Grandma’s Basement


My grandpa and his dad built a house into the side of a hill. The main floor had three small bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and stairs to the kitchen below. The kitchen looked out over the hill down to the creek and had windows and a back door with a screen door. The kitchen was warm and cozy, two low side windows and a double window over the sink.

The kitchen was in one half of the walk-out basement. The other side of the basement was where the furnace and water heater resided. It was cool and dark on that side with only one small window for light. I’d go in there to wander around the canned foods and stacked boxes. Right under the window was an old wringer washer, next to the modern one. Grandma still hung out her wash to dry on the clothesline strung up along the back of the house.

The wringer washer fascinated me. It was a big round white thing with bumpy gray rollers above it. The crank was white and oh, so tempting.

I turned the crank and watched the bumpy gray parts turn. What did the gray parts do? Why were they turning in opposite directions? I decided to experiment. I put my pointer finger of my left hand next to the gray parts and turned the crank with my right hand.

The gray rollers grabbed hold of my finger and sucked it in. Oh! That isn’t good. I turned the crank a little more.   My finger disappeared between the rollers, and it hurt.

What was I going to do now? I was alone in the dark part of the basement and couldn’t go anywhere.

In kindergarten, I wet my pants on the way to the bathroom. I stood there over the puddle of pee, humiliated. Miss Tatz came over to supervise.

“What should I do?” I asked her.

“Take your shirt off and wipe it up!” she yelled.

I was horrified. I didn’t want to take my shirt off. Girls didn’t do that in public. I didn’t understand her sarcasm.

Another time I was at home with my baby brother in the living room. He was in the wooden playpen and I wanted to play with him. I sat down on the arm of the armchair and put my long legs though the bars so that I could reach his curly little head.  When I tried to stand up, my legs were stuck. I was stuck.

These are character-building moments as a kid. Do I cry or call for help? Will I get into trouble?  Will I be embarrassed or humiliated? How old was I, anyway? With the playpen, I had to be at least ten, maybe eleven. In kindergarten, I was five. For the wringer washer, I don’t know.

I remember a younger sibling coming into the living room and calling, “Mom, Susie’s stuck in the playpen!”

Mom showed up and laughed at my predicament.  Then she came back with a stick of margarine to grease up my knees so I could pull them out between the bars.

At Grandma’s, she came looking for me. Since the door was ajar, she found me and released the wringer lever so I could escape her dark dungeon. She didn’t laugh, but my mom laughed later when Grandma told her what had happened.

Oh, to be a sensitive child and to be laughed or yelled at.  It might have built character but it didn’t build confidence.  After that I was leery of sticking my fingers or knees where they didn’t belong.

As for Miss Tatz, she was the last person who should’ve been teaching kindergarten.

More than a half century later, I can still feel the shame of it all.

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