I remember looking at real estate listings over the years, seeing “septic”, and ignoring that I didn’t know what it meant.  I was pretty confident it was something under the ground because of Erma Bombeck’s book, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”.  Locals would snort, “Has it got SEPTIC?” and other locals would reply, “OH, yah. It’s septic.”  Whatever.  So far I had gone 50 years without knowing what it was and things were working out OK for me.

As it turns out, “septic” is a pretty important thing to understand when you live in the country.  In fact, it requires a lifestyle change for City Girl and her City Kids, too.

I have a good friend who has lived in the country much of her married life.  When she first came to see the new little house, she looked around and said, “You’re on septic, huh.”

“Yop.” I replied.  “We are.”

“Ha.  That’ll be new for you.”

“Ya.” Hmmmm.  It will.  I wonder how.  So I asked, “What does that even mean?”

“OH, dear.  You need to be so careful.  I had to have a talk with my kids when we moved to the country.  You just can’t live the same way you do in town.”

Wow.  This is unsettling.  I mean, I asked about Wifi (another story for another day), but I hadn’t considered how this septic thing might require a lifestyle change.

“What is it, exactly?”

She essentially explained to me that it’s the delicate digestive system of our 1905 farm house.  And she offered to have the Septic Talk with my kids that she’d had with her own when they went country.  So I called the kids around, and we had the Septic Talk.  We sat at her knee as she described to us how carefully we would need to plan the disposal of our own bowel movements.

“If you have a Big Job,” she said gently, “You may need to flush midway to keep things moving along smoothly.  And you mustn’t overdo the use of toilet tissue, either.  Its little system can’t take too much of that at once.  The guideline is more flushes, little gulps.”

Ewwwww.  We were all squirming at this point.  And I was starting to feel constipated at all this pressure to carefully portion my movements.

My friend was shocked to learn that the house had a garbage disposal in the vegetable sink in the kitchen.  “Wow” she said.  “I’ve never heard of that.”

Well, I soon learned that there was a reason is it less common….

I’m not a ballerina in the kitchen, so garbage disposals are not of much interest to me, really.  I know it is nice to put food in there so the garbage smells less. John does all of the non-breakfast cooking in our family, so I never much worried about disposing of cutting board scraps.  I knew well how to crush an empty takeout container, and how to deftly fold a pizza box down to a size that would fit in the trash bin.  These are important skills for the non-cook and I am proud to have mastered them.

kitchenI admit, though, that moving from a giant suburban kitchen with ludicrous amounts of storage and vast countertops to a petite little country kitchen where hanging pots and pans is the only option and the crock pot has to be stored in the barn, is a big adjustment.  For John, it was like cooking in a phone booth.  For me, it was a cozy improvement.  This I could manage.  Fewer steps, fewer options.  And with two kids away at college, it was interesting to cook for four now.   Easy peasy.

So I started to cook a little.IMG_4963 - Copy

Breakfast first.  The beginner’s meal, from my perspective at least.  Pop in some toast, crack a few freshly gathered eggs, and suddenly I look like a mom who has her act together.  I would even pop a K-cup in the Keurig for John and take it in to him.  Practically Martha Stewart.

Then I got a little carried away.

John was away at a church thing for a few days, and I found some pork chops in the fridge.  So I pretended to prepare them for dinner. I figured butter was a good start, so I heated up a pan.  We had some of that general purpose seasoning stuff that has some green stuff in it and probably pepper and some salt, so I shook a bunch of that on them.  When the butter dried up and I need more to cook it in, I tossed some wine in there, and it sizzled in a very satisfying way.  “Now I’m cookin’” I thought merrily.  The chops were browning and I heated up a can of corn and figured out some mashed potato flakes….now I had three colors heading for the plate, not counting the milk.  Wow.  These kids are gonna feel mothered tonight.

During this process, they would wander into the kitchen saying, “What’s that smell?”

“Does it smell good?”

“Sure. Are you cooking, Mom?”

“Indeed I am.”

“Woah.  Very impressive.” And they’d wander out.

Things started to come together and the chops were no longer pink inside when I took the 50th slice through the center to check (my chop looked quite mauled by the time I pulled it off the stove).  I neatly arranged my three items on the plates and paraded out to the table calling, “Dinner’s ready!”  It was like I was putting on a play about a typical family, and I was playing the mom.  I was wishing I had a flowered apron with ruffles, but one must walk before one runs.

We all sat down, said the blessing, and the kids – all smiling lovingly – took a bite of each thing.  “Mmmmmmmm.”

“Is it good?”

“Good job, Mom.”

They are so sweet.

And then they finished their corn…and their mashed potatoes…and their milk.  And then they paused and began to describe to me all the stuff they’d eaten on the way home from school that had made them so full they couldn’t eat another bite.

That’s how it’s done.

That’s how you avoid telling your dear mom who is pretending to cook that her efforts were appreciated.  Such diplomacy at an early age.

Needless to say, I had some pork chops left.

No way am I giving those to our beautiful black lab, Bart, whose delicate constitution reacts violently to any variation in diet by producing lethal fumes all night long.

So I did what any city girl does: chop the chops into little pieces and gradually feed them into the garbage disposal.

Everything seemed to being going along fine.  Dishwasher loaded, water running in the sink….when I realized the drain was becoming confused.  And the brown matter coming up out of the sink appeared to be coming from the vegetable sink, backwards and filling up the big sink.  What is happening?

I turned the disposal back on to get things moving again, and the pool kept getting bigger.

I turned off the water and got the toilet plunger.

Plunge.  Plunge.  Plunge.

No movement.

So I called John in Ohio.

“Sounds like the sink is backed up.  It might be the septic.” Wow.  I thought this could only happen to a bowel movement.  “You’ll need to open up the pipes to get the clog out.”

“OK.  I’ve done that before in the bathroom sink, but walk me through it.”

I texted him a picture of the doo dads under the sink so he would see what I was looking at.  He sent me to fetch a plastic tub to put under the stuff to catch the goop.  Then with John shouting instructions through the speaker phone perched on the counter, I started unscrewing things…. and suddenly everything came apart in my hands.


Stuff was pouring out all over the place.

For about two seconds I thought, “Thank goodness John had me get this plastic tub!” Until I quickly realized it was woefully inadequate.  The brown water was racing up the rubber tub and threatening to gush all over the kitchen floor.


I have no idea where all of that disgusting water was coming from, but it was everywhere. Poor John was on the phone trying to offer help but all he could hear was screaming and splashing.    “Louis! Empty this tub out the door and bring it back!”

The tub was ungainly and sloshing and all Louis could say was, “MOM!  WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Finally the water had done its flooding and stopped.  I was sitting in a pool of it on the kitchen floor, and the tub was half full under the sink, but quiet now.

“Honey, just call Bob or Mark.” John shouted from the countertop. “They’ll come over and take care of it.”

“No way am I gonna call them and tell them I shoved three pork chops in the sink and screwed up the septic system.”

“Honey, just call ’em.”

John has a band of friends who love to work on the farm with him, running around on the tractor, cutting down trees with the chain saw, making firewood with the splitter….it’s a testosterone paradise.  But I told John I would rather pay a stranger than admit to Bob and Mark what an idiot I am.

“Oh, Honey, they already know…uh…they already know I’m out of town and that you’d call if you needed anything.”

Whoa, John.  That was close.

“I’m calling a plumber.”   I rang our realtor – who also happens to be a dear friend – for the name of a plumber.  He reminded me this would be covered under our home warranty.  Sweet.

So out the plumber came.  Nice guy.  Understanding.  (Like the fire fighters who understood how a person can leave their damper closed with a fire in the fireplace with all the lights off and not know it until their popcorn-and-movie pajama party with their four small children is disrupted by all the smoke alarms in the house going off.  That kind of understanding.)  Then the nice plumber tells me its not under warranty because I  tried to fix it.  Seriously.  Because the plastic pipes broke in my hands, it wasn’t covered under the warranty.  When it was just the pork chops, I was fine.  When I got more involved, I’d stepped over the line.

So I paid him to rebuild the trap and reattach the drain and snake the sewage line…  And all because my delicate septic system couldn’t handle a couple of pork chops.

Live in the county is going to be hard.

I think I’ll stop pretending to cook.



2 thoughts on “Septic

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