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
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
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.