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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Big House



Our house is on old farm land, part of the pasture for a large dairy operation and cheese factory across the road.  The factory suffered a fire in the twenties and never reopened.  The land was sold off and in the ensuing decades homes were built on acreage on both sides of the farm lane.  In the forties the six families on the lane petitioned the township to assume responsibility for the lane; the usual assessments went out, the road was paved. 

Few of the houses are visible from the street, their access drives go through the wood and up the hill.  In the summer only we and the neighbor immediately down the hill have a house visible from the road.  All the foliage obscures the houses up the hill. 

From the back of our house, in the winter, we see The Big House. Mary has it lighted like a fairy wonderland in the winter, and she has cheered many a dark winter night at our kitchen table.  Like many houses on the street, this one just grew.  A small cottage, another room added, a wing put on by another owner and then one last owner, like Mary, who pulls it all together.

The Big House is visible, in the winter, through all the north facing windows of our studio.  Back when we were weavers we had ten hand looms in the studio and more weavers than ourselves.  One was Marge, a lovely old woman who loved to wander and talk, and never understood why she always made minimum wage, instead of the piecework rate of other weavers.

I loved Marge.  She always wore Mary Janes, and I loved her little feet treadling away under the loom. She turned on her hearing aid and asked if that was a joke we were laughing at, and please repeat it for her. The Big House, twinkling up the hill, fascinated her.

There are no city services in our township; every property has a well or a cistern, or both, and a septic system.  Because we fulled so much woven fabric we had our septic tanks emptied twice a year.  Angus was in dog heaven then, bouncing around the septic truck on his tigger springs, inhaling deep doggie breaths.

Of course the sewer smell would seep into the studio, which overlooked the septic tanks, and anyone working would breathe shallowly for twenty minutes.  “What’s that smell?!” Marge inquired very sharply the first time she worked on a septic day.  We explained the tanks were being emptied, then we explained septic systems, then we explained what they do, then we explained why there were no sewer lines in our township to an increasingly skeptical Marge.

“Well,” she said.  “I know The Big House wouldn’t have a septic system.  They’re on city water!”  And her little Mary Janes treadled faster.  She never understood why her paycheck was bigger that week, so I explained piece work again.



17 comments:

  1. Even the 'big houses' are on well and septics here...poor old Marge wouldn't have liked that.
    Jane x

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    1. Marge was a city girl; she had no concept of life without "city water" and certainly could not believe people who owned a big house on a hill did not have city water and regular sewer pipes that dealt with the stuff that goes down toilets.

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  2. What a charming story about a different way of life.

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  3. Good old Marge and her Mary Janes. I can just picture it.

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  4. Oh, by the way, no city water here, either. Just our well and septic tank. And the swimming pool, even though I am forever telling the boys it's not a toilet.

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  5. When I was a child, we used to visit my Aunt and uncle's house in Paxton, Massachusetts. They had quite a bit of acreage and I loved going there. However, what I did not like was the outhouse. Being brought up in NY, I had never experienced anything of the sort. I would have appreciated a septic system, no matter how smelly, rather than running outside in the middle of the night and being frightened by all those country noises.

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  6. Marge drove me CRAZY! My most memorable story she told was the one about being kept awake ALL NIGHT because the Akron Beacon Journal trucks idled all night outside her window and that was why she showed up late for work. She would come in at noon and be there until 4 and everyone else came in at 8 and was gone by noon...sigh. I don't miss Marge or her Mary Janes!

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  7. We have a septic and well and one of our neighbors complains when we water our lawn on our county approved day saying he hopes we'll get city water. I can't imagine how much that will cost us if they decide to put it in here. I hope not. I wonder why you had to have the septic pumped twice a year. We lived in one place for ten years and never had it pumped; we always use single ply toilet paper and never put food or grease down the sink. Of course when we moved here three camphor trees roots entered in the septic tank via the leach field and we had to have a new leach field put in and had the camphor trees cut down, they and willows are notorious for entering leach fields and septic tanks.

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    1. Between the fabric we fulled and the household laundry we washed upward of ten loads a day. Plus the regular household stuff--dishes, showers, etc., even with 900 gallon capacity between our two tanks, that volume was a strain. The septic people recommended twice a year and so we did. We came from the city and took all the advice we got. Now we are on the three year cycle mandated by the state.

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  8. I remember the great excitement at our house when Dad dug the hole and trenches to put in pipes and the septic tank. We had a toilet attached to the house!! Wow! No more running down to the back of the yard to the "dunny" with the bench seat and stinky pan beneath it.
    We lived in town though, so we had town water at least.
    I love the idea of houses not being visible from the road.
    I worked in a butter and cheese factory for three years, there was a milk bottling facility too, we did rotating shifts, taking turns, a week at a time bottling milk, preparing the cheese pans for the curd, wrapping the finished cheeses for export.

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  9. I DO love that picture!

    I confess - I'm a townie! The thought of septic tanks (and the need to have them emptied!) would probably put me off buying a property that relied on them. I guess that would be the price for living so remotely!

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  10. Fabulous photograph!

    Septic tanks and drainage have been the stuff of many conversations around this place lately. Rain, rain, and more rain lead to so many complications. It is a price I am happy to pay for living in the country.

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  11. Our yellow house is on a gravel road out in the county and has a septic system. But we are five minutes from the second largest city in Georgia. The best of both worlds.

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  12. as you know, we recently had our tanks emptied. I am a city girl, born and raised in one so moving out to the country three years ago has been quite an education. we do have city water but only because when the last owners of the house were putting in a new septic system it was too close to the current well. they were looking at having to have a new well dug too, which I don't understand why they didn't just put the new septic system farther away instead of right out the back door in the Little Back Yard. but then I have no idea what kind of system they were replacing. anyway, it happened that the town was putting water lines down for fire hydrants in this little county neighborhood carved out of agricultural fields and the hydrant was being put right across the street. the water workers asked if they wanted to be hooked up to the town water system and so they did. no new well. I think there is only one other house in the neighborhood that is hooked up and that happened only this past year. our washer though drains through a hose into the drainage ditch instead of going into the septic system.

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  13. I suggest you add a weaver dictionary page for weaver challenged people like myself. "Fulled fabric" - I guess it involves washing it.
    Interesting story.

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  14. Love the bit about Marge talking and wandering and earning minimum wage :)

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  15. Beautiful image of Marge, and of the Big House. Thank you so much for both. Big smiles to match the house.

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