Saturday, May 28, 2022

The old basement

| July 11, 2021 12:00 AM

When I was a kid in Ohio, the stairs to our basement led to a recreational oasis. The family watched TV together, celebrated Christmas, and my parents threw their parties and the kids’ birthday parties down there.

My dad had taken on the project of “finishing” the basement of the new house he and Mom had bought the same year I was born. It was a modest house in a suburban Midwest neighborhood, so adding a finished basement effectively doubled its size — a true real estate boon for our family of six.

He added knotty pine wainscotting, topped with wallpaper that must have been trendy in the day, laid linoleum tile, built a bar with shelves and end cabinets, using a door for the bartop, and our toy closet under the stairs — a childhood secret garden with floor-to-ceiling shelves and handmade wooden storage boxes, filled with games and stuff, all neatly organized, as was my father’s fashion. (Dad immediately repaired any torn game boxes with strapping tape.)

We even had an electric bowling machine we’d stand behind, toss a puck down the sanded alley, and it would tabulate our scores with loud ka-chings.

Dad built a model train track that folded down like a Murphy bed from the wall and which could optionally be topped with a ping-pong table. He later bought a used pool table (re-covered it himself) where I learned to shoot a mediocre game, but still love to play.

Of course, the basement was nice and cool in the summer, a big deal in the muggy Midwest and especially since we didn’t have A/C when I was growing up.

Dad also added what we called the “back basement” where the washer, dryer and ironing board were, along with a wash sink, storage shelving, and a custom-made cedar closet.

It was within that billowing, crowd of clothing in the cedar closet I often hid and giggled with my childhood playmate Rhonda. The closet was so full we could just roll around in the soft piles. My mother, who was a customer service representative for the electric company, was a fashion-conscious woman, and in that closet were clothes dating back to the ‘40s and ‘50s — shoulder-padded, lapeled suit jackets and pencil skirts in the fabulous shades of that era. In college I adopted one of her burgundy jackets and wore it everywhere over long-sleeved ballet leotards with boy cut Levis sporting authentic holes at the knees; I would never stoop to cutting and fraying my jeans. The holes had to surface “organically.”

Dad also built a workbench and an office in the very back of the back basement. It was under that workbench where Mom found me hiding the morning of my first day of kindergarten. Dad’s office was always neat; he was a “place for everything and everything in its place” guy. He would tinker, build and repair all manner of things, from Heathkit TV and automatic garage door opener kits to broken radios and stereos. He once brought home a like-new IBM Selectric that was “broken,” fixed it with a paperclip, and gave it to me when I graduated high school. It worked beautifully for years and I still have it — now stored in my own basement.

Dad was our MacGyver.

I married a guy a lot like him. Over the years, Dad handed down many of his tools to my husband, who can recall exactly when Dad gave them to him, and which he still uses and takes pride in owning.

I, too, have a few of his tools — his wood folding rule, needle-nose pliers, a hinged IBM plastic case, and a small hammer perfect for hanging pictures.

Thanks, Dad, for all you either built or fixed over the years, for you also forged a family.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or