The Signal Tribune newspaper

The House is the home where the heart is

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It’s more than wood framing and stucco. It’s more than the concrete, insulation and wiring. The House on the east side of town is the binding epicenter of our family. Still there after 60 years of ownership is my dad holding down the fort, the ground zero, the step-off point where we all return. And as we all age, and after losing my mom, the House means all the more to our family. It’s the House that Cohn built.

A little backstory from my dad: The home was built in late 1952, and my parents moved in on Oct. 26, 1959. The original owners of the 1,192-square-foot, three-bedrooms plus, 1-and-a-half baths home were Sol and Frances Rosenblatt. The backyard was spacious and had an apricot tree just outside the back door and a lemon and plum tree at the distant southwest corner of the 6,000-square-foot lot.

My parents bought the House after driving around the city and finding an area that seemed to have all the virtues: an elementary, jr. high and high school– all within walking distance– and a college, now university, about one mile away; three markets; a couple of restaurants; a couple of banks; a small department store; a drug store; a shoe store; a nearby library; a bookstore; and other amenities. A movie theater opened but had only a short life just around the corner. No other neighborhood my parents looked at was both within our price range and so accessible to so many necessary establishments.

The 3000 block on Josie Avenue then had several families with children of brother and sister’s age. My parents became friends with three families and soon formed the Josie Avenue Low-Budget Gourmet Society, wherein one family each month offered hors d’oeuvres and drinks, a second family chose a modest restaurant and a third family offered dessert. Despite different views on any subject– political, religious or otherwise– the couples remained friends for several years until a few of them moved on to other cities because of job opportunities or a spouse dying. Almost 60 years later, and my dad remains friends with those families, however physically distant.

The post-war House had all the classics, too: Wood paneling and the cottage-cheese ceiling that many, many years later was removed and painted over. In 1967, my parents completed an addition on the day I arrived home from birth at Los Altos Hospital that added a 400-square-foot family room, a master bedroom, a bathroom with shower but no tub and a small study. The apricot tree gave way to the addition, but the lemon tree continues to flourish. The juniper bushes out front were replaced with low-maintenance plants that are more attractive. But it was those junipers that gave us protection for games of hide-and-seek and secret club meetings we organized as kids.

To this day, the House remains mostly the same as it was after that addition of 1967. No major renovations or remodels. The kitchen was done over just once. The carpet replaced maybe twice. Just fresh paint, some book shelves, moving the piano into another room, and the House remains the same. Overall, there is nothing to make it unrecognizable or change its juju. No marble counter tops or Viking appliances. It’s all familiar and comfortable. All the cupboards and closet doors all still look, feel and sound the same. As early as I can recall, the kitchen was painted in earth tones and had flower wallpaper before the upgrade in the ‘80s. From our small Formica kitchen table, I would sit and stare out the window looking at the huge sycamore tree across the street swaying in the breeze. I probably stared at it for hours while there was a standoff until I ate all my vegetables. And there were all the Sunday mornings when I would wake up to the smell of bacon and pancakes and race down the hall to the feast. All the syrup got my hands and pajamas sticky before I went off to play in the other rooms.

Our dining room has hosted tens of thousands of gatherings. And if you look carefully down the table, you can still faintly see and hear all the past guests talking and laughing. Countless Thanksgivings, Passovers, birthdays, Valentine’s Day Red Dinners, visiting relatives and friends provided the House with laughter, music and layers of memories that are still stuck inside the walls.

The living room was also the center of hospitality in the early days when my parents often entertained friends, and the “8mm home movies” looked straight out of Mad Men or The Wonder Years. It’s the location of conversations, classic cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and the warmth of the fireplace.

When I came along, the family room was my universe with its linoleum floor, where I had my Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels tracks set up. The room was the center of imagination and Sesame Street. We continue to gather in the family room after dinners or other meals to watch movies, documentaries, concerts or awards shows. The row of VHS tapes along the top shelf above the TV all stand as testaments to many other similar nights in the past– bygone eras. And the loaded bookshelf of VHS tapes in my mom’s office (converted brother’s bedroom) look at us with titles of a decade of Thanksgiving celebrations, family reunions and the converted home movies documenting the family going back 40, 50 or 60 years. You’ll find classic images of the Kennedy-era Plaza neighborhood. Also, decades of fashion “dos and don’ts” all appear on the tapes. Most of the tapes reflect the hard work of my mom, who spent hours recording and editing for our archives. Many tapes keep the images of people once dear to us from the past who have passed. Watch one of these, and the sense memory goes on overload.

My bedroom was my safe haven and creative laboratory. I was comforted on so many mornings as a kid just lying in bed in the pitch dark, the heater on to stay toasty and hearing the shuffle of my mom’s feet walking down the hall to get breakfast ready. Many days I’d have 93KHJ AM radio on while I pretended to work in an office or build a fort. The little room made it safely through all my phases, from dinosaurs and monsters to World War II and punk rock with a drum set in its center.

The long hallway that wraps around the house seemed like it was a mile long and 20-feet high when I was a kid. Pushing my trucks or walking to my dad’s back study to play on his typewriter was a grand hike. The hallway is lined with faces from both sides of the family tree, some dating back to the early 20th century. I used to come home from school and take the hike to the back of the house to watch my shows until I heard the honk from my mom’s car; then I’d run out and undo the combination lock and open the garage for her. Weekend afternoons were spent by the garage door and side fences, which were the backstop for catch with tennis or wiffle balls.

We had a “hobby room” loaded with crafts and cook books. The sewing machine was in there, and so was my brother’s science-lab kit. We kept plenty busy in there for hours. It later became the gift-wrapping station and the first location of my mom’s computer and video-editing projects. The cook books and family photos remain on the walls.

We used to have a desert tortoise named Gus that lived under the house and backyard for years. We had our ritual of looking for him in spring after hibernation and going out to feed him lettuce. He would also feast off the dropped plums from the tree. I’d climb up the tree and watch him eat and look across the neighborhood rooftops thinking of the ways to scale the walls and jump in and out of the backyards and into the swimming pools. The backyard patios now cover up all of my Army men villages and the burial sites of pet lizards and toads.

Today, when the house is quiet, you can hear the echoes off the walls of 60 years of a family growing up and building lives. All the episodes and chapters of American life that come with pursuing careers, kids, daycare, sports, music lessons are embedded and float around as welcome ghosts and spirits.

Sometimes, it’s just necessary to go there after traveling or being away simply because of a busy schedule and commitments. It’s like touching home base on the field just because. The House is the sound of my mom’s shuffling feet and her terrycloth robe. It’s her single-handedly preparing a Thanksgiving feast after working full-time. It’s my dad’s study with rows and stacks of books, papers and briefcase. It’s the faint smell of Aliage perfume and Jovan Musk. It’s the USC games and cheering on the team. It’s plenty of joy and loss. It’s the arguments and awkward silences. It’s a castle and fortress. It’s where the heart is.

Someone said, “You can never go back home.”

Wrong.

I go back as often as I can.

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Serving Bixby Knolls, California Heights, Los Cerritos, Wrigley and Signal Hill
The House is the home where the heart is