Basements and Water
I like basements. I like basements the way some people like newly remodeled kitchens with custom-made cabinets, granite counter tops and glimmering mosaic tiles with the words “Home Sweet Home” patterned into the backsplash. A basement is the one room that truthfully recounts a house’s history with lengthy prose instead of sleek sound bites. I love the smell of an old basement whose beauty hasn’t been tarnished by the modern notion that a cellar impersonating a living room is preferable to one with shiny paneling, stained ceiling tiles, and unadorned flooring.
When our Realtor first showed my wife and me our future home a decade ago, I knew. I knew as I descended the narrow stairs, the lilting rhythm of our steps along the creaky floorboards, that this was going to be the discovery to end all searches. It was love at first scent. And then scent was backed up by sight. The basement’s floor dipped and raised inexplicably, it’s contours giving it a feel of a natural cavern rather than man-made perfection; the ceiling tiles displayed just a touch of rusty-colored water stains, not an indication of a failing foundation, but of a family who’s children had splashed too zealously in the bathtub above; the low support beam running along the center of the room was just high enough so as not to require a six-foot man to duck, but it nonetheless prompted me to duck each and every time I passed under as a matter of instinct; the window wells with white cloth curtains were recently vacuumed for the sale, but still showed traces of the spider webs left unchecked for so long. In the weeks that followed, my wife and I discussed the placement of furniture and how each room was to be arranged, but all I could think of was the ping pong table on the far end of the support pole and a throw-rug on the near-side where I’d set up my old Kenwood receiver and Phillips turntable.
In recent days, as I’ve watched the destruction in Milwaukee and Chicago, I’ve begun to wonder. Eight inches of water from the sky – that’s all it takes to make life difficult, as people are forced to discard miles of saturated carpet, piles of drenched drywall and hundreds of sofas, chairs, recliners, toys and boxes. I hope those who’ve been hit hardest can rebound. And it makes me wonder if maybe basements aren’t meant to be finished the way we finish other rooms. All basements, under the right circumstances, will fill with water. Even the best of them. Maybe finishing a basement is like building a home along the banks of the Mississippi.