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THE CREEPY GHOSTS OF CELLARS PAST

One of the house projects we have been chipping away at this winter is shaping up the basement. This is by no means a major renovation, just a fresh coat of paint, new lights, new storage shelves and general cleanup.

Granted, I have been acting more as observer than participant on this particular project, but I do like the idea of fixing it up. Or, rather, having someone else fix it up.

As part of the plan, we are freeing up part of the basement for a treadmill and another part as an open space for our daughter and her friends to "freeze dance" when the mood strikes.

But, other than that, I am not really interested in creating a lot of additional living space down there. I figure if the rest of the house does not offer adequate space for three people and their belongings, well -- that says something about us, not our house.

Other people do otherwise, of course. Several years ago, I wrote a story about the creative ways people remodel their basements. Their efforts were quite impressive. They converted their basements into exercise rooms, high-tech media rooms, hobby rooms, party rooms, whimsical playrooms, home offices and more.

With ours, I will be happy with neat, clean and fairly organized.

What our basement is not is creepy, and maybe that is too bad. Our basement is boring -- nothing like the one in the house where I spent my first 11 years.

We didn't call it a basement. We called it a cellar.

It had a double wash tub, a clothesline, a huge furnace that reminded me of an octopus, and a toilet -- right there in the open -- that looked like a throne.

But that's not the best part. In addition to the main area of the basement, there was a separate room called "the fruit cellar" and another called "the coal bin," which dated way back and was no longer used as one. Both had hinged doors that creaked when you opened them. And both frightened me to death, in a fun way only a kid can understand.

What I remember most is that the fruit cellar had a hole in the floor -- about 8 inches square -- that served as a drain near one corner. I grew up during my early years knowing that one day I would slip down that hole, never to appear again. It was only a matter of time. If I was roller-skating in the basement -- which I sometimes did -- my chances of vanishing increased dramatically.

Half the fun of these rooms, of course, was taking turns locking various children, usually cousins, inside of them for a few moments -- just to shake them up a bit. Our basement was great fun, even though it had no sauna, no big-screen TV, no pool table.

A few years ago, while driving near my old neighborhood with my husband, I asked him to make a slight detour and drive by that house -- as I always do when I am in the area.

Its owners were having a garage sale.

"Stop the car!," I hollered.

I approached the woman and introduced myself. We talked about the house and neighborhood for awhile, and she invited me in to take a look at the place. The interior seemed small to me -- remember, I was in elementary school when I last lived there -- and for some reason I really didn't like the curtains they had chosen to hang in the windows.

Probably because they looked nothing like the ones I recall.

We chatted some more, and I departed. I didn't ask to see my old bedroom, and I certainly didn't ask to see my old creepy cellar.

For all I know, that hole in the floor is still there. Just waiting for me.
e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com