In the kitchen upstairs, Mom would ask for an item located in the dreaded basement. The lucky child (often me) would then turn from the warm and inviting land of the living. Sometimes I wish I had leaned in for one final hug before staring imminent death in the face.
It took just a couple steps to cross the threshold from the kitchen to the hallway. The hallway led to bedrooms on one side and opened to the living room on the other side of the kitchen wall. Just in front of the hallway were the stairs.
The first flight wasn’t scary at all. Life was still buzzing all around. Lights were still bright. Even reaching the front door didn’t dim the lights. Not really anyway. It just felt like it. Because at the front door we had to turn to head down the second flight of stairs facing the opposite direction. That was noticeably darker. Maybe it’s just my imagination but it seems like there was no light switch illuminating that last set of steps into the basement.
I seem to remember that basement door being painted black and it was often closed. At least it was when we were harboring a minion of Satan, otherwise known as our evil black cat Rashka. Her kitty litter was in the basement and there was a mutual hatred between the family and her. She would gouge the door with her claws in protest of her false imprisonment. I hated that cat!
We didn’t have the cat all that long. I was allergic to her and frankly we didn’t enjoy being terrorized by our own pet. Still I remember that dreaded basement door being shut more often than not. It only added to the agonizing anticipation to have to turn the knob and open the door into black oblivion.
It’s not like there was a convenient light switch just inside the door. There was a phone on the wall. It would have been easy to call 911 even in the dark. Lift the receiver, feel for the second to last hole, spin it around, feel for the first hole, spin it twice, wait for dispatch or death. Whichever comes first.
No, there were no lights for several feet beyond the gold sculpted carpet square at the bottom of the stairs on the live side of the basement door. Inside the basement door was cold concrete and thick air. I know because I had to wave my hand in it frantically reaching for the pull string of the first light bulb.
Successfully turning that light on did not dispel evil. There was no lampshade to soften the light but even then the light didn’t reach far. Just enough to create horrifying shadows everywhere as I walked to the next light bulb hanging from the ceiling. At least the next pull string was visible.
With as much light illuminating the basement as possible, it was still a terrifying adventure to get to the food storage located under the stairs. I had to walk past the roughed in bathroom and then the washing machine. The drain in the floor always reminded me of the fat rodent that sat on it one day while my mom was doing laundry and we were playing in another room. *shudder*
Past the laundry area was the door to outside. My dad easily kicked the door in when we accidently left the keys inside and were locked out. My brother also kicked in that rickety piece of wood when the house key hadn’t been replaced in the shed outside. Not always the safest realization when alone in the basement! Adjacent to the door was a massive black pot bellied stove.
One final room before the canned food. That room at least had shag carpet covering the cold cement floor. It also held forgotten memories of furniture. The white piano and the orange velvet couch among other furniture and random storage. I carefully tiptoed through the labyrinth until I reached the wooden studs separating the storage area from the rest of the room. Now to find the green beans.
If I couldn’t find the green beans I would grab corn. Anything edible to take back to my mom. I would grip the food tightly while taking a deep breath. My hands shook a little as I yanked the darkness back into the room with the light bulb pull cord. My steps quickened toward the next light. Then I bolted from the oppressive darkness, taking the stairs two at a time, back up into the warm kitchen.
My childhood basement was the scariest place I could think of. Over time I realized I wasn’t alone. Basements are just creepy places. Nobody wants to hang out in the basement!
That being said I am annoyed that California homes don’t typically have basements. I could use the storage space. Alas, we have no basement. Just a nice upstairs and downstairs.
Gwen is terrified of the upstairs. To be more specific she is afraid of being alone upstairs. If everyone is upstairs then suddenly we are torturing her by asking her to be alone downstairs. I usually give in and let her turn the TV on for company.
This is a girl so extroverted she cannot be alone for any length of time. Tears and fears are her excuses for human interaction. We send her to bed and she stalls until her boys go up with her. She cannot brush her teeth unless someone is up there with her. Eventually we manage to cut off the stall tactics and all three kids are upstairs, supposedly in their own beds.
Gwen comes down. She can’t sleep. Granted it’s only been thirty seconds but long enough that she knows sleep will elude her all night. She must inform us. Then get angry with us for not allowing her to have a sister to share a room with! The sister fight comes up when she has to clean her room too. Somehow she can make the mess herself but it requires a sibling to help clean it up. Oh the jealousy that her brothers have each other to fight with over cleaning!
I just love that Gwen spends as much time as she does crafting theories and proofs that the upstairs is terrifying. We must be the cruelest parents on the planet to expect her to be alone upstairs. Where it’s carpeted, nicely furnished, well lit, and a place our entire family sleeps safely. If she only knew. There are far more scary places than the loneliness of her bedroom.