A friend mentioned to me today that in the piece I posted yesterday, my description of the house I grew up in makes it sound like a mansion. It’s not; it’s a factory-issue Cape Cod two story with two first-floor bump-outs, and each interior room is of modest dimensions. Technically, the largest room in the house is the basement, raw concrete in most places and open from foundation wall to foundation wall. The first year we lived there, I have vague memories of my folks fighting to stem a minor flood entering via the single exterior door in the basement, at the foot of a flight of stairs which were designed to drain into an inset grill and runoff, clogged from neglect.
The basement was where I first tried to play rock and roll, to no avail, with a dear friend who (small town!) later played bass in an early band of the current householder. It’s also where my parents’ immense pre-parenting grad-student and college-professor paperback collection wound up. This notably included (to my adolescent delight) Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Toffler’s Future Shock (you’re soaking in it!), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and a post-Supreme-Court publication of Fanny Hill, which disappointingly proved as understimulating as the Supreme Court decision reprinted in full in the frontmatter.
It was also the part of the house my sister decided to sleep in in the months leading up to her death. At that point in her life, she preferred open and undadorned spaces and slept only on a tatami mat, a practice she’d selected years earlier and stuck with.
The basement also housed a relatively well-lit laundry room, a rather gloomy workshop which also provided storage, and in later years, a narrow room my father built by walling a part of the basement off with cinderblock in a largely successful attempt to create a cave-like room with minimal temperature fluctuation – a caveau for wine.
Beginning in the very early seventies, my father determined to become a winemaker, and each year from then until now – that’s about 35 years, for those reaching for the abacus – made one or more varieties of wine, usually in batches no larger than a single carbuoy. His first attempts are best considered as learning excercises. But by 1980 he knew what he was doing, and to this day, his skill has only grown.
I also recallbasement retreats in the face of repeated, and ever-more-traumatic, tornado drills. In spring, tornado watches and warnings would recur with increasing frequency, something that must remain the case today. The family would repair to the basement and listen to classical music through the crackle of slight static on the basement radio until the watch was declared over. As my sister entered adolescence, these events became ever-more traumatic. Eventually, it became apparent that she was experiencing a full-blown phobic reaction to the drills, something that may have been grounded in my family’s role as spectators of the April, 1974 tornado outbreak.
The year I moved to Seattle, my parents moved to North Carolina, and asked me if I wanted to take any of the stuff that had remained at the house since my departure about fifteen years prior. The material was stored under the basement stairs.
I looked at the pile of stuff. My first stuffed doll, Mr. Bun Rab. My collection of plastic models of space and aerospace technology. A three-foot display mannequin representing an American astronaut obtained from the show windows of a Chilean department store in 1969 at my somewhat frantic three-year-old insistence. Of course I wanted it.
Turning to my mom, I told her that It was trash and that she should just throw it away.