I can remember a time, in the early Sixties, living in a tiny house with my eight siblings, two large dogs, two severely overworked and stressed parents and one Great Grandmother who had been raised as an only child and to who this whole menagerie was a revelation. I can still picture those basement steps. You would open the basement door to the funky smell of dirty laundry, laundry soap, bleach, starch and steam. What a combo, and looking down those darkened steps you could almost perceiveat the bottom a whole different kingdom of hobbits, dwarfs or their kin that dwell somewhere underground. It was truly what you made of it, this view into another world. Could be kind of scary on the right overcast day, the very thought of it bought it all back, our Basement steps when I was a kid. If my tiny Mother had attempted to wash those deadly steps she would surely have been killed in the avalanche of dirty laundry contained in our record breaking “Laundry Ball’s”. The steps were a straight shot down once you reached the landing. When you opened that frail wooden door in the kitchen to reveal this yawning hole into subterranean oblivion it was four steps down to a rather tiny landing with the side door to the house. You dare not use it because the neighbor lady was literally certifiable. She would smear her sobbing and cursing face up against the glass window pane of her house , crucifix in one hand and rosary in the other. All the while screaming at the top of her lungs through the glass at whichever Spellacy child happened by. Until she was suddenly snatched back by whatever other Gnomes lived in that darkened house with her. Mrs. Javanko. Nuts, enough said. So unless under duress, going out the side doorwas not an option. Continuing down the remaining eight basement steps to the cold damp cement floor that each one of us kids had met face first by accident, usually with wet shoes or feet being the culprit. I can remember opening that door in the kitchen that led to the basement steps and launching a huge laundry ball, shouting down the steps first, “Laundry”, what I should have should have shouted was “Incoming”! Then occasionally, the Ball would get stuck on the landing by the Side Door and you would have to bravely go where no man had gone before. trying to scale this small planet of dirty sheets, underwear and wet towels and safely negotiate to the other side throwing off a piece at a time onto the darkened damp basement floor. Once so reduced you could usually give it a push and the Ball would continue on its way all the way down the steps.
That was only the beginning, from the bottom of the steps youuntied the ball and grabbed two corners of the sheet and pulled and pulled and dragged that mountain of dirty clothes and linens all the way to the back room of the basement where the washer (wringer type) and dryer lived. There were “Laundry lines” strung throughout that tiny basement on W114thstreet but I imagine that all those lines added up to somewhere near a 1/4 mile of rope.
I can remember on one occasion, standing in the kitchen surveying the contents of the Frig, sure that if I continued to ponder its contents a goodie would appear, when suddenly I could hear my Father come pounding up those same basement steps…as he reached the top of the steps he slammed the basement door behind him and threw himself against it and wailed “No, No…you’re never getting out!”. Somewhat alarmed at my Father’s close escape, I asked him who had chased him up the steps. ( I had my suspicions, Gnomes you know) He replied,” just that little old woman I have chained to the washer”, “She’s trying to escape again, and we can’t have that you know.” Facetious, that Rascal was.
Another time my poorsister Kate, who had called dibs on her comfortable seat near the t.v. one saturday and then proceeded down to the basement to throw some clothes in the dryer, well we already know what the road to good intentions leads to. But did you realize it could also lead to a lesson on your selfish siblings? It seems Katie had taken a tumble down those same Basement steps and once she came to she called and called andcalled for help. When she finally realized no assistance was to be had from her adorable siblings she pulled and struggled herself up those deadly steps and pulled herself back into the tvroom. I can still see her standing in the door trying to divert our attention away from the tv longenough to make us feel guilty for not only not answering her calls for help (we never heard her over the tv) , but taking her prime seat by the tv too. She had been gone too long, and lost her dibs on her seat. Those damned basement steps, they’ll break your soul.