Basement mysteries

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My parent’s basement was a place of mystery. Even as a child, I was fascinated by the basement. As my sons came into the world, it became a place for them to explore in their early years as well. There was a lifetime of storage in the basement. It was also where Steve, my friend from the age of five until he died not long ago, and I would play with my chemistry set, build model rockets, and read comic books.

My dad was an electrician, but he had a side hustle almost as long as he lived. For the most part he bought, sold, and traded guns for extra money. When the feds imposed a licensure procedure, he obtained a federal firearms license and continued that part of his sideline work for many years. At any given time, there would be some fifty guns in our house. The guns that needed repair were in the basement where his workshop and a multitude of tools were ensconced along one wall.

But he also bought and resold a plethora of unrelated items, many of them collectibles. That included antiques, old comic books, matchbox cars, vases, Civil War items, and about anything one could imagine, including stamps and coins. Even when we were adults, my brother, Wayne, and I would go exploring on occasion.

It was in the basement that I found an old photograph of Alexander Epps and his wife. They were my great-great grandparents on my father’s side. They had a boatload of children and were sharecroppers in a place called “poor valley” near Surgoinsville in Hawkins County, Tennessee.

When the War for Southern Independence broke out, Alexander enlisted as a private in the 63rd Tennessee Infantry and fought for the Confederate States of America. He was captured in December of 1863 at the Battle of Bean’s Station and was eventually taken to a Union prison camp in Louisville, Kentucky. After the war, he came home and resumed the hard life of a farmer. I also found a photo of my father’s grandparents. Both photographs now hang in my home.

My dad died of cancer in 1996. In the latter stages of his illness, he spent months in the basement and forbade anyone, including my mother, to go down there. After he died, we discovered why. He had taken up painting before he became ill and spent countless hours in the basement painting pictures for his wife, his sons, and other relatives. It was his last gift to members of his family.

My mother died several years later, and my brother and I had the task of going through all their belongings, including the stuff in the basement. We discovered that, over the years, my mother had been tossing stray pennies into a huge pickle jar. What we found was a huge collection of jars filled with 60,600 pennies. It’s hard to say how much all that weighed but we spent plenty of time and sweat carting all those jars to the credit union.

Eventually, all the household items and the stuff in the basement were divided, sold, given away, or taken to charity. The days of exploration, for us, were over.

Two and a half years ago, my wife and I sold our house and down-sized to a house we built that is about one-third the size of the house in which we lived for twenty-nine years. As one could imagine, we had more stuff than room. So, we gave away a great deal.

What we kept, and wouldn’t fit in the new house, we took to the attic. I was up there a couple of days ago and I realized that I had no idea what was in many of the boxes. I spent half a day in the attic exploring to see what I could discover. Our attic has become a place of mystery.

I imagine that, in time, the children and perhaps the grandchildren will rummage through the boxes and see what they can find. Maybe they, too, will discover links to their past.

There are the beginnings of a genealogy folder in a file cabinet. They will doubtless be shocked, if they go through the old tax records, to discover that, somehow, my wife and I survived on $5,400 in our first full year of marriage. They might be bored silly, or they just might — as we were — be thrilled by the discovery of previously unknown family facts and artifacts.

There are mysteries that lurk and wait in basements and attics all over the country. A potential adventure awaits.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]