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The Cellar

CW Hurni is an established sculptor, with a BA from CSUS. Studied puppetry with Prof. Bay and established Puppets and Motion with her original plays.

Editor's note: Claire writes about her growing up in Switzerland.

Even if it held approximately a half-year's worth of provisions to feed the family of eight, for me, as a child, the cellar was a musty smelling, dark labyrinth full of spooks, poisonous toads, and scary unknowns.

When Mama asked me to fetch something from this creepy place, I would take a deep breath, fetched the lantern, then calmed my racing heart as I descended slowly down-stairs into the abyss of the basement.

One lonely light bulb dangling near the entrance produced a feeble glow and my portable light was handy to locate the required foodstuff.

Quickly, I'd grab what was needed to re-emerge in a flash to deliver what Mama needed for the family meal.

I remember entering the sinister space with aromas emanating from mounds of vegetables mingled with wafts from fermenting cider, casks with sauerkraut, pickling sour and red beets, and piles of fragrant apples and pears. Everything was stored to feed the family during the long winter months.

The short dividing walls separated the bounty of carrots, red beets, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, plus white beets for the rabbits while catacombs of heads of white and red cabbages were stacked to turn into nutritious sustenance for the household.

The deepest, darkest inner sanctum of the basement housed the most important food source, the potatoes. One had to walk bent over in order to get through the tight tunnel to find the room with the musky smelling treasures.

Generous sturdy wooden sills laden with masses of glistening canning jars filled with plums, cherries and apricots were ready to enhance our dinners and for pies. Mama preserved delicious jams and jellies with strawberries, plums, rhubarbs, quince, cherries, apples, and pears from her garden and the orchard.

My favorite was Mama's golden yellow plum jam on braided bread with milk coffee for Sunday Morning breakfast.

A small cabinet with a screen door was the keeper of a large chunk of Swiss cheese in its vinegar-soaked cloth wrapper. It shared its bunk space with heaps of apples and pears neatly piled high from our orchard.

Mama identified all the fruits by name and she knew exactly the time when they would be at their best for eating and cooking.

Closer to the street side of the cellar, some feeble daylight from the tiny dirt-smudged window showed the contours of the cask of Papa's applejack that the grown-ups enjoyed with their meals.

The late spring storm and snow-melts would often raise the water levels, and the cellar flooded. Wide planks on bricks got us safe and dry to fetch what was left in food storage.

I would find fat toads guarding the boards, which confirmed my fantasy about poisonous unknowns living under the family house.

~ Claire Weissman Hurni




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