The space is unfinished, will never be finished, cannot be finished. There’s 100 square feet of concrete floor, then a knee wall that gives way to dirt crawl space. It’s our potting shed, de facto workshop, the best place to hide Christmas bicycles. The deep freezer hunkers down there, filled with my neighbor’s turkey and a bunch of pork chops and 16 boxes of broccoli with cheese sauce. The space is not as organized as it could be, but I know where everything is. Mostly.
The children love the basement. It’s filled with secrets and camel crickets. It’s lit by a series of chain-pull bulbs, and water courses through when it storms, like most of the basements in this century-old neighborhood. We have to keep everything up on risers. The kids have helped me replace the sump pump twice, to varying degrees of actual assistance.
I built the workbench myself, though it’s nothing special: just two-by-fours and a low shelf for saws and drills. There’s a pegboard to hold screwdrivers and chisels. Currently on the plywood work surface are 75 feet of rope-swing rope, foam backer for a window replacement project, and extra Pinewood Derby wheels. During our brief foray into Scouting, each boy built his racer down there, used a couple of C-clamps to hold the block of wood steady, sanded the rough-cut shape into something smooth. Smoother, anyhow.
I keep plumbing equipment on a wire shelving unit: One Thanksgiving, we ran the peels from the mashed potatoes down the disposal and suffered what I think is best described as an explosion. We’ll never be unprepared again. I’ve got paint and caulk. I’ve got bags of mushroom compost that need to come up soon; it’s time to turn over the front bed with the mattock (lives on the basement stairs landing) and straight rake (hanging on the wall next to the leaf blower) and get ready for tomatoes. The beach chairs and floats start to look eager this time of year, and sometimes when I’m in the basement in search of A/C filters, I’ll dust off the bocce set, just in case.
I’d kill for a garage, I sometimes think. I see people with their storage systems and labeled bins, and I think, I could learn to live like that. I could hang bikes and kayaks on the walls, could keep the Christmas lights in orderly red-and-green boxes. I’d buy a table saw if I had a garage. I’d hang a tennis ball from the ceiling to know where to leave the nose of the van. We’d buy the kids a drum set. Maybe we could all be in a band.
But no. This house is not a garage house. And a garage doesn’t have secrets — not a clean garage, anyway. There’s not much mystery in order. Our basement, though — part of the thrill for these boys is that you can’t truly be sure what’s in it. The cooler, yes. An oscillating fan. Extension cords. But what else? What about this copper pipe, all this lumber? Could we cut that in half to build a street racer? Could I use this for my catapult?
Oh, man, I’ll sigh. No. Definitely not. Maybe. Well, all right, let’s go down and take a look. Let’s see.
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