At Bissonnet’s end, after 22 miles, a red and white barricade lists alone in the weeds. To each side, fresh tracts of houses spill toward the street.

Ahead, an empty field stretches to the horizon.

About the author

John Burwell

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26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.