Thursday, February 6, 2014

Val Realizes an Underlying Reality of the Underground

Well, this is awkward. Yesterday I left you in my grandpa's basement. Calm down. I'm coming back for you now. There's no reason to be scared, even if you didn't know where to reach the pull-strings for those light bulbs. Uh huh. The switch by each door only turned on the closest bulb. You'd think a guy who was an electrician might have remedied that situation, huh? But it was only a basement to him. Not a personal playground.

I was never scared in that basement. No headless men appeared to me. I heard no footsteps or unexplained sounds. No, I was never scared. But I did have an eerie moment. It must have been a weekend. My grandpa had been in and out, and had left the light on over his workbench. I liked looking at the pegboard on the wall behind it, seeing the tools arranged on their hooks. Of course there were always works in progress on the bench itself. Greasy shop towels, chunks of motors, odd cans in varieties of shapes containing lubricants, dissolvers, cleaners, paint, and varnish, with brushes in various stages of cleanliness laying across their lids.

On this afternoon I felt drawn to the workbench. It was like that light was a spotlight, pulling me towards one certain section. I crept closer, my bare feet cool on the concrete, coated with a thin layer of reddish-brown dust that could never be swept from the basement floor. I don't know why I felt the need to move with stealth. Nobody ever yelled at me for playing in the basement. Grandpa had let me stand next to him at the workbench many a time. I was the oldest grandchild on that side of the family. I could do no wrong.

As I got closer, I saw a metal plate laying flat on the wooden workbench. It glowed like a penny in the reflected light. It was not too big, not too small. About the size of my baby-blue plastic rectangular pencil box with the corrugated opaque plastic cover that slid open and closed like a roll-top desk. I loved that pencil box.

There was writing on that shiny metal plate. IT WAS MY NAME! Valerie Sue Thevictorian! And there were numbers under my name. Dates. IT WAS A HEADSTONE NAMEPLATE! But I wasn't dead! I was standing right there, in the cool dim safety of my grandpa's basement.

Oh, yeah. I was named after my father's little sister, who had died in early childhood of an infection. I knew who I was named for, but I really didn't dwell on it. It was not a matter that was ever discussed around me. I backed away from the workbench and went outside.

The basement had lost its charm for me that day. But I would be back.


  1. It was so addictive to me to go to the basement - like time travel. I also enjoyed my parent's attic. My dad was like my Grandmother - he saved everything.

  2. That would be shocking!
    My mothers little sister died from influenza. She was probably three. Her name was Josephine.

  3. My grandfather had a huge barn filled with lots of sawdust and mysterious contraptions. Their basement was a treasure trove as well. A wringer washing machine, for one thing...

  4. That must have been some discovery. My former in laws had a dirt basement/ foundation/crawl space, which scared the heck out of me.

  5. knancy,
    Now I AM jealous. No attic for me. Not unless you count my grandma's new old house after she got divorced, where she had an attic over her garage where Hick found a mummified cat. Grandma never had a cat. I was too old to truly enjoy the garage attic junk, though Hick DID put the mummified cat in a large Ziploc bag and offer it to me. For school, he said. Always the educator, that Hick...

    I hope you weren't hiding anything when you wrote about being called "Jody" as a boy. Like maybe an old Johnny Cash song might be found, about A Boy Named Josephine.

    Not making me jealous! Maybe you can get some tutoring from knancy. My grandpa on the other side of the family had a wringer washing machine in his basement. He used to wash his work clothes in it. He, too, worked in the lead mines. I guess they didn't have those shower rooms and separate locker rooms and hand out clothes back in their day. Now my niece's husband works in a lead mine, and he says they HAVE to take off their clothes in one locker room, then go shower, and come out into the 'clean' locker room and put on their home clothes. Oh, and when they start a shift, they have shelves of clean clothes (washed by the company) to put on for work. And blood testing every week.

    Dang. Now I feel like Karen Silkwood.

    I rented a house in Cuba MO that had a crawlspace instead of a basement. My dad, the bravest man on the face of the earth, crawled partway under there to run some telephone cable for me. That was his job at one time, working for Ma Bell before she was dismembered into infinite Baby Bells, then Frankensteined back together as AT&T. Dad had long wooden poles with various clippy/clampy trigger ends to run that wire. But he was still UNDER the house in a CRAWLSPACE. In puddles of water. With spiders.

  6. My sister was the snooper in our family, but I don't think she ever found her own tombstone.

  7. Kathy,
    I was not a snooper! Just an explorer who investigated things when nobody else was around. I never even tried to find my hidden Christmas presents. I liked to be surprised. But not surprised with my own name on a tombstone.