What’s Down in the Basement?

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”– Albert Einstein

This quote applies to everyone no matter what your vocation. I imagine (pun intended) we all relate to this quote. When I took the time to digest it’s words, it made me remember which childhood imagination events influenced me.

Certain childhood imagination tools I had in my basement playroom influenced my future vocations and interests. The wonderful thing about the pre-electronic games era is that our playtime was perhaps more inventive, creative and definitely, more imaginative.

Recently, I literally unearthed an item from my childhood home’s attic– an old Remington typewriter! It was covered with dust, soot and hopefully, not asbestos from our 1920’s attic. It was a heavy antique but so pristine, dramatic and proud! I was immediately flooded with memories of a similar typewriter we had from Goodwill and how I used it in my childhood basement playroom.

My older sister was always bringing home unique things from estate sales or Goodwill.  I used to use a vintage typewriter as a pretend cash register with my best friends. I had a pretend grocery store in my basement because my parents stored overflow groceries down there as a pantry. One of the friends would go “shopping” and put the canned goods and boxed goods in her “shopping basket” and one of us would ring up the items on the antique typewriter which was posing as a cash register. Since the return bar had a wonderful “DING”, it seemed like a cash register.

On the nearby table which we unknowingly fashioned as a partner desk, I had another business going on…a travel agency. My sister brought home some tourism department books she found at a school library that was closing. They were about all of the provinces of Canada. They were old and outdated but I thought they were fabulous and resourceful! I can still envision the photos of lush green forests in those old books.  On a vintage rotary dial (again heavy) black phone, (which really worked)  I chatted away with pretend customers, setting up wonderful trips to anywhere in Canada….and only Canada…because those were the only tourism books I had at my fingertips. At 9 or 10 years old, I could design you a trip to Nova Scotia. Later, I discovered this delicate Paris travel brochure that made it in my move to the new house. If I had it in my pretend travel agency, I could’ve designed you a trip to any province in Canada—and Paris.

FullSizeRender 4

It reminded me about a conversation I had at seven years old. I told my mom and brother that I wanted to be a tourist when I grew up…as my job. My mom skeptically asked me in her practical minded Greek mom way, “How are you going to make money doing that?” My 16 year old brother waited for the reply to see if my critical thinking skills would apply here. I was kind of baffled and deflated and asked her, “what do you mean??”. She replied, “That’s a hobby but how is that a job?” I stated, “I don’t know!” My brother chuckled but didn’t want to discourage me.

My mom technically didn’t discourage me either but she showed me there was a realistic side to consider when you’re imagining and making plans. I wasn’t ready to give up on this tourist job idea. Ironically, my grandmother’s old passport was discovered years later when I moved to my new home. FullSizeRender 3

It was intact, glamorous, full of historic travels and a most important pilgrimage of taking her daughter, (my mother) back to Greece, Turkey, France and Egypt to meet relatives for the first time. My maternal grandparents were political refugees in the 1920’s leaving their Turkish-occupied Greek island to come to America.

FullSizeRenderI worked well alone on this pretend travel agency and it became kind of hectic one day in the travel agency/grocery story basement when two playmates came over. Innovation turned to mischief and someone got the bright idea to change my serious travel agency ambience into a phone call pranking headquarters and we started calling random numbers and doing the usual 1970’s pranking scripts, (“Did you order a pizza? etc,) “One of the playmates got nervous when someone answered and in handing the heavy vintage phone over to the other friend, it got too close to her face and she chipped our friend’s tooth! That’s how heavy the phone was. IMG_0998We panicked. The friend caught the piece of her tooth in her hands and went to find her parents. The playdate was OVER. And my travel agency was tainted, in my opinion. We had our first casualty! Our friend went to the dentist over this mishap. The phone sits innocently in a nook at my sister’s home. Whenever I see it, I consider it a culprit  to a prank….and a chipped tooth!

A calling to become an educator took center stage in my life when my baby cousins were born. They became my little students and there was no pretending about it! We had a true neighborhood style “homeschool” going on for a few years and a full curriculum designed by me, a 7-11 year old and my little cousins were the experimental students.

The tourist job fantasy didn’t exactly take a backseat though. I was able to travel extensively as a child of an American Airlines employee because of the flight privileges and hotel discounts. My mom was talented at making all of the complicated connections possible and I listened intently as she made our “non-rev” flights and details. This was the heyday of travel, in my opinion; when the flight attendants looked like Miss America contestants and people dressed up to fly! First class seats were so available to us non-rev passengers and I even got to be a flight attendant on one flight. I passed out peanuts, spoke on the intercom, saw the cockpit and sat with those stunning glamazon flight attendants in their special section when we were landing.

from the internet
from the internet

Years later, I helped friends with their trip itineraries and made recommendations to them on which stops and excursions  to take off of cruise ships in Greece, etc. This was all for fun and I loved it when the recommendations were appreciated. But what a full circle moment from that pretend travel agency in my basement with all of my vintage and antique props!

On these wonderful family trips, I remember my dad’s new camera–a Minolta Super 3 Circuit. That was a big deal. It even had a leather strap and case. IMG_0092

I remember my grandpa’s old accordion style camera, too and I found a similar style camera and display it as a reminder of all of the meaningful vintage items that I was surrounded by in my childhood. It created an appreciation for historic items….things made with artistry and value. Those items represented challenges, adventures, voyages, journeys and risk taking for my immigrant ancestors entering  into the New World for a New Life.IMG_8049In this same childhood home where imagination and discovery collaborated, there was one other item displayed which was a part of my daily images whenever I passed by the living room mantel….the GEISHA GIRL. That’s what we called her. Geisha had a marvelous glass case box that she was displayed in. It was as if she was stored away and protected from the elements. She could look out but she was untouchable. I was bewitched by the geisha girl. She had a Mona Lisa smile and a gaze that was averted.  She was an enigma to me. I loved that my Greek mom and Greek household had this “oriental” (as we called it in the 70’s) item prominently displayed over our fireplace! It was not a house only full of Greek columns, Greek keys and busts of Apollo or Aphrodite. We had those things, too- of course. But Geisha Girl had a presence in our home and conveyed that we appreciated international souvenirs of all kinds.IMG_8050My best friend was always intrigued with the glass case that surrounded the geisha and strangely,  years later, somehow the case broke. Geisha Girl was freed! I liked her even better that way. I felt like, finally, geisha was out of the case and not untouchable. We could enjoy her delicate details up close. She moved with us to our new house but she was not up high anymore on a mantel. She became the centerpiece of our dining room table or buffet. And in some ways, she represents to me that I, too, have passed down an appreciation for international culture for my sons.

I appreciate that my family did not toss out those old items. We incorporated them into our childhood imagination play. As adults, we later displayed them in our homes. Currently, they are inspirational “props” for me in my writing study. They connect me to my roots. In creative writing, it is nostalgic to think of those childhood influences. Life was black and white but evolved towards gray. In those shades of gray, I delve into interviewing others about their travels, inspirations and passions. That has been good for the soul!

“When you’re talking, you are only repeating what you already know. But when your’e listening; you’re learning.” In travel writing and interviewing people about their travels and stories, I am listening….and learning. When I’m writing, I am surrounded by my inspiration props–  an antique typewriter, antique cameras, and an antique phone while I use my modern day laptop, my modern camera and my handy cell phone as my tools. It’s funny to think one day these modern day gadgets will be antiques to the next generations.

I love being surrounded by these childhood imagination props. They are from a pre-electronic game time. Pre-social media, pre-computers, pre-cell phones. A time when we had imaginary play in droves in the backyard, neighborhood alleys or down in the basement. I am not quite 50 years old but I’m almost there. The props were there in the first half-century of my life and now they are being useful again in the next half-century. And where knowledge is limited, imagination is limitless.

from A Magic Carpet Ride 

© Gina Michalopulos Kingsley


proceeds from the book are donated to charity.