You could call it our deep, dark, dank and dusty secret.
Our basement is a room of the house that no visitor has seen except my mother and the guy who cleans the furnace in the fall. I make him keep his back to the room at all times.
It's a place where spiders and dust buffalo roam free. And, there's that persistent subterranean smell.
Frankly, it scares me. I would never go down there if it wasn't for laundry reasons. It's so unnerving that our dog, who would follow me into the shower if it didn't involve water, waits at the top of the stairs for my return.
The problem started with a merger of three households -- my husband's (mostly books), mine (mostly textiles and art) and his mother's, from whom we inherited practical items such as furniture and dishes.
While our holdings were diverse, we were soon living in triplicate. Three toasters. Three irons. Ten bread pans. Enough cloth napkins for a black-tie barbecue. Enough glasses to have the entire neighborhood over for iced tea.
After we bought our first home in 1997, whatever we didn't need -- or couldn't identify -- made its way to the basement.
There it stayed, collecting dust and mildew -- until this month.
That is when we were suddenly possessed by that peculiar American force -- the garage sale. We spent whole evenings hauling furniture and other oddball items up to a staging area in the garage, that final stop before a cash exchange or a trip to Goodwill.
It is also when something unexpected happened.
With a significant amount of the basement bulk reduced, I started looking at the room in a new light. I had visions of our his-and-hers, garage sale Nordic Traks placed where they would actually be operational, a laundry area neat enough to sort clothes on the floor.
Saturday morning I began the reclamation process. Armed with broom, dust pan, vinegar, paper towels and a mop, I tackled exactly one-fourth the room.
I swept down every cobweb. I sprayed vinegar on everything that didn't move, including storage bins that had somehow become covered with a gnarly coat of grime.
Five hours of cleaning and three loads of laundry later, that quadrant was as much a thing of beauty as an unfinished basement could be.
The dehumidifier was humming along. There were cheery, petunia-patterned curtains at the window above the washer and dryer. A pretty little pink rug provided a soft place to stand while loading and unloading clothes.
An old chair with a new, floral pattern seat cover provided a place to rest in between lights and darks. I placed a Southern Living magazine on the seat, at an artsy angle, just in case I ever want to spend a long period of reading time in the laundry area. (I may have inhaled too many vinegar fumes prior to this.)
There was a special point at which I actually sat in the chair and put my feet on the rug. The dog cautiously came down the steps and lay next to me.
Victory. A species that has fewer than eight legs had recognized our basement as actual living space.
This week: Quadrant two. It will happen. I know it.
Give me a month or so and I may be hosting parties down there -- or at least catching up on my reading.
Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.