The Basement

My dad was a printer and our basement was his print shop for the first ten years of my life. His business and my birth coincided—we moved into a new house in Woodbridge, Virginia when I was ten days old, a cracker box house that had a basement big enough to hold his printing equipment. I grew up with the smell of ink. Our black and white television with its rabbit ears and three stations was tucked into the southeast corner of the print shop, next to the area where print jobs were collated and stapled. My little brother Allen’s playpen was set among the presses. A bit of a child prodigy, he learned to read at the age of three by observing the printing on the boxes of paper stacked by his living space. That basement was the center of my young world. It’s where I first saw my all-time favorite movie “King Kong” and daily watched “Superman” and “Popeye.” I constantly played with my Slinky toy on the stairs leading down to the basement. Occasionally I found myself falling down those same stairs (I lacked my Slinky’s grace), only to be scooped up in my dad’s comforting arms as I cried out in pain. If I have any rhythm, it comes from the constant percussion of the printing presses running night and day. Day after day I stood with my dad by an old letterpress as he magically slipped paper onto the moving platen without ever losing a finger. When it was time to enter first grade, I didn’t want to leave my dad’s side. Since my school was on “split shifts,” my bus didn’t pick me up until ten each morning. Many a morning I clung desperately to my dad’s legs, begging him to let me stay home. My dad was a hard worker and for many years he seemed a prisoner of his business. But he never failed to pay attention to me and include me in his work, even when I was too young to be of much help. As I finished elementary school, my dad moved his business into downtown Woodbridge. My siblings and I became latch key kids as my mom worked with him to build the company into an even bigger enterprise. My dad must have sensed what had been lost in that move—our constant companionship in the basement print shop. Though he could never attend my afternoon middle school football games, he took time in the evenings to throw the football with me. He became involved in my Scout troop. He began to attend Sunday worship every week and his faith grew exponentially. I know he was often “bone-tired” and his feet were “worn to the nubs” at the end of a long day, but he still made time for me. I’ve been thinking about this because by the time you read these recollections, Christmas will be over and a new year begun. Have you ever wondered why certain childhood memories stubbornly dig into the forefront of your mind; why they can be replayed over and over without wearing out or fading while other memories disappear almost as quickly as they are recorded? Perhaps it’s because they are the memories of a parent’s love, memories that are more precious than gold. If you are a parent or grandparent or neighbor or teacher, I hope you are creating lasting memories with the children around you. In Newtown, Connecticut, parents are longing to have one more moment with the children they lost in that unspeakable horror. Every moment we share with a child has the potential to live in that child’s heart forever. Treat those moments as holy and precious. May God grant you His grace and peace in this new year of new hope.