I spent most of my youth in the basement. Not in terms of time–seconds and hours and minutes and days and years–but in terms of the profligate expenditure of my innocence, much of it was done down there.
In grade eleven, 1978, without a word of discussion with my parents, I bought a stereo from Robinson Electronics for over a thousand dollars (with money I’d made working on the farm), brought it home, and set it up in the basement. It was powerful enough to shake the entire house. The first record I played to test the machine was “A Farewell to Kings” by Rush. I had a considerable collection of albums, ranging from the sublime to the embarrassing (The Velvet Underground to Alice Cooper to Ted Nugent), but I wanted to start this new stage of my life with something completely Baroque and, not knowing Vivaldi, I chose Rush. My parents were not pleased by Rush or by my purchase.
My father designed the basement as a recreation room, with fireplace and vertical siding. Perhaps its most unique feature was a picture-window-sized framed photograph on the north wall that could be switched to one of four different landscapes: forest, mountain, beach, desert. The spare photos were stored behind the one showing, and you only needed to tilt down the frame to make the shift to a different window on the world.
I don’t recall my father ever spending much time down there, except on hot summer days when it was pleasantly cool. The fireplace didn’t draw well, so had a tendency to smoke. I remember my sister and I playing wagon train and other settler games. Later, as a teenager, I invaded and made it my bedroom for a while, until my parents said it wasn’t safe to sleep down so close to the furnace. I doubt that’s the reason they didn’t want me sleeping down there. Even when I was sleeping in one of the upstairs bedrooms again, it had became my private space. I had a scantily stocked bar in a wooden box that I could lock. I even had my own luxury bathroom.
The greatest significance it had for me was that it was my first office, where I taught myself to type on a manual Olympia and wrote my first poems and short stories at a folding card-table I used for a desk. When anyone ran water the pump would hum down in the iron-bacteria well that had apparently been infected back in that fire in the 20s.
After I went off to University, Ray took over there for a time, but when he left Dad was able to get his basement back. It became a work-room and storage place for his gramophones. Now it overflows with the past, a physical representation of my own untidy mind.