When I was a kid, there was a moose in my basement. That’s right, my childhood home in Alaska had a moose in the basement. Don’t think my parents listed that when they put the house on the market a few years ago. “Lovely older 4 BR, 4 bath home on acreage with spectacular mountain view, large gardens, moose in basement.”
As childhood fears go, I know this one is kind of weird, but I think that stuff happens when you grow up in Alaska. The situation didn’t cause me too much angst as a kid, because I followed the rules.
You see, the moose and I had an unspoken agreement, an understanding, if you will. If I flipped on the lights from the top of the stairs before I went down, and waited a few seconds to give him time, he would leave. So that’s what I did. Because I certainly didn’t want to risk the consequences of NOT complying with the agreement, and neglect to first flip the lights. Then, the moose would get me. That’s right. It would get me.
Didn’t matter that moose are herbivores, more inclined to eat willow bushes than “get” little girls, or that they don’t traditionally live in residential basements. None of that mattered, ’cause my basement had a moose. I have no idea how I came by this awareness, nor do I remember any time in my childhood that I did not believe the moose was down there. I just knew, and accepted the weight of that knowledge with equanimity.
Now, I do understand how my personal childhood fear came to take the form of a moose. They were a fairly constant presence in Alaska, at least in the winter when they came down to lower elevations to escape deeper snow and forage in the ‘hood. The moose would wander through our woods, munching on shrubs, occasionally wandering into our yards. My family lived on ten acres that bordered my best friend’s family’s ten acres, and our shared driveway wound through the woods to the road we lived on.
We’d walk down the driveway to the bus stop in the mornings in the dark (cause winter mornings are dark in Alaska), and we could sometimes see their dark shapes off in the woods, laying down in the snow, or hear their whuffling breath, or the sound of their hooves breaking through the snow. Scary stuff, I’ll tell ya, with nothing more to defend us than a flashlight and our parents’ near-meaningless admonitions to “make lots of noise, they’ll leave you alone” in our ears.
Every year in early December my dad would drag my brother and I out to the forest somewhere to cut down our pitiful little Alaska spruce Christmas tree, and it seemed like there was always a discomforting moose spotting or two while we were out there, so bundled up we couldn’t run if we wanted to, miles and miles from the car in the freezing cold. (I may be exaggerating this experience a wee little bit, my father might tell a slightly different version.) Nor did it help that once in a while there would be news of some poor soul coming between a cow moose and her calf, and the cow stomping the person to death. This happened to a little boy when I was in elementary school, or so I remember, and I’m sure contributed to the frightening certainty of the moose downstairs.
Moose avoidance was part and parcel of learning to drive in Alaska. Hitting a 1200-pound moose could have put a real ugly dent in my serviceable “ain’t nobody going to misbehave in a car this ugly” hatchback Chevy Citation. (Even now, driving the suburban roads of the Portland metro area, I can’t help but evaluate any looming dark shape on the side of the road as a potential moose, just for a split second. This auto-response is tripled on the approximately 2 days each year we have a skiff of snow on the ground.)
Mind you, the moose in the basement was well established before my teenage driving days, but since a deal is a deal, I habitually flipped those lights at the top of the stairs well into my college years. Of course, since it was a basement, there were also other dangers lurking down there, in the dark coldroom with the potatoes and carrots (and Lord knows what else?) stored in sand, or in the creepy pantry below the stairs, shelves lined with canned salmon and homemade raspberry jelly and SPIDERS THAT MIGHT LEAP ON YOUR HEAD AND EAT YOUR BRAINS.
Really, it’s amazing I’m as normal as I am.
There are days now, though, when I would welcome that moose into the Lego-strewn daylight basement of my own family’s home. Growing up means trading childhood fears for new adult fears with bigger teeth and deeper bites, fears like cancer and loss, injustice and unemployment, fear of failure, things that really can “get you”. The magical thinking that enabled a frightening but fair moose in the basement might come in handy now and again.
How ’bout you? Any quirky childhood fears you can look back on and admit to today?