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The Basement as Archeological Dig

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It’s prime time for tackling my work in progress (it’s rainy, gray, depressing and Sunday — a perfect storm for writers) but instead I opt for another task, one decidedly odious and one that oddly confirms my status as World Class Procrastinator.

I started to clean the basement.

I’m not talking about the humanoid side of the basement where the TV, workout equipment and washer and dryer are located. That part of the basement is carpeted, couched and always tidy, now that I have an absence of teenagers. I’m talking the unknown area just beyond the doors of civilization. We’re talking dreaded Furnace Room and beyond that, the Old Coal Room.

It’s easy to discount these two areas. First of all, there is a door between them. Most of the year, I don’t even have to think about that part of the house, much less occupy it. The Furnace Room is fairly neat, even though it’s the repository for Christmas trees, excess kitchen gadgets and luggage. The Old Coal Room, now, that’s a different animal. There’s a safe in there and boxes upon boxes of “stuff” from when we moved here in 2004. We deposited our junk boxes there and it’s been nagging at me ever since.

Besides being a busy woman, I’m also lazy and am not fond of centipedes, so putting off cleaning the basement has been a painlessly easy achievement. However, I now find myself needing a workspace for pounding and soldering. I’ve been taking jewelry classes and working with flames should not be done in a bedroom, especially one featuring highly combustible drapes and bedding. (Hint to those who give a damn: an acetylene torch would be a very appreciated Christmas gift this year.) The pounding has also taken a toll on my dining room table, which shouldn’t matter much since no one eats on the table anyway. But someday we might want to, and those gouges aren’t getting any smaller.

I need a place to anchor my vise. I would also like to place my pickle pot (a Crockpot full of chemical agent) in an area where my spouse won’t think it’s dinner and mistakenly drink from it.

The only decent area is just inside the Furnace Room. The walls are brick and the floor is cement, thus minimizing potential fire risk. Water is nearby, and my tumbler is already in the basement. It won’t be pretty, but who needs pretty when you’re forging a piece of copper?

So I began my morning by taking stock. Much of the Furnace Room junk is transitional: half-empty paint cans, small appliances that no longer work and are on their way to the trash, seasonal clothing. There is a fish tank from the first year we brought the koi in for the winter. (No need for that now; they are bird-eating size.) I found some nice hiking books and a pair of leather pants I’d forgotten I’d owned, my son’s letter jacket he rarely wore – probably because he lettered in golf, and tools I thought were purloined.

After separating the must-haves from the permanently-deletes, it was time to evaluate the piles of boxes relegated to the Old Coal Room. Most of these are kid stuff packed by the kids before the move, and these were the items I was most dreading to open. (MY stuff, I know is in some semblance of order.) My daughter’s idea of packing is to chuck everything into a container. This includes garbage like paper wrapping and store bags. She’s an adult now and still packs her suitcase in such a manner.

In cleaning, the one thing I noticed about my daughter is she has had a long love affair with note cards. I’ve cleaned her room, her computer desk and anywhere else she has taken residence for more than two seconds, and there are always stacks of pristine – and used – note cards. White, day-glo, lined, unlined. For a girl who is not very studious, she has left a goldmine of 3” x 5” cards in her wake. I collect them and put them in a central location, hoping against hope she will find them. It seems unlikely in the age of technology. There are more note cards in my house than I have used in my entire life.

As a youngster, my daughter also had a penchant for pretty notebooks. She’s never completely finished using all the pages in the pretty notebooks, choosing instead to graduate to something newer as she matured. I unearthed a notebook she must have started in fourth grade, when she took to calling herself Private Detective H. Her “job” was to tail her older brother and write down everything he did. Since he was in junior high at the time, there were many entries regarding him and a certain female friend from school. The first page contains a largely printed warning about how this book was PRIVATE. Several pages in, my son had written comments like “You’re stupid!” and “Get a life!” She would then make an entry something along the lines of “Ew. They were sitting on the grass at the soccer game and their feet were TOUCHING!” and he would respond back with some other brotherly admonition to get bent. “Private Detective H. noticed they were at the cookie table at the SAME TIME!” was met with more snide comments.

Of course, I had no idea, and finding this treasure made me smile.

My son is no angel when it comes to storage; his boxes were in similar disrepair. He tends to save odd items like a bottle of swamp water he brought home from Knife Lake, Minnesota, after a summer visit there with the in-laws. I should have tossed it, as it’s putrid yellow and over six years old and it’s unknown what kind of bacteria is trapped in there, but for some reason, he wants me to keep it.

I found old “new” batteries, his stopwatch, music I purchased for him that was never opened and music awards we thought were lost. There was a textbook he lifted from his religion class on marriage and parenting. (I should send it to him since he’s a newlywed.) There was unused 35 mm film, latch hooks and every letter and thank you card his grandmother received from him.

I separated the garbage from the collectible, the son’s from the daughter’s, and labeled each accordingly. I was able to throw away most of the clutter, including an unopened package of PEZ and letters of welcome from “new” schools, and ended up with a pile of empty boxes.

For a few hours of trouble, I got a space for my workbench and a lifetime of memories.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.