Mother Wall’s Woe

My mother-in-law called me yesterday morning in dire calamity.  Something had blocked her septic tank and every drop of water that went down the drain was coming back up through the toilet.  Father Wall was at work and would be home late.  This would be bad enough on an ordinary day but it was Wednesday.  Wednesday is family supper day at the Wall house.  It gets worse.  Yesterday was also my birthday.  Mother Wall makes us anything we want to eat on our birthdays.  I had requested rollkuchen (delicious Mennonite turnovers), some plain ones to eat with watermelon and some filled with strawberries and sugar.  But with a kitchen full of dirty dishes and nobody allowed to flush the toilet or run a faucet, Mother Wall’s stress level was rising fast.

I hung up the phone and immediately it jangled again.  It was Albert calling from work.  News of Mother Wall’s woe had already travelled to London.  Something must be done.  After a brief parley we devised a plan of action: I would drive to her house and dig a hole to uncover the septic tank lid.  Albert would come on his lunch break to open the lid and remove the blockage.  By midafternoon, Mother Wall should be able to shower three times an hour if she took the notion.

“But how will I know where to dig?” I asked.

I’m sure his coordinates made perfect sense in his head.  “It’s a-ways behind the house and across from where Matthew parks the car.  It’s kinda low and the grass isn’t good.”

If you’ve ever searched for a septic tank lid beneath the ground, you know that it’s not very big.  But Albert had no way to show me specifically and anyway, there was not a minute to lose.  My Spf 45 expired in January but I slapped it on anyway along with a floppy hat for backup.  I loaded two dogs and a shovel into the truck and we rumbled off to see about Mother Wall.

She sat in her messy kitchen looking sad.  When I explained my mission she said,

“You can’t do it Tina.  Just leave it for Dad to do after work.”

I walked to the backyard and began to dig.

“That’s not the right spot,” she called out the window.  “I’m sure it’s further back.”

I stayed where I was for two reasons:  1. Mother Wall’s eyesight is less than reliable and 2. Her son knows more than she does about where a septic tank ought to be.  I continued to dig.  She retreated from the window wailing “Dad is in the ground up to his shoulders before he finds the septic tank.  Tina when you tire out, you must give up.”

If I put any stock in political correctness I would call Mother Wall “vertically challenged” because she stands about five feet nothing high.  If Father Wall resembled her, her statement would not have been cause for discouragement.  But he doesn’t.  He stands well-nigh on six feet tall.  I looked down.  So far the grass only came up to the middle of my calves.  The sun beat down and sweat trickled past my ears.  The dogs could have been my best possible helpers had they cared at all about my plight, but they lay panting in the shade beneath the truck.

“Dear Lord,” I prayed, “Please help me to find it.”  It was a hot day for working but the ground was sandy and anyone with even a degree of physical fitness would have found it easy to dig.  I aspire to have that one day.

When the grass was almost level with my waist the spade struck something hard.  Hope rose in my chest but it was tempered by fear that I had only struck a tree root or branch.  I scrabbled to expose it and my prayer was answered: the cast iron handle of the septic tank lid peeked up from the ground as if ashamed to be associated with the nuisance that was causing Mother Wall so much grief.  It had taken me less than an hour to find it.

My cell phone rang and I scrambled out of the hole to reach it.  It was Albert.  He had decided to stay at work because Brother Peter was coming to see Mother at 1:30.  Peter would lift the septic tank lid and remove the blockage.  I relayed this to Mother Wall and left the crappy business behind to go home to my chores.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I returned that evening to the sight of a composed and happy Mother Wall surrounded by her children and dear sister Sara in a clean and orderly kitchen while she prepared strawberry  rollkuchen (simply the most delicious Mennonite turnovers in existence) for my birthday supper.


 The talk in the kitchen was all about my dirt-digging exploit that afternoon.  Brother Matthew, never one to cloak his criticisms, said,

“I’ve never seen such a small hole in our backyard.”

We all looked at him and I steeled myself for the clincher but it deflected to Father Wall and landed in a shrouded compiment on me:

“When Dad digs he starts in the middle of the yard because he can never remember where the septic tank is.”

  Father Wall turned to me with his biggest smile and said what translates roughly into English, “I must thank you for saving me a lot of trouble today.”

It was the best birthday present I could have asked for.


4 responses to this post.

  1. You got to be the hero on your birthday! How wonderful. And those turnovers sounds scrumptious. I’m glad you had a great day.


  2. That’s what i want for my birthday, “Fulla Rollkuchen”, no digging!!
    Did you get a new dog??


    • Yes, we got another dog; it seems there’s always room for one more 😉 She’s an American Eskimo puppy which is what Albert has wanted for a long time. We haven’t thought of a name yet though.

      I hope you get rollkuchen for your birthday too 🙂


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