A question for you out there in Elkridge TV land.
Do y’all remember the mustachioed windbag, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, and his druggist nemesis, Mr. Peavey?
Throckmorton, as close as I can recall actor Willard Waterman.
I only ask this about the Great Gildersleeve to mark the place and period of time when I was five years old — around 1952 – an historical year of my life (as they all are). Since we moved to Edgewood Cottage in 1947, it took at least 13 New Years to pass by our homestead before Baltimore City shared its water with Elkridge and filled our pipes on Old Lawyers Hill Road, in particular.
Before this extraordinary turn of events, our upstairs bathroom faucets would sputter and spit out rusty liquid iron, significantly enough to leave red stains in the porcelain around the sink and tub overflow holes. I often wondered why Mother could never get them clean or if she even tried. Like the porcelain, perhaps our white clothes were peachy beige too. Not that we really noticed. Our collars could be defined as “many shades of white.” For artists, that makes sense.
So before we got City water and a Maytag, Mother was our token washing machine in what space served as our “laundry room,” scrubbing out stains from our linens and clothing with Borax, lye soap or DUZ powder using a washboard in a large sink and one of those 2-roller squeegee thingies to squeeze out excess rinse water – the same water that was sometimes, more than not, rusty. A hopeless cycle.
I was Mother’s little helper observing all this. She tried to set a fine example of what I could expect should I follow in her footsteps, and by that I mean, she gave me a miniature washboard of my own to scrub my dolly’s clothes. After a trial use, I became more than disenchanted with the state of my skinned knuckles, and so for years, my little board sat in a corner with other odd things and rusted.
Apparently I didn’t always want to follow in her footsteps…
Giving up on all that frustration, Mother carted our dirty linens to the Arbutus laundry (next to the Hollywood Theater), and then carted the wet stuff back to hang outdoors. It was an expedition of some magnitude. It might have been quicker had she just beaten out the dirt on the rocks at the Patapsco River like the In’juns did. Maybe from the Patapsco was where the rusty water from our pipes came, or drained into. I dunno.
As I was trying to explain before I interrupted myself, when turning the tap on the sink upstairs, I could sometimes hear the cast iron pipes vibrating under pressure, serenading with a squawking high whine towards a crescendo or deflating in pianissimo.
Had there been an innovative musician in the family, whole symphonies could have been written. I think the water couldn’t get high enough from a distance underground to reach up two and a half floors, and it was musically scoring the rust from the pipe walls trying.
But what do I know about plumbing? Zip. If the Hallelujah Chorus started before I had to take a bath, the upside is that got me a ‘time out’ of getting soap in my eyes. Needless to say I was caught in the tub more times when the percussionists started to practice.
with all those heavy metals in our drinking water (and God only knows what else was doing backstrokes in the liquid with which we swallowed our pills), I grew up with an iron deficiency. Go figure. I should have chewed on old nails.
Meanwhile, each time I’d be waiting for a build up of pressures to explode the pipes – at any given moment — like an alarm clock’s hammer poised to strike its bell. But it was Daddy.
Giving himself a headache.
He’d raise his voice within earshot of nobody in particular, instructing those who weren’t listening to “TURN OFF THE SPIGOTS” and then add, “Something’s gone ‘ka-plooie’ in the well, AGAIN!”
Then he would further whine to Mother about what he was most peevish — going down inside the well hole and fixing the problem. It was bad enough when a blunderbuss of a motor threw a tantrum in the summer, but in the winter it was miserable work. This kind of trouble always took Daddy awhile to figure out. Though a professional plumber might have been called in some cases, I just personally don’t remember ever seeing one, let alone when we needed water the most, which, in the 1950’s, was usually when a plumber was unavailable, at home, sleeping. None of this 24 / 7 service of today.
For good reason, Daddy was a man for all seasons, pretty much.
Nestled in the grass on the borderline of the neighboring Hemphill property was a collar of concrete surrounding the hole with a concrete lid held securely down by its weight and by a rusty chain. To lift it off was a chore.
I don’t remember how he got down to the bottom of the well – but my brother kindly informed me recently that it was not so deep that Daddy needed to worry about breaking anything important by jumping down into it. At its bottom was the electric motor and the old windbag would periodically get clogged up in a blustering Gildersleeve style. I imagine Daddy might have waded in puddles of water on occasion, but I wasn’t willing to lean over far enough to see any reflection of the sky on the floor below and besides, the pit sometimes smelled like some (ugh) oily lubricant.
Len (my brother) would sometimes go with him to the well to be his helper, like to shine a flashlight or hand him down tools, I suppose. If the weather was conducive, I’d tag along to look into their business because, for me, it was an intriquing experience of what Daddy would do down holes and I didn’t want to miss ANY possible explanations of what was going on in order to keep Mother informed on his progress.
Always an added bonus for me was what nature he found down there, if any. Daddy’s banging on something metal was probably him startled by a spider or two, or maybe by the frustration of not getting the motor to work properly. And for those interested readers who think duct tape is God’s answer of salvation, I don’t remember Daddy using any duct tape to bind up or silence motor parts. Besides a wrench, I’ll never know what he used precisely, but I do remember him covering the motor with a lot of “GOL DARNITS” and “DAMMITS” at the top of his lungs.
Well, well, well. I bet’cha those hexes helped! At age five, I associated certain words with certain emotions.
Maybe I tried to take his mind off of things – shoot the breeze and distract him from his frustrations as it were:
”Hey Daddy, what does “GOL DARNIT ” mean? What’cha doin’ NOW? Do you see any snakes or spiders? Mom is calling you. Why are you banging on the pipes so much? It’s getting dark up here. When are you going to be finished? Daddy? I hear the telephone ringing in the house and it might be Aunt Minnie requesting another visit. Do you want to go? Daddy? Daaaadeeee!”
Of course, if he shouted up that I should go back into the house, I would ignore his suggestion, keeping quiet until I figured he had forgotten about me, or, I would get distracted and wander off.
Nonetheless, I know it was a nasty job for him down there batting not only a recalcitrant motor, but an additionally imagined horde of mosquitoes thinking they suddenly got lucky. No accounting for time of the day or the weather when the motor would need attention — labor like that could take him from twilight to midnight when the little suckers were most geared up for breakfast. There must have been times when Daddy slapped himself silly.
In the winter when things froze, Daddy had to bundle up which would make it harder for him to squeeze down inside between the wall and the machinery. I remember him whining how his fingers got frozen because he couldn’t wear gloves down there while working with the delicate machinery, which delicacy had to endure his merciless assaults.
So sometimes he might have bumped his knuckles or strained himself, and all the time get DIRTY, for it takes a real he-man to contend with those eight-legged handshakes in the dark. But it was worth washing a little dirt off at the Arbutus laundry to have clear water again, for awhile.
I don’t know if the neighbors had similar problems, but like I said — over a decade with Gildersleeve and Peavey before we got City water.