It is the musty odor of the basement that I remember the most.
As my mother hung newly laundered clothes on the sagging rope strung between the chimney and the outside wall, I pretended that the dimly lit cellar of our three story tenement-house was the wild west. It was a perfect opportunity to christen the cowboy hat and dual six-shooters—complete with embroidered holsters—I had recently received as a birthday gift—my third birthday I believe.
We were alone in the basement and mom was humming cheerfully while I was keeping a watchful eye for bandits or wild injuns, (whichever should happen to appear first).
Bad guys were scarce that day; they must have heard there was a new sheriff in town, so I busied myself practicing my quick draw.
Suddenly the peaceful silence was broken by the squeak of the rusty hinges on the door at the top of the stairs.
Ever vigilant, I took cover behind the chimney, guns drawn, ready to mow down the varmint.
Footsteps thudded on the dilapidated wooden steps as the intruder slowly descended the stairs, completely unaware of his impending doom.
First I saw a foot in a shiny black shoe, followed by another, then legs clad in neatly creased gray pants and a body wearing a suit and tie. Finally I saw his face.
I didn't know his name, but the chubby bald-headed man was always around, all I knew was that he was referred to as “the landlord”. He also spent a lot of time at our church, which I assumed had something to do with the word "lord" in his title.
The landlord approached mom, she looked up and stopped humming. He spoke to her in hushed tones using words that I didn't understand, then he thumbed through a stack of envelopes in his hand and handed one to her.
The sadness on mom’s face grew as she opened the envelope and read the contents.
She muttered the only words that I heard in the whole conversation, "But where will we go?"
The landlord looked at her with no expression, shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
As he walked to the stairs I looked at my mother who was now sobbing instead of humming.
I didn't know what he had said to her, or what was written on the paper that had brought tears to her eyes, I only knew that he had made her cry.
His shoes scuffled along on the dusty basement floor as he reached the bottom of the stairs. His hand, still holding more envelopes just like the one he had handed mom, gripped the railing as he started up the steps.
I raised one of my guns to my eyes and took careful aim.
When I pulled the trigger there was a small click but it was drowned out by the landlord’s footsteps on the ancient wooden stairs.
So was mom’s crying.