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Revised 26 December, 2009

THE BENSON HOUSE

A city is a group of villages that have banded together for their mutual discomfort. Each of the villages is an entity in and of itself, and yet the organism as a whole is required for their survival. Some of the villagers have always lived in the larger whole, some have wandered in from other villages that are more self-sufficient or survive on their own out of sheer cussedness and the desire to be left alone. For myself, I find that I prefer the city. In the city setting, I can move freely from one village to the other to seek out the deficiencies of my home village and supplement those things which are lacking without having to actually live within the missing elements.

My life has been a series of moving and meandering through the elements. I was born in one of the many suburbs of Los Angeles, and, I suppose, never really left it. Here, I am in my element. I can move to the shadows for solace and to be alone, or I can move to the various points of life and experience the sunshine and companionship of my friends.

From this metropolis of lights and shadows, my father drove us to my grandparents when I was just a baby. I was fortunate that I did not recognize the difference. We ended up on my grandparents doorstep in Omaha, Nebraska, and there we remained until I was about six. I never missed him because I never really knew him. In my heart, though, I believe I always felt that this was not where I belonged and I never saw or heard from him again, but I supposed I must have known he existed even in his absence.

When we moved in with my grandparents, then rented a house in the Benson area of Omaha. It was an old wood house next to a large church. It had an upstairs, which is where we slept, a main floor, which held the livingroom, the kitchen and my grandparents bedroom, and it had a basement, where my grandfather kept his workshop and went to hide out from the overflow of women in his life. Behind the house was an storage shed that had been a barn in its former incarnation. In that place, my grandfather kept his tools and paint and things we were not allowed to touch.

This house, for all its individual tragedies and traumas, was the birthplace of warmth and love and the knowledge that laughter will sneak in when you least expect it and catch you by surprise. It was in this house that my sister perfumed my mother's mattress (see the story somewhere in this mishmash of memories) and where she learned to write her name and did so in big bright crayon on the walls as she skipped down merrily from her bedroom one morning to show the world what she had learned. It was also in this house that my sister and I locked ourselves in our mother's bedroom and decided to play beauty parlor with her nail polish--much to the chagrin of Mrs. Mac, our beloved housekeeper. Apparently it took her sufficient time to convince us to finally unlock the door and let her in for us to have painted each of our toes, our fingernails (fingers included), and to paint lovely circles around our belly buttons as a finishing touch. So, you see, our life was never dull, even when we were terribly small.

Our house was only a block from the end of the city street car line. One of the best parts of our day was when we got to walk down to the turntable and the end of the car run and watch them swing the car around on the "round table", so it could reverse itself and head back the other way. The street car drivers always kept the stubs of their transfer books and saved them for the kids at the end of the line. We would gather our bounty and run back home to play streetcar. All the kids in the neighborhood would gather in our livingroom and we would line all of the available chairs up to create our bus and there we would play happily for hours on end.

My grandmother's garden was her pride and joy. Her favorite flowers were the long-stemed gladiolas. There were many others, but those I remember best because of old photos. There was an old cherry tree that gave off cherries so sour they made the glands behind your ears hurt, but which made the best cherry jam and pies in the whole wide world. There was a small fence that divided the front yard from the back, with a neat gate upon which we would swing back and forth. It was our belief that a bogey man lived in the pipe that held up the gate and we would dutifully spit down the pipe each time we would swing the gate shut to keep the monster in his home. My memory of the house fails at that point and I have forgotten much of how it looked.

There was one other thing that I distinctly remember and this was a white metal cupboard in the kitchen in which grandma kept her dishes. The reason I remember this cabinet was because I made the mistake of believing that I could swing on the cupboard door just as I had been swinging on the gate and was repeatedly instructed not to do so. One day, my grandmother was upstairs cleaning our room and the telephone rang. Aha! thought I. Now is my chance for one good swing before she catches me. (I was all of three). So I gleefully jumped upon the lip of the door, hanging on for dear life and made my move. The last thing I remember of that episode was seeing the toaster heading directly for my head as the entire cupboard full of dishes came to a resounding crash down around me to the tune of a scream from my grandmother upstairs as she flew down the stairs to make sure I had not killed myself and to give me a good strong tongue lashing when she had ascertained that I had not. I do not recall getting a much deserved spanking, but I do recall that I gave wide berth to that cupboard ever after.

It was also in this house that I got into my grandmother's nitroglicerin tablets. The little bottle had always fascinated me as did the tiny pills therein. I knew I had no business touching them and up until that one time, I never did. I recall being alone in the bedroom, which is something that rarely occurred, and looking that the teeny tiny little pills and thinking that they must be magic because grandma took them and they always made her feel better, so I believed nobody would miss just one. I am told that almost immediately, I became even more wired than I usually am and that I was pretty much bouncing off the walls, but did not know why but I did have the foresight to tell my grandmother what I had done and she frantically called the doctor to make sure I had done no permanent damage. The doctor had a good laugh at that and told them to just wait until I wound down and I would be fine. I am told I slept for two days afterwards, having, for once in my life, finally run out of gas.

On one occasion, I was allowed into the outer sanctum of Grandpa's shed, where he was fixing some old broken kitchen chairs and giving them new life. As usual, I chattered like a magpie and asked millions of questions as to what he was doing, what was this and what was that and why was he doing it at all. He finally finished his glueing and nailing and sanding and came to the point where he was to paint the chairs. He brought out the can of paint and poured some into a coffee can and began mixing it with the paint thinner to the proper consistency, then turned his back for a second to get his paint brush. He turned around again just in time to see my hand go into the can of paint to see what the paint felt like but could not stop me before I had dipped my entire hand into the gooey, messy, lovely white paint. oops.

I loved that house and I suppose, it its way, it gave all of that love right back to us for the time we lived there. There is more, but I leave that to another tale.