The Basement of Yesterday

A door at the far end of the living room led to the basement. Inside on the left wall hung a rack containing mothers sewing needs. Spools of thread in a variety of colours hung on small pegs; pins and needles rested on a shelf. Dress maker scissors and pinking shears dangled from cup hooks. A mason jar containing buttons cut from discarded clothing sat at the ready to use as replacements for mending. On laundry day clothes would be set aside for repairs and everything was easily accessible to quickly fix and return to use. Clothing was never discarded. If they were past wearing they would be cut up for cleaning rags or into squares for quilting. I still own a tie-quilt made of shirts, dresses and coats of my grandparents.



Steep wooden stairs stretched down from the landing to the cement and limestone floor in the basement. An overhead beam; low over the steps was a threat to any tall man to hit his head on the way down. You would have expected them to have figured this out but the same man hit his head multiple times.

The basement was the repository for fruits and vegetables harvested in the past summer and fall. A raised stage area was lined with jars of preserves, relish, pickles, tomatoes and jams. Bushel baskets contained carrots, layered with dried maple leaves. Other hampers were for turnips, squash and Spanish onions; all to be enjoyed over the coming winter months.

Geranium plants were brought to the basement to over winter. By spring they were usually long, straggly plants but mom would make cuttings from them. Once they had rooted they were planted in pots. No trips to the greenhouse to buy new geraniums each spring.

A white powdery fungus grew on the walls and the limestone had a distinctive musty smell of dampness. Even in the summer months the basement was cool.

Behind the stairs there was a cistern to retain rain water fed from eve troughs on the roof. Living in the country well water was rationed as it was required for the animals and the rainwater helped extend it.

In the middle of the floor space sat butter churn. It was not used anymore but as children we loved playing with the churn. The large wooden barrel was suspended between handles that allowed it to be turned back and forth to transform the cream into butter.

In the corner opposite the cistern a low wooden bin was waiting to receive the fall harvest of potatoes. At Thanksgiving Dad would bring out the ancient, rusty digger and hook it up to the tractor. A wedge of steel ploughed into the ground pulling the potatoes up to a conveyor of metal rods. The whole machine rattled as it shook off the dirt and vines and dropped the potatoes back to the ground. The kids had the job of picking up the potatoes in buckets and placing them on a trailer. The trailer was moved to the basement window and a ramp was placed between the trailer and window. Buckets were emptied on the ramp and more dirt was shed as the potatoes tumbled to the bin below.

Visitors were surprised when our mother would send us to the basement with a bowl to collect potatoes and we would take a piece of firewood with us. The cracks in the limestone floor were easy access for snakes to the basement. Snakes liked to hang out in the potato bins and the stick was for defence. The snakes were not dangerous but were not welcome guests either.

The basement we knew as children is not the same as those of today. It has evolved to a place for family to watch television and spend time together. Fruits and vegetables are purchased in the local stores and no one chases snakes; at least I hope not.


4 thoughts on “The Basement of Yesterday

  1. Oh Lillie what a lovely piece of memorabilia writing. This warms my heart except for the end:) I dislike snakes too. Great descriptive writing and oh yes the photo is great and a perfect one for this. LOVE this. Hugs B

  2. This sounds like a great house, with a well-stocked basement, ready for a busy family. What industrious and resourceful people your parents were, and I suspect you have kept many of those traits, even if your basement differs from the one in the home where you grew up. Your story evokes some wonderful memories for you. Thank you for sharing them. It’s great to see some photos on your blog, too.

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