The farm house of our family homestead was built around 1818. The original structure was a 1 ½ story with a main room that served as a multipurpose kitchen and dining area and another room that might have been a living area. A rough stairs reached up to the loft above the kitchen, where my ancestors slept. Around 1840 an addition was made to add rooms and a second story with bedrooms. Beneath was a dugout cellar which supported the house with a stacked stone foundation and rough-hewn beams. The cellar was no special place. The stairs from the kitchen down to the cellar were narrow and steep, seeming like an afterthought. Along about the 1940s, Dad added an outside entrance and a cement floor.
The one corner of the house was sagging and needed to be shored up. So Dad and his buddies dug out the cellar so it was more than a crawl space and you could stand up in it. They poured a concrete floor and put steps up to the outside. Legend has it that at one point in the construction, the corner in question started giving way and Dad squatted down and held up the corner of the house until the others got it supported. The cellar then housed the fuel oil furnace and a back up wood burner. But it was a pretty creepy place. Water seeped in around the old stone walls. There were boards on the floor to walk on so as to not get your feet wet. There was an old roller washing machine that Mom used. There were ancient jars of fruit on shelves, even whiskey bottles that were from the 1800s. It was a creepy kind of Wilson archeology.
It was cold and damp in the cellar. You didn’t really want to go down there unless you were feeling your Lewis and Clark exploration groove. But on one night that cellar played a particularly important role, probably one that it had been designed to fulfill many times in the history of the homestead. It was along about two o’clock in the morning and Dad woke us all up. The wind was howling and it was storming. He told us we needed to hurry up and go to the cellar. I remember rushing down the steps hearing tree branches scraping against the side of the house. Mom had a lantern and we huddled together on a small bench we found beneath the steps. The flickers of light showing the worry in her face. The wind growing louder and the house groaned in the night above us.
Suddenly, there was a rush like a locomotive running over us. Then silence. We looked at one another and Mom was trying to reassure us that everything was going to be all right, but you could tell she was hardly convinced of her own words. We prayed. After what seemed like an eternity, Dad said we could go back to bed. When the sun rose the next morning, it was a war zone. Trees down everywhere, but nothing hit the house and that old cellar took on a new meaning to me as a place of safety and refuge. Psalm 91:2 says, “I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” And I also will say, “Thank God for creepy damp cold cellars in times of tornados.”