Spring, an article I wrote the other day contained the story of us kids sneaking into my mother’s basement, to dry our wet clothes after having fallen into the brook. Basement, as I now reflect back was not an accurate description of the room below our ranch styled house. Basement condors up images of a living space or a recreational room in a warm, dry, even possibly sunlit area under one’s home A place to entertain company, with activities from shooting pool to sitting at a little bar in one corner of the room watching this weeks NASCAR race. My brother in law has such a basement, proudly displayed on the wall and in trophy cases are his racing collectables; we use it for all types of family functions. Daylight basement would be the proper term for his basement, half of which is above ground, with windows and sliding glass doors that allow sunlight to stream through the curtain covered openings. These descriptions in no way describe the basement where my brother Dennis and I grew up.
Our childhood home was built by my father and mother in 1952, built entirely by them, including the entire electrical, plumbing, sheet rocking, painting , and of course the basement. Uncle Harley lent the use of a TD 19 an International bulldozer, and my dad’s cousin Robert, who regularly operated the machine volunteered to dig the hole for the foundation. The land had a natural slope towards Tarrs brook, the brook where we got into all the trouble as kids, making a perfect choice for a daylight cellar. Robert pushed the old foundation stones, lilac bushes, and remains from the fire down this slope into a huge pile, still seen today. The Fogg family homestead had set on this location for a hundred plus years before fire had ravaged it, leaving the lilac covered stone foundation. Their family cemetery gives evidence of this in dates on the gravestones, stones that today are lichen covered, some leaning dangerously close to falling over. This little cemetery, enclosed with granite blocks of stone, a stone arch complete with iron gate, gives a sense these former owners took pride in their land. Dad laid up a foundation out of cement blocks, once the hole was done, a common practice for that time, and a step up from the Fogg’s stone foundation.
This cement block foundation would be come our cellar, a poor people’s basement. Dad poured a concrete slab for a floor in the front half of the cellar, the back half having ledge rock for a floor, that gradually slope up to the back wall. Robert, when excavating the hole hit this ledge with the blade of the bulldozer, unable to move it, and not having sufficient funds to blast, Dad had decided to let it remain. This transition from concrete to ledge rock became the cellars dividing point, between the brightly lit front half and the dark, damp back half. General Electric, the company my father worked for, provided three storage shelf units they no longer needed, two he used as interior walls, the third was placed against an outside wall. I clearly remember calling these units cubbyholes, but I have no idea why, or from where that term came. These units were painted G.E. gray, a bluish, gray enamel paint used for everything the company owned, and soon to be, the color of everything we owned, until my mother put her foot down. The rear of the cellar housed the piston type water pump, standing next to it was the thirty gallon galvanized holding tank, then came the wooden shelves full of can goods, string beans, tomato’s, pickles, and of cause canned venison. The area was to damp to store much else, millipedes, and earwigs were always under anything you moved, that had been on the ledge floor, it was also to gloomy a spot to play, so we mostly stay in the front half.
The front half became our rainy day haven, when we were not allowed outside to play. Shoes a luxury back in those days could not get wet, so we would have to stay inside until the grass would dry. A Childs imagination coupled with the great things stored in the cubby holes would provide hours of entertainment, while we waited for the sun to dry the grass. The neighborhood kids would come to play with us, not having cellars of their own. We were now the rich kids, for the day, like the popular TV show in the fifties Queen for a Day. Besides the treasures already mentioned, the cellar also house my father’s workbench, a home made wooden table with a shelf a third the way up from the floor. This held all the paints, varnishes, paintbrushes, turpentine, and the other things we were not allow to touch. A small red vise was attached to one end of the bench, this was our favorite thing in the cellar, and we use it for all kinds of things, some even close to its real purpose. We could bend things, crush things, flatten pennies, and as stated use it for a vise to hold things for sawing, filing, or pounding. The other memorable feature the cellar had was the X braces between the floors joists, made of 1’x2” hemlock strapping these helped to make the floor more rigid, so it doesn’t bounce when a person walks across the floor. This is their real purpose, for us they were to become our jungle gym, to see if we could make it across the cellar hand over hand without fallen. The down side of this being hemlock splinters and sore hands from the sharp edges on the X braces. “You kids aren’t playing on those braces are you” my mother would shout from upstairs “You know your father doesn’t want you loosening them so the floor squeaks,” “No we aren’t” was always our reply.
Playing childhood games, building things on the workbench, using the vise and tools, in that cellar were a huge important part of my developmental growth, that I will always have fond memories of the cellar.
Til next, time Vic