Thursday, May 28, 2020

Checking the Septic Tank Before Showering

Life on a barrier island offers many rewards. Along with the other residents of our small village I cherish our sixteen miles of natural, undeveloped ocean beach, the wide, seafood-rich sound, and the palpable sense of community we enjoy relatively isolated from the outside world.

But island life also presents numerous challenges. We are three hours from the nearest hospital, have no dentist, and must rely on ferries to make the twenty-five mile crossing to the mainland. Fog, strong winds, storms, and mechanical issues occasionally disrupt ferry schedules. Hurricanes, tidal flooding, and other natural and man-made disasters periodically leave us stranded without power, telephone service, or internet connections.

For years we have managed without a major grocery, any franchised fast-food restaurants or home improvement centers, a pharmacy, or a movie theater. Although we now have a small hardware store and a number of skilled tradesmen and specialists, for years we simply learned to be our own carpenters, plumbers, electricians and handymen.

In many respects islanders are nearly self-sufficient, and incredibly resilient.

Several months ago I was in Asheville when the battery in my cell phone failed. I found the nearest Verizon store and picked out a new phone. Then it came time to decide on a screen protector.

“I want to make sure the material is strong enough to protect my phone if I drop it or roll over on it while I am crawling around under my house,” I offered.

The clean-cut, necktie-wearing, mid-twenty-year-old employee looked at this 75-year-old customer with a puzzled expression. “Why on earth would you be crawling around under your house?” he inquired incredulously.

I started to explain that I might have to repair a leaking pipe, run a new electrical circuit, dig a trench for a drain pipe, replace insulation, or do any number of other tasks. It soon became clear that he couldn’t fathom what it entails to live on an isolated island, so I simply picked out a screen protector and we completed the sale.

A few days ago I was enjoying dinner with my daughter Amy, her husband Fiddler Dave, and their 15-year-old son Lachlan. I am temporarily living in a small apartment above my business, Village Craftsmen, and they are living in my house because their house had been severely damaged by flood waters during Hurricane Dorian. Due to recent heavy rains that raised the island’s water table and the fact that three people are now living in my house, my seventy-five-year-old septic tank is at near capacity. I advised all of them to use my outdoor shower to avoid over-burdening the system.

As my grandson stood up from the dinner table, he announced that he was going to take a shower, and requested to be able to use the indoor shower. “The mosquitoes are terrible tonight,” he explained.

Without a moment’s thought Amy said simply, “Go outside, open the hatch, and look into the septic tank and tell me how full it is.” He dutifully proceeded to his task. “Just don’t fall in, or you really will need a shower!” she added as he was walking out the door.

I turned to my daughter. “Do you know how unusual that request was?” I asked. “How many other teenagers, do you think, are asked to check the level of the septic tank before they can take a shower?"

With that we all began laughing.

My grandson returned a few minutes later to announce that the tank was nearly full. He realized he had to brave the mosquitoes in the outdoor shower.

I walked home wondering what the Verizon employee would think.