This post was prompted by the Daily Post writing challenge, the Devil is in the Details. The point is to write something and add a lot of details to give a good picture of whatever you are talking about. It’s supposed to be three paragraphs long, but oh well. It’s my post, right?
The last story I wrote that made my dad laugh out loud, I wrote in the old bomb shelter behind our house. It should be a solemn place, but that’s where I write my funny stories. It’s quiet down there, and I find that inspiring. It’s such a unique place that I think it would inspire anyone.
The bomb shelter was built in 1957 by the original owner of the house, Mr. Nelson Harwick. It used to have a steel hatch and a wheel lock on it, but my dad was afraid someone would suffocate in there, so he took it off and built a cover out of 2×6’s. He painted it green to match the lawn and stuck a Master steel padlock on it to keep the raccoons out. The rusted steel hinge barrels are still there from the original hatch though, still sticking out of the concrete.
I don’t know what the original ladder was like, but the current one is made of welded rebar that my cousin Fred put in for a 4-H project when I was little. It used to have sandpaper on the rungs to give it grip, but that’s worn away now. You have to be really careful, especially on dewy mornings, which is when I like to go down there.
The shelter walls are lined with lime-green industrial shelving, which makes the useable space only about eight feet across and twenty feet long. The area around the ladder is full of wooden crates with light brown burlap sacks from when Mom used to store extra vegetables there. There’s a faint septic smell of rotten potatoes right near the entrance, but it disappears as you move further in.
The main smell is a damp, earthy smell but that is overlaid with a touch of smoky vanilla from Uncle Lenny’s Black Cavendish pipe tobacco. He and Aunt Gwen only live three quarters of a mile away on Route 12 and he likes to come over and smoke down in the shelter when he and Aunt Gwen are fighting. The smell reminds me of him and his deep, infectious laugh. For some reason, we never end up in the shelter at the same time, but that’s probably for the best. We both like our privacy.
There used to be electricity in the bomb shelter, but it was cut before we moved in, so I do things the old-fashioned way. I bought a pre-World War One kerosene lantern at a fly market for twelve bucks and since you can buy kerosene down at the Irving station, I keep it down there for light. To light it, I adjust the wick with a little wheel on the side and then lift the glass lamp chimney to reach in with a kitchen match. The lamp gives off a really clear, steady yellow light that lights up the whole room.
It’s funny—when I write I’m surrounded by food, although I would never eat any of it. It was fully stocked by Mr. Harwick in case of nuclear war and my parents have never thrown it out. My mom keeps it because she likes looking at all the foods she remembers from when she was a kid. My dad contends that it’s still good and says we should keep it around just in case. The steel cans are rusty on top and the ones in the back have so many cobwebs they’re like little spider cities. I wouldn’t eat any of it—not even the little cans of StarKist tuna, which I absolutely adore.
I write all my funny stories in a brown leather-bound blank book I got from my parents for my birthday. Whenever I finish a story, I give it to my dad to read. He always smiles, but if he chuckles that’s a good sign. If he laughs out loud, then it’s officially a good story. If he laughs until he cries then the story would probably win a Pulitzer, but that’s never happened yet.
Actually, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve gotten a good idea for a funny story. I’m going to go down to the shelter right now to write it down.