Inside looking out: Cellar monsters, toilet floods, ant wars and other stuff
We lived in a Cape Cod house built by my father in rural New Market, New Jersey. Real estate agents would describe a home that was for sale like ours as “cozy,” which is a sexy word for small.
The house had an unfinished basement we called the cellar, and when my mom told me to “go down the cellar” to get something to go with our supper, I dreaded her request. I walked softly through the damp and musty smell toward the cans of vegetables, afraid the cellar monsters were going to grab and pull me behind the cinder block walls where they would keep me prisoner for the rest of my life.
Whenever it rained heavily for a few days, the cellar took on water and I was enlisted in a one-boy bucket brigade to scoop up the water and throw it outside. One time, I could have sworn I felt something grabbing my boot and trying to pull me under the water. The cellar monsters were after me! I ran upstairs as fast as I could. My mother laughed. My father shouted at me to finish the job, so I went back down, but this time I sloshed back and forth through the water as quickly as I could and hoping the monsters couldn’t grab hold of me.
Upstairs, we had just one bathroom that serviced five people. I hated the feeling of having to go in there because I knew that if the toilet could talk, it would say, “I dare you to flush me!” That’s because the water would often rise up and spill over onto the floor.
In the middle of one afternoon, I shouted, “Here it comes! Here it comes!” On the other side of the door, mom yelled, “Use the plunger!” Use the plunger!” I shoved the plunger into the mess and the water rose even more.
“Too late.” I announced, and out came the mop that was thrown at me from the other side of the door. If I was lucky, the floor was flooded with water - soaked pieces of toilet paper. If I wasn’t, well, that’s nothing I want to write about here.
Me and my buddy, Eddie had a lot of fun as kids growing up together. We played Home Run Derby in the street, trying to hit stones over a telephone wire with a thin piece of wood we found at a construction site.
Eddie was not a good sport. Whenever he beat me, he shouted, “I win. You lose, you loser!” If I was winning by a lot of runs, Eddie would quit and say he had to go home and feed his pet turtles. One day, I was ahead by three runs and he had two outs in the last inning.
“Car,” I announced. We moved aside, and as soon as it passed, Eddie jumped in to hit.
“If I knock it over the wire and it hits the car, it’s a grand slam and I win,” he said. He tossed up the stone and sure enough, it sailed over the wire and hit the roof of the car. We heard the squeal of the brakes and out jumped this old man.
“Run!” Eddie shouted. We took off for the woods and hid behind a tree. The car sped backward until it ran over the piece of cardboard we were using as home plate.
“I see you behind that tree, you little sons of ##**#!” he screamed. “Get over here, now!” We ran and ran through the woods until we got lost and didn’t find our way back home until dark. Before we split, Eddie grabbed my arm.
“I win. You lose, you loser!”
On a hot summer afternoon, Eddie came up a great idea. “Let’s catch a black ant and a red ant, put ’em in a jar and see what happens.” Nothing happened at first until he shook the jar and the fight was on. The red ants won every time. We soon bored of the ant wars and moved on to caterpillar races. They didn’t stay on the track we made and crawled in different directions until in one race, my Pete the Pillar finally made it across the finish line.
“I win. You lose, you loser!” I shouted into Eddie’s ear.
There was this other time when Old Man Stockoff ran through his cornstalks waving his shotgun at me and Eddie, chasing us away from fishing in his farm pond. We jumped on our bikes and pedaled to the road while I still had a fish flopping from the end of my pole.
It’s funny how my mind remembers such silly stuff that happened a long time ago, but I can’t recall what I ate last week. I remember when my father stubbed his bare toe and he cursed out every saint in heaven, and then the next day, when he slipped his foot into his slipper, he had crushed my little pet turtle that had escaped from his bowl.
I cried about it then. I laugh about it now.
Then there was the time I pinned a baseball card to the spokes of my bicycle. I fell off my bike while riding, and when I got home, the card was gone. It was a Mickey Mantle rookie card that today might be worth millions.
I laughed about it then. I cry about it now.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.