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.