Chris Smith: Gatherings on scraped dirt honor the homes that were, and that will be

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At houseless parties like the one that Lori and Eric Solis of Glen Ellen hosted, there are tears and hugs, smiles and swapped memories, food and drink and dusty shoes and, often, an earthmover in the background.

The Solises invited friends, neighbors and kin to come to where their home used to be. It alone occupied the junction of Trinity Road and Sonoma Highway until it fell to the Nuns fire.

The clan gathering on the cleared homesite heralded the start of construction of the Solises’ new home.

“It was pretty emotional, and special,” Lori said of the coming together.

She was just 15 when her family moved into the house that burned. Only two years before the firestorms she and her husband had it modernized to make it their own.

AT THE CEREMONY on the scraped-clean parcel, a friend of the Solises who’s a minister blessed the land. Lori and Eric showed their guests the plans for their new house.

Eric’s a contractor and will build the house. He and Lori also own Top That Yogurt in Sonoma.

At one point in the celebration on their homesite, they used a garden trowel presented by a friend to perform a ground re-breaking. They dropped that first scoop of soil into a commemorative jar.

Another potent moment came when the Solises held up a long lei decorated with some of the handmade wooden Stars of HOPE that have touched the hearts of many firestorm survivors who found them hung from trees or fences or other still-standing structures on their ravaged properties.

The Solises have befriended Jeff Parness of New York, who began placing the stars for victims and survivors of tragedies after his business partner perished in the 9/11 attacks.

Parness’ mission has been joined by people affected by mass shootings. Now Eric and Lori Solis are paying forward the kindness by creating Stars of HOPE for others who are mending.

RITUALS OF RECOVERY like the one the Solises held on their lot just ahead of the start of reconstruction are happening throughout the area struck by the October fires.

John and Lori Hafner set out a party buffet on their cleared parcel in Fountaingrove and invited neighbors and loved ones to come toast the start of their rebuild.

As with Lori Solis, who’d been in her home since she was a kid, Lori Hafner had a connection to the house she lost. It was built and previously occupied by her parents, Chet and the late Gloria Galeazzi.

For Hafner, the celebration on the construction site on the hill drove home just how much has transpired since the fire of 11 months ago.

“I’m so glad it’s now and not then,” she said.

IN SONOMA VALLEY, Lori Solis said after the ceremony that remembered her lost home and blessed the land in preparation for the new one that it’s been simply stunning, how the community has helped her family along the way.

“We’re doing good,” Solis said. Now that the remains of the burned house are trucked off and the transition to reconstruction sanctified, she added, “We’re ready to stake the corners.”

Going forward, Solis said, “We’ll be able to start building new memories.”

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 or

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