Friday, February 5, 2021

The Cellar

 Mother Nature has her own timetable and she struck me last evening when I first went to bed. Usually I have NO trouble getting to sleep but she caused my mind to go back to a favorite place of my childhood and reminisce of what went on there. After recalling memories I went soundly asleep and knew it would be a blog entry today.

It would be easier to talk to a tape recorder when telling about what my memories are from the 1940’s through the early 1950’s. I shall explain and describe in the written words here how important the cellar was in those days for me as a child. The Cellar is the subject of these memories.  My brother, three years younger than me, was my sidekick in these early formative years. He lives nearby today.

We lived in a small home in a very small neighborhood bordering farmlands; Dad, Mom, me, my brother and twin sisters. The home had a cellar, first floor, second floor, attic, garage, and small front porch. The property included small front yard and larger back yard which backed up to the next street’s neighbor’s back yard. On both sides of the home were similar homes with congenial neighbors. There was no space between these homes except for driveways. 

The things I would like to describe include an outdoor swing, the coal bin, coal furnace, the work bench, the canned storage area, washing machine, the support pipes, and all activities that I recall in the area.

Activities include Dad’s dairy testing procedures, creating molten lead soldiers, rollerskating, swinging, ice cream making, fixing broken things, cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, turtles, squirrels, and more.

Let’s start with the coal bin. In order to have our tons of coal run down a chute when being delivered, the driver had to park in the neighbor’s driveway where our bin window was under the first floor sun room. There was never a problem with this. One year our cat had kittens high up on that pile of coal! We had to retrieve them and put them in a better place and I think it was an empty fruit basket.

When Mother did laundry, and the weather was too cold to hang out, she pinned it all to ropes strung in several different directions from the beams. We were usually down there with her, swinging on that double seater yard swing that was designed for outdoors! High and higher!  No roller skating was allowed when laundry was drying. No laundry - OK to roller skate, grabbing a metal ceiling support pillar to help make the figure eights on the concrete floor. Round and ‘round we’d go!

When Dad was home from his farm visits collecting samples for dairy milk testing, he often let us watch him using the sulfuric acid and calipers and the centrifuge for the test bottles which contained small amounts of milk. When the testing was completed and he had the information he needed to complete his reports the acid was later dumped on the driveway to inhibit grass growth. My brother remembers that he once was kicking a ball around on the cellar floor and it smashed into the glass container of sulfuric acid which burst open and the acid ran into the sump pump! On its way, it caused damage and then the floor had to be repaired and was painted gray. He says there was enough water to dilute that acid and no other damage was caused. Whew!

Dad always had to remove his barn clothes and and hang them on the lower section of the stairway before climbing back up to the landing which led to the upper floor. We all hung our jackets on the hooks which lined the upper stairs, and that kept ours away from his.

Dad was called “Putter Pop” by all who knew that he always attempted to fix things that were damaged or broken. Some were “Rube Goldberg” fixes but many were just common sense. Hours were spent by myself just watching him at work on the cellar workbench using the assorted tools. I specifically remember the electrical tape, level, hacksaw, vise, wood plane, files, pliers, hammers, oil can with the push-in bottom, and his jars of nails and screws. I learned by watching. Sometimes he would demonstrate a tool’s use and the most memorable was when the wooden curls that plane made would accumulate and I could handle them. I loved the pungent smoky air left by the soldering gun.

On the whitewashed concrete block walls of the cellar were stored seasonal sports and weather equipment. There were two sleds, skis, a tennis racket, a croquet set, shovels, bush trimmers, saws, hoes and picks. Of course there were more of this type of items in the garage as well. We had a ping pong table set up for several years. Once in a while my brother would set up his Lionel trains on that table and then play ping pong against the wall.

My brother’s English Setter “Queenie” had her large litter of 13 puppies born in the cellar.

He also had a kit to make moulded lead toy soldiers and the only place we were allowed to create these was on the cellar floor. 

He once brought home a large snapping turtle and it was designated to the cellar for observation. I do remember that it bent the piece of rebar pipe when we poked it! There were squirrel tails tacked up on the wooden ceiling beam as trophies when he was old enough to handle guns. 

The place to store all of the canned preserves was on shelves that were built on one of the walls. Tomatoes, string beans, peaches, pears, jams, jellies, pickles, root beer and more were the reassurance that we weren’t going to go hungry right away. Dad had also dug out the area under the front porch and made it into a cold cellar, lined with cinder blocks and an entry door from the cellar. In the spring, there was usually a tub with dandelion wine brewing at the bottom of the stairs and it was a very special process. Sauerkraut was fermented later in the season.

In the summer, ice cream was made in the cellar. The old wooden bucket was filled with ice and rock salt which was put around the container that held the cream mixture and the bung cork then plugged in. It was a hand-cranked unit and Dad sat on a small stool and cranked for a long time to get it just right. The ice cream mixture was usually peach, my mother’s favorite that she made from scratch. There was a drain in the cellar floor that was used to dispose of the salty water when the process was done. My brother and I were given a chance to turn the crank, but it was hard going! At least we got to lick the dasher when it was ready! Whenever there was an outdoor family gathering in the summer, the ice cream was served.

As a wrap-up, I must confess that I carved pictures and my initials in the asbestos that covered the coal furnace. I even dug my fingernails into the asbestos-covered water pipes that ran across the cellar ceiling too. Maybe that has helped my memories be so vivid and clear. 

Who’s to say? 

Now if you'd like to read more about our coal delivery and furnace just click on the link below!

Winter Heating

If you'd like to read more about Dad's dairy testing occupation just click on the link below!

Dairy Tester


  1. Thank you for your memoirs. They are so interesting and I’m glad you put them in print to share.

  2. Well, for now, I don't have time to read about the dairy testing, but I will certainly come back. Your cellar was much different than ones I remember in my youth...ours were never big enough OR clean enough for swings, game tables, or work shops. One lone light hung from the dank ceiling at the stairway end...and my mom's canned goods stored. And the coal room! I remember often you could find me in there searching for diamonds as a kid after my dad told me that's how diamonds are made/found! The milk? All I recall was the separator (milk/cream)

  3. What a great write up of memories! I enjoyed reading this on break at work on night shift.

  4. So many good memories! I have eaten many bowls of ice cream made in a hand-cranked mixer exactly like the one pictured above. The ice cream was best with freshly sliced tree-ripened peaches.

  5. DELIGHTFUL memories!!!!

    thank you!

    I remember a coal bit too, but not sure if we used it. I mostly remember oil being delivered... Same way, through side cellar window... And the coal bin would have been converted to an oil tank.

    🌹 🌸 🌺 🌼 🌷