First Person

The crawl space

You were thrilled to enter the crawl space, but also frightened. There was a chance of snakes.

When I was five years old our mom and dad had an addition built onto our old brick house so that our grandmother could come live with us. She was mom’s mom. She was dignified and brooked no nonsense. The addition was designed just for grandma and it contained one bedroom and one bathroom and one chair and one television. It was not a public space and you did not enter without permission and if you were a ruffian you did not enter at all. I was a ruffian and entered only on high holy days.

Because it was an addition it had no basement or cellar and was perched slightly above ground just in case of floods. Because the addition was slightly above ground there was a crawl space underneath. The crawl space was maybe 18 inches high and accessible only through a tiny door above our dad’s workbench in our basement. An enterprising boy could climb up on dad’s workbench and pick his way around tools and nails and glue and paint and bolts and screws and splits and shims of wood and climb through the tiny door into the silent dusty sandy velvet dark of the crawl space. You were frightened when you entered the crawl space. There was a chance of snakes. Where we lived there were water snakes and ribbon snakes and milk snakes and worm snakes and green snakes and black snakes.

But you were also thrilled to enter the crawl space. It was warm. It was sandy. It was the most absolutely silent place ever. You could not hear commands or complaints or accusations or imprecations or insinuations or character assassinations. You could not hear ragging and razzing and teasing and tattling. You could sprawl there in the dark for as long as you wanted or until another brother appeared at the window and begged for his turn in the crawl space. Whenever a brother was missing and presumed lost he was in the crawl space.