I think that some of life’s best moments happen underground. So many of us have fond memories of memorable moments spent in the church basement. The celebration of birth, life, death (or just the feeling of death by committee) and democracy carried out in an environment redolent of a pleasant mustiness and Pine-Sol© mixed with just a hint of homemade vegetable soup. A lifetime of memories built on a firm foundation of checkered linoleum and folding chairs.
Recently I gathered with family in a beautiful old church to celebrate the baptism of one young family member and the 6th birthday of another. There is something about access to ample space, endless folding chairs and generations of history that just works for things like that. Watching my cousin’s children dance and play under the watchful eye of beaming grandparents, who themselves knew every corner of this place and space, was touching. It was more than just a church basement. It was a second home. A lynchpin of their lives.
My own experiences run to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, voting, bake sales and bazaars, all held in the spotless checkered floor of a 1950s era church. I have lost count of how many times I have pledged allegiance, checked the box to exercise my right as an American citizen, or sipped sweet punch while watching small boys wrestle and punch one another.
A friend recently posted a photo on social media of nothing more than a rack of folding chairs and a corner of stairwell. It didn’t take long for his fellow parishioners to chime in with recognition — and reminisces — of a beloved church basement of their youth.
In our case, a metaphoric foundation was built within the literal foundation of a local church. When my children were young I delivered them to a local church basement for preschool instruction. Church basements may, in fact, be the birthplace of preschool instruction. That possibility aside, I am almost certain church basements are definitely the breeding ground for construction paper cutouts of hand prints turned into turkeys.
In our case the church basement was a light-filled space, underground but somehow never seemingly so. Our preschool was charmingly old-fashioned. Not for this group computers and hand held learning devices. No, this preschool featured all the normal paper and crayon instruction you would expect for young scholars in their formative years still rewarded with gold stars for a “no accident” day.
This preschool had a dress up corner, story rug and a staff populated by happily married ladies known as “Miss” and equally loving women referred to as “Grandma.”
In photos of that time the pipes that feed the rest of the church are clearly visible in the photos yet it was never a utilitarian, afterthought space. It was warm and wonderful and for four to eight hours each week provided children a safe and loving place in which to learn to learn.
One of my more lasting memories of that time and place is of the children seated in neat rows around the small tables, carefully pouring beverages from tiny cream pitchers pressed into service as preschool pitchers at snack time. Socialization, etiquette, and the ability to behave like nice boys and girls were stressed at this preschool — to the endless appreciation of parents, future teachers and anyone who appreciates a civilized populace.
Our children, in contrast, remember “beach party days.” Basements are just perfect for unloading bags of sand and wading pools full of four year olds. Few would be brave enough to try that on an upper floor.
The tornado sirens sounded once while my children were there, and even in my parenting panic I thought there was probably no safer place than the basement of a solid and sturdy brick church.
Four perfect years of drop offs and pick ups and beaming faces excitedly handing up cut outs of tiny hands all shaped like turkeys or Santa or whatever else tiny hands can be shaped to fit for festive holiday fun (you’d be surprised).
All of this happened in a church basement with the sunlight streaming through the high windows.
Driving through the village recently, my now teenage child looked at the church looming on the horizon and said “I remember that place. It was so much fun!” We ended up reminiscing for miles about the good times and happiness that were had there (it’s how I recall the beach party actually).
I muse on this, and my friend’s experience with one snapshot of a church basement and social media, or the propensity of so many to take their best celebrations — baptisms and showers — there.
I find it interesting and very safe to say that some of life’s most uplifting moments happen underground.