Thanksgiving in the Most Redneck County in America

The other weekend we hosted seven ladies at our house. These ladies were part of the little garage church we attended when we lived in Michigan. Janice is good friends with these ladies and it was nice to have them visit. After all, sometimes a woman needs to complain about her husband to someone other than her husband. It was fun to see Janice enjoy some old friendships and it was fun to eat the truckloads of food that the ladies brought with them.

The same weekend that the ladies came, Bryan, my childhood friend who will be starting his MMS apprenticeship in December, came out to clean the house his family is going to rent. Coshocton is a pretty sad little town and the rental homes are no exception. In fact, Coshocton County has been voted the most redneck county in America! Local rumor has it that Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns hunting land in the county and this helped clinch the title. Anyway, Bryan and Maria’s house needed a good scrubbing. Apparently the previous tenants really took the redneck title to heart and left trash everywhere. Bryan brought some in-laws along to lend a helping hand but despite their hard work, they weren’t making much progress. Despair hung in the air and the prospect of finishing the cleaning job looked bleak so Bryan texted me and asked for reinforcements. Our visitors were happy to help and so a procession of ladies marched from our house to theirs and dropped a nuclear bomb of cleanliness right through the front door. In three hours the cleaning checklist was complete! The house still won’t be featured in the Home and Garden magazine but at least the mysterious scum is no longer growing on the walls.

I told Bryan that maybe he shouldn’t clean up his backyard. After all, in Coshocton a huge pile of junk is a sign of wealth. As you drive down the street you can tell who has money. “Whoa!” you say to your wife, “Cleton has four king mattresses on his pile! Man, come on. We only have one on our pile and it’s just a queen. Maybe we should go mattress shopping this Black Friday.” Our neighbor is so wealthy he can barely get out of his backdoor. In fact, sometimes if we get a stiff eastern wind I get some of his pile in my yard. I’ll have to build a privacy fence this spring to keep our piles separate. After all, I’m afraid I may inadvertently transfer his wealth to my pile and that would be stealing.

While the ladies were visiting we noticed that there was water coming out of the washer drain and spilling into the garage (our washer hookup is in our attached garage). I’m not a plumber but I was pretty sure a drain is supposed to take water away. We had a clog! I wandered down into the basement and located the septic clean-out. It takes a brave man to open a septic clean-out and I was questioning my credentials as I plopped a bucket under the pipe and slowly unscrewed the lid. Janice was standing on the far side of the basement offering moral support from a safe distance. I took off the lid and the contents of the pipe emptied into the bucket. Plop. Plop. Plop. Ugh. I closed my eyes and tried to think about something else but the sound of the little astronauts splashing down bypassed my brain and triggered my gag reflex. Plop. Plop. Ugh. I took some wire coat hangers and bent them into a crude hook about four feet long. I stuck that thing in there and fished out several wads off baby wipes along with some other hitchhikers. Apparently my facial expressions were amusing since Janice couldn’t stop laughing. I glared at her. “Come hold the bag open.” Some of the astronauts had escaped and were smirking at me from the basement floor. I was trying to pick them up with a dust pan and dump them into a trash bag. It was very unpleasant. Janice gingerly picked up the corners of the bag. She wasn’t wearing any gloves which proved she trusts me way more than I trust myself. As I was depositing a load into the bag, her hand slipped and a some fluids sloshed over the brim. I screeched and levitated above the mess by swinging my feet above my head like a helicopter. Janice started laughing. Then I did too. We giggled, laughed, then chortled. We finally calmed down, sighed, and took a deep breath. We grimaced in unison. Our basement smelled awful but we had just found that scooping up poop is better together. We had a great moment just relishing in the disaster of the day, together.

The very next weekend we had the in-laws over for Thanksgiving. We had people showing up from South Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. We had a big meal and then watched college football. Michigan was playing Ohio State and if you know anything about the Midwest, Michigan and Ohio State are nursing one of the biggest rivalries in sports. It all goes back to when Ohio almost fought a war with Michigan over some disputed territory close to Lake Erie. In fact, Janice still has a hard time admitting she lives in Ohio. Even if I bring up the subject of getting an Ohio license she usually finds a way to push it off.

“Janice,” I tell her, “Don’t procrastinate. That’s my area of expertise, not yours.”

Anyway, the in-laws all come from Michigan and so of course they’re frothing at the mouth, wear blue T-shirts, indoctrinate your kids to yell “Go Blue” Michigan fans. The Ohio-Michigan game is a tradition in the Midwest. Every hardware store, diner, and home will be playing it on TV, listening to it on the radio, or talking smack about the opposing team. A guy at the Sprint store told me it’s a bigger holiday ’round these parts than Christmas. I do see more Ohio State decorations than Christmas ones so maybe he’s right. Ohio seems more excited about the rivalry than Michigan does because Ohio has been on a winning streak for almost a decade. This game was no exception. About 3/4 of the way through the game, the guys got up from the couch. “Might as well go work on the garage. This game is over!” Michigan was badly losing and the guys couldn’t stomach the massacre any longer. We wandered out to the garage.

Leroy, Janice’s brother, helps install insulation.

When we got the house, the attached one car garage was uninsulated which was strange because they had the washer and dryer hookups out there. Why would you put a washer in an uninsulated garage? It would freeze solid in the winter. Anyway, insulating the garage was on my to-do list and I wanted to get it done before winter found it’s way to Ohio. The guys lounging on the couch had actually volunteered to install the insulation proving that miracles still happen. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to let depressed, angry, Michigan fans wander around the garage with power tools but they got the job done with minimal injuries and only a few fumbles – unlike their team. It’s a relief that the garage is insulated! Thank you to the Detweiler clan for giving me a hand. In fact, they did most of the work. I mostly ran around to local hardware stores and bought last minute supplies.

The next day the washer drain began puking sewage all over the garage again. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend I didn’t want to call a plumber. I could probably buy a new house in Coshocton for the same price as an emergency septic clean out. After all, the clog seemed to drain over time and so if we limited our water use, we could make it work. We stopped using the dishwasher, limited our showers, and stopped doing laundry. Despite all that, the septic still backed up. This time it didn’t seem to be draining away. I sighed, grabbed my gloves, and trudged down the basement steps like a prisoner to his execution. I knew what I had to do.

I slowly unscrewed the cap to the clean-out again. The plan was to bleed off the excess liquid into a bucket and then poke around in there to see if I could dislodge the clog. A trickle began streaming out of the cap. I waited for the pressure to bleed off. Nah, this is taking too long. I’ll just take the cap off and hold it against the pipe so I can let the liquid out faster. I turned the cap twice when suddenly pressure from inside the pipe suddenly and catastrophically overwhelmed the tension I had on the cap and sewage sprayed everywhere like a garden fountain. I felt the sewage soak through my pants and shirt sleeves. My mind couldn’t quite accept what was going on here. Oh no! No. No, no, no, no. Sewage was shooting out of the pipe a good four feet before gravity could pull it down and collect it in a puddle of swirling, disgusting revulsion. Luckily it stopped after a few seconds but still the damage was done.

I stood still for several minutes as I listened to the drip, drip, drip of settling sewage. A stench tsunami was crashing around the floor joists. I was defeated. I said to myself, “Self, stop being a hero. Call a plumber.”

Roto-rooter came a few days later. John was very helpful. He found that all 138 feet of our sewer line is old clay tile. Part of it had collapsed and plugged the line. It’ll likely happen again, maybe in a week or maybe in a year. Since we’re renting the house, it’s not going to be our responsibility to fix it. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for plumbers. I’m thankful for good landlords who are already getting estimates to fix the line. I’m thankful for my wife who puts up with her “handyman” husband, I’m thankful for bleach, and I’m thankful that, for now, our toilet doesn’t flush into our garage anymore.