Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grannie's Dark Cellar

It was looked like a door to hell. I was five years old.  Grannie was VERY old.  In fact she was the oldest person I knew.  She actually was only 90 years old. She lived on Haldeman Avenue, off Frankfort Ave.  The street was very hilly and was paved with brick cobblestones.  I thought that was cool and a bit weird.

She lived alone in a little "shotgun house," which was immaculate, as she cleaned maniacally daily.  She had very few modern appliances.  She had a television, which was very strange because it was round--looked like a porthole on a boat.  To my dismay, it did not work and probably had not functioned for some time.  So, I would go outside and play whenever we visited Grannie.

There was a small back porch with shade where I would sit and play with Hot Wheels cars.  In back of that, a tiny backyard existed.  Grannie, whose actual name was Carrie Graves, had a beautiful rose garden on the side of the house and a larger one with other flowers in the back yard.  She worked on pruning , weeding, harvesting the flowers nearly every day.  She also, at 90 years old, cut her own oawn with a push mower (non-electric, non-gasoline powered!).   I had never seen such a contraption, and she let me try it and it was hard work. You had to push it and then pull it back and forth, etc.  I told Grannie she ought to get a gasoline powered mower so it would be easier--she just said , "naw."

There was one weird thing in the back yard......a big metal door-looking thing that in the ground near the back of the house.  She had it locked  always.  I wondered what it was and what was in there and multiple hypotheses came and went in my little brain.  I never asked about it or told her about my hypotheses.

Finally, one day, I asked her what it was.  "It's the storm shelter, honey, " she replied.  She unlocked it for me one day.  To my surprise, it opened like the cellar thing in the Wizard Of Oz.  We descended the creaky old stairs together. The only light was that which came in from the smelled nice and woody, like cedar.

When we reached the concrete floor she pulled a string and a single hanging light bulb came on.  Finally I could see. It was very cool and nice down there compared to the blistering horrible Louisville heat and heinous humidity.

Grannie said this was where we go if there is a tornado.  Tornadoes are very common in Kentucky.  This cellar was still quite was full of spider webs, and I sure did not want to go into  the corners, which were dark.  I stayed close to Grannie's side.  There were many homemade wood shelves with lots of glass jars arrayed on them.  I was fascinated.  I asked what was in all the jars.

She explained that those were vegetables and fruit and jams she made and keeps there in case of emergency.  These things, I thought in my little head, must be 40 years old or more!  Then I peered at the faded yellow newspapers under the jars (lining the shelves.) Headlines were from 1945.  I read some of the news from the paper.  If I touched it it turned to dust--it was so old! I started to like the place because it was so nice and cool and dark and special down there in the horrific Summer.  When she would let me, I would go down there from time to time, just to look around.

Whatever evil lurked behind the stairs sans light...I did not venture there because I was afraid.  One reason I was afraid was that there were several GIANT spider webs (the round kind that radiate out from the center about 2.5 feet in diameter!) hanging dangerously low.  At first I thought "holy shit! I better run!"  Then I saw one of the spiders in a web.  It was very very large!  I was afraid to move.  Remember, I was only 3 feet tall--give me a break!

I sprinted upstairs quickly, just narrowly avoiding another nasty huge web hitting my head.  After that, I did not ever ask Grannie to go down into the cellar again (unless SHE came with me to fetch some vegetables or jam.)  I preferred to sit on the porch in the shade, read a book, look at the beautiful rose garden and catch small the smallish greenish-bluish lizards and play with them a bit.  Some would shed their tail, but I knew they grew new ones.

Occasionally the lizards bit me. It hurt a little, but then I realized I could squish the biting lizard simply by squeezing the lizard's belly.  Lizard then realized it too!  Lizard stopped biting me.  I looked him in the eyes.  I then put him down and let him go.  He instead stayed a while then then finally a noise spooked him and he ran off into the tulip garden near the cellar door.  I loved those visits to Grannie's house.  She would go on to live to be 102 years old. I wrote to the president, Jimmy Carter and asked him to send her a birthday card on her 100th birthday, which he did! He and Rosalynn both actually signed it.