Mark’s Remarks | Basements

I’ve always had an interest in basements. I always wanted one when I was growing up.  In my neighborhood, almost all of the houses were built right after World War II. They were built for convenience and affordability. Thinking  back, I think there were only two or three out of the 20 houses on the block that even had one.

When I was very young, it seemed the basements I knew about were damp and a bit creepy. I remember sneaking a look at the old Dracula movie on “Tales from the Tomb” one night and seeing one of the victims being carried down into the cavernous basement. To me, basements were only used for storage, or laundry, or perhaps something sinister. They were places to avoid. Dark. I wondered who the heck would want to even go down there.

My maternal grandmother had a basement, but it was more of a cellar. My grandpa had dug it out himself. At one time, it had outside doors leading down into the small dark room with concrete blocked walls and a little dirt tucked up just below the floor. I can’t remember if the floor was also concrete.   Even as an adult, I can’t tell you I actually spent much time down there.

By the time I was old enough to know about it, there was a cool trap door built in the floor of the screened in porch. The basement could be accessed by raising up that door, and I can’t tell you that many of the grandchildren ever ventured very far down those wooden stairs.  The stories of water getting down there, along with snakes and other creatures, were partly true and also frequently told to keep us out of there.

Later on, I hung out in basements where there were old toys, pool tables, or ping pong.  The first family room I saw in a basement was just a big area rug, a second-hand black-and-white TV and some cast-off furniture. I thought it was terribly cool.

Some of our friends had a great basement. It was the entire length of their ranch house and to me, it was huge. These particular friends were a bit rambunctious, so their mother would gently coax us down stairs as soon as we all got together.

I thought it was the greatest place I’d ever seen. Numerous closets, an office with an old-fashioned type writer, an extra kitchen and the best place of all: their older brother’s bedroom.  In that bedroom was the best thing of all: a drum set.

It seemed we could do just about anything in that basement. We ate food down there, played drums, played with every toy, board game and piece of furniture. We took all the pillows and cushions off the furniture and skipped across them as if they were rocks in the river. If we fell off, the alligators would get us.

We played epic hide-and-seek games and it never seemed we were too loud.  I don’t know if the walls and ceiling were soundproof or if our parents upstairs just thought nothing would surely hurt us down there. In any case, we hooped and hollered at the top of our lungs. I can remember some type of rope swing and I think we even played football and wiffle ball down there. A place of wonderment, I tell you.

Our first house had a great basement. Although it was unfinished, we had a great time “finishing” it in our own way and on our budget. We put down carpet squares and bought an extra fridge to put down there. The kids could ride their tricycles, roller skate and generally run rampant down there.

At one time, we even hung a swing from the rafters. For birthday parties, we hung up Christmas lights and made the whole place cozy and festive. It was a space that wasn’t fancy, but we loved going down there.  Always cool in the summer, it was often a bit of a retreat.  Plus, it was ours. I finally had a basement.

Michelle was just glad to have the assurance of shelter from storms.

As I write this, we are finally getting the other side of our current house’s basement finished.  It took us a while to save up the money to do it, and so we are extra proud and thankful to see drywall, closets and new doors go up along with some updated lighting and such. To us, it is definitely fancy. To the whole family, it means more space and more comfort.

Sometimes, as construction continues, I go down there and either fret over the cost of everything or marvel at all the new stuff. I play with the light switches and close the doors. I imagine the whole thing finished with everything tucked away in its place.

Yep, I always liked basements. I always thought it would be great to have one. Now that I am going to have a completely finished one in my house, I can’t help but think about those other basements I found so fascinating; the ones with the old toys, carpet remnants and the second-hand furniture.

They were places you could even be a little messy with. I wonder if I’ll miss having a place with bare rafters and concrete floors? I can’t believe I’m asking myself that.

And as long as the new lights are on, shiny and bright, I can even let my mind wander back to Dracula’s basement.

At least for a minute or two.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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