There’s an old soapstone sink in my basement. Double-basin. Each side twenty-one inches wide and fourteen inches deep. Chipped here and there, like the concrete basement floor, which is webbed with cracks and protestations.
My basement. Full of cobwebs in the old ceiling joists where new electric frowns upon the old knob and tube; a foundation of antique bricks decaying in white flakes onto the floor.
My basement. Several rooms with old doors of scrap wood nailed roughly together, doors that, when shut, don’t completely fill the frame, leaving, instead, a two-inch gap of darkness and possibilities: The old coal room with a rectangular cast iron coal-chute, now sealed shut. The room that houses the incinerator—a behemoth of scrap metal that sits, unused, obviously—waiting for a future unknown while the gas boiler in the main room—another giant—keeps my house somewhat warm. Also in that main room, a dance platform, one wall lined with mirrors where someone must have practiced ballet and dreamed of being onstage. A fourth room houses the electric box and a set of wooden shelves, where, if I ever cleaned them up, I could set jars of my homemade jelly.
But there’s something shameful to me about hiding those glistening jars on a dusty basement shelf. I want to take pride in my jelly…the Concord coaxed from grapes grown along the shores of Lake Erie, that perfect alchemy of soil and wind. The raspberry-strawberry combination from berries I picked with my children last summer. The crabapple. Lovely crabapple stolen from trees around town. It shines the best, sweet and translucent, admiring itself in the afternoon light that angles in through the high windows of my dining room. Because it is here, among my antique China, in the built-in glass-fronted cabinets, where I display my jelly.
I admit it: I flaunt my jars of jelly. Show them off like diamonds or well-behaved Catholic school children all standing in a row. Proof of my productivity, I suppose, in what some might consider an unproductive life.
I find value in the old things: homemade quilts, old domestic arts, soapstone sinks made new again.
In my dreams, I haul up that sink through the sagging, slanted, cellar doors and install it in my kitchen—a future kitchen. A kitchen full of light and possibilities. A kitchen where I will make more jelly and piping hot soup. A kitchen where I will bake bread and listen to the radio while it rises. A kitchen where I will wash my garden vegetables in an old soapstone sink. A kitchen where I will sip hot mugs of tea with my family during the cold and bitter winter.by