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Marilyn Hagerty: Only Margo the Hammer deserves a place of honor in the basement

Marilyn Hagerty holds her trusty hammer, Margo, recently at the Grand Forks Herald. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

This column first published in the Herald on July 13, 1997.

I have a new hammer, and I have named it Margo.

I will keep Margo in the basement. Margo will be the only tool down there, and she will sit on a wooden shelf salvaged from the flood.

Margo is named after Margo Naismith Bergene, who grew up in Grand Forks, where she learned the virtue of helping others. She now lives in Fridley, Minn., but she has been at my house helping out. First, she came with a crew from her church. Then she came back alone.

"Don't pay me," she said. "Just go over and buy yourself a hammer and some of the things you need."

That is why Margo the Hammer will have an uncluttered space of honor in my post-flood basement.

I am bound and determined the basement will remain forever as a shell. There will be no more filling it up.

A lifetime load

It took 40 years — from 1957 to 1977 — to load up that basement with all of the things a family wants to keep. It took a crew of six men a day and a half to haul everything out after the flood.

So, my reaction is this: For at least one year, there will be no new paint, no carpet remnants on the floor. After that, only items in use will be allowed a place in the basement.

Already, I am fighting those words.

There's a basement mentality that takes over. Whenever there is something floating around the house without a place of its own, I think of the basement. I have to catch myself and not automatically carry things downstairs.

I admit a few items have found their way back to the lower level.

The highchair I save for little kids, the rocking horse and wooden rocking chair are back. The ladies aid coffee pot I salvaged is back. It has no top. The electric pots are long gone to the landfill.

Two Barbie dolls from the 1960s, a fire truck and a road grader have been cleaned and sent to the upper level of the house.

That's about it, though, for the basement. Along with the basics — the new water heater, new furnace, new washer, new dryer — there is a new cover for the rusty old ironing board.

That's all I want in the basement right now.

Another day

The flood has left me feeling weary and frugal. I kind of enjoy this adversity. My basement now looks like the cellars did in the dirty 1930s. In those days, nobody heard of finishing up the downstairs with carpeting, wallboard and ceiling tile.

In the house where I grew up in Pierre, S.D., we had a wringer washer. We had a copper boiler on a gas heater to get enough water hot enough for wash day. That was Monday.

One time my dad rigged up a shower for the boys and nailed some boards together for them to stand on over the drain in the basement. There were — for heaven's sake — no curtains. So we girls learned about nature by peeking through the basement windows.

In those days before air conditioning, we would seek refuge in the cool of the basement on hot summer days. The adults would make root beer for the kids and beer for the adults down there.

We had no lamps in the basement. Lights hung from cords. We had no extra stuff. There was no excess in the years of the Great Depression.

Don't misunderstand me. I wouldn't want to go back to those times. It's just that right now, I am happy to settle for an unadorned basement.

With Margo down there waiting.