Tales of the Hunts: The wonder of an Appalachian basement

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2019

I know we are all probably in the post-holiday haze, where knowing what day of the week it is and fitting into our clothes is a challenge.

Hopefully, over the last couple weeks, there was time to reflect on the good that the holidays bring. Memories from long ago come back with a song, decoration or smell from around the house.

While some people may think of pies or casseroles as pleasant memory joggers, the smell that surprised me this year was the smell of a basement.

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Growing up, visiting my grandparents’ house in the mountains was always exciting.

During our summer visits, we would play hard all day and finish the evening watching hummingbirds dive bomb the feeder. In the winter, it was cold, and the evenings were spent indoors.

Walking down the narrow steps into my grandparents’ basement was akin to walking through the Wardrobe into Narnia.

At the base of the stairs, relics of years past were stored and a musty, but sweet, smell took over the senses. Rummaging through boxes, we would find old toys our parents played with, newspaper articles that held some familial significance and plenty of tools for grandpa’s hobbies.

This past weekend, the weather was not conducive for outdoor activity. Having young kids stuck indoors all day is a recipe for emotional breakdowns over a grilled cheese being too brown on one side.

We needed a distraction.

While visiting my wife’s grandmother, my father-in-law asked if we wanted to check out the basement.

We happily obliged and made our way down the staircase into a world I had almost forgotten, and one my kids haven’t seen — an Appalachian Basement.

Fishing rods, taxidermy and a workshop made me feel at home next to the wood stove that used to heat the house. My kids immediately started their treasure hunt and found a wooden duck toy that would waddle when pushed.

Walking to the vise at the work bench, I could almost hear my grandfather’s voice.

The only time I remember making my grandfather mad was when my siblings and cousins squished pennies in the vise for a couple hours. When “Paw Paw” came downstairs, we got a lesson in the value of money and, if we did that again, we would refine our skills in “picking a switch.”

While I was walking down memory lane, my kids started to play with a steel tool connected to a cut log.

“What’s this?” they asked.

I had no clue. While standing there puzzling until my puzzler was sore, my father in-law walks over and says, “That’s my granddad’s walnut cracker.”

My kids gave little response to that and kept playing with the handle until we spotted some whole walnuts in a box. The kids proceeded to crack walnuts with smiles on their faces that rivaled their expressions at Disney.

Five generations had cracked walnuts with that cracker. Stories were told about cracking walnuts decades ago that led to good times and good food.

My kids were excited the next day as we went to grandmother’s house to crack more walnuts.

Hopefully, one day, they will look back as I do, with fond memories of an Appalachian basement.