Cool. Dark. Smelling of wet earth and cobwebs.
It was the basement, or more commonly, “the cellar”. It was the place mom went to fetch a jar of green beans, or dad went to see if a fuse had blown, or something had gone wrong with the pump for the well. It was the place in my dreams, and sometimes for real, where we went when funnel clouds were feared and things started flying around in the wind outside. I had watched “The Wizard of Oz” religiously for years and knew the cellar was the place to be.
It was a dangerous place for children, or so we were told (until we were old enough to work at cleaning it). It was the cellar steps that scared our parents the most. The only access to the basement was outside – a cement staircase, worn and a bit jagged, descending down into the ground under our house. Retaining walls on either side were probably meant to hold a door that would keep little children from falling into the abyss, but I don’t remember when our doors disappeared or if they were ever there. I remember playing on the steps. It was a cool retreat in the summer. It was my pretend home where I “cooked” mud pies decorated with dandelions and put my dolls to sleep.
At the bottom of the staircase, was a heavy, ill-fitting door with an unusual latch. I remember worrying about opening it, and then worrying again about being able to get it closed. A door left open might be a nocturnal invitation to a skunk, or something bigger. Who knew? And of course, a small child, mistakenly left behind in the cellar might not be discovered for some time
The floor inside was dirt, uneven with cement scraps and piles of “stuff” that kids couldn’t identify. In one corner was old wooden shelving that held dusty jars of produce, canned and stored from previous years gardens. The other corner housed a pump on a cement block. It dripped water and the dampness and faint smell of mold permeated the room. We knew our water came from somewhere under the pump and whether or not it was working was always of great concern to our parents.
Stories of the cellar would not be complete without mentioning it’s most numerous occupants – the family Arachnidae opiliones, Harvestman, or as we called them “daddy long legs”. Somehow we didn’t fear them as we would a spider. Their long spindley legs made them look too clumsy to be vicious. They were interesting and I watched them often. Others were not content to watch and I’m sure some torture occurred during moments of childhood boredom.
I’m just sayin’, I remember the cellar. It was part of our world, our house. Not many of them left.