— By LARRY M. JONES
Cellars have always fascinated, yet terrified, me for my entire life. This fear comes almost entirely from Grandpa and Grandma Jones’ old dilapidated cellar in their back yard.
It had a top structure made of wood which served as a storage barn and loft. Going below, stone steps took you down about 8-10 feet underground to the actual cellar portion.
The structure was in a terrible condition. I recall that the stone work sorely lacked any degree of integrity. Large cracks and holes in the rock work of the walls and steps allowed any number of vermin to dwell therein. When you have large numbers of rats and mice, guess what will also be feasting on this smorgasbord – snakes of all sizes and colors. In addition, it leaked water and was always wet and musty.
Despite these terrifying recollections, I have always wanted my own storm cellar to use when threatening weather was approaching. My mother, who grew up in the Poe Prairie Community south of Millsap, told of her family routinely going to the cellar and spending the night when she was a child. Her father would gather up the family, grab the chopping axe, a kerosene lantern and head to the cellar whenever a bad storm threatened them. The axe was to make sure the entrance could be cleared of any fallen debris should a tornado strike.
One morning when they opened the cellar door, their house was turned upside down, and had been moved several yards. Without the cellar, they could have all been killed in the storm.
In addition to serving as a safe haven, a cellar is ideal to use for storing garden or orchard produce and canned goods. In this area of North Texas, underground temperatures typically stay around 67-68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Well water is normally refreshingly cool, and if a cellar is deep enough to escape the Texas sun’s blistering heat, it will maintain this delightful temperature throughout the year, as well. This stable temperature has prompted many homeowners in recent decades to build at least partially underground houses.
Recently Helen and I have been toying with the idea of building us a fancy new cellar. The structure would be sealed water tight, vermin proof and well-ventilated. Helen sees it as a root cellar where she could store her “world famous” bread and butter pickles, canned tomatoes and assorted jellies and preserves. There she could securely keep her quilts and quilting supplies. I also see that as a nice thing, in addition to having a secure storm shelter.
However, I have a couple of friends and neighbors (who will remain anonymous) that live “up river” from me who have spectacular wine cellars in their homes. This I see as a much more practical use of the proverbial “root cellar.”
Somewhat analogous to the Sphinx protecting the pyramids, one of them is guarded by full body mounts of a musk ox and a mountain lion. What could be better than sitting there, admiring your favorite hunting trophies, surrounded by racks filled with bottles of Cabernet and Merlot, cleaning your favorite rifle, and swapping manly stories with your best buds. All that with perfect temperatures and no rats, mice, or snakes …
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.