No one knows what lurks in the basement

Some of it dates back more than 50 years.

Boxes upon boxes, drawers upon drawers. Yellowed and curled, discolored, even slightly moldy.

It’s stashed in our unfinished basement, in dark corners and behind cartons of other stuff. 

And we’re starting to muck it out.

It’s almost all mine, not Kathy’s. 

It’s stuff that has collected over lo these many years. You know the drill: “Gee, I hate to just throw this out. I might need it sometime. I might need to look it up for some reason in the future. It’s not hurting anything down here. I’ll just leave it here for now.”

So it stayed. 

And other stuff piled on it and in front of it. It’s all there. And it’s coming out.

Son Matt came back to Jefferson for a week in late July from his home in Raleigh. We had a wonderful visit with him, and as usual, he asked what we needed done around the house while he was here. 

There was the basement.

We rented a dumpster from the city and started hauling stuff upstairs. But Matt, being Matt, organized the effort. He sorted stuff into piles on the old ping pong table: definitely throw, maybe throw, probably keep, definitely keep, and “whoa, look at this one!” 

The “whoa!” stuff provided riches of nostalgia and some embarrassment. 

Cards and letters I had always intended to respond to, some of them as old as 1964. Documents, papers, records from boards and committees I had served on back in the day. (Someone sometime might want to know what we did on that project, etc. Surprise — no one ever did.)

Unfortunately, Matt also found some of my efforts at poetry from my college years. I fear he, being Matt, may have made copies.

The University of Iowa phoned one day about 30 years ago: would I be willing to donate my papers from my years on the Republican State Central Committee in the late 1970s to the university? Flattered, I agreed, and told them they could come and get them anytime.

The documents are still in the basement. 

I won’t throw them out yet, but like me, they’re not in any better shape now than they were then. No improvement with age there.

In 1967, I was given a collection of several years’ worth of magazines. Not National Geographic, and certainly not Boy’s Life either. They made it to the basement when Kathy and I bought the house in 1980. 

They’re still there, fading, curled, in pretty bad shape. Throwing them out will be an acknowledgement that I’ll never be a young man again. I’ve suspected that for some time now. But the physical act of hauling them up the stairs and chucking them into the dumpster will produce a twinge or two.

I hauled eight years’ worth of books and papers from college classes to Jefferson when I returned in that 1967 year. They too are in the basement. I built five long shelves of drain-tile-and-board bookcases in one of the rooms down there and filled them with the books.

Over the years, the books on the bottom shelf absorbed moisture from the basement floor, and they have now deteriorated beyond salvation. Fortunately, they are not valuable titles, and I can haul them up the basement stairs to the dumpster without remorse.

The house was built in 1901, and consequently the basement features a former coal room, with a little window to which the coal truck would back up and shovel in coal for the old furnace. It’s festooned with huge arrays of cobwebs. We never go there.

But it does contain a cardboard carton with folders of papers from some of my college courses. They are still legible, for the most part. 

I will not throw them out. What if I’m asked sometime to teach a course on the history of American foreign policy in the late 1800s, or community vs. society in political philosophy, or American transcendental literature? 

The box stays.

My paternal grandfather, P.O. “Perce” Morain, was an auto mechanic, after he made the switch from bicycle repair. He had a small collection of miniature metal vintage cars, and they somehow made it to the basement sometime in the past. 

I’m not throwing them out. 

Or anything else that has sentimental value.

Come to think of it, there probably won’t be that much stuff in the dumpster after all.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161