Journey to the center of the earth

Posted: August 7, 2016 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , , ,


It was a dark and stormy day. Robert A. Heinlein, a man who could pour words onto a page as easy as turning a bucket upside-down, was stumped. He had a book to write, he had nothing in his head, and the cat was distracting him. It prowled the perimeter of the room, crying and poking under and around everything.

Rain splattered the windows. Heinlein’s wife, Ginny, entered this gloomy scene.

“What’s the matter with that damn cat?” the writer demanded.

Ginny calmly observed the cat and the weather and replied, “He’s looking for a door into summer.”

Heinlein jumped off the couch, sprinted to his typewriter, and pounded out a novel called The Door Into Summer.

It’s possible that my wife has said something like this to me, but either I wasn’t listening or I thought I knew better.

Act 1.

It was a hot and bright Massachusetts day. My 14-year-old nephew Jared and I were deep underground, studying the debris field that is my parents’ basement. What did we find? My door into summer:

1 The bats
With reproduction signatures burned into the wood from Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Rocky Colavito, and (in Magic Marker) my brother.

Not shown because it was back in Portland, the bat I did the most damage with, my Ernie Banks “Powerized”:

2c My turn at bat
Put me in, coach, I’m ready to bark!

I ran upstairs with those bats and into daylight and started swinging. I guarantee you that if any baseball scout had seen me at that moment (or in 1971) he or she would’ve written me off as no prospect. I reluctantly pulled myself away from all this time-traveling and took Jared for a drive and a man-to-man talk.

Act 2.

For those of you who’ve read my previous dispatches from Massachusetts and who believe that my mother and father live in a wonderland of happy memories, here’s a little treasure I tripped over in the basement:

3 Toxic
As the platoon sergeant said in
Aliens: “Whatever happened here, I think we missed it.”

Act 3.

One night the microwave and the toaster oven went on strike. My brother-in-law Rick (a good man to have on tap) and I went in search of the fuse box, which has lurked quietly in the basement for decades.

4 Fuse box
This electrical showcase keeps the lights on, the water hot, and the Red Sox lukewarm.

The only fuse boxes I’m familiar with use circuit breakers with switches. Not this one. I thought, Hmm, glass fuses. Do they still make glass fuses? Where could I get one at this hour? Then I thought, Why am I thinking these thoughts? Whose house is this, anyway? A quick search turned up boxes of spare fuses that Dad had socked away when he and Mom bought the house in 1957.

5 1957 glass fuses
Our basement is just like the Smithsonian, with fewer lights and more mold.

Rick screwed in the 60-year-old replacement fuse and lo, Mom’s dinner from Meals on Wheels was soon hot and on the table and subject to the inspection of the cat.

Act 4.

Dad said, “I have to do something about my father’s books.”

My father’s father, my Grandpa Sam, died in 1974. Dad, because he was grieving, and because he’s a child of the Depression who must save everything, boxed up and brought home all of Grandpa’s books: his siddurim (daily prayer books), services for the High Holidays, Haggadahs for Passover, commentaries on the Torah, and Jewish cookbooks and cartoon books and a collection of photos from the Yiddish theater with funny captions.

6 Moyel
“Did somebody call for a
moyel?” Your clue: circumcision.

What to do with the unholy books was easy. I threw them in the recycling. What to do with the holy books was not. You can’t throw them in the recycling or the trash and you sure can’t stuff ’em in people’s socks for Christmas. The only thing you can do with these guys is bury them in a Jewish cemetery.

On each trip home, I aim for another small victory. It was my turn at bat.

Down in the basement again with a head lamp and a Geiger counter, I tracked the books to two columns of boxes against a wall. When I opened the boxes, I discovered that other objects had found homes with the Jew stuff. For example, the Time-Life series Outlaws of the Old West. Wooden spools without thread. The hull of my model of the battleship Massachusetts.

Next, I worked my connections. Though I haven’t lived in this community since Lizzie Borden failed her conflict-resolution class, I still knew one person at the temple. This lady quickly made the arrangements and the next morning I surrendered the books to a cheerful, bare-chested Elf who was mowing the cemetery lawn with a tractor. I suspect I’ve met this creature before, probably in Lothlórien.

The books I delivered will someday cushion the bed of a grave, which I think is a poetic end.

The Jewish cemetery rests on a hill overlooking a Catholic cemetery. I’m sure the Jews who reside there, many of whom grew up in the era of Father Coughlin, enjoy looking down on the Catholics. I wandered around in the sunshine and said hello to the people I once knew. At least this time I wasn’t the one who was underground.


The only advice I can give you for dealing with very old, failing parents is to share whatever joy you find and never lose your sense of humor. Also, watch where you step in all that clutter. Something might be waiting for you.


  1. seasidedave says:

    Too bad about the tomatoes…very high acid contents>>>rapid can deterioration. I’d judge those cans to be no more than 1 to 2 years old. Again, even with the holy tins, because of the high acid content the tomatoes should be OK for consumption. Enjoy!

  2. Wm Seabrook says:

    When I still lived in London one of our monthly meals found the bunch of us in a Yiddish restaurant. During the meal a friend said “I don’t how good this is, I will not be leaving a tip.” (clue – moyel)

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      It wasn’t a Yiddish restaurant unless they were speaking Yiddish and that, and not the food, was the main attraction. It was a Jewish restaurant, you heathen!

      Cue the circumcision jokes…

      • Wm Seabrook says:


        We took it in turns to find a restaurant each month based on their cuisine; i.e. January was Argentinian, then Brazilian, Chinese etc. I was assigned X and because we had reached the 2nd December by then I organised a Christmas meal (Xmas – get it?) on a barge trip on the Regent’s Canal.

        Y was NOT my idea (and we used J for Japanese)!

        Anyway, I’m not a heathen; I’m a gentile/goy which (cue circumcision joke) has its drawback.

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