There’s nothing like home in a storm

We had a smorgasbord snow this weekend. Thursday’s was steady and dark. Friday’s was heavier. Judge went out and came right in. Annie looked out the door, thought for a minute, and stayed in. I stayed in altogether. All the after-holiday rituals of laundry, ironing, folding made sweet by the swirling snow outside. Earphones in my ears, I listened to stories of old Acadian cooks, then listened to folk song tunes. From time to time another log went on the fire. I made myself a cup of tea.

The sink didn’t drain. I ran the disposal. Thought no more of it. A sort of gurgle sound came from the bathroom. I took off my earphones. Water on the floor. “Merv,” I called, “There is water on the bathroom floor.” He raced down. We mopped it up. I took the bucket into what had been Grandma’s bathroom to pour it down that toilet. Annie was already in there. “What a peculiar place for a cat,” I thought as I took a step into the bathroom. “What is she watching so intently?” Annie was staring at the shower drain. Actually, the water gurgling up out of the shower drain.

We were quite proud of this bathroom. Universal access for Grandma. No lip to trip on for an unsteady walker. No Frankenstein designed support bars. Elegant towel bars that can bear 300 pounds of weight. A toilet paper dispenser that can be counted on to offer support to a rising body. No “Help I am trapped in a nursing home” decor. Fluffy towels. Elegant tile. Annie was not noticing the tile. She ignored the high design towel bar supports. Annie watched the drain. Annie watched the water coming up out of the drain.

Merv plumbed in his youth. He learned something valuable. He learned “I am not a plumber.” He carpentered in his youth too. Dad, on our wedding day, took him aside and said “Never let Nancy know that you know how to use THIS!” Dad pulled out a hammer. “Muriel thinks I can’t use a hammer. I have avoided a lot of agony.” The lesson did not take. Merv is handy with a hammer. Knows how to saw wood. He also knows the best way to avoid five hours of agonizing work under a sink, a huge mess and a $500 bill is to call the plumber and pay it in the first place.

Friday was the beginning of the New Year’s weekend. For our plumber, for our contractor, the weekend had already begun. Family had descended. Along with snow. Another two feet up on the hill where the plumber lives. Another two feet down in Cassadaga where the contractor lives.

We mopped up the ‘universal access’ bathroom. Who knew ‘universal access’ meant water access too? Apparently Annie. Our sensible contractor said “Flush an upstairs toilet twice and watch the drain.” Merv and I checked our cell phones. I raced upstairs with Judge and flushed twice. Annie and Merv watched the drain. Water came out. Not optimal.

“Plunge the drain,” said the plumber, full of good humor, snowbound on his hill. Merv and Judge plunged the drain. Interesting things came up. Not enough interesting things. Merv called the plumber back. Call the septic system company” said the plumber, happily referring us on. “Happy New Year.”

“It is going to be an interesting weekend,” we thought. “No entertaining,” I decided as I put plastic basins in the sinks. We plotted out bathroom use. I will say no more about that.

“We are on good terms with the septic system company. We are proud of our percolating septic systems. We have them on a pumping and cleaning maintenance schedule. Every four years to coincide with presidential elections. The septic system company reviewed our records. Dental hygienists pay attention to flossing and cleaning. The septic system company pays attention to pumping and cleaning. The records showed: 1) regular maintenance and 2) we paid our bill.

“How much snow do you have in Forestville? We are snowed in,” said the septic system company. “We can’t get the tanker out.” They are in Cassadaga. Cassadaga has a lot of snow. Five feet or so now. “Our technician will try to get there tomorrow. Do you know where the septic system is?”

Merv knows where it is. He knows where each septic system is. Merv studies Chinese. He is making Chinese characters by the fire at the kitchen table next to me right now. Merv has put a concrete formed symbol over the septic tank. The symbol, he tells me, says “Foo.” Indeed.

Fire in the fireplace. Tea kettle steaming. Soup on the stove. Pets curled on their beds. Single digit temperatures outside. Frost decorated windows. Candles. A Christmas tree. Idyllic. Except for this one thing. No drainage. Who knew how sweet drainage is? Who knew what profligate water users we are? Let it run till it is hot? Not now. Rinse the dishes and then put them in the dishwasher? Not a good idea. Let the water run cold before the glass fills? Nope. Well, we camp. We can do this.

Saturday we got up to shoveling. (Our snowblower is on the fritz and the repairmen can’t get here because of the …snow.) Shovel a path to the septic system. Merv finds the “Foo” circle of concrete and moves it. The technician comes in a little four wheel drive car. He hops out, gets a shovel out of his trunk. They follow the newly dug path through three feet of snow to the buried tank. The technician digs, then peers in. “It is at the right level,” he announces. Big relief. He puts the shovel handle into the pipe from the house. It goes in four feet. No plugged up end. “I don’t have a snake in the car,” said the technician. “Is there a hardware around here?” There are hardware stores, ten or fifteen miles away. Through the swirling snow. “I’ve got a snake in the basement,” said Merv. Plumbing’s version of dental floss. Merv races around the house, through the kitchen, clumps of snow in his wake. He races out again, snake in hands. Judge is desperate to help. I show Judge the window where he can watch the action. The technician lies on the dirt covered snow, leans way in, and snakes. And snakes. And pushes and jerks and pulls.

“What did it sound like?” I ask Merv just now. He gives me a dirty look. “It sounded like water whooshing out of a pipe,” he says and goes back to practicing his Chinese characters. This great salvation of the American way of life, this permission to use water with abandon, this essential dividing line between civilization and chaos, this ability to walk around immaculate, this freedom from outhouses, this ecstasy of “FLUSH!” He is immune to the drama. The symbolism.

“Flush a toilet” says the technician. Merv calls to me “Flush a toilet.” I flush one toilet, then another. “It is free” the technician announces. The technician puts the cover back on the tank, buries it in dirt. Places the “Foo” disk back on top, jumps on the “Foo” disk to seat it firmly, and then leaves for another bit of miracle work. I madly run up and down stairs, flush every toilet, start the dishwasher, drain all the basins, do a load of clothes, and take a shower.

We can have a New Year’s Day party after all, I decide. Happy New Year! Come on over!

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