The Detective’s Daughter – There’s No Place Like Home

Kim in Baltimore with a beautiful print by artist Joanna Barnum for our Thankful for our Readers giveaway. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

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On a cold, snowy January evening nearly fifteen years ago my dad’s house blew up. You read that correctly. A small fire believed to have started in the living room traveled quickly igniting boxes of ammunition Dad had stored in a bedroom. By the time I arrived on the scene the firefighters had been evacuated and a news helicopter hovered overhead.

The brick walls still stood, stained with soot and glazed in ice, but intact. The rest of the house, the floors, ceiling, stairway, were turned to ash.

Our house had been built in 1860. The Nortons, my grandmother’s family, had moved in

Kim 1
Assorted Norton children

not long after the construction was complete and had been the only family to live there for roughly one hundred and forty years. My grandmother and all of her siblings were born in that house as well as my father and some of his cousins.

Kim 2
My great-grandmother, Annie Graham Norton and unidentified man.

After the fire Dad moved in with me and the house was sold and remodeled. It nearly broke my heart and I was glad my grandmother had not lived to see this happen.

I have lived in my own house now for twenty-five years, seven years longer than I lived in my childhood house, yet it is still that large brick row house of my youth that I call home. I am always yearning to return.

It’s funny how, as a teenager, I was quite eager to escape and be on my own. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have my own place. Now all I can think of is how nice it would be to go home and sit across the table from Nana and enjoy a cup of tea.

Kim 3
My great-grandmother, Annie Graham Norton and her oldest granddaughter, Madeleine Buckey.

I find, though, each month I am able to go home again when I share my stories with all of you. For that I am thankful.

Kim 4
My grandmother, Florence Norton Kurth Beckhardt, my mother, Frances Smith Kurth, and me.

Readers, share with us about your family home in the comments below. 

32 Thoughts

  1. What a bittersweet story, Kim. I remember when you told us that story at Malice a few years ago – you said, “My sister called and told me to turn on the television!” – and it was your father’s house.

    I loved my childhood house – kind of a rambling California home with a big back yard, lots of fruit trees, camellia bushes, and berry bushes, and a quiet safe neighborhood. The people who bought it after my stepmother died did a horrible remodel and cut down the big shade trees – I don’t need to drive by there any more.

    1. I feel the same way about our home. The remodel was actually beautiful. They added a rooftop deck that overlooks the city. If I’d had the money, I would have bought it back. I have to admit I feel quite the failure regarding the house. I was the generation that lost it.

  2. I never actually had a childhood home of my own. We lived in “garden apartments.” They were great places to grow up since most of the neighbor families had kids, but they always felt temporary since they were essentially stops on the road to homeownership. My Dad never wanted to own a home and my mom always wanted one beyond his budget. The end result, we never considered the apartment an emotional home, but a safe and secure roof to provide shelter.

    When I think of a childhood home it’s my great-grandparents’ upstate New York farm. That was where the family gathered and it was always fun in all seasons. It was a working turn of the 20th-century farm. That’s the home my heart returns to.

  3. My grandmother’s house, where I lived as a very young child, is still in the family. One of my cousins lives there, and we were all happy to see it. My brother, though, once said, “Did you know that there is Internet now in Grom’s house?” We all paused, a little freaked out by that concept!

    1. I love when houses stay in the family. I also am noticing a pattern here about the homes of grandparents. I grew up in my grandmother’s home. My father never took her name from the deed even after her death. Oh, and the house never had internet. Maybe it does now.

  4. After living in the same town until I was 18 (in two different houses) I’ve had a nomadic life so my concept of home is different. Home is where my stuff is, home is where my family is. My parents moved to my hometown a few years out of college for jobs. Then they moved to Florida. But I love stories of homes and towns with deep roots like yours, Kim. It’s such a different way of life from what I know. And I do feel nostalgic about the town I grew up in and sometimes feel yearnings to return.

    1. I love my hometown. Baltimore is very much a city of small neighborhoods. Every place I write about, regardless of location, is an interpretation of Baltimore. I also have things that mean “home” to me. When I am extremely homesick, which has been quite often recently, I take out my grandmother’s tea cups and pour myself a cup of McCormick’s tea. If I close my eyes I am at her table listening to Doris Day on the radio with the scent of coffee brewing in the air.

  5. Even though I’ve heard this story before, somehow it always astonishes me. I picture one of those famous Baltimore brick houses.

    My parents had a beautiful old house on a golf course. It wasn’t where I grew up, but it’s the house all the grandchildren remember and where we had so many summers and holidays. The people who bought it took down the shutters, sealed up some doors and painted it the color of a bandaid! I can’t even drive by it.

  6. Thanks for sharing this touching story. Not too long ago I took my four grown children to Chicago and we visited the house I was born in–a “duplex” built in 1893, much like a row house. They were blown away, a meaningful experience for all of us. And many happy memories for me.

    1. What a nice experience for all of you and one more to add to your memories. I am glad my children were able to see the house I grew up in. They don’t remember much of it, but still like to talk about the koi pond my dad had in the side yard.

  7. I live one block down from the house I grow up in. I walk our dog each day and pass my home , which we sold two years ago. Four years after my mother passed away. I have wonderful memories of my childhood in that house. But knowing a young man brought the house (his first home) and is fixing it to his home and hopefully have wonderful memories to share one day with his family.
    Everyone have a wonderful day!😊

    1. Isn’t that wonderful? The first people who bought my dad’s house after the remodel used it as a rental. The place, on the outside at least, looked like a disaster. I stopped riding by it for a few years. Recently I found myself in the neighborhood and the house looked very cheerful and well-kept. I hope there’s a family that loves it now.

  8. My Grandparents had a summer home that everyone would go to in maine. It was a place where her siblings and his siblings would come to visit every other summer some of her sibling still lived in norway where they both were born. He came to the states as a boy but she was a teenager when she immigrated to the states. Fun time for all.

  9. I’ve lived in So Cal for 22 years, longer than I lived in Northern CA. I’ve been in my condo for 14 years now. Yet, tomorrow, I will be going home for Thanksgiving. My parents are still in the house they bought when I was 3, and that is definitely home.

  10. Being what we affectionately called an Army brat, we learned at a early age that home was where we were all together. We felt home was more of a feeling than a place. It wasn’t until my late teen years when Dad retired after 30 years of service covering WWII, Korea and Vietnam did we have a permanent home. That home was special to me for many reasons once of which I got to help oversee construction. I had taken drafting in school while we lived in California and was able to help my parents correct a couple major mistakes that was taking place in the building process. Sadly after Dad died and Mom had cancer and Alzheimer it became necessary to sell that home and Mom came home to live with us.

  11. We had a fire in my family home when I was in high school. It started in the garage and went to the porch, but the firefighters stopped it from burning the house and rescued the dog from the basement. It was really hard staying in the house that nlght, thinking about what the house looked like when it was on fire. Hope I don’t have that experience again.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

  12. I don’t really have a family home, but I feel a strong pull to the house my aunt and uncle lived in because my grandpa lived with them. It was just an ordinary old house, but I spent a lot of time there as a child and remember it vividly. Grandpa was a neat old guy who lived to be 92. He let me play with comb over of a very few hairs. Lots of great memories in that home.

  13. Your story reminded me of a quote I read recently by J. M. Barrie:
    “God has given us our memories that we might have roses in December.”
    I lost a childhood home (my grandparent’s home) to a remodel. So many memories at their white farmhouse at the end of a long dirt road surrounded by trees that seemed to guard the house. The modern house that replaced it is nice, but nothing like the original. So sorry your dad lost his home of many generations, but happy for your memories of the house and its very special occupants.

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