“Bobby? Why does this look like this?”
I am sure the confusion was evident in my voice as I stood in the bathroom, staring into the tub. My husband joined me and we peered into a bathtub of iced tea-colored water. That may have been the first time I felt like a stranger in a strange land in our new home, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
We had been married for more than sixteen years, but had just bought our first home together in the region of the Twin Tiers of Southern New York and Northern Pennsylvania commonly referred to as “The Valley.” It was a unique house on a private dirt road—home to only three other families. And now us, town and city dwellers our whole lives, who were suddenly perched on a hillside with five acres of land and new-to-us inventions like a septic tank and a well.
This returns us to the scene in the bathroom. Accustomed to water the color of…well, water, I was unprepared for the sight of a murky bath and even more unwilling to submerge myself in a bowl that looked like a dirty martini. My husband, a highly capable individual who had just closed out a successful thirty-six-year career as an emergency manager, had a befuddled look on his face that mirrored mine.
“Maybe because it rained?” he offered. I could feel my eyebrows huddle together in the middle of my forehead as I thought. I turned back around to face the sink, filled a plastic cup from the faucet and stuck my nose into the glass. The same odd mix of water and brown met my sight. Tilting the cup so Bob could see it, I queried, “Is it going to do this every time it rains?” He had no reply.
It does. Every time we get an appreciable rainfall, the well water dons its tan. Our highly domesticated cats even back away from the water dish that looks like the remnants of dishwater. I have been reassured many times that there is nothing wrong with the water: it is just “roiled.” Oh, that clears it up. My mind, that is. Nothing clears the water but time.
For our first Christmas here my sister bestowed upon us a book with a title she felt compelled to apologize for—Country Living for Dummies. We were not offended, but relieved. A place to go for answers! All of which returns us to the bathroom on a night when the water was bath quality. As I stepped out of it and was toweling myself, my beloved appeared, carrying a plastic bucket and offering a wordless smile. He proceeded to scoop water from the tub with the bucket, walk across the bedroom out onto the upper deck and heave the contents of the bucket over the railing. Returning to the bathroom, he scooped again, gave me the same small smile and headed for the deck, being careful to not drip water on the newly-installed carpet. A moment later came the sound of two-and-a-half gallons of liquid hitting the ground.
I leaned against the bathroom vanity and said nothing, mostly because I couldn’t remember if it was sleep walkers you weren’t supposed to disturb or relocation-traumatized husbands who had clearly dropped a log or two from their mental woodpile.
On his fourth trip, the level of water in the tub dropping steadily, I risked a question.
“Babe? What in the name of sanity are you doing?”
Still scooping, he related that the Country Living for Dummies book specifically states that you should not empty the tub into the septic tank. When I followed that with the inevitable “Why not?” he paused, bent over the tub, bucket in mid-scoop.
“I don’t know. But it’s in the book.”
The book has been very helpful, but the biggest repository of knowledge about living here is stored in the calendar, where the days and weeks have strung together like charms on a chain, each link carrying its own story. We are learning by living and working here, making discoveries and mistakes, new rules and old promises.
We are two years into this adventure and, while we still qualify as “country living dummies,” we no longer drain the bathtub with a bucket. We have survived the thunderstorms and winter attacks that seem to vibrate the seventeen-foot windows in the living room. We have experienced that never-ending time known as “mud season” when nothing we own is clean—ever. We now know that we understood loose examples of “quiet” and “dark” before coming here, where you can literally hear your own heartbeat and see, not only darkness, but the complete absence of light.
As always, the challenges stand out—trying to get some sort of technology into a house that has never known cable or Internet service. Accepting that people who move to a private road with four houses are probably not looking to get chummy with the new neighbors. Modernizing a home that looked like something out of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie.
But the truth is, even with the challenges, or maybe because of them, we count this time as one of the happiest of our lives. You haven’t seen two people who wanted to be in the same house this much since the 2000 presidential election.
Most importantly, we are learning that, sometimes, the best dreams to come true are ones you didn’t even know you had.
First-time contributor Maggie Barnes works in health care marketing and is a resident of Waverly, New York.