Uncle Dave’s Basement
My great uncle, Dave Peebler, and his wife, Rachel, built their house at 124 High Street in 1923. It was a nice place with three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and a full basement downstairs that had 2 bedrooms and a bath as well as a bunch of free space. In the basement, was a gas range for cooking in one area, and a Maytag washer in another. The furnace, a part of the central heating system, was there as well. Part of the free space contained a workshop area and part of one wall was covered by floor to ceiling shelves for storage.
Over the years, I had many connections to the basement as well as the rest of the house. This story probably should start with my Mom. Mom’s mother died when Mom was only eight years old. Mom’s dad couldn’t care for her, so she was passed around to different family members until she was taken in by her Grandmother Minnie. Later, when she was in high school, she was taken in by Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel. I think that after her high school graduation, she stayed with them for a couple more years. After Mom married Dad, they lived in an apartment above a store downtown. This was during the depression, and Dad was doing what he could to find work and keep some money coming in. He wasn’t able to bring in enough to keep us going, so when I was about three years old, Mom, Dad, my sister, Sylvia, and I moved into Uncle Dave’s basement.
I only remember two things from this time period. The first was that I had violated two rules of the house and ended up getting hurt. The first rule was, “Don’t run with a pencil in your hand,” and the second was “Don’t try to hurry down the stairs.” I had gone upstairs to get a pencil and then ran through the house to the stairway. I fell down the stairs and jabbed myself in the middle of the forehead with the pencil. The worst part was that for the next few years when Mom or Aunt Rachel needed an example, they would point to my scar and say, “Here’s what happens when you don’t follow the rules.” The other thing I remember from the time we lived in the basement was that one day I realized that my Dad wasn’t around. I asked Mom and she said he couldn’t find work and so he had gone to Western Kansas. He was working in a store out there. Fifty years later, when I became interested in genealogy and family history, I found one of Dad’s uncles had a general store in Atwood in Rawlins County, Kansas.
Things got better in the summer of 1941 when Dad was hired by the local refinery. We moved out of the basement and into the house at 19 Cliff Drive. In a short time, two brothers, Ray and Russ Larsen, moved into the basement. In a few months, the war started, and the brothers were drafted. The last time I saw Ray while he was in a Class A uniform, he was wearing the stripes of a master sergeant. While the guys were in the Army, their clothes and their personal items were stored in one of the bedrooms. After the war, Ray lived in the basement for a year or two. I don’t know where Russ was, but a few years later he came back to town. He and his wife, Sarah, opened Larsen’s shoe store on the west side of State Street, across from the bank. In their store, they had one of those magic x-ray machines that you stick your foot in and see the bones of your toes and the outline of your shoe.
During World War II, almost everyone had a Victory Garden. The war had caused quite a shortage of food. The able-bodied men who would normally be raising crops on the farms had been drafted. Then, what crops were produced had to be processed and sent overseas to feed the thousands of men were sending over there.
Aunt Rachel and Uncle Dave had an acre or so out on Custer Lane, at the edge of town. They put in a large victory garden there and let my folks have a garden there also. When the green beans came in, Mom and Aunt Rachel decided to work together and can a lot of them. They set up the basement as their efficient green bean canning factory. I don’t know how the process works, but I know Mason jars, pressure cookers, and a stove are used. We heard Mom and Aunt Rachel talking about pressure cooker explosions being reported, and that they must be careful. Well, sure as heck, one of the jars exploded and green beans and glass went flying across the room. Sylvia had some bad luck as a piece of glass hit her in the forehead, and she was cut badly enough that she probably still has the scar. The rest of us and the basement were pretty well covered with green beans.
Another time, Mom and Aunt Rachel decided to make soap which was in short supply during the war. They acquired lye from someplace, and used it to make their own. After that, we had plenty of soap on hand.
After a fantastic cucumber harvest, they decided to make pickles. They had crocks all over the basement. They made dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, and relish. It was stored for the family. We were in pickle heaven.
We didn’t have a washing machine or a car after we moved to the house on Cliff Drive. On laundry day, Aunt Rachel would haul us up to her house. Sylvia and I were young, so we had to tag along. One day, I was so bored I asked Mom if I could help with the washing. She was wringing out a load and said I could help. After receiving instructions and warnings to be careful, I started feeding clothes into the wringer of the old Maytag machine, and it wasn’t long before the thing grabbed my fingers and pulled my hand clear into the wringer. I let out a yell, and Mom stopped the machine. She opened up the top and got my hand out. No broken bones- just another case of humiliation.
My next memory of the basement involved Uncle Dave’s guns. In one room, two guns were hanging. One was a double-barreled 10 gauge, and the other was an over-and-under with a .410 on top and a .22 on the bottom. I don’t know where Uncle Dave got them. He wasn’t a hunter.
I had traded for a .22 when I was 12 years old so I could start rabbit hunting. I also wanted to hunt ducks, so Uncle Dave let me borrow the 10 gauge whenever I wanted. I shot at some tin cans with the 10 gauge, and I’m telling you, the recoil was pretty nasty. I don’t think I ever shot a duck with it. That was probably a good thing for I hate the taste of duck meat.
Pat and I got married in 1957, soon after I joined the Navy. One of the perks of graduating in the top five of my class at Aviation Electronics school was that I got to pick my next duty station. So, California, here we come! We got to San Diego in 1958, and that has been home ever since. We soon had Russ, Doug, and Terri, and as they grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we tried to go back to Kansas every year or two.
Uncle Dave had always enjoyed estate sales and farm auctions. When he retired, he went to a lot more of them. If he found a good buy, it usually ended up in the basement. So, the basement was full of all kinds of odds and ends, and ready for the kids. Uncle Dave had always encouraged them to go downstairs and explore.
One of the main attractions was the black walnuts. There was a black walnut tree in the back yard, so Uncle Dave always had a keg or a bucket full of them. There was a work bench in the basement with a vise mounted on it. Using a nearby hammer, you could crack the nuts against the vise. There were always a couple of nut picks handy so you could dig out the meat.
Another favorite was the hand drill. We used to call it a “hurdy-gurdy.” There was an old wind-up Victrola phonograph with a stack of records that ranged from Perry Como to Turkey in the Straw. There were several whet stones. Uncle Dave prided himself on being able to put a keen edge on any kind of blade. Russ tested the blade of an axe, and cut his finger when barely touching it. There were several items that Uncle Dave built himself. There was a table saw that doubled as a work bench, a battery charger for his truck battery, a bit for a horse, and a hunting knife. There were old monkey wrenches and a 36 inch Stilson pipe wrench. There were drill bits for wood and metal, and taps for cutting threads. There was a stack of National Geographics in one corner. Who can throw away those beautiful pictures? There was a pair of World War I puttees. Who knows why? The basement was full of new things to learn and new nomenclature to use. For instance, in addition to the table saw, there was a bucksaw, a crosscut saw, a rip saw, a keyhole saw, and a coping saw. The kids learned a lot from Uncle Dave and his tools and junk. He often let the kids pick something from the basement to keep. Terri really liked an old saxophone she found, so she took it home and still has it. Doug remembers Uncle Dave calling them to come up from the basement for lunch which included what Uncle Dave called “Smearcase,” a name for cottage cheese derived from an old German term. The kids thought that was pretty funny.
Uncle Dave passed away first. A few years later, Aunt Rachel passed. Their daughter, Maxine (Peebler) Fisher came down from Denver and settled the estate. She sold the house and all of it’s contents to our friend, Keith Scholfield, a realtor in Augusta. Keith said it took several days and a lot of truckloads to clear out that basement.