Home. Such a cozy, comfortable word and concept. A place where light first shined in our eyes, where we discovered who we were and weren’t. A home is not only a house; it is a neighborhood, a city. A home is family, friends, holidays, seasons, weather, disappointments and joy.
We grow up and leave home, of course. Home, then, becomes a memory, a drawer of memories. Yet we yearn to return to that place, that home, and for a few that is possible. Some of my friends, who grew up in Bakersfield, even after going away to college, came back here to work and live, and they could go home again because their neighborhoods, houses, and schools still existed.
But what if, as the novelist Thomas Wolfe said, you can’t go home again? What if home no longer exists as it was? My home was Detroit, in a blue collar, white collar neighborhood where I rode my bicycle through tree-shaded streets in summer and with my sled belly-flopped on them, snow-packed in winter. Our school was Francis Parkman, grades K through eight. Its generous playground hosted our pickup baseball and hockey games. When I was a sophomore in college, our fast-pitch softball team made it to the quarterfinals in a Detroit recreation league. We were an all alliterative team: Carl Keply and Tommy Tucker pitched, Billy Bendix played first base, Harry Harvey shortstop and Zona Zingus cheered for us. That was the last time we played together.
Francis Parkman is now boarded up. The diseased shade trees have been removed, leaving wide, bare streets. My huge, red brick high school, Mackenzie, where Miss Berg taught me algebra and coach Frankowski taught me how to block and tackle, was torn down a few years ago. And in downtown Detroit, J.L. Hudson’s department store, where mom took me to meet Santa, no longer exists.
But what if home is not merely changed or distorted, but is totally destroyed, totally gone? Recently, that happened to the homes, city and people of Paradise when the Camp Fire swept through, burning all to surreal ruins. My boyhood house and street still remain, but nothing remains of Paradise but cold ashes and burnt reminders and memories scattered here and there. While my home has been sketched over, theirs has been completely erased.
You can’t go home again. If true, what then? We treasure the beautiful memories of our original home, like light in darkness; yet, we can seek and find new homes. After I left Detroit, I found my new home in the communities of Bakersfield and Bakersfield College where I’ve had wonderful times with special friends who have laughed with and consoled me. I’ve been fortunate, but, sadly, many aren’t.
Homeless. Today, too many people have no shelter, no place to sleep, eat, weep and laugh. No shelter from the rain, the wind, the anguish of being nowhere but on indifferent streets. We must find a way to help them go home again, to open a door to a clean, well-lighted place.
Homeless. Beyond a shelter, though, having a home, being home, means having a place filled with happiness and joy, a place of consolation for suffering and sorrow and tears, a place with hugs. A literal home may change as we move from place to place, neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, but as the ancient proverb says, home is where the heart is, home is where love is.
‘Tis the season to be. Let us reach out to make this season to be not homeless, to be one where all people can go home again.
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.