Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Early homesteads needed protection of storm cellars

Call it a cave, a storm cellar, a root cellar or just a cellar, almost every homestead had a special place for winter food storage and for personal safety from windstorms and tornadoes.

I preferred to call it a cave; that suggested a cool, natural place to go for safety from storms. Chub called it a storm cellar. It was well-made, partly in the ground, with sodded earth mounded up over its arched roof. It was plastered inside, with a 3-inch-wide ventilating pipe through the roof and a low spot in the floor on one front corner. "Cellar way" was the name of the steps and door leading down into the storage area, and some steps were protected by a wooden "house" to repel rain, ice and snow. Most cellars had that low spot in the floor for dipping up the last bit of water that seeped in during rainy times. Our cellar had not been used for many years when we bought the farm. It was a mess. Big canning jars floating or broken, some half-filled with spoiled tomatoes, were standing in water. A few withered carrots, potatoes and other root crops were in dilapidated bins or on shelves above the water level.

After we decided to build our home here, we removed all of the trash and broken glass, siphoned the water out of the cave with long garden hoses, scraped mud off the concrete floor and dipped the last water out of that low place. Sun and wind dried the cellar, and we told Nancy and Walt how people often used these storage places for storm protection. They thought it would be fun to get out of bed in the night when lightning and thunder were severe. We’d take our flashlights and battery radio and stick close together; the parents would make the rules.

A storm threatened about noon on a football Saturday in 1958, and we decided to have a "dry run" to the cellar to practice in daylight. We ate lunch and moved furniture around, installing the new television in a different place.

The Tigers game was away, and we’d hear it on the battery radio. The sky darkened and lightning threatened, so Chub disconnected the television and said, "OK. We’re going to the storm cellar."

Nancy and Walt ran to get Tinki and put her five Pekingese babies in a basket. Chub pulled other plugs and located the battery-powered radio. I got raincoats on all, and away we went together to the storm cellar in a hard rain - but the electrical storm had not yet reached us.

We stood in the cave bored, looking at the puppies and each other. Someone said, "We should have brought folding chairs." Nancy dashed to the house and returned, lugging a child-size chair in each hand.

Then, as my dad would have said, "All hell broke loose in the sky." We couldn’t hear the game for the static, and the storm raged on, water coming down in sheets, blowing toward the house. The front passed, and the rain stopped. All went quiet.

The kids carried the puppies, Chub carried the chairs and I was the first to discover that the living room was like a lake! Throw rugs were soaking wet, and water stood almost to the new television; Nancy had hauled out two chairs and didn’t remember to shut the door!

Perhaps mopping up that mess and drying the rugs kept us from ever using the cave as a storm cellar again.


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