Last week was my birthday, my 71st in fact. Seventy-one is sort of anti-climatic and a little depressing. Seventy was fine. We celebrated, went out to dinner and late night partying and dancing with friends, but seventy-one is like, well, you’re in your 70s for real. How depressing. I told my husband I didn’t want to go out, didn’t want friends over, wanted a quiet birthday. “How about fixing soft crabs,” I said. He did. And crab cakes. That was nice. And quiet.
What do you do in your 70s? You get old, that’s what you do. Eighty is less than ten years away. But I went up to the farm, alone, a few days later for three days of focused writing. That was a gift to myself. You can find several posts about the farm, but an overview is here.
It’s a good drive to get to the farm–three hours give or take fifteen minutes, and we’re always glad to arrive. This time, I arrived alone. Unloaded the car; checked to make sure I had all the keys I needed; got into the house without mishap, and closed the door.
Next, I went to the basement. Said basement on your left. I always go to the basement first, it’s my job, while Cliff unloads the car. But I traveled an….. I vant to be alone….adventure. After unpacking, I went to the basement.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled the light cord (yes, we have a pull cord on the farm), and found the basement floor covered in water. Ankle-deep water, as a matter of fact, because I took my shoes off and walked across the floor to the fuse box which you can’t see on the far right.
I did not tell my son, whom I talked to later in the evening and he warned me not to, which I already had, that I walked in the water barefoot to the fuse box, flipped the breakers for the air conditioner and refrigerator, (although not the hot water heater which you can see in the background), and went back upstairs to unpack and brood.
I called the farm neighbor and he came by but he didn’t have a pump and it was probably ground water and his house had water in the basement too and more than twenty inches of rain had fallen in the last month and yes, most of the fields were planted.
I texted the plumber. He texted back…at a wedding…
Since I couldn’t do anything else, I rewrote the first chapter and redid the title so I think I have it. Written on the Reverse: a love story. At least that’s my title. We’ll go with it for now.
I slept in a fugue. But woke the next morning thinking, got out my trusty Samsung, and searched “sump pump.” You don’t probably need to Google that and I’d tell you what it is except I don’t really understand fully, but I knew it wasn’t it. I did, however, find the word, “submersible.” Submersible pump. I went to town, even on a Kansas Sunday morning to Oschlen’s in Marysville, and found the pump, easy directions, an ultrasound something or another clicker which you plug in and it seems to keep critters away (old one submerged in basement) and went home. And set up the pump. The electrical cord went upstairs and the hose went out the side door. It worked all by itself. I also bought a pair of rubber boots to keep my son happy. You can see said cord/hose/setup in the photo above.
Which leads us to the next photo: mare’s tail weeds, which if you look closely, look more like a mane, but that’s what they’re called. And they grow everywhere.
But with the hose emptying at a pretty good clip and soaking the ground fast, mare’s tails were easy to pull. Not so easy when the ground’s dry.
After I cleared that there slough…well, sometimes you gotta talk farmer talk…I went down to the basement and drug out all the stuff that was water sogged and nasty: a couple of lawn chairs, an old suitcase from when we had the camper, a small grill we no longer used, and a large three-tired, carved wood, African, lazy susan thing with a carved pineapple on top that my mother’s oldest friend, who was a pastor’s wife, gave to me, and carried it all to the lawn to dry out. Or sit. I’d think about it tomorrow.
I heated water on the stove and cleaned up (remember? no hot water yet). It’s called a sponge bath. I washed my hair in cold water in the kitchen sink. It helped to cool my head, ate some yogurt. It was really weird being there without Cliff. I didn’t even know how to work the remote.
So this has become one of those long-form blogs. You still with me?
The next morning, I sat with Vivian Gornick’s book, The Situation and the Story. If you write personal essays or memoir, this book is a must. And I spent the morning writing out quotes and thinking/re-thinking my memoir. I lived in love with a dead man most of my life I suddenly journaled. So it was a good writing morning. And somewhere in there, maybe Sunday night, I figured out the opening for the next chapter. I also planned out the rest of my chores, put my dirty clothes and boots and gloves back on, and went to plant peonies.
But first, I took the soggy chairs and lay them out on the cement slab and either they will get clean in rainwater and sun or I’ll dump them. And then I took the small grill and the carved pineapple head tower to the garage, and the old suitcase to the dump. We will not talk about the dump, but every farm has one. Ours is discreet.
I don’t have a photo of my peonie garden so you’ll have to imagine it. It’s in a V shape from the drive and the big cement block the rock drive circles. This may be too long a story to add, suffice it to say big cement block is the old cement steps Dad poured for the mobile home. Sturdy. Stephen had dug up peonies for me here at home which needed to be divided, and I took them to the farm in plastic bags. And two bags of mulch. And a spade and rake.
The other plan was to see if I could finally get compost, from our monster composter in the basement, to use for the garden. Said composter across the room from the steps. I did. Two trays. And dug up two trenches, composted in, planted, mulched, and for good measure poured on a half-bucket of water.
That was the only planned chore. The basement, while not planned, was demanding.
However, Monday night I drove into town to have a real dinner (taco salad at the Wagon Wheel and a gin on the rocks) and stopped at WalMart’s once again and bought Clorox. Mopping up the floor seemed like too much to accomplish, especially if it was going to possibly seep in again. So, in consultation with my son who knows these things, I planned to put down a layer of bleach. Tomorrow I”d Clorox the floor.
Early Tuesday morning, it must have been, I went straight to work and finished cleanup. I Cloroxed the basement floor; cleaned up the composter; the hot water heater (which by now was working-I’d carried the wooden ladder to the fuse box, per son’s instructions, the night before, stood on a dry step in my rubber boots, and flipped the water heater switch with my rubber-gloved finger); and cleaned the submersible pump (we’ll probably need it again).
After resting a bit and showering a lot, after stuffing nasty clothes in a plastic grocery bag by themselves, and stripping the bed, towels, etc etc, after getting redressed in clean clothes and packed and shut down – one more trip to the basement to flip the switches off that needed to be off and check the locks again, I got in the car.
But first, I took one more photo. Disregard the arrogant crowd of mare’s tails on the left and focus instead on the soft green spreading down from the house. That’s the red clover I planted a month ago when we were last up. It’s taking hold. The bees will love me.
Which reminds me: two bumblebees at separate times, came to feed on my hat, alas, fake flowers in a cotton band. But they were determined, each in its own way, to see if there lay a reward. Only woman-sweat.
And then I drove home and pondered that perhaps I wasn’t so old after all. A most interesting lesson.