Mama Madison: Benefits of a wet basement

Forced cleanup prompts an encounter with great memories

We always get some water in the basement this time of year, but it's usually pretty manageable with a couple of bath towels and a fan. The spring of 2013 has been something else though, and I've spent far more time than I care to think about wrangling the sump pump and wet mops in a valiant effort to stay ahead of the flooding.

I'm half-seriously considering whether it might make sense to literally throw in the towel (they're all soaking wet anyway) and draft an application to whichever city agency would allow me to declare my lower level an indoor swimming pool.

But there is always a bright (even if there is no dry) side to even the most mildewed basement. And this year it was the chance for self-discovery while wading through all the crap that has accumulated down there over the years.

I guess I've always thought of myself as ruthlessly non-sentimental. I have worn it as a badge of pride that I don't feel compelled to frame each report card, file away greeting cards or download and print every family photo. The endless Certificates of Participation (my gosh, they participate in a lot) go straight up to a kid's room or into the recycling. And because of my ability to separate the Rembrandts from the rubbish when it comes to my kids' artwork, the front of my refrigerator is chronically controlled.

But, as I was going through the damp stuff in my basement, the lyrics of Barbara Streisand's "The Way We Were" kept playing over and over again in my head, especially that line about the "misty water-colored memories." And not just because of the water damage, but because, as it turns out, even the most passionate non-hoarder can have a nostalgia Achilles heel.

And as it turns out mine is costumes.

There, soaked on the basement floor lay the adorable orange beret replete with green stem that all three of my kids wore as Jacques-O-Lanterns on their first Halloweens. There was enough pink and lavender tulle to outfit tutus for the entire Bolshoi Ballet should they ever make a stop at the Overture Center. And dozens of black witches capes, devil's pitchforks and "Star Wars" masks. There were store bought "groovy hippie" costumes and homemade lion's manes and tails fashioned from faux fur. I even found the "Wolverine" claws my middle son wore to his three-year-old dress-up (or I should probably say dress-down) birthday party; I think he wore the plastic claws and little else that day.

And even though "let's pretend" is no longer a game my kids play regularly, I had trouble even thinking about throwing any of them out, no matter how tattered or water-stained they were. Some parents record the passage of time in carefully curated photographs or pencil marks denoting height increases on the basement wall. My time capsule, I guess, is the costume box.

The fake plastic fruit, a Playskool pirate ship, and what might very well be the world's largest collection of Rescue Heroes, those adorable first-responder dolls with inexplicably large feet, are now dried off, packed up and ready to be donated. Perhaps I'll figure out a way to get them to the Kids to Kids garage sale that will take place early next month at Elver Park.

But the dress-up stuff remains. "Memories," I guess, don't just "light the corners of my mind." At least for the time being, they will continue to live, albeit a little damp, in the corners of my basement.

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