Opening the Door
The Basement of our home was a special place holding a lot of memories for us kids when we were growing up. It had three entrances: the stairway leading down from our kitchen; the slanted cellar door that you pulled up from the outside and descended down a set of cement stairs; and the coal chute that slid the coal deliveries into a pile next to the furnace. Each corner of the basement housed interesting things: the huge sink that the clothes washer would drain into; the piles of magazines; the old furniture not in use; garment bags hanging on a hook; even an old locked treasure chest that we’d play with imagining what might be inside. Later we would learn that our grandfather, in the early days, used the basement as a still for making alcohol.
The basement was also the place where my father worked on carpentry projects and my brother, J, would keep frogs and fish there that he collected in the swamp during the spring and summer. During the wintertime, on days when it snowed Mom would have us go downstairs in the basement to take off all our outer clothes after sleigh riding and building snowmen. I could recall the smell of the musty-dusty air and feel the damp darkness as I started down the steep wooden stairs from the kitchen. I could almost feel again the tingly feeling in my toes as I pulled off my boots at the bottom of the stairs, picking off the clumps of ice that had been captured inside my boot and plastered to my socks. Peeling off those stiff, frozen socks would reveal bright red toes that I was sure would never feel alive again. The saving grace was the coal furnace in the corner at the opposite side of the cellar that would be chugging away with the sounds of the roaring fire. It was kept fueled by my father who, every morning in the winter, would shovel the daily supply of coal into it.
There was a sense of freedom and adventure for me in that basement on the gray winter days that kept us more indoors than outdoors. There was a pole in the center of the room about half a foot round. I would hang onto that pole and skate around in the new roller skates I got for Christmas. There were also the pretend games of me being Dale Evans and I would throw a paper lariat that would hum in a low continuous tone when it circled at top speed over my head. When we were ready to climb back out of our fantasy worlds, there would be hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies waiting for us in the kitchen, where Mom was ready to listen to our adventures of the day. In recalling the feelings of safety and security I felt while having the freedom to let my imagination soar in the basement of the only home I knew as a child, I’m grateful for these early beginnings in the 40s and 50s.
Images from Pixabay