Beyond the Byline: Oh for the welcoming cool air down the basement .

Internal medicine

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				                                Bill O’Boyle

Bill O’Boyle

WILKES-BARRE — I miss the basement in our house on Reynolds Street.

And the front porch.

And the creek behind the house.

These three amenities were once a part of many neighborhoods, but they are all fading away.

Our basement was functional — it housed the big coal furnace. Nearby was my grandfather’s work bench, complete with a large vice, which I’m sure you all had when you were growing up. I never knew my grandfather, but I sure did get to know that vice. We used to like to crush things in it to see, for instance, what a toy car would look like after we tightened the vice as far as we could go.

Oh sure, we did use the vice to hold things, like to paint a toy car we actually valued. And I did sometimes wonder what my grandfather used that vice for and what he made on that workbench. I never did find out.

On the other side of our basement was an apartment. It was vacant most of my younger years. My pals and I would use it to build models — my favorite was a 1940 Ford which I would always paint candy-apple red. I would also add white trim and a rumble seat.

Painting our models was tedious — which often brought us back to the vice on the other side. But we had to be careful that we didn’t tighten it too tight to leave a mark on our prized models.

We also set up a slotted race car track on a platform in my basement. We would race the cars around the figure-8 track and we made houses and buildings to make it look like a small town, like Plymouth.

Everybody had a basement. Most were used in similar fashion to ours, but basements were also used as gathering places for adults to have parties — you know, away from the kids, who were upstairs watching cartoons on the black-and-white Admiral TV with rabbit ears.

The adults would drink beers and high balls and play cards. There would be chips and dip and pretzels — lots of pretzels. Some people had fancy basements — they called them rathskellers. These early versions of man caves would have a small bar with goofy decorations, like a clock that told time backwards, or a dart board or a jukebox. Those basement gatherings were a lot more fun.

And when house parties moved back to living rooms with the arrival of fondue parties and Trivial Pursuit, basements managed to evolve. They became exercise rooms with treadmills and free weights. This happened just in time as fast food restaurants changed the eating habits of families and added calories in never-seen-before numbers.

Ahhh yes, basements were great. But nowadays, most residential units are built on slabs. No basements. Garages, yes, which oddly become storage units and the cars are left in the driveway or on the street. Go figure.

And with the approaching extinction of basements, the future of front porches is also threatened. Many homes don’t even have front porches and those that do, are not often used. People don’t seem to want to sit on their front porches and watch the world go by, much less chat up their neighbors.

All those gone-by warm summer days of playing Strat-O-Matic or flipping baseball cards, or just passing the time in the shade.

Neighborhoods, in many towns, aren’t quite as friendly as they used to be. And in this fast-paced world we now live in, most people don’t value kicking back and sitting on their porches and striking up conversations with the people next door or across the street.

I miss those days.

And perish the thought of letting the kids play down at the creek. It might be polluted, some think. There might be rats or some other rabies-infected rodents around.

Heck, when we were kids, we would walk in the creek all the way to three small dams. We would look for aquatic life, or we would take a dip, or, yikes, we would cup some water in our hands and drink it. I can hear the gasps.

And I won’t even mention playing stickball in the street, or sleighriding down the steep hills, flying through intersections without concern if a plow truck was nearby.

And we ate fruit — cherries, plums, peaches, apples — picked right from our backyard trees.

And we never washed them off — unless we were near a creek.

And one more thing — on those sweltering hot summer days when the humidity was unbearable, there was a place you could always go to cool off — down the basement.

Try cooling off on your concrete slab.

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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]