My Grandpa and Grandma Raymond lived in an old, white farm house that had once been transplanted into town from rural Minnesota. When they first bought the house and moved it from the country in the early 50’s, they did not have money to finish the basement. The basement was dark, with just three ground level windows that were more like slits. It was cold; the walls were all gray cinder block style and the floor was a cold, gray concrete. Grandma had put down some big mismatched 1970’s green and orange rugs to help with the cold on your feet. Though, it helped very little. It had a funny smell; musty and mildew, in other words, old. To top it off, it had strange sounds; every kid’s nightmare!
Their house always seemed big to me when I was young. The house was two stories high, but the upstairs was not accessible from the inside of the house. As a kid, I remember that Grandpa rented the upstairs to a single guy. So really their house consisted of the main living level; their bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and living room. Then there was the basement. All seven of their children grew up in that house. The boys shared a basement room and the girls shared the other. Plus there were a few other rooms down there; a laundry room and two closet type rooms that I would never go into. Now as an adult, I often wonder how we fit my grandparent, all of their kids and spouses, plus the grandkids (all 15 of us at the time) into that house during holidays.
As a kids, my cousins and I all hated that basement! When we had family get together, though, the kids always ended up having to play down there. After all, it was pretty crowded upstairs. I have to admit, I would never go down into the basement alone. NEVER! You see my Grandfather was a jokester. Still is, really. He had convinced us all (much to my Grandmothers’ dismay) that he had a man chained up down there. We believed him. I mean, with all the strange noises, the smell and the dark rooms that we would not dare enter, why wouldn’t it be true?!
So one Thanksgiving Day, which I remember like it was yesterday, it was so cold and we already had a ton of snow on the ground. Not unusual for Minnesota, but it did mean that the kids were bored. And we all know what happens when kids get bored. The men were in the living room watching football, of course, and the ladies were in the kitchen cooking and talking up a storm. We were running around like crazy monkeys, in everyone’s way. My Grandmother told us to all go downstairs to play. That made us freeze in our steps! Did she really KNOW what she was asking?!?! The BASEMENT?!?! What about the MAN!?!?!
“NO WAY!!!” my cousin Janelle yelled. “Not with that man down there!” We all agreed with Janelle. Grandma was crazy for asking us to do such a thing.
“Marlyn!” my Grandma yelled from the kitchen. “Come in here and tell these children the truth about that basement once and for all!!!”
So my Grandpa took us into their bedroom, sat us on the floor and sat himself on the bed like it was story time. I remember staring up at him, worried about what he was going to tell us and that we would still end up having to go down to the dark hole with…THE MAN!!
“Okay. Grandma wants me to tell you the truth. So here it is.” Grandpa said, very calmly and quietly. He looked at each of our faces. I can only imagine how big our little eye balls must have been with anticipation at hearing what he had to say.
“You don’t have to be afraid to go into the basement. You see, I fed the man yesterday and I checked his chains. There is no way that he will bother us today.”
Still, none of us were having it. There was no way that we were going down there. NOPE! Sorry old man. NOT BUDGING!
“Okay, how about if I go down there with you and SHOW YOU, that everything is fine?” Grandpa asked us. We all looked at each other. There was fear in our eyes and my heart was pounding so loud, I am sure everyone heard it.
Some of my cousins bailed right away, but my cousins Janelle and Matt, my sister Kelly and I all agreed to go down with Grandpa. I mean, after all, Grandpa was just told by Grandma to do the right thing. So if he was going to show us himself, then it must be okay, right?
We started down the old, wood steps, Grandpa leading, followed by Janelle, Matt, then me and my sister, biggest to smallest. Down we went. With each thump of our feet on the old steps, my heart made about 20 thumps. Grandpa got to the bottom, turned towards us and waited for us to get down a little farther. Then he turned, flipped on the light at the bottom of the stairs, jumped a little and turned to us yelling,
“HOLY SHIT!!!! HE’S LOOSE!!!!!”
All four of us screamed at the top of our lungs and turned as fast as we could to run up the stairs. Janelle climbed over Matt, Matt climbed over me and my poor little sister was left, flattened on the stairs crying as I left her in the dust! Grandpa, of course, was laughing at the bottom of the stairs; bent over holding his knees and my Grandma was yelling at him at the top of stairs. We all hid in their bedroom the rest of the day or at least until we had enough nerve to come out again.
The man chained up in the basement finally disappeared the year that Grandpa and Grandma had the house lifted and a new basement put in. Grandpa told us that when they lifted the house, The Man “got away”.