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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More Childhood Memories

More Childhood Memories From An Old Coot.

(Not the newest things on the block.  Some of these childhood stories come from a Memoir that I self published back in 1994) copyright © 1994 Richard B. Johnson

When I was at the pre-but almost school age, my father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and my mother worked in a beauty parlor named the Daisy Belle Beauty Salon.   I understand, from talking to my Aunt Daryl, that Aunt Daryl took care of me.  She lived in the basement part of a triplex where my Grandma and Grandpa Shurtleff and  another Aunt and Uncle lived in the two upper apartments.

I remember spending a LOT of time at Grandma's, but I don't think I was ever aware of Aunt Daryl being my official "caregiver".  I am pretty sure I just thought of it as going to visit Grandma.  I do remember, however, that I felt really at home in Grandma's apartment on the east side, and equally at home in Aunt Daryl's basement apartment, more or less wandering in and out at will, but my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Judd lived in the west apartment most of the time, and I never would even have thought of going in there without knocking, and being invited in.  This may be an indication that even though I don't remember it specifically, that I really "lived" in Aunt Daryl's apartment part of the time.  I know that I became really close to her son Jerry who was two or three years younger than I, and that we spent a lot of time playing  together there in the yard, and in the garage which was not connected to the house, and which had a loft, or attic which was paradise to little boys.  I think my favorite place at  Grandma’s was her  basement.  I don't think we were really supposed to go there very often, but I went down the basement as often as I could ever find an excuse, or sneak down there. There were two ways into the basement:  one through the back door of the apartment where there were two stairs, one leading up into Grandma's house, and the other leading down into the basement.  The back-basement door was often locked, which was probably why I felt a little guilty going in there.  The lock was not a problem, since I knew where the key was kept, but my favorite way to get in and out of the basement was through the laundry chute in the hall between the living room and kitchen.  I always felt amazing and daring, like the hero of a Saturday matinee serial climbing through the laundry chute, putting my feet against the one side and my back against the other and slowly letting myself down as far as I could go, keeping an eye out to see if there was laundry at the bottom of the chute to break my fall.  If there was, I could just let go and fall freely into the dirty laundry.  If there was no laundry, it was necessary to feel with one foot to try to use the shelves that were ordinarily covered with bottles of fruit, and let myself down as if I were climbing down a ladder.

I don't know if I discovered the laundry chute by myself or whether one of the other grandchildren showed it to me, but once I found it, it was mine alone, and I don't remember ever using it when someone else could see.  It was as private and secret as anything in my life, and I think it made a deep impression, because one of the continuing themes of my dreams has always been a big house or building with rooms that could only be reached through shafts, or hidden doors or complicated mazes where few but I could reach the "Inner Room."

Once in the basement it was a magic place.  I suppose it was like most other basements in Idaho.  Along the outside wall was a tool bench where Grandpa kept carpentry tools. There were chisels that gleamed, hammers, and folding rules that could be made into snakes wiggling mysteriously from side to side.  There was a sink, and a wringer washing machine, but I can't place their position in my memory.  They must not have been as vivid in my mind.  Along the ceiling were a couple of clothes lines, for rainy days, and being down in the basement on those rare occasions when clothes were hanging on the lines was a special thing, stalking down between the hanging rows of clothing, seeking  the treasure at the end of the tunnel or the mummy in  the tomb of the pyramid.

There was furnace and a coal bin, but the real magic, other than Grandpa's tools, was in the rows of storage shelves for canned fruit and other storage items.  Sometime, on the top shelf were rows of brown bottles of home-made root beer with the wire connections on the side that I could flip the porcelain and rubber caps up to expose paradise.  The other shelves were covered with canned tomatoes, string beans, pickles, peaches, pears, plumbs, and, wonder of wonder, canned raspberries, bright red and translucent with almost half a bottle of clear juice at the bottom and all the berries clustered at the top clamoring to get out.  Once in a GREAT WHILE, I would open a bottle of fruit (you'd never guess what kind), after having suffered "in the dungeon of a Nazi prison camp," and would sip the juice carefully for a long time.  I could rarely finish a bottle completely, so I would replace the lid, put the bottle behind two or three others and come back to finish it on another day.  It might be two or three days, or two or three weeks before I could get back, but I would seek out the bottle and finish it off.  Frequently the fruit in the opened bottle would have a touch of "fizz" in it from fermentation, and would be an extra treat.  I don't remember whether it was the discovery of a half eaten bottle of fruit, an opened bottle of home-made root beer, some of Grandpa's tools in the wrong place or a combination of all of these that brought about my downfall, but I remember being taken into the living room by my grandpa to be confronted by mother, grandpa, and grandma about what I had been doing in the basement.  I denied all knowledge of everything, but I am sure that they knew who had been doing what, and probably for how  long, and the next time I tried to go down the laundry chute it was full of clothes, with a hinged door at the bottom, fastened by a hook on the other side.  It was a somewhat traumatic experience.  I felt that something important that was exclusively mine had been stolen from me.


At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

This is my lucky day! More, more!
You have a gift for writing. Thanks for this sweet story.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

My secret place was the entire second floor of our big old farmhouse that was basically used as an attic. Up there I found all kind of neat stuff to fiddle with from a scale model train set to a leather tooling kit to a collection of playboy magazines that my father had stored for a neighbor whose kids were finding them. That last item was my downfall.

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Rebekah said...

Kathleen's right :) That was cute, and I could picture that basement! :)

At 5:28 AM, Blogger Gayle said...

You left a comment on one of my posts that I underestimate myself as a blogger. Well sir, you underestimate yourself as a writer! This is beautifully written, as usual. I feel especially grateful that I don't have to go out and purchase a book in order to read your wonderful posts! I have read many books that weren't as well-written. I can actually "see" you climbing into that laundry shoot, and the look on you little-boy's face when you were "found out", and even the look on your face when you could no longer get back in. Little did the grownups know that you would remember this for the rest of your life.

Important lessons for grownups to remember: Every action we take with our children are remembered forever. We make "memories" for the youngsters. Hopefully, most of them are good memories.

Thank you for this. You said you would be away for a week. You will be sorely missed!

At 6:33 AM, Blogger Davo said...

G'day ..ya old coot.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Another most enjobale story. Thanks.


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