1. HORRORS SPAWN COURAGE
It was a secret door, almost secret, except for the metal circular ring that lay flush with the floor in a round shallow cut of the same size. You had to bend and look closely, within a certain line of light to see in the lino, the outline of the little square door that led to the secret passage.
When the ring was lifted and the small door pulled open, nothing could be seen but a few steps and a hole of black darkness. The coolness was such that when the door was opened, spirits rose from within in wispy transparent death-dress. Hell’s hole. Pretty much. But still, t his is where my Mother sent us for carrots, potatoes, and on one occasion — for disciplinary measure.
The root cellar smelled earthy, fusty, funereal. The five wooden steps were slick with black mold that made their sturdiness questionable. And when I descended gingerly with pail in hand, I shivered with horror and a definite foreboding. Multiple times, I offered my services to do another’s chores, or my small monthly allowance to a sibling to avoid the split-second task of getting vegetables for dinner. Descent into that tomb? Not if I could avoid it.
Always my greatest horror was someone would shut the door before I was resurrected to the light. And it would bind and stick as it so often did. And I would thus find in my crouched position on the upper steps a law of physics that in my mind was already suspect. That without methodology, instruction, or Newton-theory or Einstein-understanding that ‘an upward pressing force is far less efficient than an elevating lift’ –particularly if some stupid fool is standing on the door and cannot hear the pounding of my fists on sodden moldy wood or my yells to be released forthwith.
Monsters under the bed? So what?
Boogie-Man in the closet? With one eye in the middle of his forehead, and a pitchfork, and a black stallion for quickness of movement? So what?
In these matters I can be so brave because all of it and none of it was comparable to the horror of the thought of being trapped in the cold cellar.
And so a day came, when these theories were tested.
In one act of parental desperation my brat brother was put in the cellar and the door was shut. On that particular day, he chopped a hole in the ice in the well with an ax. He then tied a length of rope to a large and heavy rock. And when I disappeared for a time in the quiet of my upstairs room with books and dolls, that was the opportunity he was waiting for. That meant it was time to perform what he thought was a wonderfully witty joke on my Mother. And so then, while my Mother busied herself in the kitchen, from outside my brother sent up a terrible howl from the yard.
My Mother ran to the door to see what the problem was. There was my brat bother holding a taut rope some twenty feet from the well.
“Help Mom! Oh Help!”, he screamed. “Roberta is in the well and I can’t get her out.”
Without donning shoes or coat, my mother ran to the well leaping through the snow in bare feet to the bottom of a hill as fast as her legs would carry her. Meanwhile my brother was screaming, “The rope is slipping. I can’t hang on. The rope is slipping!”
And then, just when my Mother got within five or ten feet of the well, my brother let go of the rope and there was a horrendous splash as the rock he had tied to the end of the rope descended deep into the well.
By now, I heard the commotion and came running from my upstairs hideaway to see what all the hullabaloo was about.
Now my Mother was a very patient and kind woman. I don’t remember what was said, I know my mother wept loud sobbing cries of relief when she saw me. And then my brother, grinning sheepishly, was firmly grasped by one arm and tossed into the root cellar and the door was slammed shut.
That is the only time anyone was ever in there with the door closed that I know of.
(to be continued...)
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