Lucky Strikes

Have you checked your basement lately? (uh, Dave, I don’t have a basement). How about the crawl space (nope, don’t have one of those either). Maybe a deep closet, the kind with empty space behind the hanging clothes? If I haven’t pegged you yet, just lift up your area rugs (assuming your floors have been around a while). Why? You might find something interesting down there! Loose change. Old love letters. Bowling balls.

Bowling balls?

A small part of Dave’s “bowl” collection

Talk about a lucky strike.  Another Dave in my country (he of Norton Shores, MI) recently began a DIY house renovation when he unearthed a bowling ball from behind the crumbling concrete of his back porch.  So he pawed the sand some more and found another ball.  And another.  Pretty soon he had fifteen.  By the time our industrious friend cleaned out his subterranean bowling alley – er, crawl space, he’d amassed 150 balls – some black, most blue, and all designed to knock down pins.  I’m sure Dave would agree with this Dave when I say, “What the HECK?

Seriously, how would you react if you found hundreds of bowling balls under your house?  Me, I’d wonder if they weren’t part of the structural foundation (Don’t laugh; a 1940’s house we used to live in had glued-together schoolroom yardsticks in the walls.)  My next thought would go to an abandoned underground city, with my house right on top of the bowling alley.  And my final thought?  Aliens.  Aliens put those hundreds of bowling balls down there.

Did THIS used to be under Dave’s house?

Norton Shores Dave was more rational than my own thinking.  After finding the first fifteen balls he stopped digging and picked up the phone to Brunswick Bowling.  Some of the balls had date stamps back to the 1950s and Dave was concerned about toxicity. (Good thinking there, Dave.) But Brunswick glanced at a few of the photos he sent and said the balls were fine.  So it’s official: bowling balls last forever.

Hidden rooms – and the hidden treasures they contain – have always captured my imagination.  In the movie National Treasure, Nicolas Cage sorts through clue after clue on the hunt for a hidden fortune.  The final scene where the underground room reveals itself in bursting firelight is jaw-dropping.  Or how about any movie scene where a sliding bookcase protects a passage to the secret space beyond?  Wouldn’t that be a great feature in your house?

I designed a house with a sliding bookcase once (true story), back in my days as an architect.  The hidden room was accessed from the landing halfway up an open staircase, behind innocent-looking shelves of books.  The hidden room was meant to be a home office, with a small balcony overlooking the backyard.  I pictured the owner’s guests, standing on the lawn and looking up, saying, “Wait a sec’, how come I haven’t seen that room?

Admittedly, bowling balls aren’t a sexy find (even 150 of them).  It’s not like you’d go, “Perfect… just what I’d been hoping for!”  That’s not stopping Norton Shores Dave, however.  He thinks there may be even more balls down there, but – letdown ending to the story – he’ll probably just turn them into decorative pavers in the yard.

Plant orange trees… find a church instead!

Other hidden-space stories yield more satisfying treasures.  Last year a gardener in England – simply pulling weeds – unearthed sixty-three gold coins from the era of Henry VIII (now that’s what you call “paydirt”).  Another gardener – this one in Turkey – found an entire 6th-century church under the ten acres of land where he was about to plant orange trees.  Old rolled-up movie posters under the floorboards of a house were so pristine they brought $600,000 USD at auction.  Finally, in 2009, an English doctor passed away and left his house to his relatives.  What they overlooked for many months? The dusty, vintage 1937 Bugatti in the garage.  Selling price: $4.2 million.

Maybe the best finds are up in the attic.  In 2013 a family found a Van Gogh in the rafters of the house of deceased relatives.  The painting had been gathering dust for over a century because the original owner thought it was a fake.  Not so.  It turned out to be a priceless example from Van Gogh’s most prolific years.  Okay, not quite “priceless”, but how about $90.6 million?

It’s only fitting – as Halloween approaches – I ask you to crack the seal on your hidden spaces.  You’ll probably need a flashlight.  You’ll brush aside spiderwebs or put the boot on a creepy crawler or two.  But c’mon, you know you’re curious.  There could be something valuable right there underneath your feet.  A stash of cash.  A famous painting.  Or 150 bowling balls!

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Home renovation leads to the discovery of over 150 bowling balls under a family’s porch”, and the lovemoney.com article, “People who bought homes and found treasure”.

A Distant Third

America’s Election Day finds us one week post-Halloween, fifty days pre-Christmas, and still adjusting to that pesky hour gained from the loss of Daylight Savings Time (got all that?) Fittingly, I’m working through a small pile of candy corn and M&M’s while placing a couple of online orders for holiday gifts. And that, my friends, is the perfect lead-in to today’s topic. With Halloween fading fast as the sun, and Christmas approaching like Starbucks’ holiday cups (just when did those show up already?), where in God’s name is the love of Thanksgiving?

Of course, Thanksgiving gets steamrolled every year between the other two loudmouths – just seems the real estate on either side is getting bigger. Our neighborhood’s professional haunted houses, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes opened gates in early September. Then Christmas’ onslaught of decor, music, and retail made its entrance the moment front-porch lights switched off on trick-or-treating. In short, Holiday 1 and Holiday 3 officially overlapped each other, suffocating Holiday 2 onto life support. It’s the classic case of middle-child syndrome – “exclusion caused by the more specific attention to the others”. Poor Thanksgiving.

To be fair, ranking the standard aspects of holidays puts Thanksgiving in third place in just about every category.  Let’s review a few:

ORIGIN: Halloween dates to 2,000 years ago; the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (in present-day Ireland), when people lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts. That’s pretty cool.  Thanksgiving dates a mere 400 years, mimicking the harvest meal shared by the Wampanoag Indians and English Pilgrims. Christmas – at least to us Christians – dates over 2,000 years ago to the birth of Christ. Measured by the calendar then, Christmas (C) takes first place, Halloween (H) second, and Thanksgiving (T) a distant third.

CELEBRATION: Halloween used to be just children’s trick-or-treating. Now we’ve evolved to a month of the aforementioned haunted houses, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes; then costume contests, themed drinks, and increased cover charges at the bars; and a plethora of scary movies at the theater. Thanksgiving?  One day preparing one meal to be consumed in (more or less) one hour.  Christmas has its December 25th, but it also has a season’s worth of caroling, parties, movies, concerts, parades, church services, craft shows, decorations, temporary ice-skating rinks, and on and on and on.  Again – First Place: C, Second: H, (Distant) Third: T.

MUSIC: Halloween: “Werewolves of London”, “The Time Warp”, “The Monster Mash”, “Ghostbusters”, “Thriller”. Christmas: You-pick-’em – a dozen of your favorites (from hundreds if not thousands of carols). Thanksgiving: Not one.  Not one single, solitary tune comes to mind. First Place: C, Second: H, Late-to-the-party: T.

COLORS: Halloween: Red, Orange, Yellow (and every shade in between). Thanksgiving: brown. Christmas: Red, Green, White. Let’s call it a first-place tie between C and H.  In third place (and looking awfully uncolorful): T.

APPAREL – Let’s give this category about five seconds. Halloween is all about apparel, so anything goes and everything works. Christmas allows for – at least once in the season – your Sunday best, or getting all dolled up for some special occasion. Thanksgiving? All I come up with is stretch pants to ease the digestion of the meal.  First place: H, Second place: C, Absent-From-The-Podium: T.

FOOD – Halloween brings forth every imaginable candy, with a side of bobbed apples and witch’s brew. Christmas explodes with candy canes, decorated cookies, the Grinch’s roast beast, and those wretched fruit cakes. But here comes Thanksgiving for the kill – turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, dinner rolls, salads, vegetables, two-maybe-three kinds of pie, and whatever else you can cram onto the table. Assuming this carb-crazy feast is your cup of tea, Thanksgiving wins in a runaway. First place: T, Second place: C, Third Place (+ Sugar Coma): H.

Let’s tally the results.  In five of six categories, Thanksgiving gets the beat-down from Halloween and Christmas.  The mega-holidays appear to be reducing Turkey Day to a trifle.  But lest you think it’s a dying bird, I’m here to convince you Thanksgiving isn’t down for the count.  Stay tuned: there’s more to discuss about the little holiday that could.