April 6 2009 downstairs
Magic or mystery or both reside downstairs. Doesn't matter what the house is, or where it is. Could be the basement of an apartment complex. Could be the underbelly of a subway station, or the catacombs of Davis High School. It is the mixture of items important enough to save but not important enough to be remembered and used; forgotten treasures mixed with cobwebs and moldy bindings. Downstairs in the eastern US tastes different than downstairs in the western desert. Downstairs in the west is the smell of wood and cement and laundry and a three month supply of Dial soap on the back room shelves. Downstairs Tawas, Michigan is nautical, the damp air snuggling into your nose with the scent of wet canvas and mildewed wood, the hum of a dehumidifier as an overtone to all conversation. Downstairs at 373 Old Clairton Road in Pleasant Hills PA was varnished gum wood banisters sticky with August, cold cement and curling edges on the flooring. We had an old aluminum screen door that banged faithfully in the key of A when we ran out to the back yard. Our basement reeked of Marlboro cigarettes and Iron City Beer during baseball season, our father hunkering down in his chair, his feet sunken in the ottoman inches away from the black and white tube TV. Mother Nature helped us along in the cleansing process of that basement when the roots of the trees surrounding the old Tudor home dug into the sewer lines underneath and the liquid belched up into the basement. Inevitably she did this directly before we were to leave for our summer trip to Idaho. Or, if she was in an extra spiteful mood she regurgitated while we were gone, so when we returned exhausted from 38 straight hours in a station wagon we got to lug boxes of old school papers and Relief Society magazines out to the incinerator and leave it all piled there to dry enough so we could burn it on our designated burning day. So much of the masterpiece of my childhood went up in smoke, and is designated as speckles in the air of the universe. Every child needs a good basement somewhere, if not at their own home, then at their Aunt Becky's, or their grandparents, or at their mom's good friend's house. Somewhere where the noises of today are muffled by the floorboards and ceilings, where imagination is freed by anonymity, where the left over clothing of decades ago become costumes for a play, and the cans of lentil beans become dinner on a cardboard box stove in the far back room, where the toys of a toddler are stored and rediscovered in secret, calling up old feelings that disappeared unawares years before. And every basement needs to hold sacred some unfinished portion; somewhere that stays the same, year after year, or is only added to, not taken away.
Consider this: we are playing at this very moment, all of us, in the basement of heaven. Still part of the house, but the grown ups upstairs are so serious and, well...grown up. We are here in the downstairs, pretending to be grownups in the leftover shavings of former creations, free to create. Safe, but free.