Basement Living

by Harry T. Roman


Just the other day my neighbor invited me in to his house to see a recent bit of home improvement. While there, we went to his cellar to see something else, and there I stood face to face with another old Newark memory—a basement kitchen.

In just a fraction of a second, I was taken back to my old Newark neighborhood, where old white porcelain, and gray Formica top table sets became the mainstay of basement kitchens---complete with gas stoves, cabinets, sinks, and everything Mom would need to make those delicious meals.

Old refrigerators also found their way to the basement kitchen too, as did the washer and dryer. Dad usually wired a telephone extension down there so Mom did not have to keep climbing stairs every time the phone rang.

Used to be that people laughed at folks who ate in their basements. What do they know? In my old neighborhood you used every bit of your house and made it a cozy nook. To us, it was simply home improvement—no different from finishing your attic.

There was no air conditioning to speak of back then, so a meal in the basement was a nice cool treat for the family on a hot, humid August night. Put a TV down there and small fan and it was a very pleasant alternative to the upper floors.

Sure, we also had a bathroom down there too; the floor was nicely tiled as well. Yep… throw rugs, lamps, and furniture. What do you think we were cave dwellers? Our old cellar was my chief stomping grounds as a kid. All I needed down there was a bed and I could have done quite nicely in my own little pad.

When I went to high school and college, it was the place me and my buddies hung out; did our homework and just horsed around. It was a relief valve from growing up, a place to crash when the world was getting too weird.

That basement lair was also where the garden foods were canned and the herbs dried—nothing like the smell of drying basil in the early Autumn. We used to dry it on top of the heating boiler. It gave a wonderful aroma to the whole basement. Some folks made wine down there too. Talk about a wonderful smell!

Dad’s workshop was way in the back, in a walled off room. We even had knotty pine on the main walls with sconce lights, and a knotty pine bar. It was great, especially for family parties, graduations, and special events. Was very easy to clean too. That was my job. Mop the floor and polish the tiles.

We used everything in our house; and eventually aging pieces of furniture, lamps, and whatnot got a quick refinish and down the basement it went. We wasted nothing. When someone got married, they might have been given some used basement furniture to get them started in their own place, and then less new stuff got recycled to the basement to make way for a home decorating spree that Mom excitedly announced. To us it was part of life. My wife and I helped 2 neighbors’ kids and our own daughter get started in their first apartments from our basement stash of recycled things.

Spent a lot of time in basements and consider myself somewhat of a subterranean aficionado. I suggest adding a nice wood-burning stove, and perhaps a full house stereo system. A big screen TV couldn’t hurt, and if possible, maybe a pool table.

But you know what? I’d give a great deal to be back on North 5th Street, down in the cellar with my old dog, doing my homework and hearing Mom and Dad talking upstairs. I really miss that old cellar hideaway-especially Dad’s workshop.

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