It had just 2 overhead exposed light bulbs with string hanging from them to pull on and off the light. The floors, cast in cement offered no comfort or welcome, as did the surrounding atmosphere of darkness and mystery.
As you entered the cellar from the long hallway that had this almost visible portrait of a devil from the harsh paint strokes that dried on the outer door, (It was my imagination) telling you to tread cautiously and don’t wake up the demons you descended the steps and immediately things started to happen. You came to an old Victrola, with the dog looking into the sound system: “His Masters Voice.” label on the grammar phone or speaker with the big knob-like needle holder that you manually placed on a record. On the sides it had moveable slats that looked like large vents to direct the music.
As you moved past the Victrola, there was a free standing room with doors making up the walls of this room, and I wondered if my grandfather kept a monster in the room, as I gently pressed my ears against one of the doors. I would hear these noises coming out of it and would back away, my knees shaking and the urge was to run. (It was the furnace!)
There were used oxygen tanks from before the war and after, when Dad made glass novelties and other things that had an interest to me, but the thing I always went to look at was, my grandfather Joseph, fresh off the boat when the picture was taken. He is in a black pressed suit, black bow-tie, a stiff starched shirt and black shiny shoes, topped off with a boutonnière on his lapel. This picture amazed me as it had him standing in front of this grayish background from a almost Draconian set, next to a table that stood on three legs, as it was a small table. The picture must have been about 30’ x 40”, and although I was named after him, I never met him. His sharp black moustache trimmed to a pencil thickness dominated his face, and his eyes seemed to tell so many mystic stories. Here was the cradle of American life born from the “other side.”
There were two long factory tables, probably where all the glass novelties were placed and sorted before being shipped to customers. Flags, American in kind stood in one corner of the room and pictures of haunting poses of saints occupied the other walls, and as you walked the length of the cellar you could almost hear the echo of days past, each object with its own tale to tell.
Then there was Grandmas gas stove and the wonderful steaks she would make on it. She had what best can be described as an iron wired contraption with a long handle that you lifted to place a steak in, you closed the handle and placed the steak on one of the burners and there you roasted or bar-b-q the steak, leaving a mouth-watering smell that drove you crazy if you were in the least bit hungry!
The canning room had shelves lining it, with jar after jar of tomatoes, eggplant and other canned delights that once extracted from the darkness of its home and placed on the plate created all the sunlight you needed in your life.
When Grandma cooked, she reduced things down to the simplest of terms, she cut her garlic over the pan, she tossed her spices by the pinches and stirred her magic to perfection and completion, leaving the diner totally satisfied. When the canning room came alive, while processing the tomatoes in particular, there were flies everywhere, but grandpa rigged a big fan that kept them out of the room.
Oh I would give anything to once again see my grandparents, to feel the special love that came from them, in their zest for life, their kindness and generosity, their love of food and family, because it was family and love that fueled the engine they drove.
I cannot cry that I miss them, but laugh at the memories and take comfort in their lives touching mine.
So what lurked in that cellar?