To Flush or Not to Flush? That is the Question...
When I bought the little chalet of my dreams in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, I was an utter novice at home ownership. I remember someone (maybe the home inspector?) pointing to a spot in the front yard telling me "There's yer septic..." I nodded wisely, like I had a clue about what he was talking about and promptly put it out of my mind. It was only later that "septic" took on a whole new meaning for me.
It was really during the first daylong downpour of rain that I discovered the true nature and disposition of my septic tank. I named my septic tank "Charles" after my ex-brother-in-law who, like a bad bit of beef had a tendency to repeat on one. In this characteristic, Charles the man and Charles the Septic were very similar. Why my sister Jane married Charles the man in the first place, I'll never know... but I digress.
You can see by the above photo that I have plenty of water on my property. There is a tiny rivulet that is dammed in several places creating three ponds of varying sizes, the biggest about an acre. I only need to dig down about 6 inches in most places to hit water. This very high water table creates a special challenge for Charles the Septic in dry times. When it rains, Charles let's me know his displeasure.
So, the first weekend I had all the relatives over for a big BBQ and sleepover, the heavens opened and I bet even Noah would have been nervous. The tiny rivulet became the Amazon. The ponds had whitecaps. The pounding of rain became deafening. And to make matters worse, from the downstairs bathroom emitted a ghastly sound (like Mercedes McCambridge's voice in The Exorcist). The sound was gurgling, but also had a hideously insane laughing taunting tone to it.
My brother asked if everything was OK and I put on a brave face and said, "oh, yes, this sort of thing happens all the time...". Little did I know how prophetic that statement was. So, my brother's children were there, of course, perky four-year old twin girls named Pixie and Dixie and a sullen older brother (nine years old) named Dakota, who insists that he be addressed simply as "West". "West", I firmly believe, will be spending a good portion of his later years in the State Penitentiary. The mother of this tribe I shall not describe in this article, as she is deserving of a special full-length diatribe. It's an odd and vexatious family, on the best of days. This was not the best of days.
Pixie or Dixie, I could never tell them apart, needed to use the sanitary facilities (as my family coyly describes the bathroom) and the twins were at the age when the parents had either decided it was time that they handled their "business" on their own, or, more likely, were disinclined to be any more involved with their offspring's metabolic processes than they had to be. So, Pixie or Dixie, who had been squirming for some time finally ventured down the hall way to visit the portal to Charles the Septic. She was gone an inordinately long time but none of her immediate family seemed concerned. Suddenly from down the hall, there was a hideous gurgle, a moaning cachinnation that seemed to come from the very depths of Hell itself followed by the piercing screech of either Pixie or Dixie, whichever one it was that had ventured down the hall.
Chaos reigned as the parental units of the missing twin rushed for the John door which Pixie or Dixie had locked and had forgotten, in her terror, how to open. It was one of those "Let us in!!!" "Let me out!!!" scenarios. The mother of the twin screamed that we bring an axe (showing a bit of her true nature) while the father, my brother, hurled his massive bulk against the door but kept hitting the doorframe. The gurgling, the screeching, the hurling and the axe demands kept up for some time till the young reprobate "West" suggested that he climb in the bathroom window from the outside.
The entire family made a mad dash to grab umbrellas, raingear, plastic garbage bags, whatever would keep them dry and herded onto the deck and followed "West" to the back of the house. The young boy pulled a small device out of his pocket and popped out the screen with the facility of an experienced cat burglar. In a nano-second, he was up and in the window. Meanwhile, Pixie or Dixie continued to screech from within the confines of the sanitary facilities.
The moist family members then herded back around the deck and into the house. We found Pixie or Dixie prostrate in hysterics. "West" was casually folding up his burglary tool. My brother glared at me as if I had planned this moment of terror for Pixie or Dixie. The mother of the girl began to do what she did best... blame. She blamed me, she blamed the child, she blamed the weather, she blamed the State of Pennsylvania... Oh it went on for some time.
My sister Jane, the sensible sibling and not usually one to drift to hysterics, called out for a plunger. Unfortunately I did not own one. When I announced this, I was given looks that could kill. Apparently, the 11th Commandment was something to the effect that "Thou shalt not be without plunger." But then, from upstairs my mother came clattering down with a toilet plunger in hand and bustled down the hall towards the sanitary facilities. She began to battle and Charles the Septic groaned in displeasure at each plunging, sucking motion. Pixie or Dixie began to wail anew, as if Charles the Septic were coming for her personally.
Then another awful squealing noise began. "West" thought this was a propitious moment to see if if were possible to tie two cats' tails together in a square knot. My two poor cats (Pippy McSquirt and Cookie La Rue) have slightly bent tails to this day. The mother of "West" explained that this was something called "excessive creativity" on her son's part and should be applauded and encouraged. Penitentiary, I'm telling you. It's just a matter of time. Maybe they can get a mother-son cell. But that really has nothing to do with the story.
I worked my way through the crowd of relatives to the bathroom and found my mother frantically dumping little powder packs into the gaping mouth of the toilet. Sister Jane was packing the circumference of the toilet base with my best towels. My mother resumed her plunging and at each plunge and suck, the bathtub blew a small geyser of spew up its drain. My mother opened and poured down more powder. Plunge and powder... plunge and powder...
Things did manage to settle down later in the day. Charles the Septic refused to be beaten into submission and no flushing happened for several days. The gentlemen of my family all learned the joys of swatting mosquitoes whilst relieving themselves outdoors near the compost pile. The ladies used the 2nd floor bathroom, which for some odd reason was unaffected by either the rain, Charles the Septic's shenanigans or Pixie and Dixie's screeching. At each 2nd floor flush, however, I wondered if somewhere in the walls of my home there was a giant build-up of fluid just waiting to burst and create new panic. But it did not happen. The rain and the weekend continued till finally the last of the relatives was gone.
Later, in the downstairs bathroom, I found an ancient box of LENZYME (The 5 Enzyme/Bacteria Septic Tank Waste Digestant). This was the mysterious powder my mother had been frantically dumping into Charles the Septic's gaping maw. I questioned my father as to the particulars at a later date and asked if my mother regularly traveled with her own plunger and septic tank digestants. He simply replied, "Your mother likes to be prepared for all emergencies."
The moral of the story is, of course, "never invite your relatives over for a rainy weekend". However, in my case, "never invite your relatives over, period" might prove a more sensible mantra.