Written by my mother 25 years ago, about her grandmother's cellar.
The stair passage is nearly as narrow as the creaky steps themselves. Steps that bow slightly, in their paint worn centers, from countless trips up and down. The once white plaster wall on the left is studded with tarnished hooks; lots of hooks. Hooks crammed with out of date calendars, weary aprons, frayed towels, and a sundry of items hangable. The opposite wall is laden with black bottomed pots of every size, from a small one bowl soup pot, to a large witch type cauldron.
Pressed against the stairwell is the couch. There’s an ornately carved piece of mahogany thick with dust, but still proud just above the headrest. The faded burgundy cushions feel like brushed horsehair, and make the backs of your legs itch ferociously. Nestled on the couch stacks of care worn clothing precisely mended, washed and folded quietly rest in plastic bags.
The short, undersized porcelain stove with bent legs squats at attention against the short wall. It’s chipped and blackened from hard service. It has cooked 3 meals a day, every day, for over 35 years, and yet still serves to preserve the summer ripened garden harvest. Weak and water stained cardboard boxes advertising some now defunct brand product crouch shyly underneath holding every empty jar in the house.
Behind the far wall and through an elfin sized door is the ancient pantry. It is cool and dark with a hard pressed dirt floor. The space is severely limited, almost claustrophobic, yet the walls are tightly lined with handmade shelves. These shelves of discarded, miss-matched wood precisely fitted together are only 3 jars deep. The many recycled jars hold shimmery peach slices, grainy pear slices, vinegary pickled tomatoes, cauliflower and peppers, and sticky jellies from the backyard grape orchard. There’s a tiny imbedded window sooted by time nearly webbed over the quiet, busy spiders of all cellars. Somehow the sun squeezes through and decorates every jar it touches with a sparkling star.
The longest wall across from the stove is usually dressed in shadows. There’s only a lone bulb hanging listlessly from an off centered socket in the low ceiling. As the sun sets, its struggling rays splash onto the short wall completely ignoring the longest wall in the room. Whatever is there always seems to be hiding. However, some larger objects are hard not to explore, such as my grandfather’s workbench. It is so dusty it dares you to interrupt its smooth layer of time with fingerprints. The work surface I pocked with nicks and slashes from long ago projects. The odd tools are lined neatly in their places along the sides. Tools with handles smoother than any fine sandpaper could make them. Their satiny feel was aged by the loving hand that aged more quickly then they. Now the tools are retired and lay untouched, yet not unnoticed in their hushed world. A world which smells faintly of coal dust and the soaked in essence of tons of grapes. Grapes from bygone years of wine making on a treasured wine press brought from the old country. A place of age and memories where life stands still most of the time, and where any intrusion of activity is very, very quiet.