Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Scariest Place in an Old Farmhouse

Our farm house cellar was a place of dread for me. Damp, dark, pungent. Cracks in the foundation floor. I didn’t dread it for those reasons though. I feared the salamanders under the wooden stairs.

Mom would tell me to get a jar of pickles, canned pears or peaches, or sometimes a few more eggs. I’d whine that I was scared of the salamanders. They might run up my leg, bite my toes, or hiss at me, I thought.

Mom would hear none of that. “Those buggers are more scared of you than you are of them. Just go real fast and they’ll run away.”

And they would. Every time.

But I still didn’t like doing it. 

Funny how the daddy longlegs that lived among the pots and pans and the store-bought canned goods in the stairway on the way down never bothered me.

That cellar, stench and all, still exists. The hot water heater is down there, and my dad put a water distiller in there years ago. One time he had jugs of extra water all over the place.

The room carries a wet-earth odor. A small screened window to the east lets in light along with a single light bulb. Maybe Mom had a board she’d put up there in a big rain storm to keep it from flooding, but I don't remember. In the South Dakota winters, Dad would pile straw bails in front of it.

The cellar houses a couple old wooden chairs and some makeshift wooden shelves for all the home canned goods. In the middle of the room are a couple poles with a table top. It is taller than counter height. Mom kept her canning supplies on it with the cleaned out jars.

I remember only one time taking cover in that basement, ah, I mean cellar, during a storm.

I was already teaching in Kansas, but was home for the summer. My sister Priscilla and her daughter Angela were up for a visit when Dad came in yelling, “You guys take cover. Get in the basement.” Then he headed back outside.

After Mom questioned where he was going, he hollered, “I’m going driving. Gotta see what’s coming around the trees.”


We grabbed our purses, a couple of blankets, and Grandma Katie’s old transistor radio and headed to the cellar. I wasn’t concerned about any salamanders then.

We hadn’t been down there very long when a loud bang startled us.

“That’s the front door,” Mom said. “Wind must have blown it open. It’s banging back and forth now.”

Angela mentioned our family dog, Jupiter, our black and white cocker spaniel who showed up one July day in 1994 after a comet hit the planet, thus the name.

“She’s in with the boars,” Mom assured Angela.

The door kept banging, so I said I’d go up and shut it and come right back. Neither Mom nor Priscilla protested, and I don’t remember being scared to do it. After all, my dad was out in this. It was just a terrible wind, right?

I think this was the storm that my brother Elliott, his wife Doris, and daughter Suzanne stood by one of their kitchen windows and watched an old hog barn (which as little kids, we’d dubbed the Laura Ingalls Wilder playhouse), roll back and forth towards the house. If it wasn’t this storm, then it must have been another one. That building never did hit their house or vehicle, but it rolled itself out of existence and ended up as a pile of boards.

Back at our place, I was able to close the outside door and return to the cellar unharmed. When it was all over, I don’t recall any major damage to our farm.

A few years ago, the family was talking about Dad's cellar, and Angela, now a full-grown adult with a family of her own, remembered the evening we took cover. She said she was so scared. Not of the storm. Not of any salamanders. Not of the creepiness of the place, but of losing me.

She said that she thought she’d never see me again when I went up those stairs to close that door. She described her feelings so vividly. She'd never told me that.

Salamanders or storms, I’ve never spent much time in that cellar.

But my Grandma Elizabeth did when my two older sisters were littlejust enough time for Priscilla to cut Brenda’s hair while Grandma was down there sorting eggs.

Oh, if those cellar walls could talk.

Do you remember a room from your childhood home that gave you the heebie-jeebies? What about now? Is there a place that gives you the willies?


  1. I never lived in a farmhouse, but I've always been afraid of basements. My grandparents' ranch house basement was always dark and creepy. My babysitter used to send me to her basement to fetch cans of peas. I've always hated basements, and I never had to worry about salamanders. Liz

    1. My house doesn't have a basement here in Kansas, Liz, and I've wondered if I could stand living in one. I'd probably be scared someone was hiding out down there! So I'm kinda scared of them too.