Herb Benham: When houses become homes

·3 min read

Nov. 28—The text was simple. Short and simple often packs the most punch.

"2728 is no longer ours. It was a great home and we will always have special memories."

I don't know why it hit me, but it did. Our son Sam sent the text recently after he and his wife, Lauren, sold their house.

Sam is not given to carrying on unless the Cowboys get hammered by somebody they shouldn't, but houses can do that to you. Make you into a softie. Especially when houses become homes.

"2728" was where he and Lauren settled after moving to Bakersfield from San Diego. The home they made after getting married and bringing Nora, now 5 years old, home from Memorial. Then 20 months ago, they brought home Henry, also known as Hurricane Henry or Hot Rod Henry.

They've had July 4th celebrations with friends who are on the same child-having, child-raising, child-surviving paths, and invited their down-the-street parents over for dinner. They've watched their kids crawl, climb out of their cribs, walk and then run down the sidewalk through red and gold leaves from the liquidambars.

There is something about your first house. First, it's the one you grew up in — mine was on Lomita Drive, close to the Union Avenue Plunge and near the fairgrounds.

Then, if you're lucky, the first house you buy. Ours was on Holtby Road in Oleander, down the street from William Penn Elementary, next door to Ruth Vest of Vest Drug Store and across the street from Betty and Ken Vetter.

We brought three of our kids home to that house. I remember walking back and forth across the front porch carrying Katie and wondering if she would ever stop crying.

There were huge turkey buzzards that nested in the eucalyptus trees behind our backyard at the old Camp house. If you weren't prepared, they could give you a jolt on a foggy morning and make you wonder if they had come for you.

Houses have their own memories. One of mine is Sam's 30th birthday six years ago, with my dad sitting in Sam's backyard surrounded by loving children, grandchildren and friends. Although he was sick, there was no way Dad was going to miss Sam's birthday and so he dragged himself down from Mammoth.

Dad died a few months later. Sam drove from Bakersfield with his mother and was at his bedside. Dad smiled and whispered, "Sam." That is one of my last memories of him.

----I'd like to think that old houses develop souls, having absorbed the sounds, smells and joys and sorrows of many generations. There is a genre of old house songs and Acoustic Eidolon has one called "75 North Second Street."

"Your mother's smile still radiates through dust and sunlight beams.

"Plaster cracks like wrinkles tell my story over time ...

"I watched you walk away to ride a bus to school with a backpack, lunch pail and crayons as your tools.

"And as the years roll by, my roof has kept you dry and I'm the shelter from the storm."

You get it. Houses can transform otherwise sensible, composed people into tear-shedding softies. Fortunately for us, Sam and Lauren's new house is only another block west. Already there are new memories and soon they will run together like colors in the rain.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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