Childhood Fears: The basement

you know what sounds good right now my grandfather
asked from the red recliner by the front window

a nice big bowl of ice cream from the deep freeze
what do you think Squirt want to go down to the freezer

Squirt was me and I was having nothing to do
with going down into the haunted basement

there be monsters a sign should read above the door
or beware of the portal to Hell or doorway to death

the first three steep steps had no handrail
so it seemed like stepping off into the abyss

uncarpeted glossy wood slippery to child sized shoes
no traction no handhold a sudden fall an instant death

I don’t want ice cream but my grandparents
insisted I conquer my fear of the basement

staring down into the chasm I could almost see the monsters
starring back at me from dark empty shelves

my grandfather’s power tools could be nightmares come to life
the deep freeze grumbled threateningly from the darkest corner

I could tell where the witch hid which corners the ghosts crouched
I knew what lived underneath the workbench

going to the basement for ice cream meant a battle
with my deepest fears fear of falling of slipping of dying

fear of dark corners and empty shelves of mythical monsters
and cunning beasts all waiting for my small self to wander in

all waiting for grandpa to want ice cream grandpa I said
can you come with me he just chuckled you’ll be all right

the monsters and creatures and witches may not have been real
but the fears and the deep terror in my heart were

one more night I faced the monsters alone and wished someone
would hold my hand and show me gently the way to safety

Storytime: Kitchen creepiness …


Several weeks after my dad installed a new sliding door between our kitchen and laundry room, I heard my mom laugh. A good, solid belly laugh. I ran to see what could be so funny. Mom was nearly doubled over, pointing at the far end of the room and stuttering between sobs of laughter, “It’s Satan! HAHAHA! It’s Satan!”

I looked where she was pointing, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Yellow walls, a new door, turquoise and copper cannisters, a goldfish bowl on the counter by the sink. Nothing that could earn the title of Satan.

She laughed harder. “You don’t see it, do you?”

I looked at her as she removed her cat’s eye glasses and wiped tears from her eyes. The laughter seemed less hysterical now, but quiet chuckles still shook her shoulders. She leaned against the countertop and looked back at me, laughter still lurking in her eyes.

“Oh, gosh. You must think I’ve gone crazy.”

Um, yes. The thought had crossed my mind.

“Look at the new door, Sweetie.” She walked over and began running her hand over the grain of the wood. “Look. Do you see the two horns? Here are the eyes. Here’s the pointed beard. Do you see it?”

I looked at the door as if I were looking for shapes in clouds.

And then, suddenly, I saw him. Satan’s head took up the entire door. His horns branched from his head at the top of the door. His beard just touched the bottom. I had a brief momentary shudder. The face was frightening. And then I laughed. I laughed at the humor of finding the Prince of Darkness looking out of our kitchen door as if it were a portal from the Underworld. I also laughed with relief that my mom didn’t have a straightjacket in her future.

After that day, whenever a new friend came to our house, I would take them to the kitchen so they could meet Satan. I’d trace the wood grain as mother had done, describing the facial features, one by one. And then, suddenly, that magic moment we’d been building toward. Recognition. They saw him! Sometimes a scream. Oftentimes a shudder. Many times a hand clamped over a mouth. Always horror in their eyes.

My friends didn’t like to come into our kitchen or sit in the dining room where they had a view into the room. It’s understandable, though. Satan lived in our kitchen door.

[Sadly I don’t have photos of Satan in the door. I guess people don’t think to take photos of their kitchen door. Or at least my family didn’t.]