storm cellar vs basement

My mother’s parents lived in Natchez Trace Park, just outside of Parsons, TN. We spent many weekends at my grandparents’ house to “help” with the farm. Every summer, my brothers and I would spend an entire week there while my mother reorganized every square inch of our bedrooms without us at home to interrupt. The only drawback to being with grandparents who indulged our every whim and fed us what seemed like five meals a day, was the fear of storms. It wasn’t the storm itself that made even the bravest child silently wish they were at home where they cluelessly felt immune to danger. Storms at the grandparents’ house meant running to the storm cellar. If I made a horror movie based on my childhood fears, it would take place in a storm cellar.

Between my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ homes was a patch of purple phlox. Underneath those flowers, a small room was hidden. Getting to the room meant walking to the road and following it to an undersized door that looked like it was the entrance to a Hobbit’s tiny cottage. After moving the heavy block that kept the door closed, the room revealed itself to be… completely dark. Seeing inside that room in bright daylight required a flashlight or lantern, so running on the two lane, curvy road in pitch blackness, wind and sideways rain only to be rushed into a completely dark hole in the ground would have every person in the movie theater screaming, “Don’t go in there!”

The wall with the doorway was empty except for several old boards propped in a corner. The remaining three walls were lined with two by fours on cinder blocks. What my grandmother called dirt dobber nests, hung ominously from the holes in the cinder blocks that lined the walls and supported the benches. The nests that were hidden behind spider webs seemed only slightly less threatening. In another corner, a large bucket filled only with spiderwebs served as a motivator to make any thoughts about needing a potty to disappear completely. Wood crates filled with home canning jars covered in dust were tucked underneath the thigh splinter benches. I never knew what food was so plentiful in the garden that they sacrificed several dozen jars of it to the storm cellar demons but considered it life sustaining enough to eat while buried alive and awaiting certain death from blowing debris, mud slides, drowning and bugs. The botulism probably wouldn’t have time to take effect before unseen goblins picked us off, one by one.

When it storms now, we pile on our bed in the cool, quiet basement. Surrounded by pillows, blankets and snuggly children, the adults track the storms on social media while listening to the police scanner. The children play games, read books and munch on snacks that are fresh from the grocery. The dogs snore on beanbags and we take turns wearing the snake. If we lose power AND 3G at the same time, everyone whines and acts like it’s the zombie apocalypse.

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