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Chapter 011 Dad versus the cesspool

When we bought the camp it didn’t have a septic tank and drain field, just a cesspool – a simple all-in-one waste disposal unit composed of a big pit in the ground covered with boards – a structure about as nasty as the name implies. It occupied a place of prominence just south of the kitchen window and so was the focal point of one’s view while doing the dishes at the kitchen sink. My dad had a relationship to that cesspool analogous to the one the dad in the movie, “A Christmas Story,” had with his furnace – “He was the most feared furnace fighter in Northern Indiana.” Well, my dad was the most feared cesspool fighter in Central Maine, and he was obsessed with it.

If you were washing the dishes, and left the water running, you’d hear, “Shut the water off! Do you want the cesspool to overflow?” And I never heard anyone reply, “Yes.” If too many people were using the toilet, or if there were just a lot of people at camp, as happened frequently in the early years of shared ownership, he knew the toilet and sink would be used a lot and he’d sulk and fret about it. He could often be heard wandering around fretfully grumbling under his breath, “Don’t they know it can overflow? Why don’t they shut the damn water off?”

Then one day he decided he’d had enough and he hired David Stevens to build us a real septic system with a tank and a large drain field out back. “And not just a 500 gallon septic tank,” he said, “we’re getting a 1000 gallon tank.” In the early 60’s, 500 gallon tanks were standard and considered sufficient, but not for my dad. He was a moderate, even conservative man who didn’t spend money unless he had too. OK, maybe he channeled the spirit of Rube Goldberg a bit too much, building almost anything just from parts he’d find in our tool shed. Hell, if he’d had a slightly better equipped tool shed he probably would’ve invented cold fusion right there in North Belgrade. The man was a genius with making do with what he had – BUT NOT THIS TIME. He wanted that 1000 gallon tank and huge drain field and he wanted them BADLY. …and he got them.

For years, even decades after, he talked about it to anyone who’d listen and many who didn’t, “Yup, we have a 1000 gallon septic tank. They suggested putting in a 500 gallon tank, but I said, ‘no way,’ I get a helluva lot of waste around here and I want to be able to handle it.” And handle it he did. As Forest Gump once said, “Well that’s good – one less thing to worry about.”