I open the door and the stair creaks on my first tentative step down. With a flick of the light I descend five more steps and pause on the small landing. An uncertain feeling comes over me as I continue my journey down into the abyss of time-forgotten treasures and junk. This is our basement. How the hell did we accumulate so much crap? Shit, crap and corruption is how we describe it. At the bottom step I pass through the door that ushers visitors into the kingdom of spiders and stuff. Little black and white blotches of spider poop stain the concrete marking their domain in the corners and dark places. What are they eating anyway? They got big eating something. I guess that is a good thing but it creeps me out nonetheless.
Looking ahead, sprawled on the floor and hanging on nails on the wall is the hockey gear from my last game and that of games long ago. This is affectionately known as the “hockey wall”. There is now enough gear down here to outfit a whole hockey team from Tyke to adult, soon to be given away. Sidetracked now, an old box catches my eye.
I don’t remember packing this away, but then I don’t seem to remember packing most of this stuff either. Bending to one knee beside the large box, I pull out the old jerseys one at a time in a sequence of time revealing the seasons of our lives according to the hockey calendar. Name bars and crests define the player and the year. The changing sizes show the kids growing just as clear as the marks on the post next to me that records their heights.
I stand and scan the penciled marks etched into the post showing the top of each little head; chin up, back straight and stretching to be as tall as could be. The marks stop at the apex of their physical stature but they also mark the fledging of young adults. Yet, as the post reveals, I have shrunk over the years too and the boys inevitably have grown taller than I and all three have since grown to adulthood. This is nature’s subtle way of telling me that I will slowly fade away to be replaced by my offspring. Reaching down I draw my finger across one of the marks to imagine that very day etched on this post so long ago when my child stood so proudly at this very spot. We were blessed with little visitors once but now they are gone. Where did they go?
Back to the task at hand. Why did I come down here? I came down here for something, but that escapes me now. Turning from the post I venture through another door and hit the light to illuminate the partly finished room of utter confusion. There is stuff everywhere. Cardboard boxes from my late parents line the wall. A complete weight set and bench sits in the middle of the room with the last lift still in the cradle. I contemplate trying a lift but there is no one home to save me if it goes wrong. Chairs, tables, old electronics, books since replaced by the internet and a couch-hide-a-bed the size of a small bus sits at the back wall as it has for years. Why is it even here? It will have to stay as there is no way it will ever come out now. And there are more boxes, bags and too much stuff to mention. The sad part is, we started the elimination process some time ago. Several loads have gone to Value Village and the charities have come by a few times to remove some stuff for the wants of others, yet it still looks like nothing has changed.
But it was not always like this. Beneath all this stuff is the “hockey area”. This was an open rink from one end of the house to the other and half as wide. The outer walls are concrete, the inner walls are plywood and were left that way to absorb the rigours of the game. It is big enough to roller blade on, stick handle, shoot, practice and play full-on hockey with family and friends.
Late one Christmas eve many years ago my wife and I painted the floor grey complete with a red center line with a large letter B in the face-off circle, two red goal creases with two new goal nets. This is where the hockey madness of our family started. It continued that way for years even as the kids outgrew the area. Just like the post that records our height, this area has recorded the countless games gone by and Stanley Cups won. The back wall, once grey, is now blackened by hundreds of small smudges left from the thud of pucks scoring imaginary goals. Marks from errant shots and ricochets adorn the ceiling and walls around the room. The floor has the curled patterns from skate-wheels turning on the paint just like the cuts in the ice at the rink. The kids asked that we never finish this part of the basement so it remains that way to this day. Those were good times and the sounds and fun of it will always be with me.
I am lost in time now. There is a sense of a different purpose to my visit. Our life is down here concealed in this confusion. A box in the corner contains my mother’s collection of family photos in a series of well labeled, slide-carousels that hold 120 slides each and there are 15 of those. I remove a slide at random – our summer vacation 1966. Holding it up to the light, I am able to look back into time through this little, magic,window. My brothers and I sit frozen in time with our father. We are children in that frame but I am now older than my father was in this photo. We sit with him forever, we love him, he will always be here, but he is gone. Time has washed over us on the outside but this tiny frame has held this precious moment in a perpetual pause while our lives moved on.
My memories emerge as tears as I randomly view slides and investigate boxes. The passage of time is recorded everywhere and it hurts to see it flash by. I cannot bear this any more. Forgetting why I came down here, I return upstairs and busy myself with other tasks in the kitchen. Standing at the sink, I can hear the familiar smack of sticks, the thud on the wall and the muffled cheers from that room below my feet. I am down there too laughing and playing as we did most evenings in the time of our lives. My cheeks are wet with the memories. I think it is almost time for some basement hockey with the grand-kids now. I want to do it all over again.