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Archive for January, 2013

The Basement…

The trepidation to descend into the basement began the moment my hand held the brass knob to open the hollow door leading down the staircase.   The wooden railing only on the right ended several steps before the bottom, precisely where the odor of mildew began, where  the 8th stair creaked and fear set in.  A dropped ceiling and fluorescent lighting made the already cramped space more claustrophobic.  At the base of the stairs to the left was a closet that in the winter held rows of  tomatoes my mother canned from her garden’s summer harvest.

To the right was a large open space with paneled walls and industrial deep green carpeting on the floors with little or no padding between it and the concrete.  A small dinette that consisted of a  bench that seated four comfortably and wrapped around a square table with a Formica  table top meant to look like  wood.  Next to the table was an old couch that used to be in the family room, but was demoted to the cellar after the more fashionable, but less comfortable set was bought.  The hum of a small dehumidifier could be heard at all times magically turning air into water. In my earlier years a ping pong table took up the main space.  A ball dented in anger over a hard loss, sat  dusty underneath the stereo that was situated directly below the only window often decorated with multiple spider webs.  In the back was a closet with louvered doors where board games rarely played were stored. In the dead of winter I would sit there in the dark, doors closed in the cave within the cave layered in darkness not fearful but comforted.  I would reminisce of  summer sitting in the neighbor’s apple tree  being held in it’s branches .  My sister caught me once coming out of the closet and asked why I was in there. I told her I shrunk to the size of a lady bug and crawled through the cracks in the walls to visit a land that exists only in the damp cold blocks of concrete. She demanded I take her there and when I refused she told my mother who punished me for lying. I wished I hadn’t made it up, because I found out that once you let someone in on your own private fantasy, it loses potency.

Once, when I was twelve, my step dad came down to the stairs, turned on his stereo. Dixieland Jazz came streaming from the speakers nearly as tall as I was. I watched him through the slats as he hitched his trousers before sitting into the deep couch, resting his head on the back cushion, smiling with his eyes closed and tapping his feet to the music. It was odd watching him, unaware he was being  seen. He was more relaxed, content and happier than I had ever seen him. It made me sad that he didn’t come down here more often. Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t have taken a long nap every day after work or reach for a pill box every night after dinner. I found out years later those pills he took were Valium. A vacation from his mind packed in a miniature golden suitcase.

Our ping pong table was replaced with a pool table just after the neighbor’s was.  It was  large and white with red felt, not at all like their plain brown one “It isn’t even real wood” and the balls once cleared would roll to a holder on the sides, not sit in a basket underneath each pocket like theirs.  I didn’t play pool, but pretended to when I brought Jim DiIorio downstairs when I was sixteen to make  out, each of us taking turns taking our hands off of each other long enough to roll a ball into the others so my mother wouldn’t know. Thanks to the creaky eighth step, we may have had time enough to straighten our clothes, but not our faces when she appeared  four steps later with a basket full of laundry.

Behind saloon doors in the furthermost part of the cellar was the only part of the house free of decoration. The concrete walls were not covered or painted, a tattered rug covered the concrete floor. An old metal ironing board with a padded cover stood in the corner. The heavy iron balanced upright, its insulated cord wrapped neatly around it. The same iron that tipped while at its hottest setting onto my left hand. I don’t remember the pain, only the odor of my singed flesh, the dark smoke , my stomach turning as my skin bubbled and my mothers footsteps running down the stairs after my scream. My first pair of Levi’s would stay wrinkled that day.

Next to the washer and dryer was a  plastic utility sink stained with a deep red secret near the drain. I don’t know what caused it, but I assumed it must have something to do with blood since all my questions about it went unanswered.  The furnace, hot water heater and the dryer were all run on gas, the sound of their ignition always made me jump as the machinery running the house began to breathe with its ignition.

It was always hot in the summer and cold in the winter, always dark and scary especially if someone upstairs flipped the switch not knowing I was down there. I would scream once the lights went out, and hope the light was flipped back on or I ran to the switch at the base of the stairs before whatever lurked hidden in the damp room could come out and get me.  While the walk down to the basement was a slow one, I took the steps two at a time to leave it, careful not to knock over the dog biscuits stored on the second step

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1617 Holly Hill Drive

835-2396

I can recite the address and phone number as easily now as when I lived there 35 years ago. A four bedroom, two and one half bath Colonial on a dead end road in a planned development called Plantation Place where all the streets were named after plants and trees. I was relieved we didn’t live in Boxer Heights with roads names of  Dalmatian, Basset and Great Dane.  It was third house from the dead end and across the street from my best friends.  The house sheltered not only myself, but  my dreams, fears, and nightmares. Holding both the good and the bad memories within the walls. How effortlessly the ghosts of this old house continue to haunt the mind.

Hoping to free some  memories and hold onto others, I will be writing about this home room by room from the bottom up sharing the life of the house and the fabric of those who lived  its roof.

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