Archive for Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Secret cellar beneath the walk

March 29, 2000

Since the beginning of the Fourth Street renovation project it had been on my mind, the memory of a cavern beneath the street where I had been as a small child. Then I began to question myself: Was it really there, was it as large as I remembered it from a child's perspective? Or would it in fact be just a figment of a child's overactive imagination fueled by the fires of fear of an impending storm?

During the 1950s and 1960s my grandmother, Mabel Garner, owned Valley Laundry, which was at the lower end of Fourth Street. My older brother and I were often there, playing amidst the piles of barber towels to be laundered, scampering under a businessman's white starched shirts that gramma had laundered, dipped in liquid starch, ironed until they were crisp and neat, and then hung neatly in a row.

It was during the threat of a spring storm that we first saw the underside of Tonganoxie. Gramma pushed aside the wooden table that sat over a huge trap door that had gone unnoticed by us until then. A bare light bulb illuminated the basement.

The basement was typical of older basements of the day, except that there was a door at one end that led under the sidewalks of Tonganoxie. It was there that we would be safe from the storm.

Safe? To a small child already afraid of storms, I didn't know which was worse the impending storm or the safety of our shelter. Nonetheless, it is an experience imprinted on my memory.

I don't recall being there again, and then over the years, I forgot about it until the progress of 2000 in Tonganoxie.

The day after workers had removed the sidewalk, we walked down the hill to what was once Gramma's laundry, and to my relief, it was there the door opening from the building to under the sidewalk.

It was a large, full-sized door and my memory had not betrayed me. Standing there looking down in that hole, memories came flooding back to me.

Memories of a time past and thoughts of wonder at what we do not see from the surface. I was pleased to have been able to revisit this past, to be able to have my brother confirm that he, too, remembered, and to know that although progress changes some things, what is underneath it all never changes.

Terylan Walker is officer manager for The Mirror. She also handles classified advertising and circulation for the newspaper.

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