Basements make excellent collectors. What you might think of as a temporary storage place can very easily become a jam packed museum of themed displays. If not kept under control these display will reproduce in an eerie mimicry of life itself. Away from the light, in the moist warmth of the basement, random items are draw together. Like mold or fungus they multiply creating blooms of growth, objets d’art or mounds of junk … depending on your perspective. It’s necessary on occasion, if only in the name of order and self defense, to brave the dark and sweep out the cobwebs and whatever else is hiding in that midnight garden.
Some piles are easy prey to the light but others dig their roots a little deeper. In my basement one such pile has been growing for a number of years and it is for the most part impervious to any large scale attempt to clean house. The pile as a collective has an ebb and flow as things are added and subtracted according to need, convenience and interest. Even in its state of flux the pile can be catalogued and categorized. I prefer "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails" or "Painted wings, giant rings, strings and sealing wax". There isn’t a wing, a snip or tail in sight but the titles are apt none the less.
Scholastic paperbacks abound. Bunnicula, Captain Underpants and I Am The Cheese peak out from under a jumble of Brian Jacques’ Red Wall Abbey series and RL Stine’s Goosebumps. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find Robert Munsch "loving you forever" even if you do travel to "where the wild things are" with nothing more to protect you than Harold’s "purple crayon". Circumstances make strange bedfellows in the comic book world as Scrooge McDuck cozies up with Spiderman. A pirate’s ransom in Lego kits, once lovingly constructed, lie broken and abandoned, dust encrusted and forgotten. Awkward clay creations, snow walkers held together with glue and toothpicks, space ship shaped lumps, headless power rangers and fearsome Bionicals people the pile. A shrine to the muse of art exists laden with offerings of specially designed paper airplanes, dinosaur masks and a particularly painstakingly assembled paper Egyptian sarcophagus. Boxes of school work, toilet paper rolls, paper plates and egg cartons crafted into mysterious flights of fancy (held together with enough glue to buttress a steel girder) create a solid underpinning for the growing pile.
An object may be added to pile, thought of as no longer significant in the larger scheme of things, only to be retrieved a week later for reuse by the original owner or perhaps to be passed on to a younger cousin. I am surprised when a death row inmate receives a pardon from the governor and returns from the subterranean dungeon to the light and freedom of the world above. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the decree and I’m often left hoping the object in question didn’t sprout legs and walk up three flights of stairs by itself. For the most part though the pile remains and grows at a constant rate determined by the passage of taste and time. Of all the heaps in the basement this pile stubbornly refuses to give up the ghost and die a decent death. Past experience and Murphy’s Law ensure that any item disposed of will be the one most required a day or two later. Nostalgia plays a part as well.
This messy menagerie, regardless of how motley and moldy, contains the remnants of a lifetime of laughing, learning and love. There are the stories we shared while a sleepy head nodded. The hardened clay surfaces still show in sharp detail the impression of wee hands, the whorls of fingerprints a gentle wave in the awkward grey. Lego sea world and paper towel totem poles keep the record of time used and spent better than any clock ever could. That time, our time shared together, was never wasted time as aimless as it might have seemed then.
This pile definitely has roots. Minute by minute, second by second those roots dig deeper gaining purchase, while new life grows above. As dusty and broken as these old relics are they bloom with a light of their own, soft pastels and bittersweet scents redolent of innocence, effort and growth engendered and represented. To a stranger this assortment of oddities and well used items might seem like garage sale fodder. Perhaps someday long, long from now the entire collection may find its way out to the front lawn but chances are I won’t be the one putting it out. It can stay a little longer while I turn my efforts back to cobwebs and 20 year old editions of Sports Illustrated.