Thursday, January 13, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Second Street Basement

I always thought it would be kinda cool to be an archeologist.
It was a dream that faded a bit when I mentioned it to my high school guidance counselor. He, not unkindly, reminded me that archeology, like rocket science and brain surgery, required some talent, or a least interest, in subjects like science and math. Gently wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, he sent me toddling off to typing class and my eventual alternate career path.
But I still thought it seemed like it would be interesting and fun, even, to dig up mummies, old bones and pieces of ancient pottery.
I finally got a taste of what it would be like last week when we began taking down our Christmas decorations.
It had been awhile since we'd done a thorough "sort, discover, file & pitch" procedure in the vast, winding depths beneath our house, so one of us (guess who?) decided the time was right before we returned our holiday trappings to the room where they belong. Our basement, like the rest of the house, is old and extensive. And while we've cleaned it many times before, there's always a lot of stuff to go through. Part of it has to do with the fact that my sons are the fifth generation of Sloans to live in Galva. My mom's family came to town in the early 20th century, which just added to the accumulation of clutter, plus we inherited a plethora of papers, letters, books, photos, household items and other miscellanea after my mother-in-law passed away a few years ago. My wife and sister-in-law attacked a few tubs full of those treasures during the holidays, spurring, I think, a more comprehensive bit of exploration.
"I feel like I'm one of those American Pickers in my own basement," she said, as she waded through a pile.
I, on the other hand, felt more like I was finally getting to live my high school dream.
"These are the ruins of the Galva people," I intoned in my best professorial voice. "They were hunter-gatherers who never, ever threw anything away."
Best, though, was my sudden inspiration for a new Indiana Jones movie. I couldn't help imagining the evil Nazis pinning Indy against the hot water heater, while grasping the valiant cat Max by the scruff of his neck.
"Zo, Dr. Jones. You vill tell us ze location of ze 1928 Galva phone book, or ze little cat dies."
Yep, there was one of those, and more. Lots more.
Among my favorite finds this time were my grandfather's 1882 high school autograph book and a leather bible cover inscribed with the date of my great-grandparents' wedding day, December 27, 1864. But the real prize among the basement bins and boxes was a letter written to my wife's parents in 1950 from a World War II Army Air Corps friend who was flying in China for an airline known as the Civil Air Transport. My fellow explorer remembered hearing the name when he wrote to them in later years.
"He's a spy," said her dad when she inquired as to the identity of the letter-writer.
Megan always figured her dad was pulling her leg, but, as it turned out, the Civil Air Transport was covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.
According to one source, "CAT maintained a civilian appearance by flying scheduled passenger flights while simultaneously using other aircraft in its fleet to fly covert missions. During the Chinese Civil War, under contract with the Chinese Nationalist government and later the Central Intelligence Agency, CAT flew supplies and ammunition into China to assist Kuomintang forces on the Chinese mainland, primarily using C-47 and C-46 aircraft. With the defeat of the Kuomintang, CAT helped to evacuate thousands of Chinese to Taiwan."
The letter tells of the friend's life in China as an expatriate pilot, and accurately predicts the political changes that were to eventually occur in the region.
Fascinating stuff. And maybe he was a spy, after all.
We've just about wrapped up this most recent foray into the dark, dank depths, with the Galva garbage and recycling guys no doubt wondering what the heck I've been up to this time. And while I won't claim that cleaning a basement is akin to a trip to Disneyland, it does have its interesting moments.
And Indy would have loved it.
My columns from the last couple of weeks have been kind of controversial.
First, I claimed an undying love for snow. Big snow.
Then I bragged about toughing it out in a cold, cold house.
I wrote those columns with all sincerity, but with a mild sense of guilt, too.
You see, we're heading south this week.
Or at least, that's the plan.
After lengthy negotiations, planning, fretting and dreaming, we've rented a place near our beloved beaches and, more importantly, within a few minutes of our even-more-beloved youngest grandchildren. It will be an experience and an experiment in a kind of bi-coastal living, as we bounce between the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and those of the North Branch of the Edwards River. Our plan is to take advantage of both places, enjoying the best weather, activities and company both coastal North Carolina and Galva can offer. And while they've had a colder-than-usual winter season, we've been anxious to head down, set up housekeeping and--literally and figuratively--get our feet wet.
Then came Monday morning's weather report.
Big snows, ice, sleet and generally paralyzing winter weather conditions throughout the southeast.
North Topsail Beach, our destination, reported four inches of new snow, a happenstance that occurs about as often as what one-time weatherman David Letterman once called for when he predicted "hail the size of canned hams."
I guess we'll just have to deal with it. We are, after all, midwesterners who should be able to adapt to just about anything Mother Nature throws at us.
But I can't help thinking one thing after those columns I wrote lauding the joys of snow and cold.
It serves me right.

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