For three boys in the 1950s
magic, merriment, and mystery
were all down under in the cellar.
Until Dad knottypined the front half
the cellar was a spooky place,
the cold concrete, the rough cinderblock,
and the exposed ceiling beams
framed our rainy day refuge
while Mom was upstairs
baking, cleaning, or cooking.
We'd play with pennies, bottle caps,
jacks, Lincoln logs, pickup sticks,
magazine cutouts, an erector set,
and our precious baseball card collection.
We'd spread them around in motionless parades
which tickled our fickle imaginations.
When the sun came out
we'd head outside
and when Howdy Doody came on
we'd head up to the living room
and in so doing abandon our scattered
imaginations all over the basement floor,
and if Dad arrived home and went to the cellar
and found only our toys to walk on
we'd hear a holler and a warning of next time a whipping.
Once he got so mad about a deserted spread of building blocks
that he simply gathered them up,
gave them to the poor
and we never saw them again.
During the sweltering dog days
when the upstairs turned into a sticky oven,
Dad would bathe us three brothers
down the cellar in the laundry sink.
There splashing and dripping didn't matter,
He'd lift us one by one into the basin
then scrub us with a wash rag
which in his big hands and thick fingers
felt like a brillo pad.
Barefoot, wet, and rubbed raw
wrapped in a towel
I ambled to the knottypine side
where I reached for the turntable needle on the Philco hifi,
but I felt an unexpected charge
so I got my younger brother who was bolder than me
to go for the needle and he grasped it like candy
and took a bolt that stopped the music
and left us both wondering
if the damn thing was haunted.
On the gray and dreary days
my parents would turn on that hifi
and play Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis,
The Everly Brothers, Perry Como,
Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra,
and the soundtrack from "South Pacific."
Mom would show off her jitterbug and swing.
And during the slow tunes
Dad would waltz with Mom
and me and my brothers
would take turns cutting in.